Monday, 3 October 2016

Focusing on the IF to see clearly

The last few years I have had to wear glasses for reading and close up work. I had what they call "20/20 vision" until I was a 45 years old. I now know that it has been a blessing. So, the whole “clean glasses" thing is new to me and seeing clearly is something I have much more respect for. Again, it is not until you have to experience something yourself that you really can learn from it. 

I am amazed how easy it is for your glasses to get dirty and how seeing through a “sploch” or a mark on your lense can be frustrating and yet how easily you adapt to the skewed view if you are not careful. Maybe because I am taking them off and on all the time it is more challenging, but either way it is a constant adjustment and one that makes me appreciate “clear" vision more and more.  There are times when I just put up with “blurred” vision, because I can’t be bothered cleaning my glasses again or I can’t be bothered taking the time to adjust my view to see clearly. Like many I suspect, it is only when I cannot see at all, that I will make the changes required. It requires more effort to see clearly, but it is worth it in the end and when my lenses are perfectly clean (which I have yet to find an easy way to do), it makes a real difference. 

I am amazed how many people publicly post "out of focus" photos. Photography can reveal so many things, when you look more closely at something that looks OKAY at a distance but when you zoom in, it is out of FOCUS or at least blurry. 

I think about this when I read the Bible. When I read something that is not clear, and is actually frustrating, I have the choice to roll over it and forget it or actually stop and make the effort to really understand what it is saying, to make the effort to try and see clearly what message God is trying to teach me.  I realise that looking through dirty glasses, or blurred vision, or even being out of focus is very easy.  It is the reason why there are so many interpretations of the Bible and I know it will be something we all have to continue to work at our whole lifelong faith Journey. 

Ephesians 1: 18 (The Message) 
I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!

Just recently I was reading in Numbers, the story of the talking donkey. I read over these chapters again and at a quick read I was puzzled as to why God seemed to be changing his mind and sending mixed messages to Balaam. 

Numbers 22:20 (NIV) 
That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.”

Numbers 22:22 (NIV) 
“But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.”

Within the space of 2 verses, God seems to be saying you can go with them and then He changes and seems to be very angry that Balaam went. Here is where, if we are not willing to delve a little deeper, question, clean our focus and ask God to help us see clearly, that we can easily get confused, disappointed, doubtful and even cynical, or worse use it to justify our own behaviour all in the name of God. If God can change his mind, then can I trust Him? 

I am thankful for different versions of the Bible and for scholars much smarter than I, processing and asking these questions that I can lean on when I can’t seem to make sense of something. All I am required to do is question, take the time, clear my focus and ask for God’s focus in all situations. 

It is amazing how one little word can make all the difference and to focus on this helped me understand so much more about this story. The NIV version of Numbers 22:20 seems to have lost a little in translation as it has replaced “IF” for “Since”. Digging a little deeper showed me that God was not happy with being asked again the same question, after He had already given His answer. I know as a parent when I have answered the question but the kids keep coming back, hoping I would change my mind, I must admit I feel a little angry as well. Sometimes I dig in and feel stronger about saying NO, and yet other times I give in and hope that they learn the lesson another way. But we are human and God is God, so something else is going on here.  

Numbers 23:19 
“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind” 

He is not changing His mind, He was testing Balaam and Balaam clearly hears what he wants to hear and does what he wants to do anyway.  So the men do not come to Balaam, because he doesn't give them a chance to.  He doesn't wait for that, but eagerly packs up his stuff and heads off with them. Oh, the times when we are guilty of that, hearing what we want to hear, knowing deep down  we shouldn't be doing something, but hoping God will be gracious and bless it anyway. 

Balsam is so blind to what he wants to hear, whether it be for the reward that has been promised, the adventure that sounds fun, the desire to be wanted, the chance to get some attention. Either way, it seems that when his donkey starts talking to him along the road, his desire to do this trip blinds him to the fact that maybe God is trying to talk to him or warn him or even challenge him!  No, Balaam is just angry that the donkey is making this journey difficult. 

You can see how the little word “IF” now has even more power. It changes the whole story, the whole focus. "IF" he WAS doing what God wanted, then this trouble with the Donkey could be interpreted with God being a liar, someone who changes his mind, someone who plays with us and sends mixed messages. But, because of the word “IF”, it shows that God is trying to get Balaam’s attention as to who is really in control. “What are you really doing this for? What is your real motivation? And guess what?. I am going to use this for MY good even though you have not obeyed my commands. The angel finally gets Balaam’s attention, as the Bible says “The Lord opened Balaam’s eyes” (Numbers 22:31) and helps him to see clearly, to get God’s focus. Balaam now knows, embarrassingly so, that God will use this situation for His Glory, and not for Balaam’s gain. 

So, Balaam now with a clear focus serves God’s purposes and blesses God’s people, much to the disgust of Balak and without personal gain for Balaam (Numbers 24:10-14).



As we ask God to help us see clearly what He wants to teach us, I am reminded to take the time to go deeper and seek His truth. I am challenged to make sure my focus is cleaned regularly, for fear that like Balaam, I might NOT settle for seeing only what I want to see, hearing only what I want to hear and using God’s truth to justify my own behaviour and desires. I am encouraged to see that like Balaam, when I do lose focus, God will graciously forgive me and can still use my mess ups for His glory. I love the reminder that God cares for us so much that He will use anything to get our attention, even a talking donkey, and pray I may not be so blinded like Balaam, that when that happens I can see it for what it is, God trying to get me to FOCUS on HIM. I am challenged that a little word like “IF” can make all the difference to gaining focus on His TRUTH.