Looking but not Seeing
I was talking at Down to Earth on Sunday about the importance of observation as a gardener. It is important for gardeners to be walking their garden regularly, even daily, to observe what is happening. The more you walk your garden, the more familiar you become with each plant and its environment. The more familiar we are with our garden, the more we notice the unfamiliar.
We begin to notice positive things like new growth or flowers or fruit, but we also notice the negative – like pests and diseases, wilting plants because of dry soil, a plant that has fallen over in the wind and needs a stake for support.
The same is true for our spiritual lives. We need to spend lots of time with God and His Word for it to permeate deep into our minds and heart where it can transform our lives into the person God created us to be (Romans 12:2). The more we are in tune with God, the more we notice both the good and bad. We should be observing more about God’s goodness and love but also the more time we spend with God and in His Word the more aware we become of our own sinfulness and the areas of our lives that still need change. We need to ask God to help us see those things in us that we are blind to.
Psalm 139:23-24 (The Message)
Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life.
It is one thing to be observant but we need to go a step further and act on that observation. If I walk around the orchard and notice aphids on the nectarine tree but then do nothing about it the problem will grow and become more destructive. I need to act to resolve the issue. In our spiritual lives, when we notice something about God or God helps us to identify something about ourselves we need to act on that. If it is something good then we ought to rejoice, thank God, share that with someone else, or write it down so we remember it. If it is something negative that God reveals in us then we first need to confess and own it, and then we need to work out how we change (repent), and ask God to forgive us and help us.
James 1:22-24 (New Living Translation)
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.
I want to pick up on a phrase I used at the start – “the more we are familiar … the more we notice the unfamiliar.” As Christians, we ought to be very familiar with God’s words and God’s ways. We ought to know who God is and what he expects of His creation. God is very clear in Scripture that there are things that are acceptable to him and things that are not. So, the more time we spend in God’s word, the more familiar we should be with God’s expectations for us, and also His world as a whole. We should then be noticing the things in the world that do not reflect who God is and what He values. Those things in our world that jar against God’s truth ought to become more and more obvious to us. We also ought to become more aware of false teaching within the church and people who would lead us away from God’s truth.
The Letter of Jude in the New Testament speaks about this. It is probably not a letter you have read often but it speaks directly to this matter. I think it is worthwhile to read in its entirety. Take time to read through these verses a few times and note what God is revealing to you.
Greetings from Jude
1 This letter is from Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and a brother of James. I am writing to all who have been called by God the Father, who loves you and keeps you safe in the care of Jesus Christ. 2 May God give you more and more mercy, peace, and love.
The Danger of False Teachers
3 Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. 4 I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
5 So I want to remind you, though you already know these things, that Jesus first rescued the nation of Israel from Egypt, but later he destroyed those who did not remain faithful. 6 And I remind you of the angels who did not stay within the limits of authority God gave them but left the place where they belonged. God has kept them securely chained in prisons of darkness, waiting for the great day of judgment. 7 And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment.
8 In the same way, these people—who claim authority from their dreams—live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings. 9 But even Michael, one of the mightiest of the angels, did not dare accuse the devil of blasphemy, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (This took place when Michael was arguing with the devil about Moses’ body.) 10 But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction. 11 What sorrow awaits them! For they follow in the footsteps of Cain, who killed his brother. Like Balaam, they deceive people for money. And like Korah, they perish in their rebellion.
12 When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. 13 They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.
14 Enoch, who lived in the seventh generation after Adam, prophesied about these people. He said, “Listen! The Lord is coming with countless thousands of his holy ones 15 to execute judgment on the people of the world. He will convict every person of all the ungodly things they have done and for all the insults that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”[f]
16 These people are grumblers and complainers, living only to satisfy their desires. They brag loudly about themselves, and they flatter others to get what they want.
A Call to Remain Faithful
17 But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. 18 They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. 19 These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.
20 But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, 21 and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.
22 And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. 23 Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.
A Prayer of Praise
24 Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. 25 All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.
Songs for reflection
Creator God, thank you for your unfailing love to me and all your creation. I pray that you would place a desire in my heart to know you more and that I would pattern my life so that you become the focus of all that I am. Help me to become so familiar with you and your ways that those things in my life and the world around me that do not please you would become obvious. Then, God, give me courage and faith to make the changes to my thinking and my actions so that they align with your will. Thank you for always being willing to forgive me when I fail and restore me in your love. Amen