It’s hard to be a Grace-Focused Optimist when you look out at America. Take just this past week and a half. Charles Krauthammer—one of the rare people in Washington speaking with intelligence, wit, charm, and courtesy—–died. And politicians, pundits, and proprietors seem bent on making us a house divided that cannot stand. Looking out at these things tempts you to drown your sorrows in a fifth of pessimism.
Then when you look in you often find soil that’s Mississippi Delta rich for pessimism to grow like Kudzu. When I look in at myself now I find the nerve shrapnel called sciatica torturing my left hip and leg all the way down to my ankle. Let me tell you, it’s not Disneyland.
So, what do you do when looking out and looking in make being a Grace-Focused Optimist seem as foolish as believing the earth is flat and as naïve as believing in Santa Claus?
You do what the prophet Isaiah did.
He gives you a two-word strategy for staying a Grace-Focused Optimist no matter what’s going on. Here it is:
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The Cross and the Crown
In Isaiah 6 this believer’s looking out at the death of Israel’s king and it seems looking in at thoughts of his own mortality and sinfulness when he goes into the temple one day. There he looks up. John tells us that when Isaiah looked up he saw the glory of Jesus (John 12:41). And looking up was a game-changer for Isaiah. It’ll be the same for us.
The two things about Jesus that Isaiah looked up and saw are the things we need to look up and see by faith every day, all day long.
1. We need to look up and see Jesus’ cross.
When the exalted Jesus tells Isaiah through an angel that “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (verse 7) he’s telling him that the worst thing that could ever happen to him won’t. That worst thing is hell. But through the cross, pictured by the altar of burning coals, Isaiah’s been taken off death row. Hell is not in his future. It’s not in ours either. Why? Because Jesus experienced the hell we deserve on the cross. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).
My friends, no matter how bad the political situation gets, no matter how severe your pains and problems, because of the cross the worst thing that could ever happen to you won’t. Looking up at Jesus’ cross reminds you of this. And that gives you reason to be a Grace-Focused Optimist no matter what’s going on.
2. We need to look up and see Jesus’ crown.
Question 11 of a famous catechism asks, “What are God’s works of Providence?” It answers, “God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions.” Now, as good as that answer is it’s as incomplete as visiting Paris without seeing the Eifel Tower or getting married and not going on a honeymoon. Something major is missing. What’s missing is what we see when we look up at Jesus. We see what Isaiah saw: Jesus is on the throne. Meaning he’s in charge of everything. So, Jesus edits question 11 by adding what’s missing: “God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions through Me!”
The One who died for you rules everything. Everything! Looking up at Jesus’ crown reminds you of this. And that gives you reason to be a Grace-Focused Optimist no matter what’s going on.
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
The godly Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne says, “For every one look at yourself take ten looks at Christ.” Allow me to paraphrase: For every one look out and for every one look in, take ten looks up!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
Looking up at Jesus’ cross and crown is Isaiah’s two-word strategy for staying a Grace-Focused Optimist no matter what’s going on. Try it and you’ll see—it works!