Lift Your Eyes Up….
I am quite a visual person and so, when I was asked to speak on this title I saw this:
But what does it mean?
The Title means: lift up your eyes to Jesus, to God. Focus on him rather than on your feet or the path ahead. Perhaps not quite what I had come to mind!
Now if you are a Christian, you will have some idea of what that means. In the Bible we read in Psalm 121 v.1+2:
‘I lift my eyes up to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth’.
A Christian would believe that God wants him or her to do just that. Lift their eyes up to God and ask for help through difficult moments and their daily lives. Going back to my picture, this image I had every time I thought about the title I had been given, is actually something that we do as a culture rather a lot…We often feel exasperated! For example:
“but it was your favourite yesterday” Roll eyes…or maybe:
Rolling our eyes (or lifting them up into our heads) usually signifies – “give me strength” or “help!”
People regularly say : “Give me strength!” or “God help us!” when faced with tough situations or even when joking.
But what does it mean? What does it look like to to lift our eyes up to heaven and get strength from God?
Now, I am a pretty normal person (depending of course on what your definition of normal is). I have not had a major crisis that I have overcome, I have experienced 35 years of life and its ups and downs, but I am not wise with age or mind-blowingly intelligent. I am just ME. So I really just wanted to share with you about how I see this ‘lifting our eyes up’ work in the everyday. With the very normal struggles of family life, money, relationships or work, through the peaks and troughs of living in the UK in a pretty average way!
In our culture as women we are told ‘that we can and should have it all’. We as women should be feminists, we should be strong, we should have jobs, good careers, husbands (if we feel the need) . We could have children, we should have lovely picture-perfect homes, we should have political opinions, in our churches we can have roles in worship, speaking, prayer etc. We should and can have authority in all aspects of our lives.
It’s not that I disagree with this, it’s just that as you may have noticed, it’s a bit of a tall order! Many of my friends are working full or part time, they have children, they are actively involved in their church, they manage the home and try to look glamorous whilst doing it. We laugh at the 1950’s adverts of glamorous women hoovering and waiting on their husbands, but it seems to me, that we are still doing this! Whilst also having careers and heaps of responsibility too. Maybe our attention has shifted from just pleasing our husbands, to pleasing a whole heap of other people?
The Bible encourages us to be the women God wants us to be. There are examples of lots of different women in the Bible; some who are at home with children, there are a few Queens, women that work full-time, single women, married women, divorced etc. In the church we can sometimes get to thinking that there is an ideal, perhaps to stay at home with the kids wearing sandals? But, in Proverbs 31 God actually talks of ‘The Wife with Noble Character’ and this is a lady who works hard and does many other things. The Bible describes her as being ‘precious’. So don’t assume that I am saying there is a perfect way to be a Female Christian in today’s society. I am not.
What I am saying is that no wonder we worry, no wonder we are tired, no wonder some of us are on antidepressants. Maybe some of us are unsure of what our ambitions should be or how we should conduct our different and changing relationships.
There is no easy answer. Some people think that when you become a Christian you subscribe to a perfect and happy life, devoid of hardships and nasty moments. Unfortunately that is not true, certainly not in my experience! When you become a Christian you promise to follow a God who has suffered. No other worldview has a God that has suffered. Christians believe that God chose to send his son to die on a cross, to experience and walk through suffering, so that we could be saved. Our God has experienced suffering. Jesus walked on this earth. He promises to walk with us through in our pain, he offers us a hope that we can know a future in heaven where there is no more pain or suffering.
So as a Christian we do suffer, we do walk through very dark moments. The difference between knowing God and not, is that when you are walking through that dark time, a Christian has someone who promises to hold their hand. To go through it with them. To help them make good choices. If you choose to go it alone, it is just that, it is bound to be lonely. As Christians we are promised that we are not alone, that God will walk through life with us. In Bible in John 8 v:1-11 we hear about the woman who was going to be stoned for committing adultery. Jesus stepped into that situation and turned it around. He said “those of you who are without sin may cast the first stone”. And of course no one could throw a stone. He stepped into that cycle of pain and he stopped it, he changed the direction of her life.
If he can do that for a women who had done something that we would consider wrong, how much more would Jesus want to do that for you? I asked some kids at church the other day about the bible story of David and Bathsheba. I said that we can see that David has done a really bad thing. He stole another man’s wife and then killed her husband. I asked them: “Who thinks that God will forgive David for that?” Sadly, most of the kids decided that David could not be forgiven. That what he had done was too bad. I reminded the kids that God had chosen David to be King and of all the impressive good things that he had done and then I asked them again “could he be forgiven? Because essentially he was a good man, certainly in our eyes.” They still thought that he was unforgivable. The great thing is that this is not true! The Bible tells us that God sees all sin as the same. That all sin can be forgiven. There is no unforgivable sin!
It’s all about grace. God did not forgive David because essentially he was a ‘good’ person. Nor because he had done what God wanted the other times. He forgave David because David got down on his knees and said: “I was wrong, I just did what I wanted and it went wrong, forgive me”. David was honest with God. He admitted that he could not do this alone. That he needed God’s help. God said that David was “a man after his own heart”. Likewise Jesus knew that the women had sinned, He knew that she was sorry and desperate for forgiveness. He forgave her because in her heart she was crying out for help.
As a teenager I was doing Art and Sculpture at school. I decided that I was going to make (out of clay) a life size head and shoulders of a beautiful women. I drew a few preliminary sketches and then set to work. I worked the clay, made the base and started to form it. At first I thought ‘Ooh I am good at this – I think I might end up a famous sculptor.’ I imagined how beautiful and life-like my creation would be, and how the Art department would be delighted to claim me as a child prodigy.
However as I added and worked the clay together a rather different sculpture emerged than the one that I had imagined. Unfortunately, with lump of clay after lump of clay my sculpture grew uglier and uglier! The nose was wrong, one eye was larger than the other. So, in panic I added more and more clay. What was meant to be life size was now larger than life. It was growing rapidly and becoming a colossal head and shoulders.
Then I had an idea!… nobody had looked at my original drawings, no one but me knew what my sculpture was meant to look like!
So hid my sketchbook and started to exaggerate the ugliness of my sculpture. I added more and more clay, and I overplayed the chaotic look. I made one eye enormous and added hair going in all directions. I ended up with something that resembled Medusa with a headache.
See. It’s true!
I then went back to my sketchbook and changed the drawings to fit my creation. When finished I received bemused responses, but no criticism, as it looked as though I had achieved what I had set out to do. My Mum and Dad said, “…wow, interesting” and promptly placed it in the garage for a decade, no easy task as it took three people to lift it it!
The point was no one knew my disaster. I kept it quiet
It struck me that this is like life. We have a plan or plans for how we want to live, we have desires and dreams and we set about trying to achieve them. Maybe to be the woman that society would like us to be. Juggling everything with superb control. Never missing a trick. The problem is that ‘life happens’ even if we work hard to control our lives, we cannot prevent other people, events or own mistakes from effecting our plans. Perhaps you had a vision of marriage that is not the reality. Or you have not yet married, but you had expected to have four children by now. Perhaps you got ill, or someone that you know got ill and you have cared for them. Maybe money is an issue, you had planned for holidays, but you are lucky to get by each month. Or maybe you lost someone close to you, that was meant to be a main part in your story? Perhaps you have made mistakes.
But what happens when you get tired of making new plans and changing your dreams?
Maybe you talk to close friends, or choose to become cut off, going quiet. Perhaps you go to the doctors, you might get medication, counselling or read self help books. Maybe join some community group or go back to college? What are the other options? No one wants to feel that they have lost. You don’t want to give up.
As a Christian I believe that this cycle can look different, you can break it with God’s help. We saw that suffering happens whether you are a Christian or not. We are told that Jesus will walk through it with us and the Bible tells us we are asked to lift our eyes up to Jesus. There is a lovely saying which is ‘When I look to the sun all shadows fall behind me’. So when my life seems to deviates from my original plan, which it does on a daily basis, what should I do? I should be honest before God.
I should get praying and ask God; what is his plan for my life? How can I get through this? I should ask him to lead me forward in the coming days as my plans change. And ask him to forgive me for trying to go it alone. You can do this too.
Ask him to remind you how special you are to him. Talk with your friends be honest, get them to pray with you. Each day when you open your eyes – pray first. Look first to Jesus and ask him to help you to walk through the day, ask him to provide new opportunities.
Let’s be honest. We won’t get it right all of the time, we can’t possibly!
My challenge to you and to myself is to be honest with each other and with God. I believe we should stand tall. Not because we are proud of ourselves, filled with the pretend confidence that society gives the elite, like Maggie Thatcher, or some super model that looks as though they have it sorted. We can stand tall, heads high, shoulders back because: we mess up…we all mess up. But we are standing tall, honestly held up by God’s grace. We are loved however rubbish we think we are. We are unique, special and created by God. Jesus stooped down amongst the dust and rubbish and lifted us up high (just like the woman about to be stoned) so that we could stand tall in God’s grace… there is no need to prove ourselves, no need to achieve some invisible target. No need to rely on our acts of kindness or our belief that God has called us somewhere. We are completely accepted and loved for who we are. Whoever we are, however good we are.
I’m challenging you to look at God not at your problems, to lift your eyes up and to ask for help, because he can see a future for you, even if you yourself are struggling to right now.
So how do you go forward from now? You might be a Christian but are stuck in a lonely place where you don’t feel that God is walking with you. You might need reminding of God’s love for you. If you feel like that, let me encourage you to talk honestly to a friend, to go to church. What do you think church is there for? It’s not meant to be some club for the ‘holy’, it’s called to be a community of messy people that need encouragement and support from each other. That desire opportunities to learn and grow in their faith and understanding of God and the Bible. We all need help and support from people as well as God. God works through other people to help us! If I am on a diet I do much better with accountability than struggling on my own!!!
You may not be a Christian, but need help.
You want to be honest about the ‘stuff’ in your life. Maybe you want to have God’s help? If you pray and ask God to be a part of your journey I promise you, you will not be disappointed; God is full of Grace that he wants to give to you. Do that (pray!) and ask God to help and then go find a Christian and tell them what you have done So you can get some encouragement! Email me if you like
I know that some of you reading this will be thinking ‘hmm…whacky, Jen’s getting a bit heavy!’ Well no one is looking, no one knows what you think, even if you sit at the back of some church somewhere you are unlikely to be bundled into a back room and force-fed the Bible! Well not in most cases anyway. And you can pray this: ‘Dear God, I don’t get it all. I am sorry that I thought I could go it alone, I am sorry for the things that I have done that were wrong and I want to ask you to help me. I want to invite you into my life.’ You can pray that anywhere! On your own, with a friend, in a church… on the loo… although that seems slightly rude If it is all made up, then nothing will happen! You can forget the whole thing and write it off as an unusual experience. However, I do believe that when you honestly ask Jesus to walk with you, you will not be alone anymore. There is a way to break the cycle of pain and help to be lifted up.