“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
We as Christians live much of our lives wearing a set of blinders, one which we have mostly because we are finite and mortal—human. For those who don’t know what blinders are, they are the pieces of leather which were put on horses on the sides of their eyes to limit their vision to just in front of them, so that they wouldn’t be spooked by peripheral movement. Blinders are vision-limiters. And we wear them. Sometimes they’re so big that we’re lucky that we’re able to see anything out of them at all. We have them because we are humans and we are finite, limited—unable to see things outside of our limited perspective. But sometimes, we can see more than we give ourselves credit for.
It’s kind of like looking at the sun through a pinhole in an index card. Sure it allows you to see the actual shape of the sun, but you’re doing so at the expense of the blinding glory and power of the sun. (I know that’s the point with the pinhole card, but bear with me in this.)
There are various ways that we as Christians are affected by the blinders we wear. And some of these effects are devastating. Rather than explain in-depth what I mean in some seminary-esque lecture, I shall simply give some examples.
1) I had the opportunity to explain to a friend of Katie’s the background of the name Jehovah. Her friend was a Jehovah’s Witness who was investigating some of what she believed. (In brief, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jehovah was a name given specially to them as part of a new and recent revelation; it is actually a medieval misreading of the name Yahweh in the Hebrew text.) I spoke the truth honestly and clearly. And I did not convert her (so far as I know). Neither did Katie. I may never have any interaction with her again. And if I look with blinders on, seeing only what I see, then I have failed to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20.
The point here is that what I did is not the end of things. It’s the end of the part of the picture that I can clearly see, but it is not the whole of the picture. It is one pixel in the multi-million pixel picture that is the life of that woman. I had the chance to make that pixel a point of light, and I did so. Maybe God plans to put a whole bunch of pixels of light together and make a picture of light, and she will one day be saved. And maybe not. I don’t know. But if I’m willing to see things without my blinders on—willing to see the big picture, then I will realize that her salvation is not in my hands: it is in the hands of God, and he uses a lot of different people to fill a lot of different roles—more than I am ever able to see or understand. If I can realize that the picture is larger than my pixel—even if I can’t see it clearly—I will realize that I have done what God wanted and fulfilled my role.
2) My father’s church is struggling to ‘survive’ in the sense of both finances and numbers. It was that way almost 8 years ago, and it’s still that way. Will it persist? Will it have to close its doors? I don’t know. God knows, but I don’t know. But if that church has been faithful to do what God has required of it, then it has done what it was supposed to do. Staying alive, being full, having the resources to do a lot of programs, having lots of young children, having great outreach programs, supporting lots of missionaries—none of these things is necessarily (or solely) the calling of my father’s church, or of any church for that matter. The church is not called to be ‘successful’ by human estimation. It is called to do what God calls it to. For some churches, that may look like what we call success. For others it may not.
But the church has done its duty and been faithful if it has done its best by the power of God working in it. If we wear our blinders then the struggle or closing of a church is a sign of failure. That is not necessarily true. The work of the individuals within the church goes on even if the church closes. The work of the denomination goes on even if the church closes. The work of the Church universal goes on even if the church closes. And God’s work in the whole world goes on even if the church closes. Sure, a church might be a number of pixels in the picture—more than the few pixels that I personally can see and affect. But it’s still not the whole picture. And if we can try to see the whole picture, we’ll realize that it goes beyond the church of which we are a part. Besides which, the closing of the church does not imply that everything good in that church is gone—the people, the effect the church had on them, and the work they do for God will go on.
3) I grew up in a denomination which at times I reflect upon and am unimpressed by. Sometimes I reflect upon the CRC and unimpressed is an understatement of my feelings about the character of the denomination. And if we wear our human blinders, then watching things go down the drain—one by one—is the end of the world as we know it. But once again, if I can remove the blinders of human limitation and see things more as God would see them, I would realize that the work of the CRC is more than the work of the CRC. It is the work of individuals in the CRC. It is the work of programs made up of individuals. It is the work of churches made up of individuals. It is the work of programs made up of multiple churches. It is the work of the Church universal, beyond the CRC.
In short, once again, the picture is bigger than any part which we can look at. This is not an excuse to do nothing. God calls individuals to be faithful to his call on their lives. He calls programs to be faithful to their calling. He calls churches to be faithful to their calling. He calls denominations to be faithful to their place and calling. And he calls the Church universal to be faithful to its calling.
But if we live with our human blinders on all the time, we will limit our view to seeing only one part of the picture, and when that part of the picture seems to remain dark (or go dark), then we drop into despair, seeing only what we perceive as a sign of failure. But if the Bible is clear on anything (it’s actually clear on a lot of things, but that’s neither here nor there) it is clear on the fact that standards of success and failure should be defined by God and have been especially redefined by the coming of Christ and his sacrificial work. We do not measure success and failure by human standards but by God’s standards.
So don’t lose hope. Be faithful to your calling and trust that God does plan to work all things out, and you are just one part of that plan. If you ensure that the pixels which you are given to light up in this world are lit up as God wanted them to be, then you have succeeded in your given mission (by the power of God) and responded faithfully to your calling. One day we will see the whole picture, and we will see the pixels which we lit alongside of the millions and millions of pixels which others lit, and we will realize that we were just one part of a massive picture of light. And God will say to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23)