Psalm 18:2 The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower
Psalm 144:2 My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me.
In earlier history, a ‘high tower’ was often referred to as a ‘watch tower’ – for obvious reasons. Outside of climbing an available hill or mountain, there was no way to gain an adequate perspective of the surrounding flatlands, which was especially important if there was danger of any sort approaching. The Great Wall of China is a well-known example of walls built to resist enemy invasions & the higher watch towers placed regularly along the extent of the wall in order to gain that extra perspective required for added security.
In the early 80’s, I hosted a weekly 2-hour Open Line radio program called ‘Perspective’. The broadcast ‘closer’ stated, “Your life will be lived at its best when it’s lived in God’s Perspective.” Some time ago, I read something that got me again thinking about perspective.
You have no doubt heard of the 5 blind men stationed at various spots surrounding an elephant each describing what they think an elephant looks like. Although their sense of feeling was well developed, they were in no position to ‘see’ the beast. Just so, our perspective is all too often distorted by our vantage point as well as, among other things, our limited physical resources. To use another metaphor, since we mostly live in the trees, it is impossible to see the forest. Essentially, our vantage point can limit, or enormously enhance, our perspective.
Oh, for a vantage point that gives better perspective!
I recall an insight gained while flying at 38,000 feet over the Canadian Prairies. I remarked to my friend seated next to me that, from this vantage point, the river below looked serpentine in its extreme wandering over the flat prairie landscape. Her comment has never left me; “that’s what you get when you take the path of least resistance”. Of course, this particular view of the river could only be observed & comprehended from a high place. Ah, perspective….
My point is that, as we carefully, thoughtfully & prayerfully meditate on God, we are offered & can gain a distinct vantage point. Since the Psalmist declares God to be a high tower, I am able to climb up in Him and gain valuable and needed perspective.
I wonder (although it shouldn’t be hard to figure out) what are the results when Christians do not put aside quality time & energy to meditate on the Scriptures, ie. take the time and effort to climb in the Word and ponder the things of God? What happens when time constraints, hectic life pressures, laziness, idolatry, even too many ‘good’ things, etc., etc. wear on us & squeeze out the precious time needed to think well? Someone has quipped, ‘to think is easy, to think well is, in so many ways, difficult’. Perhaps it is just too easy to take the path of least resistance & wander in our thought paths, tilting ever so slightly as the surrounding culture urges us on the journey.
Consider the case of John, the Apostle. Yes, the John, who had personally listened as Jesus interpreted & taught historical Scripture & foundational principles, the very John who had personally quizzed Jesus on questions and concepts that were not clear to him, (see Matt 13:11, Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10) and who had become very close, you could say intimate, with the founder and master designer of the church, (see 1 John:1). This Apostle became inextricably linked to the original founding of the church of Jesus – our church. I submit that even this Apostle – this disciple of Jesus – was hard-pressed to see the almost imperceptible culture shift in this new church due to his vantage point as he laboured amid the full spectrum of church life from frenetic action to daily tedium. Although John had an indisputably wonderful vantage point &, for decades, was intimately involved in the exciting unfolding and establishing of the Church itself, yet somewhere along the way, this spiritual giant lost at least some of God’s perspective.
Somewhere between his vantage point as a busy and certainly knowledgeable church leader and the vantage point of the Sunday where he found himself on the Island of Patmos “in the Spirit”, John’s perspective was abruptly & hugely (!) altered as he saw certain things which he had, up to that point, been missing. How is this aberration possible for someone of his training and position? Although he had often and consistently written and spoken about various ‘slippages’ in the faith, there was now no place and no thing so urgent as compared to this importunate Patmos vantage point where he clearly saw the ‘forest’ & the ‘drift’ in certain form & functions. Furthermore, since the culture, or spiritual temperature, of a church cannot possibly change overnight, it is self-evident that these ‘problems’ that John later identified had been growing there over time, indeed, probably while he was still a personally present leader. (And to his credit, he did something about it.*)
Eugene Peterson, in his book Eat This Book adds considerable weight to this thought when he comments on Revelation 10:9-10. John, he says, “… eats the book – not just reads it – (where it makes it way) “…into his nerve endings, his reflexes, his imagination.” (p.9) The book he ate, of course, was Holy Scripture which “… was metabolized into the book he wrote…”. And how critical has John’s written perspective been already to the Christian Church; and how important is it still to be in the future?
I submit that it took the removal from the busyness of his passionate pastoral responsibilities in order for John to have the time required to regain proper Godly perspective. And, although his ‘removal’ process was harsh, the results were of incalculable worth and benefit. One is certainly tempted to conclude that, from God’s perspective, John’s banishment to Patmos was as good & effective as the Apostle Paul’s imprisonment was beneficial. I wonder how our perspective would change if we were removed either forcibly or voluntarily from the busy-ness of our lives, our church-building and our ministering? Would we ‘see’ anything like what John saw? Would we be able to maintain Paul’s perspective & pen thoughtful and genuinely helpful letters?** Could we possibly gain new insights & a perspective that we could gain in no other way or circumstance?
John’s terse comments reveal the new clarity and urgency of his Patmos vantage point: he ‘sees’ things that are right – and commends them. He ‘sees’ things that are wrong, and issues clarion calls for repentance and renewal. He has time to reflect on ‘first love’, ‘prayer’, ‘holiness’, ‘persecution’, ‘steadfastness’, and so much more as these relate to real people in real places where he has personally served & ministered. My point here is that, in the new abundance of (in his case prison) time available, he ‘sees’ things in a new light; things that had been becoming familiar and obscure in his increasing busyness as pastor and leader. Upon ‘seeing’ Jesus, his friend and teacher now in his glorified formal role as Lord and Master, John is genuinely overcome and not a little fearful; it is not hyperbole to say that he is ‘blown away’ by what he sees.*** Could some of his new perspective be a direct consequence of having had ample amounts of time to spend in prayer and meditation. I think so. And, as the revelation unfolds before him, he ‘sees’ at greater length and in even greater detail. Has his time in thoughtful & careful reflection, combined with his time & experience over the years, caused him to remember ever more details taught by the Master while he was on earth?
I would certainly want to make it abundantly clear that I do not belittle in any way the historic interpretation of this event as a supernatural revelation. This was, indeed, an extraordinary visitation & moment in time. The Jesus herein revealed was no longer simply the friend & personal human companion from Galilee; no, He was, & is, the Lord of the universe. Furthermore, no human mind could possibly conjure up the often inscrutable events & information delivered to John herein. This book of Revelation certainly takes the long view of history, the ‘forest’ of Alpha & Omega. And it almost goes without saying that, as glorified Lord of the universe, this perspective of Jesus is not to be refuted or ignored. It is incumbent on us to carefully, thoughtfully & continually ponder this Revelation especially in light of the unfolding events of our ever-changing world.
And, of course, we, the church – His Bride -, are the benefactors of this Revelation of the glorified Lord Jesus. Although John had a unique & particularly wonderful relationship with the Lord & His Church, we are left to wonder how some of the churches for which this apostle was responsible could have, in such short time, gotten so far off course in certain ways. Surely, it is we who must read & ponder things revealed by Jesus to his, & our, trusted friend, the Apostle John. And Jesus’ perspective on the church which He initiated must not be ignored or refuted. In what ways has the church culture of our time gotten off track?
Further, even a cursory review of the 2000 year history of the Christian church provides numerous examples of how this organization on our earth has drifted off course; how the culture has shifted &, indeed, twisted in very unGodly ways.
In his book, Christ & Culture Revisited, on p. 163, D.A. Carson makes the point that John “…graphically depicts the Roman Empire as the satanic enemy bent on persecuting and destroying the church. [Carson further elaborates] The seer John is perfectly aware that sometimes the greater danger to believers is being snookered by the idolatries and comforts of the age…”. I wonder if John would John have felt “snookered” as he subsequently re-viewed his pastoral life & works? Carson continues that the second beast of Revelation 13:11-18 is wholly engaged in “…works of massive deception…”. It seems today’s church has much to be aware of, guard against and prepare for in these days….
Of course, the main question herein posed is whether it is possible or even perhaps urgent to find the time necessary to seek the Lord’s perspective on the affairs of our lives and, indeed, the affairs of His church with which we have much to do. Is it even possible for any of us to climb up on the high tower & hopefully see what God sees? How can we gain a Godly perspective on our lives as they relate to His church on earth?
What are the ways & means to gain perspective?
* It seems to take a ‘big’ man indeed, to admit to making mistakes; or else it takes a ‘powerful’ revelation to initiate the same ends. Humility is a ‘difficult’ virtue indeed.
**Or would we complain about our painful loss and confining circumstances or, worse yet, simply blame the Devil for his part in bringing us to this humiliating, indeed awful, place?