Day 32 – Protecting Joy
What we behold shapes us. Our ultimate transformation will occur as “we see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2) and this gives us a window into how transformation and shaping happen in the present as well. This concept is found through the canon of Scripture. Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” (Matthew 6:22) Proverbs 4 connects the heart with what with view: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life … let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” (v. 23, 25) And, David, in Psalm 101 wrote: “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” And, finally, we are reminded that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:16)
What we behold and put before our eyes is not a minor issue in the Scriptures. It is deeply significant. If we gaze upon things other than God, we will be shaped by the culture around us, others, or even the specific circumstances in which we find ourselves. The wilderness can devastate us if we do not know how to take it all in. Of course, the answer is not to deny or ignore or escape but look at things through a different lens. If we behold without the lens of God’s presence, we begin to look like the desert – dry, desperate, and desolate. As we behold God and view all through the reality of who He is, we begin to see God and see how He is at work in all things. This is certainly easier said than done, and we are challenged to be intentional so that this does not stay in the realm of words and ideas.
Let’s examine two practical ways we can develop and deepen our “beholding.” First, as the people of Israel were travelling in the wilderness, God instructed them to make specific, physical reminders of His presence and commandments for them. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is being addressed. When there are not specific physical reminders, we can find ourselves gazing upon almost anything without any reference to God’s presence with us. Specifically, we find this encouragement in Numbers 15:37-41:
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD your God.”
In addition, Deuteronomy 6 lists several encouragements to bring the commandment to love God with all your heart into every day, physical realities. God encouraged them to wear the commands and even post them on the gates to their home. He urged them to talk about the command to love when they sit down, lie down, rise up, and walk. The idea is to integrate the reality of who He is into actual, physical rhythms of our lives. What might that look like for you? Pray and ask God. Perhaps, you already have some physical reminders integrated into your life. Are they still helping you? Do you need a refresh? Finally, God says “you shall teach them to your children.” A relational component to our beholding is so important. Are there ways that you are sharing and connecting with others about your life with God … His presence with you and love for you?
Frank Laubach, in the early 20th century, asked this question in Letters by a Modern Mystic: “Can I bring the Lord back into my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.” The challenge to have reminders and structures addresses a part of what this question is asking.
The second way we develop and deepen our “beholding” is through a contemplative seeing. This is not a physical kind of seeing per se, but a beholding in our spirit. As we develop a contemplative vision of God in our lives, it colors everything we see and behold. Then, our joy is protected as our temptation to move into discontentment wanes. We see this beautifully illustrated in Psalm 63:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. (vs. 1-2)
Notice the clear desert imagery in these verses: thirst, faintness, barrenness, and weariness. The response? Beholding God. Psalm 27 uses similar imagery: gazing upon the beauty of the Lord and meditating in His temple. (v. 4) This is a call to contemplative prayer. In The Cloud of Unknowing, we read: “Contemplation will change your heart. It will make you so kind and dynamic in loving that when you stop doing it and mingle with the world again, you’ll discover that you love your slanderer as much as your friend.”
The Cloud of Unknowing goes further in describing contemplative prayer: “Unclothe your awareness of analytical thoughts. Keep it empty. Don’t cogitate on yourself or on others whom you know. Let them go… You no longer need to feed your mind by meditating on who you are and who God is. Grace will help you focus on holding yourself steady in the deep center of your soul, where you’ll offer God the simple fact of your existence. Your spiritual affection will be filled to overflowing with love and virtue in God, who grounds you in integrity.”
Questions for reflection: review the two ways that beholding can take hold in our lives. How is the Lord inviting you to behold? What might this look like in your life? Are there things you behold that you might eliminate from your life?
Prayer: Lord, I acknowledge the weariness and desolation of the desert. By Your mercy and grace, may this not lead into discontentment as I look at You, beholding Your power and glory. Amen.