Fixing Our Flittering Eyes

The Keurig winds down. You grab its offering, switch the lamp on, and take a seat beneath the light.

The holy Lamp and Light rests in your lap, primed to illuminate your day like the sun that gradually peers through your living room blinds. You find the spot where you last left off, take a sip from your favorite mug, and open the Book. You smile.

I’m actually going to get this done today.

About twelve verses in, you hear your daughter stirring in the other room. It is almost as if she can detect your desire to embrace spiritual disciplines and has a diabolical plan to break you. Your eyes glance at the baby monitor.

Please, God, hold her off for a little bit longer.

You take a much bigger second sip of coffee, having the feeling you are going to need it. Before returning to your reading, you glance at another screen. This one is small enough to fit into your pocket and smart enough to be your personal assistant. You have missed a few texts and emails, one in particular that seems important to address.

It will only take a second.

After replying, you decide to check your social media feeds. After all, at this point, you are tethered. After some brief scrolling, a three-minute video catches your attention. You watch it. Then another autoplays.

The stirring in the other room turns to roaring.

You look down at the Book in your lap and read, “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your way,” (Ps. 119:15).

Apparently, not today.

A FAMILIAR TALE

I did not invent this story; I retold it from experience. It is a story I have unfortunately played the role of protagonist in far too many times. Maybe you have, too.

We struggle to find and protect unhurried time with the Lord. And there are plenty of factors we try to blame when we fall short, like lack of time or restless infants.

But the real impairment we face in these moments is not primarily an external force; it’s internal. It does not matter where we are or what kind of time we have, if our eyes are not fixed on Jesus, our time in the Word will be hopelessly frustrating.

THE FALSE PROMISE OF OMNIPRESENCE

A key reason we struggle to have meaningful time in God’s Word is because we fail to truly fix our eyes on Christ. Ultimately, we do not want fixed eyes. We want omnipresent eyes.

None of us would admit that we are omnipresent or even that we should be. But the world of push notifications and social media and television tries to sell us that promise: that our eyes can (and need to be) everywhere all the time. These technologies send our eyes into a frenzy, flittering from image to notification to article to game to text. Flittering eyes find it impossible to gaze.

Flittering eyes find it impossible to gaze.

When these distractions come our way from sun up to sun down, our focus splinters. Spiritual disciplines seem better defined as out of reach spiritual ideals. We are prone to wrongfully convict "time" or "busyness" as the culprit. In most cases, time is innocent: we only need to embrace the limitations of our eyes and fix our eyes on Christ.

Proverbs tells us that “the eyes of the Lord are in every place” (Prov. 15:3). He is all-seeing. But we were not made to be this way. Our eyes are finite, created by God (Prov. 20:12). Before knowing Christ, we groped in the darkness like a blind man, “like those who have no eyes” (Isa. 59:10).

But even though the Lord opened our eyes out of blindness and we now walk in his light, our seeing remains “dim” (1 Cor. 13:12); we still walk by faith and not sight (2 Cor. 5:7). In Christ, our eyes are renewed and healed, but they will never see the way God sees.

JESUS ON OUR EYES

In Jesus’s most famous sermon, he tells his audience, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matt. 6:22-23). Jesus expanded his metaphor from the “heart” in verse 21 to the “eye” in verse 22. In verse 24, he brings his lesson home: that “no man can serve two masters.”

Sinclair Ferguson sums up the passage this way: "Fixing the eye and fixing the heart amount to the same thing—focusing our attention and concentrating all our energies on [Christ].”

It is our all-important eyes, the “lamps of our bodies,” that reveal the make-up of our inner life. Our eyes reveal who (or what) our true master is. Looking back turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt. Looking down nearly drowned Peter. Undivided attention matters to God.

GETTING OUR EYES FIXED

The more we fix our eyes on Jesus, the more evidence we have that our eyes are indeed fixed.

One pastor helped me understand that if we want to see Jesus, we must “stare at his glory until we see it.” We cannot allow ourselves to be tossed to and fro by every wind of distraction.

But how do we focus in a world bent on distracting us? Think back to our opening story. What steps could have been in place that might have changed the trajectory of those events?

TURN THE WORLD OFF

“I can’t seem to focus” is not a design flaw. God has wired us for beholding (Isa. 40:9). A more likely reason we struggle to fix our eyes is that we put ourselves in environments that tempt us to look at everything else the world wants us to see.

The solution is simple. We need to become masters over anything that tempts us to look away from Christ. One of the biggest mistakes I made in the story above was having my phone with me in those early moments of the morning.

The more we choose distance from our devices, the more likely we are to not fall into harmful “double vision.” I would warn against the use of digital Bibles altogether for these moments, as they only create the opportunity for distraction.

However, if we feel the need to use devices for Bible study, we should take steps to encourage focus, such as turning off notifications, enabling “Do Not Disturb,” and making better use of tools like iPhone’s “Downtime.” Go as far as disabling the internet connection if that is what it takes.

HELP YOUR FAMILY FOCUS ON CHRIST

Our story included the scenario of studying God’s Word with a young child in the home, a challenge many of us know well. Turning off our phones does not exactly make for serenity in every case. If there’s any hope of us getting the world turned off, many of us need our family’s help.

One way my wife serves me is sacrificing her time and energy to take care of our daughter, giving me the space I need to study God’s Word. She knows how hard it can be to memorize Scripture or study a passage while being crawled on. She knows that some mornings I need to go to the office a little earlier to fit that time in.

And I can serve her in return by offering her the same kind of time. Going on "Dad duty" to give her the space she needs to hear from the Lord is one of the greatest ways I can be a godly leader in my home.

If your kids are older, what a great opportunity this is to teach them about the importance of time with God! Watching you prioritize your time in Scripture will help them begin to see the importance of the Word in their own lives.

COME AS YOU ARE

A fatal error I made in our opening story was not only getting distracted, but letting distraction be an indicator that I should give up for the day. Let’s face it, “quiet time” is hard to come by. Distraction is sometimes inevitable.

But when we find ourselves distracted, we don’t have to wave the white flag. Distraction is actually an perfect opportunity to come to the Lord in prayer.

Paul Miller encourages us to come to prayer “overwhelmed with life”:

“Come with your wandering mind. Come messy. . . . The very things we try to get rid of—our weariness, our distractedness, our messiness—are what get us in the front door! That’s how the gospel works. That’s how prayer works.”

FIX YOUR EYES

One of the best ways to fix our eyes on Jesus is to admit our eyes have wandered, and to ask for his help to focus. Pray about your racing thoughts about the day ahead. Confess your distraction. Thank God that he does not get distracted from your needs. Bring your requests to him so that you might focus.

There is beauty in beholding Christ, but it is impossible to get a glimpse of his glory if our attention is scattered.

John Newton said he found “that to keep my eye simply upon Christ, as my peace, and my life, is by far the hardest part of my calling." That is the day that God is moving us towards; the day when we will see him, our eyes meeting for the first time, as we stand face-to-face with our King.

Until then, we are invited to fix our eyes. To have them open and searching for his presence and for his coming again soon.


Zach Barnhart lives in the greater Austin, TX area with his wife, Hannah, and their daughter, Nora. Zach serves as Pastor of Students and Spiritual Formation of Northlake Church. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University and is in pursuit of a Master of Theological Studies degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow Zach on Twitter or check out blog.