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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Need for Perspective

Aug 13, 2016

Anyone who has flown on a plane knows about perspective. From many thousands of feet up in the air we can see things far differently than when we are earth-bound. We start to see a much bigger picture, and can see how all the smaller bits fit into a much bigger whole.

I was reminded of this yesterday in yet another flight to a speaking engagement. Looking out the airplane window you see things in a whole new perspective. On the ground you can only see a block or so ahead in a typical city, but from the air you can often see the entire city in one panoramic glance.

perspective 1As I was flying interstate yesterday, I thought not only of my own life, but that of others – many of whom are really struggling at the moment. We all go through difficulties, hardships, times of intense conflict and painful battles. While in the midst of such troubles it can so often seem overwhelming, with no relief in sight.

Because we are so caught up in the moment – often a very painful and debilitating moment – it is so easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. We become engulfed in whatever fight or hard place we are in, and perspective can easily go out the window.

We think there is no way out, and depression can easily overtake us. Even thoughts of ending it all can come into play at these tough times. It is exactly at this place where the bigger picture is so vitally needed, but it so often is nowhere to be found.

The immediate difficulty and trial can overwhelm us, leaving us with a very blinkered view of things. Even a secular counsellor will insist on having the sufferer try to see the bigger picture. For the Christian this is an obvious course to pursue.

And it is not just about putting rose-coloured glasses on, or thinking a lot of happy, positive thoughts. It is about focussing on the biggest picture going: God himself. It is seeing God in the midst of our hardships and turmoil. It is realising he is still on the throne.

Getting things into perspective can be the most difficult when we are in the middle of a heavy duty dark patch. When we most need to see God we often find him absent, or even irrelevant. We are so focused on our own troubles that God gets crowded out of our vision.

So we need more than ever during these dark times to make sure God is still in the picture. Getting things into perspective is so important during such periods. Simple realising that compared to so many others, our problems really are not all that great can be of help.

But that is not to minimise our present suffering. All such suffering can seem overbearing. So that is why getting the focus back on God is so crucial. And allowing other believers to speak into our lives during these times is also so important.

It is easy to want to shut ourselves off from others during the dark episodes. But that is when we need others the most. So let me encourage anyone now in a dark place, with seemingly no way out: I am available. Others are available. Get in touch. Don’t try to fight this on your own. We need each other.

And remember that God has not abandoned you during these times as well. He is just as close as he has always been, but your immediate problems are obscuring your vision. No matter how deep the pit we are in, we will not always be there.

Things change and difficulties can vanish as quickly as they came upon us. So we must always keep in view the bigger picture – God’s picture. Plenty of biblical characters could be mentioned here, as well as great saints from church history. Let me mention just one, Elisabeth Elliot.

I have spoken about her amazing life before: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/06/16/notable-christians-elisabeth-elliot/

She lost her first husband to the spears of Ecuadorian Indians and her second husband died of cancer. In an interview some years later she said this about her experiences:

When I stood by my short-wave radio in the jungle of Ecuador in 1956 and heard that my husband was missing, God brought to my mind the words of the prophet Isaiah, “When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee” (43:2). You can imagine that my response was not terribly spiritual. I was saying, “But Lord, You’re with me all the time. What I want is Jim. I want my husband.”
We had been married twenty-seven months after waiting five-and-a-half years. Five days later I knew that Jim was dead, and God’s presence with me was not Jim’s presence. That was a terrible fact. God’s presence did not change the terrible fact that I was a widow. I expected to be a widow until I died because I thought it was a miracle I got married the first time. I couldn’t imagine that I would ever get married a second let alone a third. God’s presence did not change the fact of my widowhood. Jim’s absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to God—my hope and my only refuge. And I learned in that experience who God is—who He is in a way that I could never have known otherwise.
And so I can say to you that suffering is an irreplaceable medium through which I learned an indispensable truth. “I Am.” “I am the Lord.” In other words, God is God. Well, I still want to go back and say, “But, Lord, what about those babies? What about that little spina bifida child? What about those babies born terribly handicapped with terrible suffering because their mothers were on cocaine or heroin or alcohol?” And I can’t answer your questions or even my own except in the words of Scripture.
These words from the apostle Paul who knew the power of the cross of Jesus. And this is what he wrote:
‘For I reckon that the sufferings we now endure bear no comparison with the splendor as yet unrevealed which is in store for us. For the created universe waits with eager expectation for God’s sons to be revealed. It was made the victim of frustration [all those animals—all those babies who have no guilt whatsoever] the victim of frustration not by its own choice but because of him who made it so yet always there was hope [and this is the part that brings me immeasurable comfort] because the universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and enter upon the liberty and splendor of the children of God.’ (Rom. 8:18–21 paraphrased)
Where does this idea of a loving God come from? It is not man so desperately wanting a god that he manufactures him in his mind. It’s He who was the word before the foundation of the world suffering as a lamb slain and He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know that suffering is not for nothing.

Elliot had perspective – a heavenly perspective. That did not make her suffering instantly disappear or make it easy, but it sustained her through that suffering. Her earthly perspective was dominated by that of eternity. We need the same perspective.

www.reviveourhearts.com/radio/revive-our-hearts/classic-message-elisabeth-elliot/

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5 Responses to The Need for Perspective

  • What is it that the apostle wrote about “in all these things” being “more than conquerors through Him who loves us.”? – Further down in Romans chapter 8.

  • Thank you for a message that explains the issues of grief and disappointment that trouble many people and test their faith. It takes time to come to an understanding of God’s will, as well as time to go through a healing process.

  • How do we come to know the “God of all comfort”? Via the sharing in Christ’s sufferings on our own “Via Dolorosa” on the narrow path that God assigns to us who love Him with all our heart. When He saw fit to remove all my earthly treasures just a few years after He saved me 30 years ago, I railed at Him. Is this the way you treat those who love you? I know now that He was crying with me but I accused Him of turning His back on me. My only “prayer” was “end my life I don’t care how.” He brought me slowly and tenderly along a path of healing and closeness to Himself that I would never have known otherwise. Do I still hurt and cry at times? You bet I do. Is He there to comfort me? You bet He is. Do I long for His return? More than life itself. How He cries with us His precious faithful children and longs too for the day when He gathers us to Himself, the One Who “carries our grief and bears our sorrows.” Our crucified Savior is worth it all, dear brothers and sisters. Our redemption draws nigh.

  • My favourite ‘perspective’ passage during recent dark times has been Job 1: 6-12 – 6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” 8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
    This passage lifts us directly into the heavens for the heavenly perspective on Job’s situation. From it I learn that our dark times do not come to us without God’s full knowledge and permission, as was the case with Job. And just as God was watching over Job during his dark times, so He watches over us in ours. However, God also watches over Job with a view to testing him. God’s words, “Have you considered my servant Job?” – are an invitation to Satan to test Job, which means Job will have ample opportunity during his trials to make decisions, choices and actions that will either please God or not.
    Applying this practically, I put my name in that sentence instead of Job’s – not with any assumption of blamelessness and uprightness, but rather aware of the opportunities that will come my way during dark times to make choices that will honour God (or not) as He observes my life from the heavenly perspective. So read that sentence with your name – “Have you considered my servant _________?” With Christ’s help, we have all we need to navigate such times.
    I’m certainly not claiming that all the dark times that come to us are necessarily God allowing Satan to meddle in our lives – it’s just that this particular passage serves to give me a heavenly perspective during dark times. No more than that.

  • For keen readers of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and CS Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, I’ve just stumbled on this article by Alister McGrath, touching on how Lewis and Tolkien both go about presenting ‘the big picture’ or ‘the big perspective’ in their famous literature.
    www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2016/06/08/4477957.htm

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