Have you ever noticed that what you focus on becomes all-consuming? That what's in your mind can become something to obsess over?
If you don't believe me just remember what it feels like to be ‘hangry’. If you get very hungry and irritable, you know that you’re driven to find food and that drive won’t be satisfied until you have some food in your stomach.
Here's another example. Think of when you were a child or a teenager and wanted something really badly. Did that become an obsession for you? I can recall how I irritated my parents into getting me a toy robot that turned out to be very underwhelming. Or how I finally got permission to play first-person shooters and to watch movies like Terminator and The Matrix. Or when I started dating in defiance of whether my parents wanted me to or not.
I bring all this up because what we focus on is what we will become obsessed with. What we think about will influence and change us—regardless of whether what we’re fixated on is bad or just underwhelming like my robot.
Perhaps this seems obvious. Perhaps. But like so many pearls of wisdom, it can be known but never acted upon. I know many things from reading the Bible and from Jeff's sermons, but I only actually take action on some of them.
The truth is that what we focus on becomes a part of who we are and our identity. If I set my sights on the North Korea crisis, then I'll start to have more opinions about it, more of a desire to tell people about it, and a higher consumption of media related to it. It becomes a part of who I am, how I think about myself, and what others think of me.
You see, I’m a foreign policy nerd who can talk anyone’s ear off about that sort of thing. But it is one thing if that is a part of my overall career by which I make a living and help others versus if it becomes a destructive obsession. For instance, I can find crises and nuclear strategy interesting but if I got really worried about it all the time that would make it hard to function. That’s why some people deliberately tune out our 24-hour news—because after a point it is too much and they know themselves well enough to decide it’s not worth fixating on.
This same logic applies to other things. I can be so focused on finances for instance, that I can overdo it and give off an impression of cheapness that is unfair to others. I can also get into a hunker-down mentality that makes me think less of myself and believe I have a lot fewer resources than I actually have.
Again, this logic of how much what we set our sights on matters for everything in life. This goes for our pasts, what we have done, video games, fashion, books, alcohol, fitness, gossip, sex, food, ambition, politics, travel, and so on. And this is true for everyone—you know what you tend to dwell on and how it influences you for better or worse.
The Bible warns us to be careful what we focus on. If we focus intently on anything that isn't Jesus, then we will find ourselves moving away from God and instead in the direction of the object of our affection. We're told that if we're Christians, we're supposed to let go of our old obsessions and instead focus on God. By focusing on a loving and forgiving God, we find our identity in him, rather than in the things, people, and ideas of this world. The problem is that all of these other things that we try to hold on to and find our guidance from will cease to exist. I might grasp firmly at my country, my party, my loved ones, my possessions—but they do not always provide the right answers, and they certainly are not divine.
The confusion begins when we start to think about the rules of our faith rather than on what we’re aiming for. As Jeff explained last Sunday, “the rules only function on a worldly level and trades physical indulgence for a spiritual one. It's about focused affection for God and others, not about the rules. That's the only way to truly live for God.”
As Hebrews 12:1-2 says, "…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." It is about focusing on the right thing. If we set our sights on God, we will start to think about him more, about his ways, and, eventually, about our own lives and behavior. It is through faith in God's forgiveness for us that we are saved. Jesus died on the cross for us so we don't have to worry about the rules, but rather so that we can head in his direction. We just have to move towards him, and he'll do the rest.
This means the question is what we're focusing on and obsessing over—not whether we are specifically following a particular set of rules. Focusing on the rules can't make someone into a believer or convince them to love others as God loves them. However, loving God and concentrating on him can help someone to eventually love others and adjust their lives to look more like the one Jesus said we should live. It's the condition of our hearts and the direction we're moving in that matters.
Therefore, if the question is one of focus we have to ask ourselves what we are sailing towards and if it is indeed the direction we want to go. We have a choice, and that choice gets repeated every single day, at every single moment. If you messed up a few minutes ago, there's another choice to make right now to ask for forgiveness and to then move on. It is just up to us to take it.
If you missed out on this week's sermon, check it out here.