I’m cantering towards a set of jumps atop a 500-kilo animal with a mind of its own. My eyes are strictly fixed on the horizon, as my body weight and the horse follow the direction of my gaze. Communicating a wrong signal or losing my balance could end up with me eating dirt.
Every horse rider knows to always look up and always look where you are going. Yet our instincts tell us to look down to make sure we clear the obstacle we’re about to jump, and as I know first-hand, by looking down, down is where you will end up! To keep looking up and ahead, a rider needs to trust the horse to do its job and focus on his or her own job by concentrating on the direction to head toward.
American life coach Martha Beck describes life in a similar way, “Your life follows your attention. Wherever you look, you end up going.”
This is not unlike how we direct our spiritual gaze. Proverbs 4:25-27 tells us to “look straight ahead, fixing our gaze directly before us…not turning to the left or to the right…”. We have to focus on the one right direction to avoid being distracted and falling. This is inevitably tied to trusting God (Proverbs 3:5) to lead us forward in life and carry us through every obstacle we face.
So, we know which direction to look but, as Christians, what are we meant to look at? Hebrews 12:2 says, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and finisher of our faith.”
When riding a horse, I can physically see the horizon or tree line I am aiming for, and I experience the physical effect of where I fix my gaze. However, how do we constantly look to Jesus, whom we cannot see?
I find this translation helpful for gaining a clearer understanding: “We look away from the natural realm and we focus our attention and expectation onto Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:2, TPT).
Many things happening around us can leave us feeling like we are on shaky ground. I think of how I had survived a natural disaster, and it still shakes me in my core. I see news about the ongoing wars, and it hits me hard. I had been planning my wedding just over a year ago, but now finding myself single again, the rosy picture in my mind of how I’d envisioned my life would be has shattered.
Yet herein lies the opportunity to assess where my focus is. If all my “attention and expectation” is on what’s happening around me, I will easily fall anxious and discouraged.
And so, this is how I have been practising fixing my gaze upon Jesus:
1. Looking up at Jesus and being in awe of Him
To look at Jesus is as simple as reading His Word to “see” Him more clearly! The Word of God is our constant source and reminder of how awesome and wonderful Jesus is.
Early on in my Christian walk, I dedicated a notebook for writing down all the character traits of Jesus I’d come across in the Scriptures. After a few months, my notebook would be filled with character traits, and reviewing them helped me know the truth of who God is, as opposed to defaulting to my own assumptions and how others portrayed Him.
As I wrote things like “He is my rescuer” (Psalm 91:14), I imagined a great superhero coming to rescue as soon as I called for help. Reading of this kind of love, power, and sense of duty and care towards me brought me awe, wonder, comfort, and hope.
Another way of seeing Jesus is immersing ourselves in creation and seeking Him there. Each time I go snorkelling in the ocean, I am mesmerised at how many different coloured fish I see, living in the intricate ecosystems of the coral reef. When I cannot see the ocean floor beyond the sheer drop of the reef, it reminds me of how much deeper than that is His love for me (Ephesians 3:18). I picture my sin cast into the sea, never to see the light of day again (Micah 7:19).
It is in these moments that I find, as the well-known hymn describes, that the troubles of life “grow strangely dim in the light of his glory…” The more we fix our attention on Jesus, the more our awe in Him grows, and as we stand in awe of Jesus, our attention will keep honing in on Him.
What keeps me in awe of Jesus is that He knows everything (1 John 5:20, Psalm 147:5) and has authority over all things (Matthew 28:18, Ephesians 1:20-21). This gives me great comfort, because in a world where things surprise us and the future scares us, nothing is a surprise to Jesus, and nothing is outside of His control.
Recently I was woken up in the middle of the night by a blinding flash of lightning, followed by the loud boom that shook my bed. Aside from the fright I got, it made me think that if this is the power of nature, how much more powerful is the Creator?
And to think that this awesome, all-powerful Creator knows everything about me, including all the hidden and most wretched places of my heart, yet loves me (1 John 3:20; Romans 8:15-16, 38-39) and gave up His life for me.
When I consider the cross—the torture, the brutality, the disfigurement and shame He endured for us to be spared of eternal death and brought into life—everything that I go through here and now, the good and bad, fades in comparison. The things I fear or dread lose their power as I rest in the victory Jesus has won.
Having experienced both depression and anxiety, it is one of my greatest fears when I start to feel panicked that I will go back to that place and get stuck there. In these moments of dread, what keeps my eyes fixed on Jesus is meditating on the fact He went through worse than I did—the grave—and overcame.
Even if I do end up in a dark place, I have the security of His Spirit within me (Romans 8:11), and I know that there’s light at the end of that dark tunnel because He is my rescuer and deliverer.
2. Looking ahead—beyond ourselves—to make His priorities our priorities
The other way to fix my eyes on Jesus is to focus on what he focuses on! His heart is always for God’s people, for those who are lost, hurting, or broken to come back into a loving relationship with Him. The story of the prodigal son paints a beautiful picture of the Father’s heart towards those who have gone astray (Luke 15:32).
Whenever I am feeling down, worried, or discouraged by what life is throwing at me, I find that a way to break out of that cycle of anxious thoughts is to turn my focus towards others. I begin by praying through a list of people I know who need salvation, healing, or breakthrough, and this helps shift my attention back to Jesus.
After praying through the list, I find that most of my worries have dissipated, and that God has filled me with a new love for these people.
By shifting my focus from myself to others, it is as if I am saying to God, ‘I trust You with me and my problems so I can be free to care for those in my world.’
Praying for needs I see in the world, like the Israel conflict and countries hit by natural disasters, also bring my worries and challenges into perspective. In light of what others are going through, my problems suddenly become smaller. This is not to say that our personal challenges are not valid, but that praying for others brings a new awareness of the blessings and hope we do have.
When we let Jesus’s priorities shape our priorities, this also trickles down to our expectations—we will begin to expect more of the things that Jesus would want and care about.
Living in awe of our Saviour is the real ‘rose-tinted’ glasses—life becomes sweeter, burdens become lighter, and trials becomes opportunities to draw closer to Him.
When you feel you have lost the awe and wonder in your relationship with Jesus, meditate on all He has done, and “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace”.