Turn your eyes

How are you?

Here we are, four weeks in to this new locked-down life, travelling as pioneers across an unfamiliar, even dangerous terrain.

Vital things remain the same. The Lord is still compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103:8). His promises endure as solid ground on which to stand. His presence abides with us still. His purposes have not been thwarted. He will still build his church, though all hell would endeavour to shake it (Matthew 16:18).

Less vital things continue, too. Spring is unfolding all around, with brightly coloured flowers and leaves unfurling. The noisy magpies are still taunting the neighbour’s cat – I know because they are in my line of sight all day long as I settle into working from home.

Yet the very ground beneath our collective feet has changed. We are all dealing with unprecedented circumstances.

So, how are you?

I can identify all of the following in myself:

  • Frustration – how precious to me is the illusion of control. And how I detest the illusion being shattered.
  • Irritability – I’m over-sensitive, more so than normal – and even that irritates me!
  • Restlessness – concentration has become a battle. My quiet times are hard work.
  • Despair – is there any point in investing time and energy when the events may be cancelled? And just look at all the spiritual ugliness coming out of me.
  • Grief – I feel the loss of planned visits from Canadian family, and trips home.
  • Relief – what was supposed to be a busy spring of travel is decidedly less busy now. I’m even enjoying elements of this lockdown.
  • Guilt – I shouldn’t feel relief or joy. People are dying.
  • Fatigue – not a single day has passed where I’ve not had several Zoom calls, and I find myself tiring of online communication.
  • Worry – the background noise to life right now. My thoughts feel relatively calm but my constantly clenched jaw (and resulting headache) attest otherwise.
  • Detachment – it feels easier to distract and escape from difficult emotions.

Your list will undoubtedly look different from mine but perhaps it’s safe to assume this virus has hit you hard too – because these current circumstances are hard for a plethora of reasons. The Lord does not need us to pretend otherwise – he remembers we are but dust (Psalm 103:14).

Where do you turn when the noise of your soul is overwhelming?

I’m finding the story of Job instructive in this season. Job was a man who knew what it is to have the very foundations of his life shaken, a man who did not shy away from expressing the wretchedness of his soul. His words do not make for feel-good reading.

Then we arrive at Job 38–41. The Lord speaks to Job and not once does he answer Job’s complaints. He does not pour out reassurances of his promises as a balm to Job’s grief. Instead, the Lord tells Job to brace himself because the Almighty One is about to question him (Job 38:3)!  “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand” (38:4).

On and on the questions go until there is no room for any doubt: the Lord alone is high and holy.

Job has been soundly put in his place – his words in 42:3 echo that of Psalm 131 – the cacophony of his soul has been stilled and quieted in the presence of the Almighty God. And Job’s response to beholding the glory of the Lord is worship.

Bowed and humbled before the Holy One, Job confesses he is not worthy and that God alone can do all things – no purpose of his can be thwarted (42:2). If Job had been able to read Revelation, I imagine he may have joined in with the words of chapter 5: “‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!’ (Revelation 5:12).

How is your own worship going?

Like me, you may be finding it difficult at the moment. Unable to join in corporate worship with our church families and living out our days confined to the walls of our homes, our gazes have been narrowed in all sorts of ways. The experience is a bit like being in a bubble and inside our bubbles, chaos can indeed feel very big and God very small.

But Job’s chaos was shrunk back to size when he met the Lord. He realised how vast the Lord is and how small he was in comparison – and we too can meet this same God. Enabled by the Spirit and, because of Christ’s work, we can engage with the Lord personally, listening to him and speaking our hearts back to him. We are not sealed off from him at all!

Last Sunday, after a few days of feeling unravelled by the pandemic, I took my allotted walk for the day along the river near my home. My heart was overflowing with all manner of emotions, some directly contradicting others, but I began to play some music through my headphones. The first song began with these words: “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.” Each song after that focused on the power and beauty of the risen Christ – and my heart was stilled, strengthened and corrected.

Why not find moments to pause and encounter the Lord each day? The Lord may not question you out of a whirlwind as he did Job, but his Word still speaks – and those chapters in Job may be a good place to start. Music is also a powerful gift to engage with the Lord and sing out truth. You may even find that physical expressions of worship – lifted hands, kneeling – can help.

Join me in the words of Psalm 95: “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”