Part of my scheduled Bible reading for today was Psalm 42, which begins with a superscription identifying it as a Maskil of the sons of Korah. What is a maskil?
Easton’s Bible Dictionary describes a maskil as a song enforcing some lesson of wisdom or piety, a song intended to give instruction. So as I read this psalm, the first question I asked myself was what is the intended instruction? I think the answer to that is found in the following verses.
I believe the lesson God is seeking to teach us through this psalm is how to deal with circumstances that cause us to feel “cast down,” to experience discouragement or even despair. When we walk through problems that seem to stretch on and on, one of the biggest struggles we face is holding onto hope. In this psalm, the message is clear. God is our source of hope, so to experience hope we must shift our focus off our circumstances and on to the Lord.
Corrie ten Boom said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.”
When we walk through on-going trials, the key to victory is fixing our eyes on the One who reigns over everything that touches our lives. God alone can bring peace and rest in the midst of circumstances that bring tears to our eyes and sorrow to our hearts.
Or as Hebrews 12:1-2 says, to find renewed strength to continue the race God has set before us, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Our Savior was strengthened as He turned His focus beyond the Cross He was facing to the joy to come after, when His death and resurrection would provide the way for us to be forgiven and restored to relationship with the Father.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB
Ginny Owens, a Dove Award-winning Contemporary Christian singer and songwriter, began losing her sight at age two from a congenital eye disease. While physically blind, she has beautifully expressed the message of the above verses in both her testimony and her songs.
As I thought about an effective way to get across the message God had put on my heart for this week’s Teach Me Tuesday post, I could think of no better example of what it means to fix our eyes on Jesus and willingly run with endurance the race God has set before us. Ginny shared this testimony on her website after the release of her album Love Be The Loudest.
“Most people think my greatest life challenge is blindness; I’ve been blind since age three. But that simply isn’t true. My greatest challenge is doing battle with the critical voices in my head that distract me from what’s most important. It’s the whispers of those who feel sorry for me because of my physical challenge and don’t think I hear their comments. It’s the shouts of my own doubts and insecurities, asking, ‘Do you have anything valuable to contribute to society?’ It’s the mindless chatter of our culture, inviting me to believe that any voice, as long as it’s loud, is fine. Every song on this album is an invitation to my heart, and the heart of the listener, to allow God’s perfect voice of love and truth to be irresistible to our hearts, drowning out all other voices, and moving us to action.”
Where we fix our spiritual eyes – and where we tune in our spiritual ears – determines how we run the race God has set before us! This is never more true than when we are facing difficult circumstances, an unexpected “detour” from our intended route to our destination.
This has been one of the main lessons God has been teaching me during the past week. Some days have been encouraging and my heart has been at peace. Others have been just the opposite. And when I asked God what was causing this, He reminded me of the above Scripture. The only way to run with endurance the race God has currently set before me is to fix my eyes on Jesus.
The Greek word translated “fix our eyes” in Hebrews 12:2, aphorao, comes from apo meaning “away from something near” and horao meaning “to look away from all else and to look steadfastly, intently toward a distant object.” The idea is to direct our attention without distraction as we choose a forward-gaze. This verse is talking about inner, spiritual vision that overcomes all distractions and looks ahead with confidence in the lovingkindness and faithfulness of our God.
DISTRACTIONS FROM A SINGLE FOCUS
On the surface, this may not seem like a challenging assignment, but this past week it was the biggest struggle I faced. I learned that fixing my eyes on the Lord in the midst of my current circumstances wasn’t going to be an effortless task. Ongoing pain in my left knee, fears about the possible complications if I move forward with the surgery, a delay in getting a referral to a orthopedic surgeon, then a further delay in getting an appointment once the referral finally came joined together to make it a difficult week.
The distractions from fixing our eyes on Jesus fit in four main areas:
Our circumstances – When we are in the midst of circumstances causing physical pain or emotional stress, it’s easy to fix our eyes on our problems. This is the first distraction we need to overcome.
Our emotions – Fear and anxiety about the future, dread of what lies ahead, doubts about our ability to do what we believe God is calling us to do for His Kingdom – all of these have the potential of paralyzing us spiritually and keeping us from continuing the race God has called us to run.
The voices of those around us – What Ginny called “the mindless chatter of our culture,” or closer to home the discouraging words of family members and friends, can become major distractions from finishing the race. But we need to keep in mind that other people are not our real enemy.
The lies of the enemy – Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” We have a spiritual foe whose greatest desire is to cause us to doubt God and turn out back on Him. He uses such tactics as saying “did God say?” as he did with Eve and by planting thoughts in our minds that cause deception, discouragement and doubt to take root. To finish the race successfully, we need to put on the full armor of God and stand against his attacks. We need to learn to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. When we submit to God and resist the devil, James 4:7 says he will flee.
Jesus gave us an example to follow when He faced the Cross. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39) Jesus didn’t want to face the suffering of the Cross, but without the shedding of His blood we would all still be lost in our sin. So He submitted to the will of His Father. Hebrews 12:2 gives us some insight into how He endured the suffering – by focusing on the joy set before Him. This is also one way we are strengthened to face the hardships that are a part of life of this sin-stained earth.
When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we are setting our inward gaze on One who understands suffering. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” And He invites us to “draw near” to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” https://www.bible.OverDcom/100/heb.4.15-16.nasb
Keeping our eyes on Jesus is a discipline many of us fail in daily. Yet Scripture teaches this is an important, even essential part of running with perseverance the race God has marked out for us.
If you live with the daily challenges of chronic illness, loss, physical or emotional pain, financial struggles or a variety of other issues that are a part of daily life on this earth corrupted by sin, keeping a godward focus becomes even more difficult during the holiday season with its added pressures.
Even though I’ve been doing daily posts this month on the meaning of twenty-five of the names of Jesus, I’ve had some days that it was very difficult just to keep going. Earlier this week, I had a day where brain fog made it really difficult for me to write. By the end of the day my post for the next morning was done, but little else. I was exhausted and on the verge of depression. I knew I needed to do something to stop this downward spiral before it got worse.
The first thing I tried was to relax by playing a couple games on my iPad. In my current frame of mind, that just made me feel worse. So I decided to go in my bedroom, get ready for bed, and read for a few minutes before going to sleep (something I do most nights). This also didn’t help.
Then I remembered what usually helps when I’m feeling discouraged or anxious about something, using worship music to turn on focus off the problems I’m dealing with and onto the One who loves me and is working in my circumstances for my good and for His glory. So I turned on my iPad and listened to some Christmas worship music. This helped me relax and prepare mentally for sleep. And when I woke up the next morning, it was with a completely different frame of mind, one that enabled me to have a much more positive day.
The holiday season with all its extra activities and pressures is naturally stressful. For those who are living with the daily limitations of chronic illness and the often associated financial pressure and emotional pain, it can feel overwhelming. Here is a YouTube link to some Christmas worship music that I’ve found helpful this Christmas season in turning my eyes off the problems of life and back on the One who is our refuge in the hard places of life.
Have you found something that helps you cope with the added pressures of the season and keep your focus on the One whose birthday we are celebrating? If so, please share what has helped you in the comments below.