Summary: We must learn to see things as God sees them.
How we see things in our lives and in our worlds is a lot more powerful and has a lot more impact on us than we might imagine. For example, if we see the world as existing to bring us pleasure and happiness, then when it doesn’t we get angry or frustrated or confused: “why is this happening to me? I’m a good person, I don’t deserve this, why???” On the opposite side, if we see ourselves as completely worthless, and someone does a kindness to us, we reject that because we don’t deserve it. Less extreme, if we see our city as a place that exists to serve us then we get impatient sitting on the Quesnell Bridge during construction rush hour. If we see God as a gentle grandpa handing out nice presents we’ll look at difficult times as indicators of a problem, like maybe God left us alone. If we see church as a place full of hypocrites because we knew some we won’t want to join. If we see a Muslim woman wearing a burka, or a native man on the street walking towards us, and we feel some twinge of fear, that reveals to us something of how we see the world.
This “learning to see” comes from our personalities, our life experiences, and from the manipulation of forces eager to have us see things the way they want us to see them. But as Christians, perhaps one of the absolutely most counter-cultural ways of being is to learn to see things as God sees them. Through God’s eyes, not just the eyes of our personalities or life experiences or the manipulation of others.
Easier said than done…
Phil 1:12-18 (NLT):
Last week I introduced the book of Philippians, which we are going to study this fall. It was written by Paul to the church in the city of Philippi, with whom he enjoyed a strong, mutual, loving relationship. The Philippians knew that Paul was in prison and have just sent him a financial gift so that his needs might be met while he waits for his trial before Caesar, and he sends this letter back with the man who had brought the money. Now obviously, the Philippians are eager to hear how Paul is doing, how he is holding up under such terrible circumstances. Is he discouraged? Ready to give up?? Angry??? Paul responds:
“12 And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. 13 For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. 14 And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.
15 It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. 16 They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. 17 Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. 18 But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.”
Perspective on Suffering (vs. 12-13):
It is immediately clear that Paul has one main “lens” through which he sees everything: the gospel (or the “good news”). This is all he really cares about: is the message about Jesus getting out to people? Are they hearing about the love and forgiveness and life that God desires us to have and has provided through Jesus? The Philippians would have been concerned about Paul, because of their love for him, very natural and appropriate, but Paul doesn’t care about that, Paul cares about the spreading of the “good news”. Vss. 12-13 make that really, really clear. As much as he hates the chains around his wrists and ankles, as much as he can’t go anywhere and is stuck in a Roman jail, his perspective is that “everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.”
And so Paul does not despair. Well, now that is quite nice for Paul and everything, he is one of those “super-Christians”, but what does that have to say to us today? None of us are in chains because we were telling people about Jesus. But we do have “bad things” happen to us. Here comes the hard part: how does God see those “bad things” in our lives? I know how we tend to see them – unfair, painful, hampering us, to be ended as quickly as possible. But how does God see them, and is there a perspective there that might be different than ours? That might in fact be healthier?? I’m not going to answer those questions in a sermon because they are too specific and have too wide a range, anywhere from “God hates those bad things because they are a direct result of our sin and He doesn’t want us to live like that a moment longer”, to “God sees these as opportunities for “pure joy” like in James 1 where we read that as “your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”