The Power of Beholding

young adult man outdoors

Ancient punctuation has something to teach us about slowing down and noticing God at work.

Some people can rattle off sports stats. Some know obscure details about their favorite band. Some follow the ups and downs of the stock market. Me? I could talk for hours about the nuances of punctuation.

I realize this particular obsession makes me a first-class nerd, but think about it: there’s the dramatic pause of ellipses, the snarky aside of parentheses, the slow yield of a comma, the abrupt shift signaled by an em dash, and the thrill of the exclamation mark. What can I say? There’s just so much emotion that can be packed into these little punctuations!

I come by my love of punctuation honestly. My mom embellishes every greeting card with additional handwritten exclamation marks, and her e-mail signature contains seven of them. They make me smile every time. So you’ll imagine this grammar geek’s dismay when I discovered that the ancient Greek and Hebrew languages didn’t have punctuation. Apparently sentence punctuation wasn’t invented until several centuries after Christ. What?!

How Ancient Writers Got Their Readers’ Attention

Author Sharon Garlough Brown explains that although the writers of Scripture didn’t have commas or exclamation marks at their disposal, they did have access to other tools to get their readers’ attention. Most notably, they used the word for behold, which means “to keep or to hold.” It comes from the Greek word “to see.” This interjection jumps off the page, as certain as punctuation — with all the exclamatory power of an exclamation mark, with all the pause-worthy effect of a comma. It was intended to force its readers to slow down, to hold this truth in their hearts, to really see.

The word behold is used more than a thousand times in the English Standard Version, which makes me think there must be a lot God wants us to pay attention to.

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go (Genesis 28:15).
Behold, God is my helper (Psalm 54:4).
Behold, God is my salvation (Isaiah 12:2).
Behold, I am doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19).
Behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst you (Luke 17:21).
Behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Behold, I stand at the door and knock (Revelation 3:20).

If behold means “to hold,” then I wonder: Is the opposite to let go? Or “to miss”?

When God Shows Up in Ways You Don’t Expect

I spent all of my twenties and part of my thirties looking for God to show up in one particular way. For as long as I can remember, it was my dream to be a wife and a mom. But as I attended wedding after wedding for my friends and my siblings, nothing seemed to be progressing for me in the relationship department. I prayed, I fasted, I went on cringe-worthy blind dates. I reminded God about His promise to give us the desires of our hearts and to put the lonely in families. But it seemed like the outpourings of my heart were met with silence.

I believed that God could intervene in my love life — I really did. I was more-than-ready to behold what he would do — to put an exclamation mark on that answer to prayer, if you will. Instead, I found myself floundering, kind of like those three dots you find when a sentence trails off. I was stuck in a cycle of waiting, and I wasn’t sure if an answer would ever come.

What I didn’t realize was that all around me, God was giving me so many wonders to behold; it’s just that they weren’t the ones I was expecting. He gave me friends — the kind I could call for any reason, or for no reason at all. He gave me a church — an imperfect community, but a community where I could grow stronger and deeper in my faith. He gave me children — not my own, but children I could be auntie and mentor to. He gave me love — not in the form of a husband, but love through the kindness and companionship of my people.

He gave me answers to my prayers — not the answer I was looking for, but an even better one: the response of His own presence.

How often do I miss what God is doing and saying to me because my heart is too busy, too distracted? I’m so caught up in looking for one particular blessing that I miss the beautiful things He’s doing all around me, and inside me. I’m so busy lamenting His “no” or “wait” that I miss all the remarkable “yeses” around me.

I want to be a better beholder. I want to pay attention, not only to His gifts, but also to His character, His presence, and how He’s molding me during this season.

Three Ways God Invites Us to Behold

So what does it look like, on a practical level, to behold? Especially in this world that values speed and efficiency and multitasking? If we’re not intentional about it, we’ll go through life skimming the surface. God, it seems, gets that we’re not naturally good beholders. But He invites us to slow down and take note of what He’s doing in at least three specific ways:

1. God invites us to listen. He beckons us to listen to Him. We’re given these instructions in Deuteronomy 13:4 (NASB): “Keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.” When we pause to read God’s Word and quiet the buzzing in our minds, we can hear what God is saying to us. Then we can tune in to what really matters.

2. God invites us to rest. The concept of Sabbath, six days of work followed by one day of rest, isn’t meant to be a legalistic ritual; it’s a life-giving practice that helps us slow down our frenetic pace and appreciate the gifts all around us. The point isn’t the day itself; the point is to help us reset our focus each week on what’s most important.

Ezekiel 20:20 says, “And keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.” Maybe for you, Sabbath will involve turning off your phone for a day or not driving your car or finding an activity that refreshes your soul. Whatever rest looks like for you, be sure to carve out space for your soul to reflect on the one who made you.

3. God invites us to see the world through eyes of gratitude. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Note that we don’t have to be thankful for all circumstances, but we can find something to be thankful for in all circumstances. Maybe you can do that by starting a daily log of things to be thankful for, or by going for a walk and taking mental inventory of your gifts, big and small.

Don’t Miss It!

Is there something you’re so focused on in this season that you’re missing what God is doing in your life right now, even today? Wherever you find yourself at the moment, I encourage you to behold. Don’t miss the joy and the love all around you while you’re looking for that one thing.

Take time to pause. To exclaim. To behold.

(Or maybe I should make that, “To behold!”)

Copyright Stephanie Rische 2016. All rights reserved.

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