Seeing Jesus is what Christianity is all about. Mark it down. We are what we see. . . . Acquiring a vision of your Maker can be like starting a whole new life. --MAX LUCADO
I lifted my face to the dazzling September sun. My husband, Holmes, and I were as excited as a couple of kids before a birthday party. We had tickets for a “Balmy Day” ride. The brochure bragged, “Maine’s favorite ocean day trip—enjoy a quiet boat ride to Monhegan Island—the experience will be your vacation highlight!”
As inlanders we didn’t even think to check the marine forecast. The sun was shining. It was windy, but it’s windy lots of days where we live, so we didn’t worry.
“Are you sure you want to go?” the ticket agent at the dock asked me. “Tomorrow’s going to be a better day.”
That should have given me a clue—but I forged ahead. “Today’s our only chance. We have to fly back to Oklahoma tomorrow,” I told her.
“It’s going to be bumpy out there. I could refund your money,” she added. I picked up our tickets anyway and got us egg sandwiches and coffee across the street, and Holmes and I boarded the Balmy Days II at pier number eight with a group of other brave but naďve folks.
Before we were out of the harbor, the young woman behind me was popping Dramamine. She offered me some. “I don’t get motion sickness, but thanks!” I told her with a smile.
About halfway to the island, I began to taste that egg sandwich and wish I’d taken her up on the offer of Dramamine. “Don’t worry,” the first mate said over the intercom, “it’ll be smoother on the way back.”
After an hour we arrived at Monhegan. For a few hours we walked around the island, strolling through art galleries and eating a picnic lunch on the big hill with a spectacular view of the ocean. Then we boarded the boat again, hoping for a smooth ride back to Boothbay.
We were only a few minutes out of the harbor when the gentle rocking intensified. Soon I felt myself slam from side to side as I gripped the rail with white knuckles. Just as I readied myself for the next wave, the boat lurched forward, and I almost lost my seat. The boat pitched down and rolled from side to side as it moved into the wind and waves.
Every muscle in my body tensed as the cold water blowing in the cabin door splattered my sunglasses and left my hair plastered to my head. I thought each looming wave might wash us into the frigid depths.
Suddenly I heard a woman on the top deck screaming in terror. The big man groaning behind me got sick all over the deck. The woman in front of me turned a grayish green as she lay down and held on for dear life—and she was a seasoned island resident.
The captain had to steer farther out to sea in a fruitless endeavor to find calmer waters. As waves continued to crash into the boat and splash over the bow, I looked up at the life jackets, wondering if we’d have to use them. A man near me saw my glance and said, “They wouldn’t help us much. The water’s only forty degrees.”
I realized I was gripping the bench as if I were the one steering the boat. Anxiety rising, I had what I could only describe as a deep connection with God. Fear, I’ve found, can be a great motivator to draw near to God and a powerful way to experience some intimate moments with him.
You made this wind and the waves and you could quiet them down just like you did for the disciples! I prayed silently.
I’ve experienced dozens of moments in my life when I wished things would calm down and problems would disappear. I kept on with this line of conversation with the Lord for a while, until it was clear the waves were not getting smaller. In fact, the boat was heaving even more.
Then since you’re not quieting the waves, would you speak to me? Quiet my heart and show me what you want me to learn. I waited and listened.
“Enjoy the ride,” God seemed to say.
Enjoy the ride? I asked. Surely I heard wrong.
But again the words came: “Enjoy the ride!”
My husband, I noticed, was enjoying the ride—even soaking wet and cold from the waves that splashed over the top deck (of course, he also loves jumping out of airplanes).
As I pondered God’s words, I looked around the lower cabin to see who else seemed to be enjoying the ride. I finally spotted an old couple, tall and ruddy-faced, who looked perfectly peaceful, as if they were on a happy Sunday excursion.
I inched my way to the back of the cabin, holding on as the boat rolled through its audition for The Perfect Storm.
“You look like you’re really enjoying this. You don’t seem scared or sick. What’s your secret?” I asked the elderly pair.
“Just keep your eyes on the horizon. Don’t look at the waves. Look out as far as you can. Keep your eyes peeled on the horizon way out there,” they said, pointing into the distance.
Returning to my seat, I took their advice. I discovered something amazing. A sense of peace replaced my anxiety, and I began to experience Jesus as my Prince of Peace in a real way. It was almost as if I could see him on the deck smiling, reveling in his creation, and reigning over the whole excursion.
And as I got a fresh vision of Jesus and kept my eyes on the horizon, I felt his peace that afternoon. The waves didn’t change. They were just as choppy, and the boat still pitched and rolled wildly.
But something in me changed. I experienced such a strange and wonderful calm that I went out on the deck and enjoyed the splash of the ocean water on my face. I noticed how the sun was sparkling like diamonds on the water and how gorgeous the day was. I chatted with fellow travelers. A former Navy officer told me about the forty-five-foot waves that had rushed over the deck of the navy ship he was on in the Atlantic during World War II. To him, these ten-foot waves were child’s play. “It’s all about perspective,” he told me.
I reveled in the gulls flying over us in the bright blue Maine sky and the school of dolphins jumping in the choppy waters near the boat. We eventually made it back to the pier, and as I look back now, the ride really was the highlight of our trip.
The Christian life is rarely a calm harbor ride. It’s more like an adventurous ocean excursion where the waves can be huge and the ride can be bumpy and uncertain or wild and difficult. Things can seem overwhelming. Sometimes we long for calmer waters or just want to get off the boat.
Still God says, “Look at me, not the waves. Fix your eyes on Jesus—and don’t forget to enjoy the ride!” (see Heb. 12:2). Our tumultuous boat ride reminds me of a card I once saw. It pictured a hippopotamus in a boat surrounded by huge waves, and inside it said:
Lord, thank you for upheaval,
For rocking my little boat.
For sending winds that seem too strong
And waves that threaten to capsize me.
Because all of this drives me into your arms.
And anything which results in that end, Lord,
Is worth getting wet over.
Being driven into the arms of Jesus, I’ve found, is truly worth getting wet over and even worth going through a tumultuous storm now and then.
Staying focused on God in stressful times is a vital part of our spiritual journey. World-class sports stars such as cyclist Lance Armstrong, tennis champion Venus Williams, gymnast Shannon Miller, and golfer Tiger Woods have been the subject of research by scientists trying to determine why these stars win championships against athletes who have just as much talent and skill. What is their secret? It’s not just that they practiced a lot or set aside distractions to hone their skills. So did the other athletes. It is their ability to stay focused under stress. They focus on a yellow jersey, a tennis championship, an Olympic gold medal, or a golf grand slam.
The Bible tells us the supreme prize is “the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven” (Phil. 3:14). This verse tells us what our focus is to be—something more important than winning the Tour de France or gaining the title of world champion: knowing Jesus and following him as he calls us from glory to glory.
Looking for God at every turn—and getting a fresh vision of who he is—keeps us focused on our purpose in life regardless of how rocky the journey is. Seeing and encountering Jesus isn’t just something we “want”—like sprinkles on a cake’s icing—it’s something we need, something vital to a life of faith.
Our spiritual eyesight so easily becomes foggy, clouded by disappointments or marred by difficult circumstances. Sometimes we’re so focused on ourselves we can’t see anyone or anything else. We begin to think the Christian life is all about us instead of all about God. Often we’re like the disciples on the stormy sea, with our eyes fixed on the trials and tumultuous waves that threaten to sink our ship. I love what Anne Graham Lotz said about this: “When we are faced with great problems, our tendency is to focus on the hands of God—what He has not done for us and what we want Him to do for us—instead of focusing on the face of God—simply who He is. Our depression can deepen through this kind of self-preoccupation. Often, in the midst of great problems, we stop short of the real blessing God has for us, which is a fresh vision of who He is.”1
Sometimes our view of God is colored by old attitudes and impressions of him or perceived through the filter of our childhood experiences or the intensity of our present pain, as we’ll see in the chapters ahead. And just as a marriage can get stale to the point that we walk past our mate day after day and hardly notice him, we often live without noticing the Lord, even if we’ve been Christians a long time. We lose the vision of his majesty, of his incredible loving-kindness, and of the richness of his mercy, and we have a hard time staying connected. We can attend church services regularly and miss seeing Jesus.
Oswald Chambers said, “Being saved and seeing Jesus are not the same thing. Many are partakers of God’s grace who have never seen Jesus. When once you have seen Jesus, you can never be the same, other things do not appeal as they used to do. . . . If you have a vision of Jesus as He is, experiences can come and go, you will endure ‘as seeing Him Who is invisible.’”2
This book is all about catching a fresh vision of Jesus and letting that vision transform your life. Most of us don’t need another program to attend at church or more committee meetings, conferences, or Bible software as much as we need a fresh revelation of Christ. Because when we see Jesus, we are changed! Our hearts are renewed, and we are energized to continue on God’s path. Second Corinthians 3:18 says, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (NASB).
When we see him, even a glimpse, “we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like Him” (2 Cor. 3:18 MESSAGE). Seeing Jesus clearly changes us—it changes our behavior, our relationships, and our goals.
I invite you to join me as we look at five pathways through which we can get a fresh vision of Jesus: through moments in the Word, through service, through our trials, through mountaintop experiences and events that light a fire in us, and through whispers from God’s Spirit. These lead to times of repentance, hearing him more clearly, and most of all—seeing our Savior.
These pathways make up the five sections of this book. In each section you will read a story from my life, a contemporary story, and a biblical person’s story. Throughout history, many believers have been transformed by a vision of Christ. Therefore, each section will include a classic or historical story. Each chapter will also include personal application points to encourage you in gaining a fresh vision of Jesus in your own life.
In the pages ahead we’re going to look at ways not only to see Jesus in our everyday lives but also to fix our eyes upon him. Before you begin, here are some ways to get focused for the journey:
Reflect. Respond to these questions by journaling or discussing them with someone:
• When was the last time you had a real encounter with Jesus? How did this affect you or impact your life?
• What’s the biggest hindrance to your spiritual journey?
• What comes into your mind when you think about God?
• When difficulties or storms hit your life, what do you tend to focus on?
Ask. The Bible encourages us to ask, seek, and knock (see Matt. 7:7). Tell God you want to see him as he really is right in the midst of your mundane circumstances or the chaos of your life. This kind of seeking—looking for the face of God, not just facts about God, and for God himself, not just for what he can do for us—is no small thing. God loves a relentless seeker! He promises that those who seek him will find him: “If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me. I will be found by you” (Jer. 29:13–14).