How we respond to life depends a lot on our perspective of the situation. I recently had shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff tendon and bicep tendon subluxation (look it up), and my surgeon wisely warned me ahead of time that recovery would be quite painful. He was right. But knowing this in advance, and that this was my path back to full activity, made it a lot easier for me to be patient with the pain and the long time it is taking to recover.
On a more weighty note, Jim Elliot’s perspective on the temporary nature of this earth and the rewards waiting for us in heaven, enabled him to do great things for God through sacrificial obedience: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” (http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/faq/20.htm)
The Psalmist Asaph starts Psalm 73 by saying “Certainly God is good to Israel, and to those whose motives are pure! But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my feet almost slid out from under me. For I envied those who are proud, as I observed the prosperity of the wicked.” He goes on to elaborate that everything seemed to be going well for those disobeying God, and not for himself, even though he was trying to follow God. The turning point for Asaph comes starting in verse 16: “When I tried to make sense of this, it was troubling to me. Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple, and understood the destiny of the wicked. Surely you put them in slippery places; you bring them down to ruin. How desolate they become in a mere moment! Terrifying judgments make their demise complete!” Asaph’s perspective was changed 180 degrees by God’s truth. And he fittingly ends the Psalm with “But as for me, God’s presence is all I need. I have made the sovereign Lord my shelter, as I declare all the things you have done.”
In Jeremiah 39 Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, conquered Jerusalem and Judah, killing or capturing all of its leaders, burning the temple, tearing down the walls of Jerusalem, and carrying most of the people off to Babylon. In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah grieves over the situation for himself and the rest of Jews:
- Their sacred temple of God has been defiled by Gentiles and burned to the ground. No longer can they meet God there and worship Him: “The Lord rejected his altar and abhorred his temple. He handed over to the enemy her palace walls; the enemy shouted in the Lord’s temple as if it were a feast day.” (Lam 2:7), and “An enemy grabbed all her valuables. Indeed she [Jerusalem] watched in horror as Gentiles invaded her holy temple – those whom you had commanded: ‘They must not enter your assembly place.’ “ (Lam 1:10).
- They have been taken away from the promised land God Himself gave to them and moved to a foreign nation 100’s of miles away, subjugated by the strongest nation of the time: “Judah has departed into exile under affliction and harsh oppression. She lives among the nations; she has found no resting place. All who pursued her overtook her in narrow straits.” (Lam 1:30)
- Maybe worst of all, Jeremiah knew these things happened because of their sin against God: “Her foes subjugated her; her enemies are at ease. For the Lord afflicted her because of her many acts of rebellion. Her children went away captive before the enemy.” (Lam 1:5)
Sitting in Babylon, Jeremiah was filled with grief, guilt, and hopelessness: “I weep because of these things; my eyes flow with tears. For there is no one in sight who can comfort me or encourage me. My children are desolated because an enemy has prevailed.” (Lam 1:16), and “I am deprived of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is. So I said, ‘My endurance has expired; I have lost all hope of deliverance from the Lord.’ “ (Lam 3:17).
There was only 1 thing that could rescue Jeremiah from this despair – returning to the truth about God: “I continually think about this, and I am depressed. But this I call to mind; therefore I have hope: The Lord’s loyal kindness never ceases; his compassions never end. They are fresh every morning; your faithfulness is abundant! ‘My portion is the Lord,’ I have said to myself, so I will put my hope in him. The Lord is good to those who trust in him, to the one who seeks him. It is good to wait patiently for deliverance from the Lord.” (Lam 3:20-26). The circumstances had not changed (yet), but Jeremiah’s perspective drastically changed, molded by the truth of God.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. Like so many others that have experienced that, there is nothing like a serious illness to focus your life on what is important. All of a sudden you see that a lot of things really don’t matter, and you also see that even though you thought you had it pretty much together, there are some significant things that are not within your control and you are completely dependent on God for. Your perspective changes radically.
There are a lot of unintuitive truths in the Bible:
- love your enemy, bless those who curse you (Mt 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36, I Peter 3:8-9)
- the first will be last (Mt 19:30, 20:16, Luke 13:30)
- try to save your life and you will lose it, lose your life and you will be saved (Mt 10:39, 16:25, Luke 9:24, 17:33)
- a leader needs to be a servant (Mark 10:42-45, Luke 22:26, John 13:12-17, I Peter 5:1-3)
- forgive others who have wronged you (Col 3:13, My 18:21-22)
- our weakness is good because it allows God’s power to work through us (II Cor 12:7-10)
- humble yourself before God and He will exalt you (James 4:6-10, I Peter 5:5-7, Mt 23:1-12)
- don’t boast about your good deeds and you will be rewarded for them in heaven (Mt 6:1-18)
- we should celebrate when a Christian dies (I Thess. 4:13-18)
- and the most important one: we are justified through faith not works (Eph 2:8-9)
Left to our own thinking, we wouldn’t come up with any of these, so without these constant perspective changers, we quickly revert back to living our life the way that seems best on the surface, but actually isn’t. (Prov. 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way that leads to death.”)
This is why the psalmist meditates on God’s Word “day and night” (Psalm 1). Not because he has to, not because it is a duty, but because he knows it is the only way to have his mind oriented correctly. And we need to do this too, not as something we check off our list each day, but as a survival tool. Paul tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2). Are we saturating our minds with the proper perspective??
(There is also a part 2 of “A Matter of Perspective”.)