Seeing God by Letting God See Us
We often think of “Bible times” being so drastically different from our own.
We imagine that people walked around in a world where miracles and wonders happened left, right and center.
You’re walking down the street and boom! There’s the parting of the Red Sea, there’s a coat of many colors, there’s a kid slaying a giant.
But the fact of the matter is, most folks in the ancient near East, and even most of the big heroes of the Bible, lived lives very much like our own.
They had to pay the rent on time, they had to get food on the table, maybe they didn’t like their bosses and they gossiped about their neighbors.
There weren’t miracles and revelations dropping out of the sky at all hours of the day.
Our reading from 1 Samuel today says so: “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”
That was true in the literal sense, but oh, what a richer and deeper resonance that can have for us as individuals and us as a church.
Do you feel like the word of the Lord is rare in your life?
That could be for several reasons. It could be that we are literally not reading the Bible enough, not spending enough time immersed in the word of God.
But think about Jesus as the Word of God and then ask yourself again: is the word of the Lord rare in your life?
Relationships take work, as we all know, and that includes our relationship with Jesus.
Are we spending time with him in prayer?
Are we practicing the spiritual discipline of seeking and serving him in everyone around us?
Because if the Word of the Lord is rare in our lives, it will be rare that anyone finds him in us and through us, and that’s one of our biggest jobs as Christians.
And we want to think about that verse not just in our own personal lives, but in the context of our church.
“The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”
Is the word of the Lord rare in our church?
Is the only way to experience it the readings from the pulpit on Sunday morning?
Or is the word of the Lord all over this church?
Do we manifest the word of the Lord by how we love each other, how we are in relationship, how we are welcoming others, and how we are turning our love and attention out to our community to serve those in need?
A living, vibrant church should not be a place where the word of the Lord is rare, but indeed a place where we’re tripping over the word of the Lord everywhere.
“Visions were not widespread,” the rest of that verse says.
Vision is how we make the word of the Lord common instead of rare.
We can think about this verse in two ways. First we want visions to be widespread in the sense that we want every person in this church to have an individual sense of calling that he or she has prayed about and discerned in this community.
What is your ministry in this place?
What are your spiritual gifts that you are pouring out to enrich this Christian community and our ministry to the world?
Vocation doesn’t just belong to the priest and the deacon.
We want visions to be widespread, each individual acting in ministry out of her gifts and passions.
And then we want vision to be widespread in another sense—that everyone knows the mission of this church.
What is the mission of this church? Can you recite it? Or even part of it? It’s on the front of your bulletin.
It’s pretty hard to live and work out of a mission if we don’t even know what it is.
“The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”
That is a verse of scripture we’re not trying to emulate, the very opposite in fact.
We want the Word of the Lord and the vision for what we as individuals and we as a church are called to do to be living and vital and shining out to our community.
All of our scriptures today are about recognition.
Samuel doesn’t recognize the voice of God at first, he mistakes it for Eli calling him.
And then Nathanael is amazed at how Jesus recognizes him before he has even met him.
This is an important message for us.
God always recognizes us even if we have a hard time recognizing God.
Discernment is such an important and such a difficult spiritual practice.
How do we know that what we think is the voice of God urging us toward a certain course of action is really the voice of God?
How often is it just our own ego or desires or mixed motivations?
Well, we can take hope from the fact that if God has something to say to us, God will not give up until God gets through to us.
Three times Samuel hears the voice of God and does not recognize it, runs in to tell Eli that he has heard him.
God does not get impatient and drop an anvil on his bed or something.
God simply keeps calling to Samuel, by name, over and over, and waits patiently until Samuel hears and responds to deliver the entire message.
The same is true for us.
God may speak with a voice that seems difficult to discern, but that voice is faithful, and God will keep reaching out to us until we respond.
And even as we struggle to recognize God in ourselves and others, God recognizes us from far away, as we see with Jesus and Nathanael.
Even when we are very far from our full potential, very far from living our lives in the freedom from sin and bondage that God wants for us, God still sees us as we truly are, which means God sees us as we will be when we grow up into the full stature of Christ.
“I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you,” Jesus says.
Jesus sees us not just before we’ve fulfilled our call to ministry, not just before we’ve recognized our call to ministry, Jesus sees us even before our call to ministry exists—and loves us in that place.
Sometimes it’s easy to feel like we’d better not show up before God in prayer without a list of good deeds to lay out.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
God loves us before we can do or accomplish anything. That love is what gives us the strength to do those good things.
What these scriptures are about is seeing, and with the seeing, loving.
We want to see God, but we forget how important it is to let God see us.
There is a painful intimacy in letting ourselves be fully known in all our weakness and all our glory.
But we have to let down those walls and barriers within ourselves and let ourselves be seen to in turn truly see the fullness of God.
Another word to describe this is vulnerability.
Vulnerability is what makes intimacy possible—and what a scary, scary word to bring into who we are at church!
At church we like to look nice and be nice and have everything clean and shiny on the surface so no one knows what we’re really going through under the surface.
Well, that’s not real relationship, and that’s not real church.
Investing in relationship with God means investing in relationship with each other, and vice versa.
There is no way to escape the painful exposure of intimacy if we want the richness of true depth in our spiritual relationships.
God has already done God’s part.
God is always reaching out and plumbing our depths, whether we want God to or not.
Listen to the words of our psalmist today: “LORD, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways. Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O LORD, know it altogether.”
God has already broken down the walls, we just need to live into that truth.
So I urge you to think about these things this week. Is the word of the Lord rare in your life? Do you see and recognize God around you? Do you let yourself be seen by God and by the people around you?
There is so much waiting to be discovered by us, such untapped depth in ourselves and in our church, so many blessings and adventures God has prepared for us and longs for us to have the courage to embrace.
God is saying to us what Philip said to Nathanael: “Come and see.”
If you liked, please share!