Staring at God, Scanning Everything ElseGeorge Shamblin
2021: Reversing the Misfortunes of 1202
1202 AD, was by no means a banner year for the Christian faith. In fact, it will go down as one of the darkest chapters in the annals of Church History. At the behest of Pope Innocent III, the 4th Crusade’s intent was to recapture the Holy Land from infidels. An initial army of 12,000 crusaders assembled in Venice, the term crusade being derived from “cross.” As hard as it is to fathom, these bloodthirsty zealots genuinely believed they were “taking up the cross” for a worthy Christian cause. How soon one forgets: “Peter, put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
There’s no need to belabor the point: the atrocities inflicted among men, women, and children, non-Christian and Christians alike, supposedly in the name of Jesus, were inexcusable and inexplicable. The question for posterity is this: what went so terribly wrong? While the answers to that question remain complex, in a simplistic sense the people fixated on the riches this world has to offer, rather than fixating on the riches offered by the Kingdom of Heaven. Heavenly ideals were forfeited so that worldly pleasures might be pursued. Outlooks were horizontal as opposed to vertical, causing perspectives of life’s purpose to become blurred.
As C. S. Lewis observed, “Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” In summary, gradually and over time, one small step at a time, the men and women of 1202 got to the point where they scanned over God while staring at everything else.
In 2021, here you and I stand some 819 years later and find ourselves in at least one similar state as the crusaders: for the past 12 months or so, we, like they, overly fixated on our circumstances. No doubt, the myriad of hardships we’ve encountered have been impossible to ignore. But we’ve grown so accustomed to gazing at our difficulties we’ve completely lost sight of the face of God.
But here’s the best news: in an immediate sense you and I are able to reverse that trend. In 1202, Jesus of Nazareth, the Founder of the crusader’s supposed “faith,” gleaned little more than their occasional glance, never their gaze. In 2021, which is 1202 backwards, the ink on this chapter of Christian history is yet to be dry. We have control over what will be written.
What if we repackaged something like the zeal of the crusaders, as misplaced as it was, and redirected it towards good rather than evil? As Paul phrased it, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11) Or what if 2021’s disciples of Jesus became a household name to posterity like they, but as one of the brightest chapters of Church History? To begin reversing the misfortunes of 1202, I’ve listed three sound disciplines to get you started:
Heed a profoundly wise lesson espoused by the profoundly wise Prophet Isaiah: “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You!” (Isaiah 26:3) As you lock your eyes onto the living Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith, only then will your circumstances come into their proper view. Christ and His Gospel must become the lens though which everything else is seen. Or as stated in Matthew 6:33, Christ commands you to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
Brandish the sword of the Spirit in place of a sword made with steel. As a legitimate carrier of the cross, the most powerful offensive weapon on earth is presently at your disposal. There is however a major catch: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, is to be boldly wielded, never to remain in its sheath.
Allow the far look to restore your spiritual perspective, as relayed in a devotion I read years ago:
A lady whose work demanded constant reading began to have difficulty with her eyes; so, she consulted a physician. After an examination he said, “Your eyes are just tired; you need to rest them.” “But,” she replied, “That is impossible in my type of work.” After a few moments, the doctor asked, “Do you have windows at your workplace?” “Oh, yes,” she answered with enthusiasm, “From the front windows, I can see the noble peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and from the windows I can look out at the glorious Allegheny foothills.” The physician replied, “That is exactly what you need. When your eyes feel tired, go look at the mountains for 10 minutes– 20 would be better– and the far look will rest your eyes.” What is true in the physical realm is true in the spiritual realm. The eyes of the soul are often tired and weary from focusing on our problems and difficulties. The far will restore your spiritual perspective.
Throughout 2021 one thing is for certain: you will be distracted by unforeseen circumstances, possibly the hardest you’ve ever had to endure. Do not allow them to knock you off course. You must remember to continually fix your eyes upon Jesus. And by the way, it’s ok to stare.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace