In 2001, the Journal of Vision published a scientific study detailing exactly where on the road drivers focused while steering a moving vehicle. The general consensus was that drivers move the wheel towards where they fix their gaze, known as gaze fixation. Why does gaze fixation matter? If we pass a wreck on the highway, and fix our eyes on it, we will inevitably drift towards the accident, which could pose even greater threats. Isn’t this true in life, too? Whatever we dwell on, we’ll drift towards.
The Bible is brimming with verses that seem to ignore our circumstances, like when Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25) In John 16:33, Jesus again seems to gloss over our struggles, famously declaring, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart…” Verses like these are heart-warming when life is stable and calm, but what about when things go awry? If we’re honest, when life is upside-down, these verses can seem irrelevant, cold, and even insensitive. Is God asking us to ignore our troubles and just be happy? Considering that God sent His own Son to share in our sufferings, to take the worst pain possible on the cross, it’s unlikely He would ask us to ignore pain and even thank Him for it. Perhaps these verses aren’t asking us to ignore our hardships but are dealing with our gaze fixation.
In his worst moment of agony on earth, we see Jesus alter his gaze fixation and it changed everything. In the garden of Gethsemane, wrestling with all the cross held for him, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) If we look carefully, in one statement, we see Jesus change his fixation from the physical to the spiritual, from the temporal to the eternal. When Jesus changed his gaze, just moments after sweating drops of blood and asking for a different reality, he was able to face his trial with the strongest resolve. As Peter attempted to defend Jesus by using his sword, Jesus had the strength to tell him, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11) The more Jesus fixated himself on God’s will, the more his heart and desires drifted towards God’s greater will for his life.
Therefore, when Jesus asks us to not be anxious about life, he finishes the thought by saying, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) Gaze fixation. When Jesus commands us to take heart despite our tribulations, he includes the gaze-changing statement, “I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus isn’t being insensitive to our struggles, but he is calling our attention to something greater and more worthy of our attention, something we want to drift towards.
In 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, the Apostle Paul phrases it like this: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” A change of gaze towards the heavens doesn’t require a dismissal of our afflictions; as we look upwards to God, our afflictions will seem smaller and we may even view them as somehow useful in our journey to heaven.