When the infamous ‘Beast from the East’ started prowling around and creating a stir reecently, the text message with ‘the kids need to go home from school early’ announcement meant that an afternoon of the fire and a film was the required response (not sure it’s a necessity in fairness, but it certainly made for a cosy hour or two) and, looking out at the snow showers when they came, was definitely the icing on the unexpected half-day ‘cake’z
As I watched the changing scene outside our window, I noticed a bird, holding on tightly to a nearby overhead wire. Feathers well puffed out against the cold, this little creature was doing all in its power to use its little feet to hold fast on its chosen perch, against the forces of the elements. (There’s just one reason why I feel I was never built to walk a tightrope!) There was no doubt that the bird had to work hard to stay where it was but while it was holding on, even as the wintry wind blasted around it, holding firm was exactly what it did.
The wee bird made me think about how we can feel tossed about. There are times when each of us, I’m sure, feel the pressures of life hitting against us – you know the ones, the kind that make a day unpleasant, when something or someone bugs you, when you’re knocked off kilter and left feeling downright miserable – in whatever form these moments present themselves – but how we react to those pressures is what matters most.
If the bird had let go when the wind was at its strongest, I suspect that it would have been carried on the wind, a short distance at least, if it had given in to the pressure applied by the elements. So it can be with us. When the tough times hit us; when we feel the pressures of life; when stress swirls around us; when the unexpected threatens to knock us off – balance; that’s when we have to choose how we will react.
The world tells us that when the going gets tough, we need to fight back, we need to get even. Often, we can allow ourselves to see our situation, whatever it may be, through ‘poor me’ eyes – I know that I have at times. I also know, that in those times, I have allowed my judgement to become impaired. I’ve been so busy focusing on myself that I haven’t looked at the bigger picture or the surrounding circumstances. And I know that has been dangerous territory for me. Dare I say it, and it shames me to admit that it’s true, I have actually made things seems worse, because I’ve been so busy feeling self-pity. My inner focus has led to my own personal version of reality – one that may not actually be as real as I thought it was.
If that wee bird had allowed itself to become distracted, no doubt its concentration would have been broken and this may well have resulted in the little feathered friend being lost to the power of the wind and the elements, struggling to fly against the forces around it. No longer able to hold firm. Birds have feet that allow them to hold firm when they need to be still. We have a Maker who wants us to hold firm too, no matter what storm may be blowing around us.
As I watched the bird, impressed at the way its feet held onto the wire, I thought about the times when I’ve found it easier to just get carried along on a wave of emotions or self-pity and I was reminded, that it is in those times that my gaze is not where it should be. Hebrews 12 reminds us to ‘throw off everything that hinders’ and how we should always be ‘fixing our eyes on Jesus.’ When we take the focus off ourselves, we can keep our attention directed towards ‘the author and perfector of our faith. As the wee chorus reminds us: ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face…’, losing our own confusions in the promise of His faithfulness.
When we allow our eyes to be fixed on Jesus, when we trust God to guide our way and to help us make sense of what is happening around us, our priorities will shift. Looking to Jesus means looking up, looking beyond ourselves and thinking about how we ought to react – which won’t always be how we might want to react. Philippians 4:8 offers such a challenge: ‘… whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.’
That is no easy checklist to follow and it’s certainly not the one the world always looks at but, if we are to turn our attention away from ourselves and seek to live by this list, then our eyes need to turn to Him. No one said it would be easy. No one said we’d get it right all the time. But, Jesus did say: ‘And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever..’ (John 14:16). We are not called to live this life in our own strength. God has provided a Helper; He has promised never to leave us and, just as He made that little bird to cling on to the wire, He made us to cling to Him and His promises.
Matthew 6:26 reminds us: ‘His eye is on the sparrow and He watches over me.’ His eye is always on us. We, in turn, need to make sure that whatever ‘Beast’ or temptation comes our way, that we keep our eyes on Him so that ‘the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.’ Keeping our eyes on Him, our grip can hold firmly to Him, just like the bird on the wire.