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Posts Tagged ‘focus’

In what has been called, the “Song of Mary” we hear the virgin mother declare that “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke1:46), and I can’t help but believe that there is something of value in those words for all believers. 

To magnify something, we must first focus on it, and when we do, there is a natural tendency to notice details we may have missed.  We might even call that, taking a closer look.  If we don’t lose or shift our focus, the magnitude of our revelation generally grows. 

We certainly see this principle when we focus on our problems.  As we gaze at our unpaid bills, broken relationships, illness’, conflicts… we can quickly lose perspective, feeling as though our whole life hinges on these particular issues.  Discouragement and depression often follow. 

If it is so with the darkness, should it not be so with the light as well.  We need to see God as bigger than our problems, bigger than our hurts, bigger than our enemy…  While we must face difficult situations in our life, and continually battle our own flesh, there is a perspective that we cannot afford to lose.  The scripture says that we should not fix our eyes (i.e. focus) on what is seen, which is perishing, but on what is unseen, which is eternal (2Cor.4:18). 

This reminds me of a scene from the “Passion of the Christ”, where Mary and Jesus come face to face on the way to Calvary.  Jesus has been ruthlessly beaten, and will soon hang on the cross to die, yet He says, “Look, I make all things new”. 

Everything in that circumstance seemed to be out of control and dire, yet Jesus hadn’t lost the heavenly perspective.  Similarly, as Stephen was being stoned, he was able to look directly into heaven, and to pray for the forgiveness of His oppressors.  Though his body was being destroyed, his soul was magnifying the Lord. 

As we go through our day to day lives, there are undoubtedly times when situations seem overwhelming, and our perspective gets out of balance.  In those moments, it is important to recognize what is happening, and to regain an eternal outlook. 

In order to do this I believe it is essential that we get alone with God.  Throughout the gospels we often see Jesus walk away from His disciples, and other followers to be alone with the Father.  Though He was a man of perfect faith, who knew no sin, He still had the need to spend time with the Father.  I would submit that, at least in part, this is what allowed Jesus to maintain His heavenly perspective, despite the consistent conflict and rejection he faced during His ministry years. 

Someone who has tried to “pray” their way out of discouragement may say that this doesn’t always work, but I believe that this is where the phrase “magnify the Lord” becomes most significant. 

Prayer can take on many forms, and not all forms are necessarily effective in the midst of despair.  I believe that there is a natural tendency in the midst of difficult circumstances to ask God for answers, or to pray for the outcome that we desire.  But God does not owe us answers, nor has He promised us our desired outcomes. 

Even if we’re just asking for divine direction, it can be difficult to hear His voice above the other voices at work within us.  The problem with these types of prayers is that they allow us to remain focused on the situation, which often distorts our perspective and inhibits us from receiving truth. 

I sense that before we pray through some of these situations, we must first recognize that we’ve lost our perspective, and acknowledge our need to simply “magnify the Lord”.  If we can lay aside our grievances and petitions, quiet ourselves before Him, focus on who He is, consider His goodness, remember what He’s already accomplished in our lives, and think upon what His word says, His stature as the sovereign God of the universe begins to grow.  

Whatever amount of time is necessary to regain this eternal perspective is well worth it.  When this happens, the ministry of the Comforter avails itself, and our ability to hear from the Lord is restored.  Even if we don’t get specific direction, that abiding peace carries us through. 

I used to associate peace with a lack of conflict and/or adversity, but I now understand that true peace only comes from God, and that it is His response to conflict and adversity.  Our minds struggle with that, but that’s why God offers a “peace that surpasses understanding”. 

The concept of magnifying the Lord is beautifully captured in the old hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”.  “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace”.

Perhaps as important as regaining our perspective, is learning how to maintain it in the midst of our daily struggles.  While we’ve grown up with the idea of Sunday being the Lord’s Day, I believe that the scripture would point us to a constant awareness of Him, and who we are relative to Him. 

It admonishes us to focus on the eternal things (2Cor.4:18), to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt.6:33), to live by the Spirit (Rom.7:6, Rom.8:13-14, 2Cor.3:3, Gal.5:18), to be content (Heb.13:5), to pray continually (1Thes.5:17), to give thanks in all circumstances (1Thes.5:18), to speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, to sing and make music in your heart to the Lord (Eph.5:19). 

Now all that might sound a little unrealistic in the context of our daily lives, but it may also be necessary to clarify what we mean by “reality”.  Several years ago, I had one of those mountain-top God experiences that went on well into the night.  As I fell asleep in the wee small hours, I felt so close to Him, and full of faith. 

But when I woke up the next morning for work, I grumbled to myself “back to reality”.  As soon as the words escaped my mouth, a wave of conviction washed over me.  I felt like the Lord challenged, “How do you know the difference between reality, and a dream?”  And as I considered a couple of very realistic dreams I’d had, the only answer I could come up with was, “you wake up from a dream”.  

I immediately sensed the Lord retort, “That’s correct, and one day you will wake up from the dream of this life, to the reality of eternity!” 

Often times, we Christians point to the struggles of this life as reality, but if we believe the scripture, there is only one avenue to truth.  If God hasn’t become that reality for us yet, I’d suggest that we might need to spend some time magnifying the Lord, and allow His reality to consume whatever reality we’ve been living. 

Some might suggest that we risk becoming “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good”, but I would submit that there is far greater danger in being too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good.

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This dates back to before I had a blog (2008-2009)

 

As someone who has been near-sighted since birth, I’ve never struggled with the concept of being able to see things that are in close proximity, while struggling to see things at a distance. But I must admit to being somewhat confused the first time I heard of someone being “far-sighted”.  In my young mind I reasoned that if your eyes were strong enough to see things at a distance, they couldn’t be too weak to see what was right in front of them.  It wasn’t until I first tried to focus a camera that I began to understand.  As I zoomed the lens in on a distant mountain range, I noticed that everything in the foreground had become blurry and I realized that it isn’t the strength of the eye that is the issue; it is the ability for it to focus.

 

I was again reminded of this concept by the lyrics to the song, “God of this City” (Chris Tomlin). Within the refrain it says, “For greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city”; which caused me to ponder all of the things that we’ve yet to see happen in our city.  I realized that at one time reaching the city for Christ had been the top priority, but that over time the desire to impact the nation and even the world for Christ had diminished the focus on that goal.  While it is certainly not wrong to want to impact the nation and ultimately the world for Christ, I felt like the Lord began to speak about becoming spiritually “far-sighted” and about the balance of things that He’s calling us to.

 

As in the natural sense, both near-sightedness & far-sightedness are spiritual impairments as well. Spiritual near-sightedness will keep us focused on ourselves, our circumstances; our perceived lack… and will likely keep us from ever extending ourselves beyond our own self-interests.  In this condition the church can simply become a place for God’s people to hide from the evil of the world until Jesus returns to rescue us.  While this is a serious problem, it should be a fairly easy condition to diagnose; whereas spiritual far-sightedness may not be quite so apparent.  This latter condition is likely to occur in active ministries, where there is visionary, goal-oriented leadership and where there is a general understanding of the fact that God has commissioned His children to have an impact in the world.  Often the only indicator that there is a problem is that the church is having a minimal effect on the spiritual condition of the community around it.

 

I’ve heard it said that if you want to measure the spiritual health of a church you shouldn’t look at the congregation itself, but at the community that surrounds it; and I believe that to be a valid point. Throughout the New Testament there is a sense that we are first called to reach out to those people that God places us amongst, before reaching for the uttermost.

 

As Paul talks about the qualifications for leadership (1 Tim 3), he says that one must be an effectual leader within the context of their own family before they are fit to oversee matters within the church; Jesus speaks of our need to show ourselves faithful over a few things, before we will be entrusted with greater authority; and in perhaps the most pointed example, we see Jesus initially turn down a Canaanite woman’s request for help, because His first obligation is to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt 15: 21-28). He goes so far as to say that it would be wrong for Him to give bread that belongs to the children to the dogs.  Though this woman’s faith eventually caused Jesus to comply with her request, this story seems to substantiate the principle that our first calling is to those that He puts within arms reach of us.  While for an individual that would most likely be his family & neighbors; for a church, it would likely be the community in which it is planted.

 

In praying about this far-sighted condition, I don’t sense that it develops because a church is apathetic toward their community, but because in many ways it is more difficult to reach the people who are closest to us than it is to touch someone who is half a world away. Anyone who has endeavored to reach out to a lost relative, an unbelieving spouse or a rebellious child would likely testify to the same.  Even Jesus Himself experienced this in His hometown; causing Him to conclude that “A prophet is never honored in their own town” (Luke 4:24).  I would guess that in many cases this condition develops after long seasons of outreach to the community fail to bear much fruit, which perpetuates the concept that it is ultimately more productive to find some other field in which to plant seeds.  While it is not difficult to understand how we might arrive at that conclusion, such thinking can result in a church becoming like a minister whose platform ministry is enthusiastically embraced, but who goes home to a completely dysfunctional family.  While I don’t believe that we have to conquer the community for Christ before we can reach out beyond it, I would suggest that our efforts to impact the community must remain at the forefront of the local church’s’ mission.  Though the local church is often viewed as vehicle for ministry, it is first and foremost a community of Believers.

 

As the church seeks ways to impact the culture, there is a temptation to view culture in broad and distant terms (e.g. Entertainment = Hollywood, Government = Washington DC…), but the Lord impressed upon me that the place He’s called us to (e.g. family, neighborhood, community, workplace, school, city, region…) is the culture that He’s calling us to impact first.  He reminded me that while Jesus most certainly came to impact culture, He wasn’t born in Rome (i.e. the epicenter of Roman culture) or even Jerusalem (i.e. the epicenter of Jewish culture); He didn’t spend time trying to engage Caesar (or Herod) on altering their public policy and that His disciples impact on the world did not come through positions of power within the cultural infrastructure.

 

Ultimately Christ’s influence is most effectively conveyed on a personal level and to those with who we are in relationship with. As I queried the Lord for an example of what 20/20 spiritual vision might look like, He reminded me that Jesus said that He didn’t do anything that He didn’t see the Father do first and that we have been counseled to fix our eyes (i.e. focus) upon Jesus, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

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