the secret to organizing your priorities & perspective when things aren’t what you’d hope

my preface included in the release of the new book, Things Unseen

I heard once of man who split black ash and wove baskets.

And he wove prayer through every basket.   

The man wore faded plaid and old denim and lived alone high up in the Appalachians where the dirt didn’t grow crops, but it could grow basket trees.

He lived such a distance up in the hills that he really didn’t expect the cost of transportation to some Saturday morning market would leave much profit from selling his baskets.

Nevertheless, each day he cut trees and sawed them into logs and then pounded the logs with a mallet, to free all the splint ribbons from those trees. Splint slapped the floor.

And the basket-making man, he simply worked unhurried and unseen by the world, his eyes and heart fixed on things unseen.

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When the heart is at rest in Jesus — unseen, unheard by the world — the Spirit comes, and softly fills the believing soul, quickening all, renewing all within,” writes Robert Murray McCheyne.

Day after day, the man cut ash, pulled splint, stacked baskets.

He said that as he held the damp splint and he braided — under and over, under and over — that God was simply teaching him to weave prayers into every basket, to fill the empty baskets, all the emptiness, with eternal, unseen things.

It was as if, under all the branches of those basket growing trees, he knew what that clergyman James Aughey wrote, “As a weak limb grows stronger by exercise, so will your faith be strengthened by the very efforts you make in stretching it out toward things unseen.”

Come the end of the year, after long months of bending over baskets, bending in prayer, when his stacks of baskets threatened to topple over, the man kneeled down under those trees that grew baskets — and lit those baskets with a match.

The flames devoured and rose higher and cackled long into the night.

Then, come morning, when the heat died away, satiated, the basket-making man stood long in the quiet.

He watched how the wind blew away the ashes of all his work.

To the naked eye, it would appear that the man had nothing to show for the work. All the product of his hands was made papery ash — but his prayers had survived fire.

The prayers we weave into the matching of the socks, the working of our hands, the toiling of the hours, they survive fire. It’s the things unseen that survive fire. Love. Relationship. Worship. Prayer. Communion. All Things Unseen — and centered in Christ

It doesn’t matter so much what we leave unaccomplished — but that our priority was things unseen.

Again, today, that’s always the call: Slay the idol of the seen. Slay the idol of focusing on only what can be seen, lauded, noticed.

Today, a thousand times again today, I will preach His truth to this soul prone to wander, that wants nothing more than the gracious smile of our Father: “Unseen. Things Unseen. Invest in Things Unseen. The Unexpected Priority is always Things Unseen.”

“Pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret . . .” (Matthew 6:6)

The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

It’s the things unseen that are the most important things.

Though the seen product of the baskets may have gone up in a flame of smoke, it was the unseen prayers that rose up like incense that had changed the man, much like Oswald Chambers says, “It is the unseen and the spiritual in people, that determines the outward and the actual.”

When the heart and mind focus on things unseen —  that’s when there’s a visible change in us.

The outward and the visible only become like Christ to the extent we focus on the unseen and invisible Person of Christ.

In truth, the ideas and images in men’s minds are the invisible powers that constantly govern them,” writes Jonathan Edwards.

The stories in our friend, Jon Bloom’s, new book Things Not Seen are a rare and unforgettable focusing. After meeting Bloom, founder of Desiring God, you walk away quietly saying, “He is so much like Jesus.”

And when you walk away from these pages — that is exactly what will happen: you will have become so much like Jesus.

The ideas and images and truths that Bloom memorably guides into the recesses of the mind and heart usher in the invisible power of Christ to govern the worries and lies and anxieties and stresses — and make them obedient to His sovereign will and relentless love and perfect ways.

Bloom is the wisest of guides, the most tender of pastors, the most honest of truth-tellers, and the most skillful of theologians — who shows you with powerful clarity how to weave gospel-priorities through all your work, all your moments: things not seen, priorities not seen.

It is precisely what John Calvin implored: “We must make the invisible kingdom visible in our midst.

Turn these profound pages and you will know it. Your heart and mind will focus on His invisible kingdom.

Then go ahead, weave your baskets —

and the invisible kingdom will be made blazingly visible in our midst.

 

so, turning the pages of my preface, & a life-giving excerpt from Things Unseen by Jon Bloom

….  so the story of Naomi in Ruth 1 teaches us that how things look and how things feel are often not how they are.

* * *

The last time Naomi saw her hometown on the Judean hillside, the barley fields were barren in the House of Bread.

The famine had stirred the specter of starvation. Naomi’s husband, Elimelech—not a patient man even in bounty—was convinced that Moab held a better life.

Moving to Moab had frightened Naomi nearly as much as starvation. There was no fear of Yahweh in Moab. The bloodthirsty god, Chemosh, was worshiped there.

Naomi prayed desperately for a full harvest to keep them home, but Yahweh had not moved. So her man of action had moved her, their two sons, and the necessities they could carry, to Moab.

Now, a decade later, Naomi was returning home. The Bethlehem barley fields were full and ripe. But her house was now barren. In Moab, she had suffered a famine of men.

So as her friends greeted her, she replied, “Do not call me Naomi [pleasant]; call me Mara [bitter], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20).

It had been a hard ten years. Elimelech died only a year after they had settled. But with a crop in the ground and famine still ravaging Judah, Naomi was trapped.

More Moabite chains fastened on her when her sons Mahlon and Chilion each married Moabite women. She had grieved this deeply at first.

But Ruth and Orpah had surprised her. They proved to be solaces, not sorrows. Quickly she had come to love them like daughters.

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Especially Ruth.

How such a woman had come to Mahlon was a marvel. Naomi had never known anyone like her. Ruth was unusually kind and wise beyond her years. And she proved to be the hardest worker in the household. Ruth was an oasis of joy in Naomi’s Moab wilderness.

But the Lord brought disaster on Naomi again when Mahlon and Chilion died just weeks apart. Their deaths left her destitute.

Love-less, man-less, wealth-less, she was left with nothing in a land that cared nothing for her.

What added to the cruelty was that her sons’ deaths would strip her of Ruth and Orpah, the only two left in that God-forsaken place that did care.

It felt like driving two more knives into her heart, but with no way to support them, she knew she had to send them away.

Their best chance for salvaged lives was to return to their fathers’ homes and hope to marry again someday. Her best chance was to go home and hopefully live off the goodwill of anyone in Elimelech’s clan who had any.

The girls took her decision hard.

They wept together over their dead and over the death of the life they had known. Both young widows feared for Naomi’s survival and expressed their willingness to stay with her.

But Naomi would not hear of it. And Orpah knew she was right.

But not Ruth.

Ruth would not hear of leaving. When Naomi pressed her, Ruth made a vow—to Yahweh:  “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

Such a vow could not be broken, and Naomi both rejoiced and grieved over it.

And she marveled again.

Why would this young Moabitess, who excelled all other women, cast her lot with a hopeless old widow and a God whose favor seemed clearly to have been withdrawn?

The odd thing was that in Ruth’s favor on her  —  Naomi recognized the faint scent of Yahweh’s favor.

But she fought against hope. What harvest could possibly spring up from the seeds of all those tragic tears sown over the past ten years?

*  *  *

When Naomi arrived in Bethlehem after her sorrowful sojourn in Moab, she could not see a harvest from her tears. It all looked like a tragedy; like “vanity and striving after wind” (Eccl. 1:14).

That’s how it looked. That’s how it felt. But that’s not how it was.

In reality, all of the ups and downs in Naomi’s life—the famine, the move to Moab, the deaths of Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion, Ruth’s loyalty, Naomi’s return at barley harvest, Boaz, and the kinsman who chose not to redeem Ruth—all of these events played parts in God’s plan to redeem millions and weave a Moabite into the royal, Messianic bloodline.

The bigger story of redemption was far bigger than they imagined. Even though they were in the middle of the story, none of them could see it from their vantage point.

We must remember this perspective in our times of desolation, grief and loss.

How things appear to us, and how they actually are, are rarely the same.

Sometimes it looks and feels like the Almighty is dealing “very bitterly” with us, when all the while He is doing us and many others more good than we could have imagined.

God’s purposes in the lives of His children are always gracious. Always.

If they don’t look like it, don’t trust your perceptions.

Trust God’s promises.

He is always fulfilling His promises.

 

this post is Voskamp’s preface & an excerpt from Bloom’s, Things Not Seen: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Trusting God’s Promises

Jon Bloom and his beautiful wife, Pam, came to The Farm with their pretty wondrous children, and we sat up late under stars and sang worship to the Maker of those stars while their talented son, Levi, accompanied us on his guitar, sang hymns around the dinner table in the morning, and prayed our hearts as if pouring out pitchers. When we waved goodbye to the Bloom’s — it was our hearts that brimmed with rich conversation, deep friendship and more of the joy of the Lord. 

As Co-founder, Board Chair, and Author of Desiring God, Jon Bloom’s heart beats after God’s and his just released book, Things Not Seen is a feast of a read that will serve you more of what your soul is seriously hungering for. I cannot recommend highly enough.

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