Making the Transition from Looking to Seeing


“I do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” – Ephesians 1:16-19a

Eye Doctor: “Can you read the third line of letters on the screen ahead of you?”

Me: No.

Eye Doctor: “That’s no problem, what about the second line?”

Me: Nope.

Eye Doctor: “Ok…well can you at least give me the top letter?”

Me: It’s all a blur, man.

This is just my average trip to the eye doctor. At this point, the eye doctor typically chuckles under his breath, and I’m looking for a way to sneak out the back. He’s amazed that I can’t see the “Big E” on the screen ten feet away from my face, but it’s just too fuzzy. I’m looking right at it, but I can’t see it. I’m staring in the right direction, but I can’t comprehend what I’m looking at.

That’s because there’s a huge difference between looking and seeing.

This truth rings especially true when it comes to Bible study. How many of us have read whole chapters of the Bible without having a clue what’s going on? Even though we’re looking at all the words, much of the time we’re unable to see what’s actually being said. On page after page, the truths of the Bible are right in front of us, and yet sometimes we seem so far from comprehending them.

But God wouldn’t give us His Word only to keep its truth hidden from us. His will is that we would not only look at the words of Scripture, but that we would also see what He is saying to us through them. He longs for us to grasp His truth and walk in it – for our good and His glory – but this understanding won’t come automatically. By His grace we have to make the spiritual transition from looking to seeing.

How to Make the Transition from Looking to Seeing – Three Things You Need to Know

You can’t see what you don’t look at – How many of us have missed seeing something important because we were looking in the wrong direction in the first place (our phones, perhaps)? Maybe in a moment of distraction you’ve missed a walk-off homerun, the bride and groom’s first kiss, or even seeing your child walk for the first time. The harsh truth is that you can’t see what you don’t look at. And when it comes to Bible study, this is where most of us disqualify ourselves.

The reason so many of us don’t understand the Bible is that we fail to read it in the first place. Christian author and speaker Ed Stetzer wrote, “Because we don’t read God’s Word, it follows that we don’t know it.” To understand the Bible as God intends, we must begin with reading it. It sounds simple, but with new research showing that Americans are fond of the Bible, but don’t actually read it, this is perhaps the primary reason why we don’t understand the Bible more.

“God wouldn’t give us His Word only to keep its truth hidden from us.”

You can’t see what your eyes can’t focus on – My eyesight problem arises from the fact that I’m near-sighted. In other words, I still have the ability to see things that are right in front of me because my eyes haven’t lost the ability to focus on things that are close by. But when it comes to objects in the distance, my eyesight is a joke.

Because my eyes can’t focus on objects that are far away, I can’t see them clearly. At best, my eyes will give me a fuzzy picture, making me squint my eyes and merely guess at what’s in front of me. The only way I can see clearly from a distance is when my glasses give my eyes the help they need to focus properly.

Helpful tip: When you can’t see well, try squinting like Chris Pratt. It may not help you see better, but at least you’ll look cool.

This same problem often hinders our ability to understand the Bible. When we read a passage, it often seems fuzzy to us because we have a spiritual sight problem. We’re looking in the right direction , but we still aren’t seeing and understanding what it’s saying. It’s as if our eyes are unable to focus on what’s really going on in the pages in front of us, and as a result we can’t see what God is telling us. We need something – or Someone – to help our spiritual eyes us focus clearly.

That’s one of the many reasons why God gave us the Holy Spirit, or as He’s referred to in these verses, “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” One of roles of the Spirit is to enable us to see biblical truths that we were previously just looking at. Only the Spirit can give us the focus and clarity to see spiritually, which means that we can never understand the Bible without Him.

That’s why Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of wisdom.” The Greek word Paul uses here is sophia, which was used to refer to having expertise in a specific area. It was a word reserved primarily for those who were the elite professionals in their field, such as the great Jewish theologians, Greek philosophers, and Roman orators.

In other words, Paul’s prayer for the normal, everyday Ephesian believer was that they would become experts in understanding the life-changing truths of God’s Word. Forget the pastors, Bible scholars, and missionaries – no matter your age, background, or experience, God’s will is that we would all come to be proficient in understanding the Scriptures through the Holy Spirit.

You can’t see what is hidden from your sight – We’ve all been in the awkward predicament of having to stumble through a room in the dark. When we can’t see, we don’t know which way we should – or should not – turn. We inch our way slowly and cautiously through rooms we’ve walked through a thousand times in the light. We can look hard, strain our eyes, and squint all we like, but what we’re looking at in the dark can only be seen in the light.

That’s why Paul also refers to the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of revelation.” This time the Greek word is apokalupsis, from which we get the English word, “apocalypse.” It refers to “revealing something that was previously covered or not visible.” We’ve already seen that part of the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives is to reveal truth to us that we were previously unable to see. In other words, only the Holy Spirit, who inspired the authors of the Bible, can enable us to understand what it means.  

“One of roles of the Spirit is to enable us to see biblical truths that we were previously just looking at.”

And how does the Holy Spirit reveal truth to us? By “enlightening the eyes of our hearts.” The word “enlighten” means “to illuminate, shed light upon, or teach.” In other words, as we continue to read and study the Bible – prayerfully asking God to reveal His truth to us as Paul did – the Holy Spirit will begin to shed light on the passages we’re studying, allowing us to finally see and understand them clearly.

Many people take these truths to mean that they can take a passive, even laissez faire approach to Bible study – don’t fall into this trap. Bible study requires an intentional commitment of quality time – time without TV’s, phones, or other distractions that would hinder your ability to listen to the Spirit’s teaching. Although the Holy Spirit does the revealing and enlightening work for us, it is our responsibility to prayerfully devote ourselves to the careful reading and study of the Word, and to humbly submit ourselves to obey its teaching.

Recommended Resources:

Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible – J. Scott Duvall, J. Daniel Hays, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and Mark L. Strauss

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth – Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

Secret Church 3: How to Study the Bible – David Platt

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