A Word About Focus

It’s important that we acknowledge the significance of focus during this season of adversity and how the subject of our focus can ultimately shape our legacy.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been struck by the anxiety and disheartenment I have seen as I’ve talked to friends and loved ones. Certainly, a great deal of this has to do with the fact that we are facing uncertain times and significant challenges. The present changes in our schedules and patterns of living can make us emotionally vulnerable.

Perhaps you can identify with these feelings of helplessness and instability. You go to sleep imploring God for help and wake up feeling unsettled, useless, and insecure.

It is understandable. What I have seen repeatedly as I speak to people is that there is plenty to consume our focus. Whether it is the pandemic, the economic decline, the global political maneuverings, or what have you—it seems that there is more to think about than we can possibly wrap our minds around. And the truth of the matter is, we can overthink these issues until we are utterly obsessed and confounded by them. We can’t sleep. We cannot get away from them. We turn on the television, and there is more to baffle us. We are constantly praying about it all, but with fear about the problems rather than faith that God is at work through all of it.

Pretty soon, every thought and every conversation are devoured by questions about what will happen. It is then we can become confused to the point we no longer trust the One who is truly in control of all things.

Is this you? If you are struggling, then I would ask you: Where is your focus during this season? Because although it is both wise and godly to be diligently watchful and take reasonable measures, it is neither necessary nor Christ-honoring to become obsessed. And what I have noticed during this time is that many are becoming consumed by circumstances they can do absolutely nothing about—the health, economies, and movements of whole nations that are beyond any one person or group of people to influence.

In this is the presence of spiritual warfare. The enemy’s goal is to overwhelm us with fear and to exhaust us with contemplation so that we will be distracted from seeking God and being His faithful witnesses in the world. In times such as these, it is indeed challenging to fight his onslaughts. But as God’s people, it is not only possible: it is absolutely necessary.

We certainly see this in the life of the apostle Paul. In the Book of Philippians, he is writing to his beloved church in Philippi from a jail cell. Imagine that: Paul is on lockdown. However, instead of being surrounded by family and able to have video conference calls with friends, he is chained to a Roman guard. He is completely aware that the Roman government is persecuting Christian believers, that false teachers are infiltrating the church, and that the nascent congregations are struggling without his guidance. Not only that, but he also has a great deal of time to think about the accusations, beatings, shipwrecks, and sufferings he has had to endure because of the gospel, and how this imprisonment could well lead to his death—which, in fact, it did (2 Cor. 11:25-28; 2 Tim. 4:6-8).

If anyone had a reason to be consumed with circumstances he could not control, it was the apostle Paul.

Yet, Paul writes, “I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear” (Phil. 1:12-14).

Did you see that? The circumstances Paul faced were “for the greater progress of the gospel.” The same is true for us as well. The Lord God can and will do good things through this adversity we’re facing—work that will shape eternity. Of course, the reason Paul had such a positive spiritual vision was that his focus was on what God was doing through it all, and he was submissive to the Lord’s promptings. And that is what we must do if we hope to escape our feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

So today, I challenge you to:

  1. Let go of the issues and concerns outside of your control. Yes, be diligently watchful, wise, prayerful, and take reasonable measures, but refuse to become obsessed with problems that you were never meant to manage.
  2. Turn your attention to what God is accomplishing. View the current situation in light of His sovereignty, rather than on the fretting, debating, and conjectures of people. This is very important because when we see our circumstances as the result of man’s will and fail to understand them through the filter of God’s plan, it will create all kinds of uncertainty and anxiety for us. Therefore, look for the Lord’s provision and will in everything and trust His ability to work all things together for good and His ultimate purposes.
  3. Faithfully accomplish whatever God has given you to do. Realize that you matter—your faithfulness as a believer is an essential part of His work in the world! This is the very reason the enemy desires to distract you. Because he knows the Lord can actively accomplish great things through you.

 

The apostle Paul could have focused on his pain and the overwhelming circumstances of that period in history. But instead, he made it his goal to encourage the churches and be a faithful witness of God’s grace. And because of it, his letters have been included in the Bible and have been encouraging believers throughout the ages. Rome is long gone, but Paul’s epistles remain and continue to bear witness of Jesus’ great salvation and power.

The Lord God wants to do eternity-shaping things through you as well. You may not think you have the gifts to make much of a difference. But as a person who has been saved by Jesus and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, you have everything you need to be His hands and feet in the world. So let go of the temporary and let Him work the eternal through you.

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What happens to my notes

25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.

26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;

27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

28 Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;

8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

12 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,

13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else,

14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.

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