I once heard 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 profits from selling his baskets would exceed the cost of transportation to some Saturday morning market. 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 McCheyne.
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 as if, under all the branches of those basket growing trees, he knew what that clergyman James 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.”
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.
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 what can only 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 . . .” (Matthew 6:6)
The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
It’s the things unseen that are the most important things.
Though the seen product of the baskets may have gone up in a flame of smoke, it was the unseen prayers that rose up like incense that had changed the man, much like Oswald Chambers says: “It is the unseen and the spiritual in people, that determines the outward and the actual.”
When the heart and mind focus on things unseen, that’s when there’s a visible change in us.
The outward and the visible only become like Christ to the extent we focus on the unseen and invisible Person of Christ.
“In truth, the ideas and images in men’s minds are the invisible powers that constantly govern them,” writes Jonathan Edwards.
The stories in Jon Bloom’s new book Things Not Seen are a rare and unforgettable focusing. After meeting Bloom, you walk away quietly saying, “He is so much like Jesus.” And when you walk away from these pages, that is exactly what will happen: You will have become so much like Jesus.
The ideas and images and truths that Bloom memorably guides into the recesses of the mind and heart usher in the invisible power of Christ to govern the worries and lies and anxieties and stresses — and make them obedient to his sovereign will and relentless love and perfect ways. Bloom is the wisest of guides, the most tender of pastors, the most honest of truth-tellers, and the most skillful of theologians — who shows you with powerful clarity how to weave gospel-priorities through all your work, all your moments: things not seen, priorities not seen.
It is precisely what John Calvin implored: “We must make the invisible kingdom visible in our midst.”
Turn these profound pages and you will know it. Your heart and mind will focus on his invisible kingdom.
Then go ahead, weave your baskets — and the invisible kingdom will be made blazingly visible in our midst.
This article was adapted from Ann Voskamp’s foreword to Things Not Seen, which is now available in paperback and as a free PDF.