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The God Who Sees Me

What difference does it make in my life to know that there is a God who sees me?

I am very aware that Mother's Day isn't easy for some people. I have talked to two moms this morning who said, "I didn't want to come. I nearly didn't come." So, if you are one of those moms, thanks for coming, because there are lots of reasons why this is a painful day for people.

Many of you are not mothers (because you are men; you never will be mothers), but we were all once children, and children like to be watched. I bet you said to your mom, "Hey, mom, watch this! Look what I can do! Look at me!" And your mothers looked every time, no matter what goofy thing you were doing (and you know you did some goofy things). We all know what that's like as a child, wanting to be seen by our moms.

Many of us have also been a mom who wonders if she is ever seen—because there comes a point as a mom where you begin to think you are invisible. Nicole Johnson has written a beautiful article called, "I Am Invisible," and I am going to read a part of it:

It all began to make sense—the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I am on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. And inside I am thinking, Can't you see? I am on the phone. Obviously not. No one can see if I am on the phone or cooking or sweeping the floor or even standing on my head in the corner because no one can see me at all. I am invisible.
Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more. 'Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this?' Some days I am not a pair of hands; I am not even a human being; I am a clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I am a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I am a car-to-order—'right around 5:30 please.' I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated. But now they had all disappeared into the peanut butter never to be seen again. She's going, she's going, she's gone.

I don't know if you feel like that as a mom, but we are going to look in our Bible story at a mother and child to explore a truth that is relevant for all of us. This is a story in Genesis 16 about a mother and child who both are misunderstood.

Read Genesis 16:1-15

A misunderstood mother

In this story we meet a mother, Hagar. She is an immigrant from Egypt and has no sense of belonging. She is running away from a household where her body has been used to produce offspring for an infertile couple.

Like many daughters of Hagar, this Hagar is mistreated. She is trapped in a system where she feels as though she is invisible. She has no rights, dignity, freedom, or choice, and she has had enough. It is very hard to be a nobody with no name. She is referred to by Abram and Sarai as "the maid" or "the Egyptian." Sarai and Abram probably did not really see Hagar as a person. She was there to serve a purpose. They probably didn't even notice that she actually ran away.

It would seem to me that Hagar doesn't know what she wants. She knows what she doesn't want—she doesn't want to be treated as a non-person, as an invisible person. She doesn't realize what her greatest need is until she meets the God who meets that need. And she names him in Verse 13, El Roi—"the God who sees."

I wonder what name you would give God if you had the chance to name him—the God who loves, the God who comforts, the God who guides, the God who forgives, the God of the second chance? Whatever you choose would actually say as much about your need as it would about the character of God because it is through our need that we experience God in our deepest way.

Hagar, who might feel insignificant and misunderstood, is actually a very significant person. Hagar has the longest conversation of any woman—and almost of any man—in the whole of the Old Testament with God. Hagar, the Egyptian maid, is the only person in the Bible who gives God a name. Up to this point, God gave himself names. He introduced himself to the children of Israel as Elohim—"the Creator," Yahweh—"the Covenant maker," El Shaddai—"the Almighty."

These are vast, majestic, out-there names of God, but Hagar needs more than a vast, majestic God out there, who she has probably heard about but she doesn't know. She needs an intimate, personal God and she meets that God. "I have now seen the God who sees me," Hagar declares.

I have thought for a long time about why that statement is so important, and I want to spend the next few minutes looking at the importance of this statement. What difference does it make in my life to know that there is a God who sees me? What difference does that make as a mom, as a dad, as a man, as a woman, as a young person?

God sees you

These thoughts started years and years ago, when I was about 10 years old. I had come to realize that I had some very deep questions inside myself, which children have, however little they may be. I wasn't brought up in a home that knew God, understood God, or talked about God. But when I was 10 years old I went into my room alone and I shut the door, and I did a very simple experiment. I clicked my fingers and I looked around and I said, "Did anybody see that?" And I sat there. And because I heard no one answer, I came to the conclusion that there was no one there. That's very logical, very simple. I desperately wanted somebody to be there or I wouldn't have done that little experiment. But I then lived the rest of my teenage years as though there was no one there and as though there was no God.

When I was 10 years old I really wanted to be seen, I wanted to know that somebody knew who I was inside that bedroom door. My parents were downstairs; I could hear their voices murmuring and I knew they really didn't know who I was. Pearl S. Buck said, "I love people, I love my family, my children, but inside myself is a place where I live all alone." And I knew that place. I knew that feeling of aloneness.

But I didn't know God and I didn't know the Bible. I had realized some things that are true in the Bible. 1 Samuel 16:7: "Man looks on the outward appearance." I had realized that. I had realized as a child when people looked at me, they often misjudged me; they often misunderstood me because they didn't know my motives. One of the things that hurts me deepest to this day is when somebody judges me, but they don't understand me and they don't know my motives.

We all hate being misunderstood. I wanted to believe and know that there was somebody who saw the inside of me and therefore someone who understood me. I didn't know the rest of the verse, "Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart," because I didn't know God, and of course God is actually the only One who can see the heart.

Many years later I discovered that God sees my secret world. God knows me. He knew me in that room. God had even written about that moment in that room in his book, which I discovered when I read Matthew 6:6: "When you pray, go into your room, close the door" (that's exactly what I had done—this little experiment was just an attempt at prayer) "and your Father who is unseen, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." I had gotten that bit right. I had gone in, I had shut the door, I had prayed. I had sensed there was somebody who was unseen, but I had never actually known that, although he was unseen, he still was seeing me.

We all have a fundamental need to be seen. That's why we say, "Watch me, Mommy! Watch me, Daddy!" We don't want anyone else to watch; we actually just want it to be my mom or my dad. I don't want my friend's mom coming to watch me play hockey; I want my mom coming to watch me play hockey.

I can remember—I used to help in the playschool that Matthew went to when he was three. I was on duty one day and I sat most of the morning with Matt's little friend Joshua. And Joshua was a very active little boy. And this morning he was very, very still and very, very focused and he was building a rocket out of toilet rolls and yogurt pots and he built this magnificent rocket. And he had just finished it when it came time for the end of playschool. And all the kids were packing up and he packed up but he had his rocket. And everybody went and Joshua was left there with his rocket. And finally his mom came flying in and she was obviously way late and I don't know why she was delayed, but she was the last to arrive. And he just stood there so excited to see her and he held up his rocket to show her and he said several times, "Mom, look at my rocket!" And she never gave his rocket a first glance or even a second glance. She basically just said to him, "Hurry up, Joshua! I'm in a hurry!" And she started heading out of the door. "Stop dawdling Joshua! I'm in a hurry!" And he is trailing along behind with his rocket. And as I watched him leave I saw his shoulders slump and I saw his rocket go down by his side and he was just trailing it along, hanging limply there. And it no longer looked magnificent. It actually looked pretty worthless, which is just what Joshua felt because all Joshua wanted his mom to do was look at his rocket.

Maybe I saw myself in this mom and it was a wake-up call for me, but I wanted to yell at her, I wanted to say to her, "Do you know how long it has taken for him to build the rocket? Do you know he has never been so focused in his life? I have never seen him this way. Do you know he actually built the rocket for you? Don't you see he built it for you? How hard would it be for you to stop for a moment and say, 'Joshua, that's fantastic!'"? But of course she never said that.

William Tammeus said, "You don't really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around—and why his parents will always wave back." Why do we need to be seen? Why do we long for a God who sees and what difference does that make to us? It makes all the difference in the world because to be seen is to be significant, is to know our roots.

God says in Psalm 139:16: "Before I formed you I saw you. My eyes saw your unformed body." God saw us before anyone else did. He envisaged us into being and once he envisaged us and created us, then he watches over what he has created—both humans and the beautiful planet, which we are steadily destroying.

I don't know what that makes you think—the idea of God watching over you. And I am very sorry if you have this plaque hanging on the wall in your house, which says, "Christ is the head of this house, the unseen guest at every meal and the silent listener to every conversation." If you love that plaque, great, keep loving it; I actually think it's really creepy. It's as though Jesus is kind of sneaking around. I am going to say something and he's not going to like it, he'll say, "I heard that! I saw that!" We don't have that plaque in our house.

Do you know why we feel like that? Because we don't actually trust God. God's eyes are loving and when we know that, we can relax in his presence. To be seen is to be significant and to be seen is to be safe. Jeremiah 24:6 says, "My eyes will watch over them for their good." That's talking about the children of Israel. When they were in exile they were miles from home and thinking, Maybe God doesn't know anymore, maybe God doesn't see us anymore. They hung up their harps and they wept. But "My eyes see them. I will watch over them."

Last September, my son Matthew set off to drive to college in Winnipeg. It's a very long drive—about two and a half days in his car that he had just bought. So, as we packed up the car and he set off down the road, I waved and I waved and I watched until he got to the end of the road and he turned left and I could see him no more. In my heart I thought, "I can't see you anymore." I heard God say, "I see him. I see him." I can't count the number of times I have felt, "I can't see my kids" and God says, "I see them."

What it means to be seen

What is it like to live under the gaze of a loving heavenly Father? There is a beautiful verse in Zephaniah 3:17, which says, "He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love." Do you know that feeling, to be quieted by the love of God, where you just dare to sit and be loved and be seen? Psalm 33:13-15 says, "The Lord looks down from heaven. He sees all the sons of men; from his dwelling place he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth—he who fashions the hearts of them all, he who understands all their works." He understands and he understands as he looks.

To be seen is to be understood and to be seen is to be encouraged. That verse I read you from Matthew 6:6, it says, "Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." What will he reward us with? He will reward us with his presence and his pleasure. You know that quotation from Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell, the great runner, said, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure."

I knew that. I knew that before I even knew God—to run and feel his pleasure. I wonder when you feel his pleasure—when you are running, when you are doing something—I don't know what it is in your life; it's different for everybody. And you think, "Yes, this is who I was created to be!" When something in you knows your Creator and the pleasure of your Creator.

To be seen is to be significant, it's to be safe, it's to be understood, but it's to be free—be free under the gaze of your heavenly Father. I love this incident in 2 Samuel 6 when King David is bringing the ark back to Jerusalem. David, the king, who had many people who looked to him, he only looked to one person. He looked to God and he lived his life before an audience of one. That meant when he brought the ark back to Jerusalem—because he knew how much it thrilled God—he danced for joy. We read in 2 Samuel 6:16:

"As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart."

Jump down to verse 20:

"When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, 'How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!' David said to Michal, 'It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD'S people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.'"

I think that is an amazing passage because David doesn't mind what the crowds think. He doesn't mind what the slave girls think. He doesn't mind what his wife thinks. He doesn't even mind what he thinks about himself in his own eyes. Are you free before the Lord or are you always bothering about what people think and your own view of yourself? I wonder if you've ever got over yourself that you can just experience God's joy. What about to the point of being able to step into things not caring about what people are thinking but knowing this is before the Lord, he sees me.

You see, when God delights in us and we know that, we are free to dance. Free to be goofy. David danced; he danced before the Lord and it was embarrassing to the people around him. But David's dance was expression on earth of God's joy in heaven. The ark is coming back!

God doesn't shut us down; he releases us. To be seen is to be strengthened. 2 Chronicles 16:9: "The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth." Why? So he can bash you on the head? No. " … that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely his."

I don't know if the thought of God seeing you makes you kind of cringe or it gives you courage. For Hagar, it gave her courage; she did go back to live in the home of Abraham and Sarah.

A child misunderstood

Then Hagar's son grew up and it became unbearable again, so she left again. I want you to turn to Genesis 21. Now we see Hagar being met by God again, running away. And God opens her eyes to see something she didn't realize was there, which he always does.

Read Genesis 21:8-20

I don't know if you with your children have gotten to the end of your resources and you feel all resources have run out and you can't do it anymore, you can't be the mom to the child, you can't provide what the child needs. That's this situation.

But the son grew up in the desert because Hagar had discovered the source of life in the desert. God gave Hagar courage and she discovered what it was to be strongly supported by God. When no one else knows and no one else cares and no one else sees and no one else helps, God sees. And to be seen is to be known.

A God who sees

Most of us, when we come to God, we look back at our lives and our kind of fumbling journey towards God and we can pinpoint times when we realized he was watching over us, even though we weren't necessarily aware of that at the time. We worship a God who sees. I think the truth of this really hit home to me last November when a team of us went to India and we went into the brothels in Calcutta. I think they have to be some of the darkest, saddest places on earth. They are filled with unseen women. They are seen when they come to their lines and they line up and the men walk past and pick the prettiest ones; then they are seen. All the ugly ones aren't seen—they walk past those to find the prettiest ones.

But they are not really seen—just the outside of them. They are not seen when they weep as a girl did who I sat on the floor with in her room where she serves her customers because her mother had died. She is from Bangladesh and she can't get home. She has no money. They don't see that side of the women. They don't see what's gone on in the heart of one of the women who we walked past the day before who covers herself the next day in gasoline and set herself on fire because she could not bear her life. This was a mother living in a brothel earning money to bring up her child. She died, and left the child.

You might say, "How come, if they are seen by the God who sees, he doesn't do anything?" Well he does, because we are the body of Christ. So when God sees pain he looks for somebody to work through. That somebody in this case is Monique Shaw and he sends Monique to see these women as he sees them.

I got the chance to speak to these women one day at this amazing party that we held for them. I read to them from Isaiah 44:17-18: "The idols do not see you. Their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see." These women are worshipping gods who don't see them. They are sacrificing their lives. But you are not invisible and neither is God. That's what Hagar discovered when she fled into the desert. He sees me; he knows my name.

Just because you can't see God doesn't mean that he is not there. Just because you think he is not there doesn't mean he doesn't see you. Just because I can't see him doing anything immediately does not mean he is not doing something. To be seen does not mean you don't fall. The Bible does not say, "No sparrow falls." It says, "He sees the sparrow that falls."

Falling is part of life. God can't stop everything that hurts us. We chose to have our own independence, to live with free will and that's where we now live. When we stepped outside what was best for us, we knew it and we hid ourselves so God wouldn't see us. But of course God still sees us. And that means we get hurt and other people get hurt. God doesn't prevent that hurt necessarily but he always provides the possibility of healing—even if it comes many, many years later—because God is watching over us.

He loves every person who he has created, and that means you and it means me. To be seen is to be loved and God looks on us with love. He can't force us. When the rich young ruler came to Jesus, Jesus said, "You love your money too much. It plays too important a part in your life. Here's your choice." He made his choice; he turned away; he walked away and Jesus looked on him and loved him. But he didn't force him to come back.

Jesus saw the crowds. He wept over Jerusalem. He longed to gather Jerusalem. He saw them, but they didn't come to him. Although Jesus was physically present, many people still did not see him with the eyes that Hagar saw God with.

The Jews had always known no one can see God and live, so when Jesus stood up and said, "Anyone who sees Me has seen the Father. You want to know what God is like? Look at Me." Some of them took a lot of convincing and after he had died and they didn't know he had been risen from the dead. Thomas, hurt, angry, betrayed, said "Where is he now? What has all this come to? Unless I see his hands I will not believe." In that statement lies a mystery because pain, wounds, and anger can actually prevent us from seeing God but they can also be the reason for seeing God.

You know the story of Job. Job went through unimaginable pain. He lost all his children, all his possessions, everything. But at the end of it all in Job 42:6 he said, "My ears had heard of you" (and all of us—our ears have heard of him) "but now my eyes have seen you." Because of the pain he actually saw God.

How about you? Is your pain stopping you from seeing God like Mary in the Garden, who was crying so hard—this is such an irony—she couldn't see Jesus and he was standing right next to her. Maybe that is you. "Unless I see," Thomas said. There is no doubt that he sees you.

Seeing the God who sees us

What difference does all this make in our lives? Let me put this as plainly as I can. It makes absolutely no difference unless you look back, unless you actually meet his gaze now in your life. The Bible tells us one day every eye will see him. But what are we waiting for? What more does God have to do than he has done? God has nothing else he can do. "God so loved the world he sent his Son … Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father."

How life-changing it is to go into every day knowing I can see the God who sees me. He guards me as the apple of his eye. And remarkably Psalm 32:8 says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you shall go. I will guide you with my eye." What does that mean? It took me months to understand what that means. It means God will guide us with his eye but he cannot do that unless I look back. If I look back and I look into his eye, I see where he is looking, how he is looking, who he is focused on. The women hidden away in the brothels in Calcutta; Monique Shore looked into the face of God—where is God looking, where is God loving? Oh, it's there! Okay, I am going, and now I see he guides me with his eye.

There is so much suffering in the world, but God is doing something and we have been guided by his eye as we look back. It is so easy to miss the people who God is looking at and loving. The disciples went to find food one day while Jesus sat on a well and talked to a Samaritan woman. They must have passed her coming to the well as they went to the town and they missed her. When they got back Jesus said, "Look at the fields. They are ripe unto the harvest."

"Open your eyes and look! You have all just been so busy about getting to the market that you just missed somebody. Oh no, you saw here; that's right, but you didn't see her with My eyes; you saw her with yours." They judged her because she is a Samaritan and she is a woman, and so they didn't see her. Open your eyes and look. Jesus sees the person in the crowd who longs to be seen, who longs to be known. He only asks one thing of you and me—"I see you. Look at Me." And God, to enable us to see him, raised him high on a cross. We don't have to climb into a tree like Zaccheus did, hidden, so he could peek down and see Jesus, because he died on a tree. Jesus was raised up high. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."

You cannot help but see him on the cross. He was lifted up on the cross so everybody could see just like the children of Israel had to look at a snake lifted on a pole in the desert to be healed. That was the only way. If they didn't because they were too proud or they were too busy or they thought, "How silly; there's got to be another way; I'm not looking at a snake on a pole." "That's the way," God said. "Look and you will live. Don't look and you will die." And that's exactly what happened in the desert. The people who looked, lived. The people who didn't, their bodies were strewn all over the desert. "Look, I am the way, the truth and the life."

I think one of my favorite moments in all of Scripture is when Peter, who has watched Jesus being arrested and taken away and all the disciples have run away, comes back and he follows at a distance. There are so many disciples who are following at a distance. Peter thought he couldn't be seen but he still wanted to see Jesus—he just didn't want to stand out and stand up for him. There comes a moment where he has denied him three times to three strangers who said, "Surely you are one of his disciples."

You know when you are a disciple of Christ, whether you like it or not, you have the life of Christ in you, even when you think you are hiding in the crowd and even when you are warming your hands on the fire of people who don't know Jesus and don't love him. They can see that you are his disciple. So when Peter is accused of being a disciple, he says, "Man, I don't know what you are talking about!" At that moment Jesus is being taken from one trial to another and he walks past Peter.

Luke 22:60: "Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: 'Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.' And he went out and he wept bitterly." What do you imagine that look said to Peter? Do you imagine it said, "I knew you would fail Peter. You let me down. I am done with you Peter." Absolutely not. If you think that's what the look said, then that probably speaks more about you than the One who sees. I believe that the look said, "I knew you would fail, Peter. I love you Peter. And more than that, Peter, I know you still love Me. And I am looking at you and you've looked back at Me and we're still in business."

Have you ever wondered, when you have read that account, how we know that Jesus looked at Peter? It's so simple—because Peter looked back; that's how we know. If he hadn't looked back, he wouldn't have seen that Jesus was looking at him. When Peter had failed, disappointed himself, denied Jesus, betrayed Jesus, and momentarily taken his eyes off Jesus, Jesus had never taken his eyes off Peter.

There's that old song: "It's too good to be true. Can't take my eyes off of you … " That's what God says. He can't take his eyes off you. He made you, he loves you; he sees you.


Have you looked back? Have you fixed your eyes on Jesus, the Author and finisher of our faith? Or are your eyes still wandering around the world looking for all the things that glitter so brightly, because it is the eyes that draw us away from looking back. Whether you like it or not and whether you believe it or not and whether you want it or not, God sees you today. He sees you with a look of love.

You can see him—not literally of course, but with eyes of faith—with eyes that look into this book and meet him, the living Word and the written Word. God knew we wouldn't be able to see him literally. John 20:29: "Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe."

What difference does that make? What difference does that make in our lives that God sees us today as you drive your car away from here, as you go to bed tonight, as you get up tomorrow morning? As you live your life, as you choose your career, as you function as a mom, as you go into a marriage, the day you walk down the aisle and get married; God sees me. The day you die in that hospital bed when nobody knows and nobody understands, God sees me.

When you see you believe; when you believe you see. Hagar had longed to be seen and she met the God who sees. I have now seen the God who sees me.

Hilary Price, from the People’s Church Toronto, is an international speaker, Bible teacher, and the author of The Life That Changed My Day.

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Sermon Outline:


I. A misunderstood mother

II. God sees you

III. What it means to be seen

IV. A child misunderstood

V. The God who sees

VI. Seeing the God who sees us