Christians believe in a spiritual, invisible dimension to life, that there is more to life than meets the eye, so to speak. Our five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell) are invaluable to navigating life on earth (though many people prove they can live successfully without one or more of these), but to live life purely based on the physical and material (as atheists and humanists do) is to miss out on all that God is doing in our world.

Paul tells us that those without Christ live effectively as people blinded to the light (2 Cor 4:4). Stephen is an example to us of what happens when spiritual sight is restored. Just before his death, Stephen said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’ (Acts 7:56) This was a bleak moment for Stephen; he was being stoned to death by a crowd furious at his testimony about Jesus Christ, and yet at the darkest moment from a physical point of view, light and life shine through. Stephen could see by faith something the crowds could not see, just as Elisha prayed for his servant’s eyes to be open to see the invisible army of God enabling him to have confidence even when foreign armies were surrounding him. (2 Kings 6:15-17)

Spiritual vision is essential if we are to stand firm in the faith no matter what comes against us. If we only use natural eyesight, we will soon become depressed, disillusioned and defeated. I can’t think of much worse than being stoned to death for blasphemy when you have done nothing wrong, but Stephen’s death as the first Christian martyr is redolent of victory and peace. As F. F. Bruce puts it, ‘Stephen has been confessing Christ before men, and now he sees Christ confessing his service to God.’ This is not an isolated experience; many others have spoken of seeing God at times when others have been impervious to the spiritual realm (including Saul himself, as we later discover!)

Paul prays for the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened (Eph 1:18) and we often sing, ‘Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.’ (Paul Baloche) There is no better prayer to pray if we are to grow spiritually and maintain a vibrant witness for Christ in our current dark days.