To perceive means ‘to become aware or conscious of (something); come to realise or understand.’ Perhaps the most surprising use of this verb in the Bible is in Genesis 19, the story of Lot and his daughters. After Lot’s miraculous deliverance from Sodom, which resulted in his wife being turned into a pillar of salt because she looked back (a sermon in itself!), he and his daughters settled in a cave. The daughters, frustrated by their isolation and fearful for the future, decided they would take matters into their own hands and sleep with their father in order to keep the family name going. We read, ‘That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.’ (Gen 19:33) Lot was not aware of what was happening. He did not perceive it! The daughters decided this was hugely successful: ‘So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.’ (Gen 19:35) Obviously this story shows us the dangers of drunkenness as well as the sheer folly of taking matters into our own hands (their children, Moab and Ammon, were to become thorns in the side of God’s people, Israel, in time to come, an indication that it’s always better to wait for God’s ways than doing things in the way of the world.) But it also shows us how we can fail to see or perceive or be aware of things that, for most of us, would seem an impossible situation. How can you really not be aware that you have had sex with someone?! How can you not notice that this is your daughter?! But so often, we simply do not see spiritual things. Spiritual truth can only be seen with spiritual eyes: as Paul puts it, ‘in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.’ (1 Cor 2:13) He goes on to say, ‘the person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.’ (1 Cor 2:14) We need spiritual vision if we are to perceive and see what God is doing.
Our expectations of how God will act, our preoccupation with self, our obsession with the past or with the future can all hinder us from seeing the new thing and the now thing God is doing. To perceive and understand what God is doing means we have to have spiritual vision; we have to look beyond what our natural eyes see and hold on to the promises of God. John, in his great vision of the new heaven and new earth, heard these words: ‘He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”‘ (Rev 21:5) God’s words and promises are trustworthy and true. He is making everything new and this can be His word to us today.
Will be like Elijah, people of faith? We’re told that ‘Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.’ (1 Kings 18:42) In other words, Elijah prayed. He sought God’s face for the rain. He refused to let doubt rob him of seeing the invisible, of experiencing with his physical senses what he knew God had assured him in the spiritual realm would happen. He refused to dwell in the past; he wouldn’t even rest in the great victory over Baal he had just witnessed. Instead, he continued to seek God’s face for the physical manifestation of rain which would prove to the king yet again that he spoke the word of the Lord. He wanted to see God move in the here-and-now. We too long to see God move in this way, but must learn to perceive His actions and hold on to His promises, no matter what. Without spiritual perception, we will not see spiritual victories, but when we hold on to God in faith, we will see Him making a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert.