Slaying the Idol of the Seen

I heard once of a man who split black ash and wove baskets.

And he wove prayer through every basket.

The man wore faded plaid and old denim and lived alone high up in the Appalachians where the dirt didn’t grow crops, but it could grow basket trees.

He lived such a distance up in the hills that he really didn’t think the cost of transportation to some Saturday morning market would exceed any profits from selling his baskets. Nevertheless, each day he cut trees and sawed them into logs and then pounded the logs with a mallet, to free all the splint ribbons from those trees. Splint slapped the floor.

And the basket-making man, he simply worked unhurried and unseen by the world, his eyes and heart fixed on things unseen.

“When the heart is at rest in Jesus—unseen, unheard by the world—the Spirit comes, and softly fills the believing soul, quickening all, renewing all within,” writes Robert Murray M’Cheyne. (1)

Day after day, the man cut ash, pulled splint, stacked baskets. He said that as he held the damp splint and he braided— under and over, under and over—that God was simply teaching him to weave prayers into every basket, to fill the empty baskets, all the emptiness, with eternal, unseen things.

It was like under all the branches of those basket-growing trees, he knew what that clergyman James H. Aughey wrote: “As a weak limb grows stronger by exercise, so will your faith be strengthened by the very efforts you make in stretching it out toward things unseen.” (2)

Come the end of the year, after long months of bending over baskets, bending in prayer, when his stacks of baskets threatened to topple over, the man kneeled down under those trees that grew baskets—and lit those baskets with a match.

The flames devoured and rose higher and cackled long into the night.

Then, come morning, when the heat died away, satiated, the basket-making man stood long in the quiet. He watched how the wind blew away the ashes of all his work.

Things Not Seen

Jon Bloom

Featuring 35 imaginative retellings of stories from both the Old and New Testaments, this book will inspire readers to remember God’s promises, rely on his grace, and follow his leading regardless of the circumstances.

To the naked eye, it would appear that the man had nothing to show for the work. All the product of his hands was made papery ash—but his prayers had survived fire.

The prayers we weave into the matching of the socks, the working of our hands, the toiling of the hours, they survive fire.

It’s the things unseen that survive fire.

Love. Relationship. Worship. Prayer. Communion.

All Things Unseen—and Centered in Christ.

It doesn’t matter so much what we leave unaccomplished— but that our priority was things unseen.

Again, today, that’s always the call: slay the idol of the seen. Slay the idol of focusing on only what can be seen, lauded, noticed. Today, a thousand times again today, I will preach His truth to this soul prone to wander, that wants nothing more than the gracious smile of our Father: “Unseen. Things Unseen. Invest in Things Unseen. The Unexpected Priority is always Things Unseen.”

“Pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret . . .” (Matt. 6:6 NIV).

“For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

It’s the things unseen that are the most important things.

(1) Andrew Bonar, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., 1845), 461.
(2) John H. Aughey, Spiritual Gems of the Ages (Cincinnati: Elm Street Printing, 1886), 95.

This article is adapted from Ann Voskamp’s foreword to Things Not Seen: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Trusting God's Promises by Jon Bloom.

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