Mustard Seed Moments: Zooming In, Zooming Out

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“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” James 1:2-3

It’s been my experience and observation that life’s problems often come in bunches. We encounter “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2) while trying to keep up with the normal stresses and irritations of daily life. Marital conflict, parenting dilemmas, financial pressures, job loss, disease, accidents, sick or dying loved ones, etc.—these can pile up to test or even threaten our faith. We might get obsessively focused on one issue and neglect others that are equally important or more important. We might even be afraid to focus on potential solutions to one problem because we are overwhelmed by the whole array of them. Either way, we are apt to get stuck or begin to despair.

In his teaching, Jesus often focused his audience’s imagination on small, natural things like seeds, flowers, birds, coins, trees, sheep, goats, or fish. He did this to help them understand metaphorically the vast realities of salvation, discipleship, and the love of God. At other times, he challenged them to comprehend those grand realities directly, by citing Old Testament prophets or praying to the Father while they listened in. He taught his disciples about the kingdom of heaven while helping them recognize that it was all around them in the infinite beauty and detail of God’s creation. He had a great ability to zoom in and zoom out.

As a counselor for many years, I’ve encountered people who get lost in the details and lose all perspective on the big picture. I’ve also encountered plenty of people who get lost in the clouds and refuse to face the smaller details of here-and-now problems they need to resolve. Both indicate a fixed lens approach when what is needed is a spiritual lens that can zoom in to clearly see the smallest details and can zoom out to see the whole scene panoramically.

God promises to give us the wisdom we need; we just need to ask him (James 1:5). But I’ve found that we often also need a friend or a counselor to help us adjust our lenses and become more flexible in our point of view. We need each other at times when we can’t chase away obsessive thoughts on our own. And we also need each other when we can’t seem to focus in on an issue long enough to see a solution, a path forward, or even a way of coping with it.

God helps us to zoom in and zoom out, and our brothers and sisters in Christ can help us, too. It’s wise to access all available sources of godly understanding and perspective. Above all, we need to remain in his light (1 John 1:7); as we do this over time, our spiritual lenses become more adaptive and responsive. We become able to clearly see both the step we are on and the distant horizon.

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