Fix Your Gaze

Where are you looking? This past weekend, depending on the part of the world where you live, you either heard readings from the 7th Sunday of Easter (Jn 17:20-26) or the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord (Lk 24:46-53). Regardless of what you heard – both of the first readings call our attention to where we set our gaze.

The first reading for Ascension Sunday comes from the start of the Book of Acts. The disciples see Jesus ascend into heaven, and they stand there, staring at the sky. Angels call them forward; stop gazing heavenward and move forward. There is work to be done.

From the 7th Sunday of Easter, Stephen is about to be stoned to death. He looks up and sees Jesus there, waiting. Christ is about to welcome Stephen home as he faces persecution and martyrdom. Amidst his suffering, Stephen looks up to see Christ. He gazes heavenward at the promised reward, rather than the anger and hate before him.

In both readings, we get a proper idea of direction. Embrace the Christ moments, as the disciples watch Jesus ascend, but don’t linger past the moment. There is work to be done. Too often we settle, and we reminisce on that “amazing retreat” or “this unbelievable class of students” only to realize those moments happened years ago. We miss the work in front of us because we spend too much time looking at the past.

Stephen, facing persecution and anger, looks to Christ and fixes his gaze there. He knows the reward and trusts it. When we face hardship and trial, we become myopic and gaze only at our persecutor. Maybe it is a parent that is tough to deal with, or a situation that we wish would go away. I was never great at looking to Christ in moments of trial. Instead, I wind up in a stare down with my persecutors, and eventually I forget why I’m in ministry. When we focus only on the negative, we forget that the reason we serve is that we want to help others attain the reward we are seeking: heaven.

Where do you look in ministry? Are you like the disciples, gazing into the past rather than moving forward to serve? If so, it is time to tighten your shoelaces and hit the street – there are hearts to be won. The glory God brought in your ministry so far will only be matched by what is to come. When the disciples moved forward after the Ascension of Christ, the Church grew. When we move forward and press onward in ministry, the Church grows.

Do you struggle to be Stephen? When hardship and trial hit in ministry, do you focus only on the negative? Stephen knew how to endure trial and suffering. Stephen fixed his gaze on Jesus and where he was going, rather than on the anger around him. If we can emulate him, our ministry will be focused on Christ rather than negativity.

This week, assess your direction. Where are you looking?


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About the Author

Joel Stepanek

I spent most of my 8th grade year in detention because there wasn’t a dare I wouldn’t accept. But in high school, my youth minister dared me to follow Christ and I haven’t looked back. I love all things Wisconsin, especially the Green Bay Packers. I can probably eat more cheese than you. (Please don’t dare me to prove it.) Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @LT_Jstepanek.

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