There is much in the Bible that tells us what to do: be honest, be faithful, love and serve your neighbor, do not lie, do not cheat, do not steal, and so forth. One of the best known parts of the Bible is the Ten Commandments, that very important list of things that we should do, or, not do. There is indeed much in the Bible about what we should do.
But there is probably even more in the Bible about what we should see. For example, II Corinthians 5:16 tells us we should no longer see other people from a worldly point of view. For another example, the world says, “You can have it all;” but God in the book of Proverbs says, “It is better to have only a little and have peace, than to have great wealth and nothing but strife” (Proverbs 17:1). From a worldly point of view, when you get old and your health is gone, you are done for. But from God’s point of view, even at the end of our days we can say with Paul, “Brothers and sisters, our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). I Samuel 16:7 tells us that even though from a worldly point of view people are judged by their outward appearances, God looks at what is in the heart; again, a different way of seeing. From a worldly point of view, the time comes for us all when our time is up and as the old expression goes, “We haven’t got a prayer.” But with God, no matter how hopeless the situation looks one always has a prayer. Jesus, beaten and hanging on the cross, with the life quickly draining out of him, still had a prayer. He prayed, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
The Bible tells us all kinds of things to do, but first of all, it tells us how to SEE– how to see the world, and life and death, and other people, and everything from a whole different point of view. And then, with that whole new way of seeing, we are led into the wisdom to obey in those things God has told us to do.
Many years ago, Howard Thurman was the dean of the chapel at Boston University. He was the grandson of a slave and often told stories that he had heard from his grandmother about living in slavery. One of the things she told him was the importance of the slaves of going to church on Sunday. Decades later, she could still remember well how her old slave preacher would so powerfully tell the story of Jesus resurrection from the dead, and then describe the promise of how we too would live forever with him in heaven. And then the old preacher would take off his glasses, look straight into the eyes of the congregation, lean over the pulpit, and say to them in all seriousness, “Slaves, I want you to remember, you are not any man’s property. You are the children of God Almighty, and no one can ever take that from you. Never forget that.” Sunday after Sunday, he was preaching into those people another point of view– not the worldly point of view, but God’s vision; and in their desperate and sad situation, that made all the difference. With that new way of seeing they could live and die with hope and courage.
Even in the deepest and darkest valley, we can know God is with us, and that gives us an entirely different way of seeing everything.
Psalm 23:4 — Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Ezekiel 37:1-3 — The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Habakkuk 3:17-18 — Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Valley of Vision
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty thy glory in my valley.
–From The Valley of Vision, 1975, a collection of prayers by the Puritans edited by Arthur Bennett.