We’ve had some dazzling sunrises and sunsets in Sydney recently. In my quest to slow down and enjoy the beauty of God’s world more, I’ve begun a new routine where each evening I stop whatever I’m doing to sit outside and watch the sun go down—preferably with a cup of tea in hand.
Tonight, the sky was mostly covered by thick grey clouds. I almost skipped this routine because, I reasoned, I wouldn’t be able to see the sunset anyway. And besides, there were a few more work tasks I wanted to finish before youth group. But to keep up the habit, I made myself take my usual seat at the little wooden table.
At first, there wasn’t much to look at—but then I started to see. Orange streaks peeking out above the horizon. Squawks and a flash of green as a pair of rainbow lorikeets flew overhead. Angry clouds shifting away. The beautiful gradient of colour left behind: blue into purple into soft pink.
The more I looked, the more beauty I saw. Could this be true of more than just the sunset?
Look at Your Surroundings
I read the Anne of Green Gables series for the first time earlier this year, and Anne Shirley taught me how to see the beauty in everything. Ordinary sights that most people’s eyes skipped right past were sources of wonder and joy to her. Instead of the humdrum Barry’s Pond, Anne sees the magical Lake of Shining Waters. She rejoices endlessly in the world around her.
Since reading the series, I’ve been exercising my wonder muscles by keeping a monthly list of things that made me happy. I’m learning to spot everyday moments of beauty and see them as gifts from my generous Father (James 1:17).
When I’m feeling crushed by my to-do list or discouraged by my weakness, I need to slow down and look ever more carefully until I see. In my ordinary days, there’s my niece’s giggles, letters in the mailbox, delightful endpapers in picture books, and Australasian figbirds. The more I look, the more I see.
Look at Your Suffering
Delighting in a toddler’s laugh is much easier than being thankful for suffering. But both circumstances come from the hand of our sovereign and loving God, so I believe there’s beauty to be found in affliction if we keep looking.
Sometimes, by God’s grace, we see blessings come directly from our suffering. The job loss could make way for a far better position. Chronic illness could put us in a place where we meet our dearest friends. But the beauty can also be more subtle.
When we look intently at our suffering, our sin surfaces. We see our impatience and discontentment, our selfishness and lack of trust in God’s good purposes. Thomas Case, a Puritan pastor, wrote about how suffering gives us clear sight:
Sin is always sinful, but in our prosperity we are not so aware of it. The dust of the world fills our eyes. We don’t see clearly the evil that is in sin. In the sharp and bitter waters of affliction God washes our the dust and clears the eyes to discover sin.1
It’s a strange beauty to behold our sin. Of course, there’s nothing inherently good about sin—but there’s glory in what comes next. As the Spirit works in us, we repent of our impatience and learn to trust that God’s timing is always best. We see the selflessness of Jesus in stark contrast to our selfishness, so we love him more and ask for help to walk in his footsteps.
As we gaze upward through fierce trials, we learn to say with the psalmist, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Ps. 119:67). Life blooms from the ashes after our sin burns us out.
Look at Your Saviour
One of the great blessings of being single and living alone is that I have long stretches of uninterrupted time. In the mornings, I can often spend an hour with the Lord in Bible reading and prayer. I linger over Scripture, scribbling reflections and applications in my journal. I look and look and look until I see Jesus.
Not everyone can spend this long with God each day, but you can still make it a goal to keep looking. Through the daily rhythm of opening our Bibles and searching its riches, over time we come to recognise Jesus on every page. In each one of Israel’s failed rulers we’re pointed forward to the long-awaited, perfect King. In the curses of the prophets we get a fuller picture of the wrath our suffering Saviour bore in our stead. In every heinous sin and unbearable suffering, we see how desperately this broken world needs Jesus.
Following John Piper’s suggestion, I like to pray as before I read the Scriptures, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18). And surely the most wondrous thing we can see there is our Saviour. Commit to looking, and you’ll see.
Jesus heals many people throughout the Gospels with a simple touch, or even just a word. But the story of Jesus healing a blind man in Mark 8 stands out. It’s not an instant change. Jesus spits on the man’s eyes and lays his hands on him, then he asks, “Do you see anything?” The man reports he can now see people, but they’re vague, indistinct shapes. Jesus lays his hands on the man’s eyes again, and suddenly it all changes. He has gloriously clear sight.
Imagine if that man had left after Jesus first touched him, content to stumble around half-seeing. That’s the fate I choose when I let busyness, sin, and indifference cloud my view of beauty. But it’s not enough for me—I want to see clearly.
All this seeing has an end point: rejoicing. Joy filled my heart as I watched that unexpectedly glorious sunset. And while I pray, “Open my eyes,” I also ask, “Satisfy me this morning with your steadfast love” (see Ps. 90:14). Let me see you that I might be satisfied. That I might have joy.
As you gaze on your surroundings, your suffering, and your Saviour, look until you see—and rejoice.