Growing up we often sang a song in Sunday school about being careful where we looked. The principle is simple: Where you stare matters. When we take time to look at, consider or observe something, that particular thing captivates our attention. Without exercising great caution, whatever it is that captivates your attention will inevitably influence your thinking and acting. Today, in part one of this two-part blog, we will examine a variety of case studies in the Bible that demonstrate how this influence works.
Biblical Case Studies That Warn Us
Eve. We go no further than Genesis 3 to find Eve in conversation with the serpent. There are trees bearing fruit all over Eden. She has permission to eat anything she desires—and as much as she desires. Imagine that! However, the text describes her as looking at, considering and observing the fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit” (Gen. 3:6).
The sons of God. Likewise, the sons of God in Genesis 6 determined to take wives for themselves from the daughters of men as they observed the women. “The sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful” (Gen. 6:2). They looked; they considered; and they acted.
Lot. Given the opportunity by Abram to determine where he wanted to live, Lot carefully observed the land before him, made assessments and chose. “And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself…” (Gen. 13:10-11).
Achan. After the defeat at Ai, Joshua prays to God to figure out what happened. The LORD pointed to sin in the camp. As Joshua reviewed the tribe of Judah, he found Achan and offered him an opportunity to make confession. Achan responded, “Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I have done: When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them” (Josh. 7:20-21). The process began with observation and ended with coveting and stealing.
Samson. Traveling through Timnah, Samson met a Philistine woman. The text describes it as he “saw a woman in Timnah” (Judges 14:1). He liked the way she looked. He determined that she was right for him. He wanted her and demanded his parents get her for him. As he went down to get her, he returned to a dead carcass of a lion in order to see the carcass. He desired to go and observe it where he ultimately took some of its honey. Later while in Gaza, he “saw a harlot there” (16:1). He committed sin again. Then the story of Samson and Delilah appears in the text. Samson developed a life-long habit of not evaluating where he looked or what his eyes saw.
David. David serves as our next example of how this process develops. David stayed home instead of going out to battle with the troops. One night, he got out of bed and walked up to the top of the roof. “And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold” (2 Sam. 11:2). He continued to watch her bathe. He wanted what he saw, so he inquired about her and sent for her. David saw, inquired, sent and committed immorality.
Asaph. Asaph was the song director of the tabernacle (1 Chron. 6:39; 16:5-7). He led the people into worship. Psalm 73 provides his personal testimony of struggle and victory. He initially reveals that despite God’s goodness to the nation in general, he almost turned back from walking with God. The stated reason for his desertion: envy. “For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:3). Asaph’s attention was turned toward the wicked, and he was envious at their lifestyle and possessions.
The Influence of the Eyes
Danger lies in the failure to protect your eyes. Essentially, in each of these texts, the individual took time to look, consider and observe something (all imperfect verbal forms of the Hebrew word r’h “to see,” depicting the action as continuing in a past time frame). These were not quick looks, fast glances or small glimpses. In each instance, the observation allowed for time to process what was seen. After considering and pondering the object of sight, the individuals made the determination to act upon what they wanted. In each instance, the enduring look encouraged further action. Furthermore, in each instance, the actions led to further wickedness.
In Part Two we will consider how to protect your eyes and live in victory.
In Part One we examined the principle: Where you stare matters. When you take time to look at, consider or observe something, that particular thing captivates your attention. Without exercising great caution, whatever it is that captivates your attention will inevitably influence your thinking and acting. Part One demonstrated with a variety of case studies in the Bible how this influence works. In Part Two, we will help you understand how to protect your eyes and live in victory.
Wrestling With Your Thoughts
Considering Psalm 73 and the struggle of Asaph, the major spiritual transition took place when he changed his focus. He initially saw the prosperity of the wicked (73:4-12). It was not as simple as looking over and seeing their clothes, homes or pay stubs. Instead, he watched them, made careful observations and compared what they had to to what he had in life (73:13-14). Asaph was convinced that his effort to keep a pure heart and to live a holy lifestyle was all for naught. He concluded that God disciplined him all day long just for the fun of it. Asaph is restless, conflicted, angry, bitter, condescending toward God and jealous of others (73:15-16).
That is, “until he went into the sanctuary of God” (73:17). What happened to Asaph? He changed his focus, which impacted his conclusions. He received God’s perspective. His eyes moved from the prosperity of the wicked to the character, presence and plan of God. Here we find the transformation of his outlook: a turning from self-interest and self-pity to a satisfaction and gratitude with God.
Like Asaph, it is essential to wrestle with your thoughts. Be aware of what you are rehearsing in your heart. What are you saying to yourself? You will need to stop listening to yourself and begin to speak the truth of the Scriptures, the gospel of Jesus Christ, to yourself. Does what you are thinking honor God? Does it reflect a heart with God’s priorities? Does it reflect the humility of a Christ-follower? Are your thoughts full of discontentment? Anger? Bitterness? Confess these thoughts, beliefs and attitudes as sin, and repent (73:21-22, 26). Seek to be as practical and specific in your gratitude as you are in your complaints.
The key to wrestling your thoughts is to understand the power of the conclusions you make. Your conclusions shape your agenda for life-lived. Your conclusions provide the lens through which you view God, your circumstances, others and yourself. If you perceive something you see as better than what God has given you, then you will view God as less than good, Christ as less than sufficient and grace as less than adequate. In other words, your conclusion affects your entire view of life.
Protect Your Eyes
I suggest that there are at least three ways you can protect your eyes.
First, recognize the lures and traps that typically influence your heart. James wrote, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:13). Your desires—whatever it is that you want—are what draw you and entice you. Just realizing this helps you begin to understand how easy it is to be captivated. When you want something, it is hard to keep from looking at it. There is a natural draw from your heart to focus on what you want. So you begin to identify your desires, which is the key to know what captivates you.
Second, when you want something that you do not have, you begin to see God’s gifts to you as less than good. This is why James immediately warns his readers: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:16-17). Essentially James is helping his readers know that what they have now is as much God’s gift as what they do not have. Although what you want may seem to be better, more helpful or more necessary, what you have is just as much from God. Therefore, you must be content with what you have.
Third, help your eyes focus on what is right by meditating on God’s perspective. James continues, “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25). The idea of the term looks is stooping over to get a good look, to examine. As a follower of Christ, your good look needs to linger in God’s Word. When you do, it will help direct your thoughts toward what is right and helpful. God’s Word becomes a guardrail to keep your heart from chasing various desires that can distract you. This of course begins with Bible reading, but also includes intentional Bible memorization, listening to messages, reading quality blogs, listening to quality music with God-honoring lyrics and participating in godly conversations.
Live in Victory
As you learn to protect your eyes and to be more careful with what you see, you will find victory is possible. As James writes, you will be blessed in what you do. You will find joy in Christ’s presence, satisfaction in God’s gifts and a growing appreciation of your present circumstances. This process begins with the simple step of becoming aware of where you look, what you see, where you place your focus. “Oh be careful little eye what you see…”