I sat across from “Steve” and listened as he unfolded his life story. It was an all too common tale of aspirations, indulgence and failure. As we talked, he revealed that his view of life had changed. He realized that some things he thought were so important were actually not important at all. He was less affected by what others thought of him and more concerned about making the most of the life he has. As our conversation unfolded, a word came to my mind that clearly summarized what Steve was experiencing: perspective.
All of us go through stages in life related to the way we view our world. Although these stages roughly align with age, they are more closely linked to maturity. We all begin life eager to learn. Everything is new and exciting, and we soak it up like a sponge. At some point we cross over from active learning to “I know it all.” By this we don’t mean that we have mastered the sum total of all information, but that we have gained enough insight to make sense of our world. At this stage, life becomes very black and white, and we become very dogmatic. If we linger in this stage too long, it develops into full-blown arrogance. Some people, unfortunately, never move out of this stage.
Most of us will face a reality check in our lives that will cause us to enter into the next phase: questioning. In this stage, our sense of mastery is shaken. We begin to question our abilities and our knowledge. Instead of believing that we know everything, we start to question whether we really know anything. If we get stuck in this phase, it can lead to despair.
The goal is enter into the next phase: understanding. The key to this stage of maturity is perspective. We begin to see our world through seasoned eyes. We accept the fact that there are a number of things that we do not know, understand or comprehend. We come to grips with the natural limits of our lives. At the same time, we embrace the reality that there are a large number of things we do know, understand and comprehend. There are certain things that we have mastered and we are pretty good at them. Perspective allows us to hold these two realities in balance. We gain confidence, without slipping into arrogance. We don’t allow our deficits to hinder our asset, or our assets to mask our deficits.
Perspective is a component of true maturity. Perspective allows us to look back over our life with relatively clear vision. As we look back, we can evaluate where we have been, glean the lessons from those past experiences, and apply them to our future endeavors. Perspective helps us moderate both the highs and lows of life. Perspective teaches us that our current crisis is not the end of the world. Perspective teaches us that our current success is only temporary.
There are many things that shape our perspective on life. The most important influence on our perspective is our faith in Christ. If our perspective is completely worldly, with no room for God, it will be distorted. The lessons we learn will be helpful for a time, but may lead us in the wrong direction. Having a godly perspective on life leads us into truly right living.
Solomon understood the need for a godly perspective. The entire book of Proverbs was written to help people cultivate it. Proverbs 3:5-8 stands out as a guidepost on our journey toward developing a mature, godly perspective in life.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.
Paul picked up this same theme in Romans 12:3. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
My encounter with Steve has reminded me of how my perspective on life has changed. As I have grown in my faith, and matured as a person, my perspective has been refined. It is not that I can see everything clearly, but I can see life more clearly. I better understand my strengths and weaknesses, and I am becoming more and more comfortable with them. I am less likely to become arrogant, or slip into despair, because I have a long view of life.
As I strive to refine my perspective, I find great encouragement in Paul words in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
One day our eyes will be opened and we will see everything clearly. Until then, let us humbly work at refining our perspective.