This study has been put together by Susan Holmes for Bethel Community Church
Their eyes are blinded,
their hearts are hardened,
So that they wouldn’t see with their eyes
and perceive with their hearts,
And turn to me, God,
so I could heal them.
John 12:40 (Message)
In this chapter we have two opposing factors at play: perception and truth. The first thing we need to do is acquaint ourselves with both. So what is perception? According to World English Dictionary it is “the act of apprehending by the senses or mind”. “The process by which one detects and interprets information from the external world by means of the sensory receptors.”
So, perception is based on interpretation by our senses, the mind working with our senses. To be honest, perception is what comes to the forefront in most situations. Upon being presented with a person, a circumstance or an ideology the human mind goes to work, making calculations and assessments based on what we’ve seen, heard, etc. And these receptors, according to our dictionary source are affected by ‘the external world’.
Truth is defined by the dictionary as verified or undisputable fact, proposition or principle. It is both proven and verified, an immoveable standard. It isn’t altered by perception But truth, when described truthfully, is a ‘person’ not a ‘principle’. The statement that comes to my mind about truth is from John 14:6, “ Jesus said to him, I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by (through) Me.” Jesus, the very Son of God, is the embodiment of truth … truth isn’t a human concept, it is a person of the Godhead. What makes this more intriguing is that we have the ability to know Truth. Jesus also says in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in My word [hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples. And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”
Susie Larson opens chapter 6 with the example of a friend dealing with feelings of despair and depression. She was a ‘picture-perfect’ Christian according to our perception. She was an educated, financially secure mother and home-maker, in love with Jesus and committed to her friends and family. But our perception wouldn’t show the battle between lies and truth that was leading Susie’s friend into despair. It was revelation from the Holy Spirit showed that her friend was engaged in a battle between perception and Truth.
In my opening paragraph I mentioned that, according to the dictionary, perception is the interpretation of information from the external world gathered through our senses. The Holy Spirit revealed the negative and degrading labels that the world, empowered by our enemy, had placed upon Susie’s friend. These labels were clinging to and weighing her down. Just out of reach were the labels offered by Truth … smart, accomplished, educated, etc. She, like any of us, longed for her life to be defined by the positive labels. Through compassion, discussion and prayer the truth of Jesus became reality. As she refuted and released from her life what was defining her and choose to be defined by the Truth she started to experience and enjoy the freedom of John 8:32.
“Jesus was never impressed by anyone’s position, only by the condition of one’s heart” “Everything He did blew the doors off of pretense and position.” Jesus wouldn’t have been the star student in most of today’s self-help classes or leadership courses. He broke most of the rules and went against what the world perceived as beneficial to our development. External position and appearances were not the deciding factor for Jesus. In fact, He came to destroy the identity created by our past and to set us free from unrealistic expectations. He came to ‘forgive, heal, rebuild and redeem’ what perception had tried to destroy.
There is a way which seems right to a man and appears straight before him, but at the end of it is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12
Image Versus Perception
Dig deep to find the riches of God’s treasures.
Today’s society rewards perception. Big business will pay big dollars for adverting companies to alter our perceptions of their products. Image sells and truth has become a subjective option.
Our responsibility is to defy today’s norm and adopt truth. Truth is humble, loving and forgiving … truth is Jesus. Susie Larson points out three essential truths that fly in the face of today’s norms. 1) The truth of God’s Word forgives our sin – and we sin. 2) The truth of God’s Word restores – and we get depleted. 3) The truth of God’s Word convicts – and we are selfish. These truths apply to us all regardless of perception and we need them all.
We need to look deep to see with eyes of faith … to see God’s reality. This isn’t easy since it goes against this world’s nature. Our first instinct might be to criticize the one who is seemingly unresponsive during worship service. We might be quick to be offended when we feel snubbed by another. We criticize the critical. But do we … do I … look deep to see that person through God’s eyes? Am I willing to consider the physical pain that might cause a worshipper to remain seated … and pray for her? Am I willing to pray for rest for the one who was so busy she seemingly overlooked me? Am I willing to ask God to heal the hurts that has caused those with a critical nature to criticize? Am I willing to ask for healing for my own past hurts and critical attitude? This is how I would want those around me to respond. This is how I would hope that I would respond. This is the response the uncommon life would have.
And I will walk at liberty and at ease, for I have sought and inquired for [and desperately required] Your precepts. Psalm 119:45
Where We’ve Been Versus Who We Are
Let’s go back to the washing of feet at the beginning of the book. Jesus has taken up the towel and the basin and proceeds to wash Peter’s feet. But Peter upon protesting is told that unless he has his feet washed he can have no part with Christ. Peter’s enthusiastic response was to have a complete bath. Our perception might be that Peter gave a worthy response for a disciple of Christ, but Christ’s truth says different. If Jesus is our Lord then we are saved – clean.
Dirty feet speak of where we’ve been, not who we are. If we are to travel the uncommon road we will need to place our dirty feet in His hands to be cleansed. What we do, say, think, and watch dirties our feet. Critical attitudes and perceptions of others dirties our feet. I’ve been guilty in each circumstance at some point in my journey and I suspect I’m not the only one. Bitterness, self-pity, self-absorption, unforgiveness, fear … these are some of the dirty blotches that stain our feet and separate us from God. It is humility and honesty that will close the gap.
“Every time we walk through the filthy sin of this life, we need a fresh encounter with Jesus. We need to open our mouths, and with our own words tell Him the truth about what we’ve done. As humbling as it is, we need to put our soiled feet in His hands and confess to Him where we’ve been.”
Being familiar with tired, dirty feet (both physically & spiritually), I can attest to how refreshing the towel and water feels. To lift up our feet to our Saviour and Lord requires humility. It requires travelling the uncommon road. But it is so worth it to experience His mercy, His love and His unbroken companionship.
Our State Versus Our Standing
“Our state is shifting sand, our standing is solid ground.”
In his book God Revealed, Graham Cooke says, “A difference exists between our state and our standing. Our state is how we see ourselves. … But our standing is about who we are in Christ.” How we see ourselves is affected by so many externals … what others think of us, our circumstances, how we feel, etc. Our standing is rooted in Christ and how He feels about us never changes.
One statement that Susie Larson makes near the end of this chapter I have found particularly liberating: “Be real about your pain. But be right about your perspective.” There have been many well-meaning but conflicting voices over the years that have said to ignore your pain, endure your pain, consider your pain a joy, etc. While each of these can probably be found within the pages of scripture, taken out of context they can be as ‘sounding brass’ – echoing words with no root. Susie gives us the liberty of acknowledging our pain, but only in the realm of knowing the Truth of our perspective. Christ can’t heal a pain that isn’t acknowledged. But acknowledged pain only continues to consume us unless we allow ourselves to be cleansed by the basin and towel of God’s love and mercy.
As we ‘radically’ believe God’s truth about ourselves we begin following the uncommon road. Being radical requires dedication and devotion from us. It is easy to fall back into believing what the world says about us. I have found that following the path of least resistance requires little effort … at first. But it gradually drains us until we become filled with despair and are desperate.
There is an old saying, ‘You are known by the company you keep’. The humility of lifting our dirty, tired feet to Him opens the door to a right relationship with Christ. We need to develop a lifestyle of regularly coming to Him to be cleansed. We become humbled when we see how the dirt of our own lives muddies the waters. It’s then that we can reach out to others and with His mercy and grace help others find the uncommon life.
Remember the lady grappling with perception at the beginning of this chapter? It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit revealed that God’s truth about her differed vastly from the world’s perception that she was truly able to be free. And even at that point she had to decide to denounce and reject perception in favour of Truth.
And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.