Turn your eyes upon Jesus….

This week, I have had a chorus running through my mind, over and over and so have come to the conclusion that it must be because it’s what I’m supposed to talk to you about this week.

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

I know that it’s one you will probably have heard and sung before.  It’s really very simple and yet somehow so hard to do.  I used to think it was not only simple but too simplistic; the idea that concentrating on Jesus would make all your problems disappear.  That’s not actually what it says, though, is it?  Turning our eyes to Jesus doesn’t mean that life will suddenly be really easy but rather focuses our attention on the solution rather than the problem and that has to be a good thing!

The bible passages I have chosen today (and there are a few of them!) all say something similar.  Again, probably familiar.  Psalm 121 talks about lifting our eyes to the hills and looking to where our help comes from – the maker of heaven and earth.  We take our attention off of the things that are causing us pain or difficulty and begin to get our head around the fact that God who created all things, who created us and made a way for us to be in eternal relationship with him and loves us completely and utterly is holding us and working with us to see his kingdom established on earth as it is in heaven.  

Colossians 3:1-17 is one we have considered a lot over the past year.  It speaks about setting our mind on things above and not on the things of earth.  Again, focusing on Jesus and allowing him to transform our thinking from earthly things and worldly worries to our wonderful Lord who is seated at the right hand of God and in whom we find peace.  

The final reading is from Hebrews 12:1-3.  

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

It might be worth you turning back the page in your bibles to Hebrews 11 at this point.  There we read of that great cloud of witnesses this passage refers to.  We see in verse 1 that ‘Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’.  We read about that faith exercised by many Old Testament saints like Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses……. All people who lived lives that were far from easy with many setbacks along the way but who persevered despite their difficulties, despite sinning and falling so far from what God had called them to be and yet now considered heroes of the faith we also hold. 

One of those witnesses we read about in the passage is Noah.  You will find the account of Noah and the flood in Genesis 5-7.  Noah faced the ultimate lockdown.  He was stuck on a boat with his family for almost a year – it rained for 40 days and nights; the water had gone down at the end of 150 days; by the end of the 7thmonth, the Ark was resting on top of a mountain range and the tops of those mountains became visible at the 10th month.  40 days after that, Noah released a raven, then a dove but still there was water over the surface of the earth and two weeks later, the dove didn’t return. It was still some time after that that the earth was completely dry and they were able to come out of the ark along with all the animals they had taken with them. Working that out, it comes to around 364 days though different sources all give slightly different figures.  Noah’s lockdown didn’t include daily exercise, the freedom to visit a shop to buy necessities, the possibility of joining a ‘bubble’ after a certain amount of time.  He was in true lockdown for a very long time and had the added pressure of looking after thousands of different kinds of animals and all that entails (just think about that for a second….) yet they made it through and at the end, he built an altar to God and sacrificed burnt offerings on it showing that his faith was still strong. 

It can’t have been easy, can it?  What was it that brought them through it?  Well partly necessity, that’s for sure.  He didn’t have another option once they were aboard in the same way that the lockdown was forced upon us!  It’s more than that, though.  We have talked in previous letters about remembering what has gone before and looking forward to what is coming as a way to cope with what we are facing today.  Noah would have done both.  He had a relationship with God that was strong and he was obedient to him both during his whole life hence God choosing him but also in following God’s instructions to build a boat in the middle of land despite there never having been rain on the land before.  He knew and trusted God to the point that he was able to hear and respond to God’s voice and then to see what God had said come to fruition.  He also knew that one day, it would end and life on earth would begin again and he was able to look forward to that day.  Noah lived his life with his eyes and his mind fixed on the author or pioneer as we read in the NIV and perfecter of his faith and was commended for that faith in the God who was utterly faithful to him.  

I wonder how it felt stepping out of the Ark and onto dry ground once again? Facing the fear of stepping outside and putting feet on dry ground with so much space having been cooped up on a boat for so long.  Dealing with the responsibility of starting again.  Longing, maybe, for what once was, but recognising that nothing would ever be quite the same again.  Having the desire to get it all right.  

All of these are emotions that (between us) we are probably all feeling.  Some of us have been able to head out at least a little over this period of lockdown but some have been at home for the whole time.  It’s bound to feel frightening to once again step outside – especially knowing that the virus has not been defeated.  Our church doors have been closed since the middle of March and when they are able to reopen, things will most definitely not be the same as they were.  There will be rules and guidelines to follow that were once unimaginable.  

We are in a situation, like Noah, of being able to start again.  It’s an exciting and also terrifying prospect!

For some of us, the desire to go back to normal will be so strong that we will want to resist even those rules and guidelines there to keep us safe (and may have already gone against them!).  We will want to rush back into the programme we had before the virus came and interrupted us.  Others may be excited about the possibilities that this new start brings and may want to throw out the baby with the bathwater and do everything differently!  There will be conversations – some of them maybe painful but necessary – as we work out together our way forwards.  We have an opportunity here to reconsider the ways we can impact our community for God and share his love with those around us.  

Now is the time for us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith as we begin to consider coming out of lockdown and meeting together again.  It is time to deliberately and carefully set our mind on things above.  To come before God in prayer both individually and together and ask him to show us what he has planned for us so that we may see his kingdom come on earth as in heaven.  

Stand Up – Worship Central – https://youtu.be/LenDUWnPHXg

With history behind us, destiny before us
Every heart is bowed down
From the field of battle into greater blessing
Nothing left to fear now

When we don’t know what to do, what to do
Our eyes will be fixed on You, fixed on You

Stand up, everybody stand up
Come on lift Your eyes up, see the King
Our God such a mighty fortress
You are with us, for us, Jesus our King

Moving on united, we are Your revival
Every life is sold out
Running with Your vision, seeing heaven break in
People of Your presence

When we don’t know what to do, what to do
Our eyes will be fixed on You, fixed on You