Lift Up Your Eyes
When I was a boy, I spent a good deal of time looking at the ground. More carefree companions might have missed the three dollars I found on our dirt lane or the silver coins I spied on the grassy school playground.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized in a wider sphere that there is treasure in the dust of ordinary things, often right at my feet. There is an immeasurable delight in the warmth of my own fireside on a foggy day; there is irrepressible triumph in the private conquest of a project I’ve long put off; there is inexpressible comfort in relationships with those who know me well and love me anyway. These are ordinary things that make up ordinary days, and it’s worth keeping eyes to the ground to spot them.
But the greatest value of ordinary things is their capacity to direct our view beyond themselves, to point our attention to things above. If we look, we can see beyond the fireside, past the completed project, through the comfort of loving relationships the fingerprints of the God who gives every good gift.
Sometimes circumstance is opaque, nothing in it seems to recommend an upward view. It’s then that we have to intentionally look away from the clutter of the commonplace, to lift up our eyes.
Think of Abraham, sitting in the door of his tent in the heat of the day. Probably it was a day like any other day; the weary heat of noon pressed in and made him long for the sun to set. But in that heat, he lifted up his eyes, “and behold, three men were standing in front of him” (Genesis 18:2). So commenced an encounter with God that changed Abraham’s life forever.
Think of the Psalmist, surrounded by enemies whose scorn and contempt made life miserable every day. But he deliberately lifted up his eyes to God, the One “enthroned in the heavens.” “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He has mercy upon us” (Psalm 123).
Think of Israel, desolate and wasted, hated and hating a future that contained nothing but more hatred and more sorrow, certain that God had forgotten her. “Lift up your eyes around and see . . .” she is told. The day comes when your enemies will gather to you and “you shall put them all on as an ornament; you shall bind them on as a bride does” (Isaiah 49:18).
Think of the perplexed disciples returned from foraging to find Jesus talking to an unclean Samaritan woman. “Rabbi, eat,” they urged. “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish his work,” Jesus replied. “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35).
Think of a people yet to come, witnesses to tribulation, sufferers at the end of time. Jesus’ command cuts through the opacity of pain and trouble: “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
“Straighten up . . .”
“Raise your heads . . .”
“Lift up your eyes . . .”
. . . from the troubles and worries and perplexities of life . . . from self-conceived ideas about who we are or who we want to be . . . from suffering and dashed hopes and weariness . . .from pain and sorrow . . . from the good that is unworthy of our focused devotion. These are things that ground our vision, things from which we must turn our heads and lift our eyes.
As I write, I find myself asking, “But how? How do I get my eyes off the ground?” And then I realize that “how” is the wrong question. There really isn’t much to straightening up, lifting up my eyes, looking beyond the dominion of earth-dwellers. It’s a simple activity of the soul. It isn’t a many-step process; it doesn’t require lots of education or detailed instructions; it isn’t something for a privileged, talented few.
The better question is, “Why don’t I do it?” Here are several answers that are useful to consider:
Values that Need Clarification
Bottom line, I value earthly things more than I think I do. The ability to lift up my eyes, to look beyond things below, to see as God sees, is an easy litmus test to identify just how wedded I am to the visible world. If I cannot lift up my eyes to see God above my problems—and above my joys—then I have a values problem.
Freeway Speed Syndrome
When I was learning to drive, the instructor warned that we would feel like we were going excessively slow when we exited a high speed freeway for a side road. We spend much of life locked onto the lightning pace of a world blitzing through every opportunity or pleasure or sorrow, racing to pack as much as possible in before death. Exiting this freeway feels socially unacceptable and—frankly—irresponsible. But it is the right thing to do, the only means to keep the soul on course.
The Drifter’s Path
The easiest thing to do is to “go with the flow,” to allow the currents of life to take us wherever they will. In our society, that typically means activities—lots of activities. While lifting up our eyes is simple, it does require intentional action, averting our eyes from the things the demand attention to rivet our concentration on more important things above. That requires letting some things go, maybe even things that seem important, deliberately choosing the most important.
There is a huge misunderstanding about the nature of devotion. We tend to associate devotion with a brief time spent praying, reading, etc., usually at the beginning or end of a day. That such time is valuable is unquestioned here: The problem is that we flip our spiritual switch to “off” when “devotions” are done, and we charge out to meet the world as though our eyes never saw the spiritual realities we recognized just moments before. Devotion is a life-pursuit. We need to lift up our eyes in the middle of doing taxes, talking on the phone, washing dishes, attending meetings—just as much as we do in a few concentrated moments during the day. Real devotion is about walking in the awareness that we’re in the presence of God. It’s about conducting life to please Him. It’s about making decisions with His will as the only consideration—yes, even business decisions.
How motivating is it to look for something that you don't think you'll find? If you're like me, the answer is "not very." And in the spiritual realm, the answer is the same: If we don't expect to find God when we "lift up our eyes," why bother? If we don't think that connection with God will make any practical difference, that nothing will really alter our experience, the incentive to do what God commands is limited to obedience. But God has said that genuine faith not only believes that God is, but also that He is who He says He is: the Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Diligently. Without giving up. The person who endures disappointment, who weathers the storms of doubt without sinking, that person will be rewarded by God—and God will give him what he most longs for (Psalm 42:5,11, 43:5).
Lifting up our eyes is faith that God will do what He said, in His time.
It’s hope, that confidence of the soul that knows the nature of our loving Father—the certainty, as Oswald Chambers said, that “With God, the best is always yet to be”.
It’s loving God more—more than the fool’s gold of visible things.
* * * * *
When our children were little, we struggled to catch their short attention spans. We found that instructions were more effective when we got them to look into our eyes. So frequently did we give the command to “look into our eyes”, that one day a very young son who wanted us to pay attention to him piped up in a small, determined voice, “Look into mine eyes!”
There’s something special about the connection that occurs when we lock eyes with our Father, even for brief moments at a time. Suddenly we get in tune with the symphony of eternity, we get on course with the purpose of the ages, we get into step with our Father.
When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, he was joined by Moses and Elijah. The overwhelming experience culminated with the Father Himself speaking from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The disciples fell on their faces in fear.
It took the touch of Jesus and His gentle words to pull them back from terror. “Rise,” He said, “and have no fear.”
And when they lifted up their eyes,
they saw no one but Jesus only.
Jesus only—We lift up our eyes to see Him. When we see Him, our experience is transfigured.
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