For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. (v18)
How often do I need to be reminded to look beyond the surface? In conflict – always.
8 We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed …. 17 We have small troubles for a while now…
Paul’s letters are filled with counsel on how to handle conflict, and on his own responses to challenge and criticism coming from communities of Christians around the Mediterranean. There will be troubles, but they don’t really compare to the glory that is coming (the second half of v 17). And the reason we can maintain this attitude, is because of v 18 For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen.
Just as in Phillipians 4:6, he gives us the spiritual means – through a spiritual practice (applied with consistently and regularly, thus it may be called a spiritual discipline). To avoid worry, follow Paul’s instructions on prayer. To avoid being overcome by the troubles that arrise in ministry and because of our Christian walk, and to help keep them in perspective – have eyes to see that which is unseen. Don’t look just on the surface.
In a congregation undergoing transformation, just as in a new congregation in gestation, infancy or childhood, challenges will come – on the surface things will often look very discouraging. How discouraged Jesus followers were at the trial and crucifixion, and in the hours that followed before the resurrection. All for which they’d hoped and dreamed was gone – it was crushed, destroyed, and they felt forsaken and persecuted – Heck, even Jesus felt forsaken on the cross (MT 27:46) This word, forsake or forsaken, is the word used in Psalm 22, which Jesus quotes there in Mt 27. It is also in Psalm 16, which Peter qoutes in Acts 2 in his first sermon at Pentecost, where he summarized the Gospel story of Jesus to explain the demonstration of power in the gift of tongues. The Hebrew version of the word appears over 200 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.
This passage also contains several reminders that God in Christ is the message and the power for ministry, not we ourselves (esp. v 5-7). As we do see transformation of lives, families, communities and congregations coming through the work of the gospel, I am at risk of taking too much credit for those things. As I have said before, I struggle with knowing how much credit to take – I want to find a healthy balance of accepting appreciation and affirmation and not rejecting a compliment, and yet always turn ing the praise back toward Christ for His work in me. I need God’s help to do this well. And as a Barnabas Encourager, I will want to look at this working in the lives of the people whom I coach – to help them celebrate deeply and enjoy their triumphs, but always realizing that it is God who makes these things possible. This may be an important aspect of my ministry of encouragement.