Splendor like the Sunrise

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, some of my friends have found a simpler way— asking God to help them choose just one word as a focal point for change and growth for the year. As the year turned, I pondered this, wondering if a single word would come to me without forcing it.

It did: Focus.

And so today I am focusing my attention on what God might have to say to me in this photo of a splendid sunrise.  

Focus. Like a Camera.

Last weekend I was leading a CrossWise retreat on Coronado Island and awoke much earlier than usual to prepare for my morning talk. Stepping outside onto the patio, I looked to my right and cried out in delight at the glory of the sunrise on the bay.

I’ve walked, biked, and kayaked past this spot many times, but have never seen it at this time of day or from this vantage point.

Looking past the fringe of leaves, I saw sailboats at rest on their moorings, the beautiful blue Coronado Bridge arching overhead and a hint of the brilliance of the sun emerging through the golden haze. I quickly grabbed my phone so that I could memorialize the visual banquet arrayed before me.

A little blinking square appeared on my screen, indicating I needed to focus. I had to select one element of the scene as central, and since I was on a CrossWise retreat where I was asking others to be on the lookout for images of the cross all around them, it was obvious to me that the masts of the sailboats were where I had to focus.

CrossWise images from around the country.

CrossWise images from around the country.

When their sails are down, you can clearly see a cross if you’re looking for it.

Perfect. The sailboats bobbing peacefully in the early morning stillness underscored the encouraging message I had planned. I compare the constant change we experience to a sailboat tacking back and forth on a zigzag path in order to make progress. In fact, that insight, the central metaphor in my book Living CrossWise, first came to me while taking a sailing lesson right out there on San Diego Bay.

So yes, I needed to focus on the sailboats.

But then each time I look back at the picture, I see a different element that also captures my attention and points me to God.

  • The iconic Coronado Bridge has always served as the gateway to something wonderful: the Lamb’s Players Theatre, the Hotel Del, the expansive beach, the scenic bike ride around the harbor, or the joy of kayaking on the bay. I see the bridge stretching in a graceful curve so high above the water and think of Jesus, who bridged the gap between heaven and earth, God and man. He is our means of access to wonders unfathomable. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” – I Corinthians 2:9
  • Or I’ll focus on the light radiating across the water from the left. The sun is so dazzlingly brilliant as it rises through the morning mist, that to photograph it I had to duck behind the thick trunk of a tree. I think about Moses asking to see God’s glory and having to be hidden in the cleft of a rock.
  • Sometimes it is important to focus not only on the picture, but on the frame as well. Mulberry leaves in the foreground provide context. They remind me that for two magical nights, by the grace of God, I possessed the piece of real estate that allowed me to wake up to this view. No longer just someone jogging by, I was at that moment the grateful person who got sit at the water’s edge in a fabulous hotel, drinking good coffee, and planning for a fantastic day in the service of our great God.

So when I look at this picture, a cherished memory of a weekend when dreams came true, where should I focus but on all the elements of a scene that reminds me of the majesty and glory of the Father in heaven, and the peace we find in the cross of Christ?

We’ve been singing Phil Wickham’s song “Beautiful” quite a bit lately in church, and it points to the most important thing to notice in this photograph:

I see Your face in every sunrise,

The colors of the morning are inside Your eyes.

The world awakens in the light of the day,

I look up to the sky and say,

You’re beautiful.

And that is what I am focusing on today.

What’s your focus? What is your one word for 2014?