Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honour at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
– Colossians 3:1-4, NLT
If a person is sent out to buy bread and milk but on reaching the shop spends hours looking at other things in the shop, talking with the shop assistant and other customers and dancing around the aisles, it is clear that they have lost focus on the purpose of their trip and so, presumably, somebody else would be sent for bread and milk next time instead. Let us focus on the purpose for which we were called. We were created for relationship with God and our purpose is to be with Him, to glorify Him, and to help others to know Him – to ‘Know Jesus and make Him known’, as YWAM puts it. It is helpful to recall sometimes just what we are here for, what our mission or our aim is, so that we can focus on Christ and live each day on purpose.
One of the temptations that I have struggled with is the fact that I can be very task-orientated – and so can be tempted to focus my attention on productivity, rather than on God who is the reason for my work. I learnt that sometimes, even if our motive is to honour God by doing His work, perhaps God does not want our primary focus to be on our work. It can be easy as Christians to get caught up “doing God stuff”: throwing more effort into serving God than into getting to know Him personally. His primary desire for us, His will for us, is relationship with Him – no matter how productive or beneficial our work from Him may be. We are not God’s slaves; we are His children. And we cannot earn His love or His favour through ‘doing’ more and more things or completing more tasks.
Consider this analogy: you really want to please your boss at work, you want to get into his good books – so you find a way into his house and begin cleaning and doing his housework. “Thanks, I appreciate your effort, but I would really rather that you focus on the work I have set for you to do and given you specific instruction for…” Some of us at times can find ourselves afraid of ‘Christian burnout’, but not wanting to drop any of our commitments because it is all ‘work for Him’. If our lives and works are truly all about honouring and pleasing God, would it not make sense to think about His priority? His priority is not that we live for tasks or productivity, but for personal relationship with Him.
I have discovered that it is also a common temptation for Christians to focus on pleasing other people as the priority. We need God to remind us of His plan for our mindsets and point us in the right direction. Let us take a moment to consider, is the motive for our words and actions to make people think better of us; to maintain an image? May we fix our eyes on God, the purpose for our existence, rather than the distractions of worldly mindsets. May we surrender our focus to God, and allow Him to teach us to live and speak and behave in a way that pleases Him, with His Kingdom as our motive.
Jesus never rushed, even when on His way to heal people who were ill or dying – including people close to Him. He completely trusted His Father. Why? Because He lived a life of prioritising relationship with the Father and so He got to know the Father’s character and voice and will intimately. If we find ourselves rushing, are we trying to overtake Him? May we surrender to God our focus, and let Him teach us how to manage our time and priorities in a way that pleases Him. He created us for a purpose. He knows what He is doing, and He certainly knows what is best for us and for His Kingdom.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
– Matthew 14:25-33, NIV
From what I have seen and learnt, I believe that there are two types of “focusing on God”, or two ways to focus on God – both are great, and both complement each other. The first is to look to Him and let Him fill our vision throughout life and throughout situations, while we are at work or with family or friends, during every circumstance and every place we find ourselves in. The second is to actively step away from the busyness of life and the things we have to get done or the people around us, to choose to focus exclusively on God for a time (call it a ‘quiet time’, or whatever you want to call it). Both types of focusing on God, I believe, are absolutely essential for life as a disciple of Christ.
Let us keep our focus not on this changing and temperamental world but on the One who is eternal and unchanging. The facts of our life may change day by day, but the truth of our Lord and His plan for us remains. Fact: Lazarus was dead. Truth: God is able – even able to raise the dead. The facts of our lives could look wonderful or could look horrific, but the truth of God’s character remains. He is good, He is loving, He is forgiving, He is holy…. May we learn to focus on who He is, every day!
He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.
– Hebrews 11:26-27, NLT
However… It seems to me that it is impossible even for the most disciplined Christian to keep up this focus on God in our own strength and by our own effort. We simply cannot do it. It is only by the grace of God that we are able to look to Him at all! In order to learn how to keep our focus on Him, we must surrender to Him our vision, and let Him shape us, teaching us how to look to Him and raise our eyes above the things that life throws at us so that we can live as His agents in this world. When we let God lift our eyes from other worldly things and fill our vision with Himself and His Kingdom even while we are doing normal everyday things, He can renew and transform our mindsets so that we see things His way and think of things the way He does rather than from a worldly perspective. (The film War Room illustrates this point quite well, I think.)
In our workplace, for example, God can show us how to see things the way He wants us to see things, and He can step in and act within our workplace because of our focus on Him. When we focus on God He can use us for His glory, and the things that try to hold us back seem insignificant. May we surrender to God wherever our focus is when we are in our workplaces. May we surrender to Him whatever we focus on when we are at home. May we give to Him whatever it is that fills our vision wherever we are, every day, and let Him shape our vision and turn our eyes to Heaven. I do not mean to say that we should not think about our families or our activities or the things that we need to complete at work – but that with an awareness of God with us and a recognition that He has placed us on earth for His purposes, we are able to better please Him and perhaps even to more fully enjoy and make the most of the contexts in which He has placed us.
Let us surrender to God our ability to focus on Him while doing other things, throughout every activity and every part of life. And let us surrender to God our ability to spend time exclusively focusing on Him. When at work or at home or elsewhere, may we surrender to God our focus, and allow Him to fill our vision. May we make the active choice to surrender our eyes to Him wherever we are. And when we spend time in prayer, may we surrender to Him our focus and allow Him to teach us to keep our eyes really looking to Him. This way He can lead us away from distraction and lead us into deeper revelation of who He is as He opens our eyes to see Him.
If we’re adding to the noise, turn off this song.
That line from the song ‘adding to the noise’ confused me for a while. I discovered a little about its meaning when I began to come to God in times of silence and let Him speak. I remember one specific occasion when I was on retreat and decided to have a whole morning sitting in a walled garden and praying. After offloading all by troubles, burdens, excitements, joys and sorrows to God in prayer, and after praying for various situations of friends and family and the like, I felt like I ran out of words. I sat in silence for a while, not particularly thinking or praying anything, just being silent and being aware that God was with me (without the need to feel anything). Then that line of the song came to mind – “If we’re adding to the noise, turn off this song”.
I realized in that moment that over the past few weeks or so I had taken on so many things and had been very distracted with lots of little things in life, that my mind seemed to be constantly full of ‘noise’, and in my times of prayer I had found silence quite difficult because of everything buzzing around in my head. I then surrendered to God again my focus, and began to realise that I had been living for the purpose of getting things done and achieving goals – not particularly for Him, even though I was doing a considerable amount of ‘Christian work’. May we surrender to God our focus, and let our lives really revolve around Him.
Intimacy with God is not about receiving answers, or holding conversation with God, or being blessed. I believe that intimacy with God is about stripping off every other distraction, or at least putting the other pressures of life into the right perspective – and coming to God as we are: first and foremost as His children. As we stop trying to measure and achieve, when we ‘let go and let God’, He can lead us deeper into His love which refines us, refreshes our soul and causes us to fall more deeply in love with Him. Then we find that we are no longer satisfied with the trivial things of this world. This is certainly not an instant transformation but a process of growth and of love.
I remember a time when this struck me again, while I was living in Bolivia and working in a home for teenage ex-street girls. On one particular day many trivial things throughout the day had gone wrong. One of my shoes had broken quite dramatically on the way to work and so I had spent the day barefoot. One of the girls in the home had been continually rude to me throughout the day. I felt exhausted, having had about five hours’ sleep for five or six nights in a row, which I wasn’t used to. I had been cleaning for about seven hours throughout the day, so I was aching all over my body. I had hoped to have some time alone to pray before work, but had ended up having to spend that time cleaning the house instead.
While I was on the bus on the way back from work that day (receiving some funny looks for being barefoot and white – an odd combination to many Bolivians!) I felt desperate for some time alone just talking with God, but I knew that when I got home the house would be full of people and I would be unable to find any personal space. I found myself praying, “Lord, I know I look a state and am dirty and barefoot and exhausted and sweaty and full of aches, but I give You this bus journey. Please show me what You want to show me; teach me what You want to teach me – I’m open to You now and I choose to focus on You throughout the course of this bus journey”.
Then, strangely, I felt like my eyes were opened. I had been gazing out of the window, but now I really looked – and noticed through the murky window of the smelly bus the extravagant beauty of where I was. It can be easy to forget or dismiss the beauty of God’s creation when you live in a dirty, dusty, litter-filled and insect-infested city in the middle of a very sticky summer – but as I looked out of the bus window that evening and saw the sunset over the mountains in the distance, the hundreds of different types of trees all around us, the birds of prey above us – I couldn’t help but marvel at God’s awesome creativity. I saw the beautiful Bolivian children playing freely in the dust at the side of the street, and felt amazed that God had brought me to live in this amazing country, just as He had promised me six years before.
I smelt bad – I had been sweating a great deal that day. I was full of aches and pains, and knew that the following day I would ache even more. I saw my dirty feet and the broken shoes in my hand, and I laughed aloud as this passage came to mind: “Therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.” How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” – Isaiah 52:6-7, NIV. I found myself genuinely praising God for His presence with me, for the fact that He had been with me all day and would never leave my side – and, not caring that people were looking at me, I found myself singing the chorus: “You raise me up so I can stand on mountains; You raise me up to walk on stormy seas! I am strong when I am on Your shoulders. You raise me up to more than I can be!”
When I surrendered to God my focus while I was sitting on that bus, I begin to really enjoy the journey. He gave me a fresh awe of Himself and of His presence with me. I must have made that same hour-long bus journey over a hundred times before, and how different it was that day, when I made the choice to focus exclusively on God for that time. May we learn to surrender to God our focus, every day. He doesn’t always do tangibly awesome things, but sometimes He does. And He never rejects our surrender – when we choose to prioritise Him with our focus and turn our eyes to Heaven, He takes that sacrifice and blesses us in some way, be it by changing the way we think about things, or by showing us new things, or even just by helping us to make it through situations in His strength. When Christ consumes our vision and helps us to see our situations and our lives from the perspective of eternity, we can get a clearer view of how small and insignificant our temporary troubles are, which can give us the strength to keep on going and not give up.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
– Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)
You may have heard this story before. I don’t know if it is true, but I think it’s a powerful image. Once a donkey fell into a deep, dried-up well. The people of that town tried everything they could think of to get the donkey out, but nothing would work. The donkey was stuck. After a time the people decided that it was a lost cause – that there was no way to get the donkey out and that it would just starve inside the well. They began to shovel earth into the well on top of the donkey, reasoning that burying it alive would be a faster and more humane way for it to die than starvation. They noticed, however, that the donkey just kept shaking off the dirt from its back and standing on top of it, and little by little the donkey was rising closer to the surface until in the end it simply walked out of the well.
Perhaps the donkey didn’t see itself rising higher in the well; maybe it had no idea what was going on and didn’t have any plan – but may we as God’s people see the things that could crush us as instead a key for growth and life as we focus our attention on God and on what He can do, rather than on our troubles and how much they might hurt us. May we not give up and let ourselves be buried by whatever the world tries to throw at us: may we instead come closer and closer to our Light by rising above those things and choosing to look to our Saviour. May we surrender to God our vision, what we choose to focus our attention on – and let Him guide our eyes and show us where HE wants us to look.
Lord God Most High,
Thank You that You give me purpose.
Thank You that my life has no meaning without You.
I’m sorry for taking my focus off You.
I’m sorry for not letting You fill my vision.
I surrender to You my focus now.
– My focus when I’m at work
– My focus when I’m with my family
– My focus when I’m with my friends
– My focus when I’m being productive
– My focus when I’m relaxing or having fun
– My focus when I’m upset.
Please help me to look to You throughout every situation.
Please fill my vision wherever I am.
I surrender to You my focus when I’m spending time in prayer.
Please take away every distraction and teach me to truly look to You.
I surrender to You the way I live as a result of my focus.
Please shape my understanding.
I give You my eyes and I ask that You replace them with Your own.