When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
When you strip down this anthem to its essence it is about perspective. It is about exchanging the views about value from a temporal perspective for that of an eternal one. It is about looking past this perishing physical world to a spiritual one which will not fade or tarnish or lose its value.
When I survey the wondrous Cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss… Through the perspective of the cross all the richest gains of the world are dross—they have no value, in fact, they are, by contrast, filth. When we think about what the world chases after, what the commercials and the media culture drive us to think we must have to be happy, we all too often forget that it will all fade away. As the old sayings go, “There are no pockets in shrouds,” and “There are no trailers behind hearses.” We take nothing with us—not our possessions, not our positions, not our achievements, not the good opinions of others. When we really consider it, we realize what Solomon was saying in Ecclesiastes, everything is empty and meaningless.
That isn’t meant in a Debby-downer kind of way, but as a wake-up call that we really need to keep eternity in perspective every day of our lives. God gave us so many pleasures to enjoy here. He told us to “be fruitful,” meaning that we are supposed to work and be productive. That glorifies Him. He gave us skills and passions to pursue. He puts callings on our lives which He expects us to fulfill. So, it is not meaningless to pursue these to the best of our abilities, with excellence, because that, too, glorifies Him. The issue here about what is meaningful has to do with perspective and focus.
Notice the emphasis on the glory of God. When we enjoy the pleasures God has placed around us with gratitude to Him in our hearts, it is not meaningless, it is glorifying. It benefits our relationship with Him and helps us to know Him better, and that makes these pleasures far from meaningless. But when we consume ourselves in gaining pleasure or treasure, giving no thought to God, or seeking pleasures in ways that don’t honor Him or defile us, then these pleasures and treasures are meaningless, or far worse. These richest gains are certainly loss, in comparison with knowing God.
The same could be said of so many pursuits we chase in this world. Jesus spoke to this often in His parables and teachings, reminding His followers of how temporal and brief our lives are, and the importance of keeping an eternal perspective on them. One day we will all give an account of our moments and our words. We cannot do anything about what has passed before in our lives and priorities, but we each have the opportunity to say, “From this moment on, Lord, give me an eternal perspective and help me to prioritize what is important to You. Help me to live in ways that are focused on Your glory, so I have something to show for my life in eternity.”
Paul tells us that our works will pass through the fire, and the wood, hay, and stubble (the temporary and worldly, things merely done for our pleasure or glory) will burn up. Frankly, that sobers me, because I can’t honestly say how much I have done in my life was fully grounded in the right motives. I’m just grateful of two things: 1. Grace (I don’t judge my life, my gracious God does), and 2. While I can’t do anything about what came before in my life, I can pray and intend to live a more Godward and glorifying life in the future—a life more centered on the perspective that all temporal gain is loss, but all focused on the cross is gain.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, saved in the death of Christ my God. All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood. Perspective again. The world is all about self-promotion, self-fulfillment, self-image. We are told to boost our profile and CV or resume, get noticed, have our 15 minutes of fame. How many “likes” did we get? How many followers do we have? But from the perspective of eternity it is not how much we shine personally, but how much we shine the light of our lives on our Savior, Jesus. How much do we talk about what we’ve done, in comparison to how much we talk about what He has done?
What charms us? What lures us? What gets the most of our attention and our money? Are our time and treasure more focused on things which will last for eternity or things which will soon pass away? It isn’t that we are called to live deprived, no-fun existences, but that we are center whatever we do, “whether we eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” We are to have His perspective through the prism of the cross, knowing that even better pleasures await us in His presence.