There are two types of vision: the vision of our physical eyes, and the vision of our spiritual understanding. They’re completely opposite of each other, and yet one often impacts the other. When we are actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus, the way we deal with physical life can undergo a wonderful change. Sometimes, we have more peace in our hearts, more love for people, more understanding toward other people’s problems… In reverse, when we have our attention focused mainly on the dilemmas and goals of our physical lives, our spiritual understanding and the peace in our hearts often suffers from the neglect. When we turn our eyes upon the things of this world and get bogged down in this life’s difficulties, our spiritual eyes seem to become shortsighted. Suddenly, we aren’t looking at things with the peace which comes from having faith in God, and we aren’t focused on strengthening our relationship with Christ. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re trying to do something wrong. We don’t have to be engaging in anything sinful; it doesn’t mean that we intentionally turned our backs on God or tried to disobey him. It might just mean that we’re distracted, and the problems of life seem really big to us suddenly. It’s a natural low point I think we all hit once in a while. Things look dark and gloomy. Maybe we’re going through a crisis in our lives, and problems aren’t being solved soon enough for our liking. Doubts pour in to torment us.
Today I was reading Luke chapter 7, and I began to wonder whether John the Baptist had hit that disheartening low when he sent his disciples to ask Jesus whether he really was the Christ or not. Not very long before John found himself in Herod’s prison, he had been at the height of a glorious discovery. While baptizing on the banks of (Jordan), Jesus came to him, and John watched the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon him, revealing that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. John preached the good news of salvation to those around him, proclaiming that Jesus was the Son of God. How could he doubt it when he had seen a vision so crystal clear about it? But, the physical troubles of life get in our way. Our faith and spiritual understanding dim as this world’s challenges and pains claim our attention.
Even after seeing the fulfillment of prophecies embodied in Jesus Christ, when John found himself tormented in prison, everything must have begun to feel uncertain. We can’t judge what he felt or thought, but it makes me wonder if he began to doubt whether he had really seen that vision or not. All we know is that his faith had been shaken, and he was begging for proof that he hadn’t made a mistake; that Jesus really was who he thought he was.
I thought Jesus’ response to John’s quandary was so beautiful. He is so longsuffering and merciful with his frail creatures; so patient in teaching their wavering souls to have faith in him. He said, “Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”
Though we get bogged down in the cares of this world sometimes, there is one simple remedy: take your eyes off of your earthly concerns, no matter how big they seem, and refocus your attention on Jesus. Yes, everything John had believed was true. How could he have doubted it when he had seen a vision? But, when he did doubt it, Jesus’ response was simply to lift John’s eyes from the dungeon around him and to bring his attention back to his Savior. Jesus’ miracles spoke for themselves. The vision John had seen by the river bank spoke for itself, telling plainly that Jesus truly was the Messiah. But in his state of weakness and suffering, John was prone to forget, maybe even to doubt it.
To sum up, in this fallen world, we face challenges, trials, and suffering almost every day. But we mustn’t allow those problems to take our eyes off of Jesus, or to fall into a state of faithless doubting. Jesus sees us whether we’re on the hilltop or in the dungeon. He never abandons us. He is never changing; always faithful. It is we who must retain our faith in Him, even through life’s hardest, lowest struggles. We must remember to look up instead of down. We must remember to trust that, no matter what is happening, and no matter how hopeless things seem, He has a plan for us—and it’s perfect.
Let’s talk about that perfect plan for a moment. When we cry out from the dungeon, we often beg for deliverance. We want Jesus to save us from pain and misery. We want him to change our situation drastically so we can live in peaceful bliss on earth. It’s completely understandable, and Jesus is completely able to do it. But my mind goes back to John the Baptist here. John didn’t get out of prison. Physically speaking, John’s situation did not improve. It got worse. But, did that mean Jesus had abandoned him? That he hadn’t heard his prayers? That he didn’t care about John? No, not at all. Jesus loves us. But the truth, and one of the hardest things for us to deal with, is that God’s will can’t always be fulfilled through comfortable circumstances. Suffering is not a sign of abandonment. It is often a tool God uses to shape us into better Christians, and to strengthen our faith in him. And, while our life’s circumstances sometimes seem horrible and difficult to bear, it doesn’t mean we aren’t right where God wants us to be. While in prison, the apostle Paul wrote many of the books in our New Testament and converted a huge number of people to Christ. God allowed and willed his imprisonment to be. He knew that Paul wouldn’t be broken by the experience, and he knew that it would spread the gospel to billions of people. Try to imagine how many lives Paul’s epistles have impacted over the centuries. God never allows us to be put through more suffering or temptation than we can handle. He knows our weaknesses, and he guards us from enduring an unbearable amount of tribulation. That means that if we give up, we gave up because we wouldn’t persevere and keep clinging to God. The fault is our own; no one else’s.
The last words Jesus spoke to John, “Blessed is he, whosever shall not be offended in me,” is a statement I want to bring to your attention. The New Testament was originally written in Greek. And the word “offend” means a lot more in Greek than it does in our modern English. In the Greek text, that word would have been Skandalizo, and by Strong’s Dictionary, the definition means to “trip up” or to “stumble” it could even mean to “entice to sin”. I find this fascinating, because it might clarify what Jesus was saying. When we hit that low point in our lives, when our eyes are more focused on earthly problems and carnal goals, and when we find ourselves prone to doubting, we are literally stumbling in our spiritual walk; our faith is being shaken. At the same time, the devil uses doubts as a tool to “entice us” into the sin of disbelief. Figuratively the picture of our spiritual walk might look like this: we were standing on the strait and narrow path, walking along at a steady pace. Then, when the path started getting rocky and uneven, we were off-ended, or thrown for a loop by our own shortsighted, human nature.
So, no matter what terrain life takes us through, whether we’re gliding through life without any troubles, or whether we seem to be lambasted by challenges and tragedies at every turn, remember to keep your eyes lifting to Jesus. Remember that he is the same yesterday, today and forever. Remember that he loves you, and that (as long as we don’t turn away from him) we are still being held safely in his hands. Don’t let yourself fall into doubts and confusions. Don’t let yourself become distracted and bogged down by the cares of this world. Make Jesus your main focus, and your spiritual eyes will be bright and clear.