You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times (Matthew 16:3).
Do you want something different from the practice of your faith this year? Are you hoping that your church will become more relevant and will actually make a difference this year? Unfortunately, most churchgoers aren't really looking for anything beyond more of their prayers being answered making their lives easier and less stressful. One thing I've learned is that authentic Christianity is not for the go-along-to-get-along status quo kind of crowd. The reality is that Jesus rocked. He rocked the boat. He rocked the status quo. He rocked the world. His critics wanted nothing to do with new, fresh, or different. So when they goaded Him to prove Himself to them the quote above was His response.
Christ seems to be saying, “Why is it that you are not willing to use the same comprehensive and deliberative skills you use to determine the day’s weather, when it comes to understanding the movement and will of God?” Studying the Word of God is for the purpose of determining His will. What is the point of familiarizing oneself with Scripture if one is not interested in the application? Here are some words and phrases that have to do with the subject matter at hand: tunnel-vision, scope, not seeing the forest for the trees, focus, and the really big one…situational awareness.
Thinking back, the first time I became aware of situational awareness was when my father was teaching me to drive. He hammered home one principle over and over again. He called it “defensive driving.” “Don’t just look at the road in front of you,” he would say (over and over). He taught me two things over four decades ago that have become a part of me as a driver. See everything and don’t assume other people know what they are doing. Being situationally aware of others around me while behind the wheel has saved my life more than once and prevented countless lesser accidents.
The next time I can remember the same principle being taught was when I was 18 and enrolled in a self-defense class. Ultimately, I earned several black belts but I can remember just how boring it was in the beginning because it was weeks before I ever learned how to block, punch, and kick. The first several lessons were nothing but lectures about how to make sure I never had to use the tactics that I was yet to learn. In other words, the first lessons were about being aware of who was around (that I could see), observing places that an assailant might use for cover, being aware of where exits are in buildings, and so on. And most importantly, not putting myself in dangerous situations at places or among people that are prone to trouble.
I started deer hunting in my early forties. No one taught me how to hunt so I learned the long and laborious way. I quickly learned to start paying attention…to everything. Tracks, scrapes, and rubs (when the buck scratches his itching antlers on limbs and saplings) are everywhere in a forest if you’ll just learn to look for them. I also learned pretty quickly to start looking for movement where I least expected it. Wind, smells, and sounds are also vital for a successful hunt. But what it all really boils down to is which species is going to notice the other one first? Awareness.
Situational awareness is foundational and fundamental to so much in life. Yet we hardly ever hear much about it where it concerns living out our faith. It certainly wasn’t unknown or unimportant to Jesus as the text above makes obvious. Face it. Without situational awareness one cannot even be saved, because the pathway to eternal life begins with the acknowledgement that something is amiss in the universe (original sin). There is something wrong all around me and in me. When we focus only on the road directly in front of us we’re blithely unaware of what is going on all around us. In today’s Christianity, not only can’t we see the forest for the trees, we can’t even see trees for the mirrors.
We have churches whose congregants are seemingly oblivious to the culture war and what is driving it (the spiritual war). I remember several years ago when I was still in the full time pastorate, inviting a Christian activist to a church luncheon. He didn’t tell anyone to vote Democrat, Republican, or Independent. He simply told the gathering that it was their duty as good citizens and Christians to cast an informed vote. Yet someone muttered loud enough for all to hear, “This isn’t appropriate at a church gathering!” That is precisely why America had a leader who demonstrated consistent animus toward all things Christian and spent his entire two terms apologizing to the world for all things American. Because the larger picture was ignored in favor of the personal one.
You can find the story of Jesus and the woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John’s gospel. He was by Himself as the disciples had gone into town to buy some food. In the course of His conversation with her He revealed Himself as the Messiah (John 4:25-26). The disciples returned just as the conversation was ending and were apparently embarrassed that they found Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman. He knew it. They asked Him if He was hungry (a seeming attempt to move on away from what they deemed was a rather awkward situation). Look at His response:
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life…” (John 4:34-36).
Notice the reference to sight? Don’t forget that this immediately follows the encounter with Nicodemus and the famous words of John 3:16. God so loved the world that He sent His onlybegotten Son, but the disciples were ashamed to see Jesus conversing with a Samaritan woman! Do you see the irony in His statement to them about not being able to see the harvest even when it was right in front of them?
Situational awareness is absolutely vital to the overall plan of God for humanity, the cause of Christ, and specifically the Great Commission. “[L]ift up your eyes, and see…” See more than just the road in front of you. See more than just the mall entrance. See more than just the open spot in the forest where you want to see a deer. See more than just some unimportant sinful laborer crossing your path.
It’s a new year. If you want your relationship to God and your church to go in directions you are afraid to even dream about, then start being situationally aware. Take your eyes off the mirror, the obvious path right in front of you, and the limited scope of your own life and start noticing. Start noticing the person who hasn’t been to church in awhile. Start noticing the lifestyle choices of the pop stars, actors, and sports icons your kids are flipping out over. Take note of the animus in both culture and government aimed at those who are faithful to God and His Word. Find a news source that shows you what is going on in the rest of the world (like the work God is doing in Iran of all places!).
Start looking at people’s faces. There is pain all around you. Ask God how you can help rather than just walking on by minding your own business. A former church member told me she had just made a visit at the local hospital. As she pulled out into the street she pulled up behind a car at the stop light in front of the hospital. The light turned green. The car in front of her just sat there. People quickly became impatient and started honking at the driver who wouldn’t go. Instead of laying on her horn, she got out and walked up to the car. The driver was weeping uncontrollably. Upon talking to him, she learned his wife had just passed away in the hospital. She ministered to him. What would you (or me) have done? Called the guy an idiot while laying on the horn? Situational awareness in our walk with Christ.
Jesus explained that was what the religious leaders of His day were lacking. He used it as He approached Jacob’s well. He beseeches us to “lift up your eyes, and see…” See the will of God at work in the world in places you wouldn’t dare go to. Start noticing the Word of God unfolding prophetically in culture. Start scanning the unfamiliar faces for an opportunity to recover one of the Lord’s lost lambs. Maybe the words of the old hymn say it best:
Open my eyes that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready, my God, Thy will to see;
Open my eyes, illumine me,
(Clara H. Scott)