I’m learning that my quick skimming of articles, emails, social media posts, and updates leads me to a lack of focus in my life. I use to be able to read for hours, getting completely lost in the journey the author takes me on. Now, I’m lucky if I can read for twenty minutes before I flip open my email or instagram. This lack of focus translates into other areas of my life — my inability to attend to what my kids and husband tell me, my prayer life, and my bible study. This concerns me because in order to live this “God-life” with power and grace, I need to be able to focus.
Romans 12:2 guides my life and gives direction. I know my mind needs renewing. I know the rabbit trails I go down that lead to disappointment, worry, and doubt. And every time I take a journey into that place, I regret it. Although I learn plenty, it reminds me of the power of focus.
Focus Affects Our Relationships
What do we focus on? How do we focus? Why is focus so important? Focus means to set our minds, eyes, and hearts on God. During a recent quiet time, I read Psalm 9:10, “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Trust relates to knowing. Knowing grows through time spent in relationship. Relationship starts with faith.
While we grow and develop our relationship with the Lord, we discover the two-sided reality of the Christian life:
Acceptance in Christ and growing in Christ.
Status as kings and duties as slaves.
Presence of Christ and pressure of sin.
Made right with God and daily problems that help us grow.
Without an awareness of this two-sided reality, focusing our hearts and minds on Christ is a struggle. But, when we’re aware that we are accepted as we are and given opportunities to grow, our focus shifts from our circumstances to the One who guides, leads, heals, and loves. This focus helps guard our hearts, shows us where to serve, and grounds our hearts in hope.
Focus Helps to Guard Our Hearts
Our hearts need guarding. There is so much in this world that aims to demoralize our hearts through distraction and disappointment. We can guard our hearts by carefully considering what we focus on. Proverbs 4:23-27 lays out a delightful plan to teach us how to guard our hearts. Out of our hearts spring life. Therefore, what we think, see, say, and do makes a difference on our life.
Focus Shows Us the Next Thing
Our hearts need direction. Too much inward focus turns us into selfish minded people with a narrow view of ourselves and our world. However, when we look up and out, our hearts develop awareness of a greater view. Without purpose, the gifts God gives us languish and we never reach the fullest potential God has for us. Then others, for whom God gave us those gifts, do not benefit.
In John 4:35, Jesus tells the disciples to open their eyes to see the fields ripe for harvest. Somewhere someone is waiting for you to breathe a bit of the hope you have in Jesus into their hearts. That hope can be the difference between harvest languishing and going to waste or a harvest that does what it was designed to do: multiply.
Establishes Our Hearts in Hope
Hope is standing assured in what we cannot see. It is standing with our face to wind, feeling the sting of it on our cheeks and its power buffeting our bodies and knowing that the rock on which we stand will not give way. Sometimes we hunker down behind the rock, beside the rock, and sometimes we climb inside it in order to gain a reprieve from the blast. But no matter what, we know that our Rock never fails.
This is what fixing our eyes on Jesus does for us in the times when distractions and disappointments abound. It’s the one thing that we can do that grounds our heart in hope. God takes care of the rest, but we choose where to fix our gaze. Hebrews 12:2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.”
The Story Unfolds
Your story isn’t finished. Your faith isn’t perfected. And that’s okay. You don’t have to worry about the ending or the plot twists. You don’t have to worry if your faith is strong enough. That plot twist? God is with you. That unexpected ending? God beckons to you to follow him. Your faith? God strengthens you even in your doubts as you fix your eyes on him.
Focus matters. It protects our hearts, guides our steps, and sets our heart on a firm foundation. As you move into the new year, take each opportunity to reset your focus. As you do so, your heart will be guarded, guided, and grounded.
December slipped in wearing white and displaying crystals dancing on delicate branches. Its beauty on display reminds me that even winter storms display artistry by a Master Artist. Will I have eyes to see? Will you?
The next four weeks will bring a letter from me with reflections from the Word and a prayer to focus our hearts on the Lord. As we walk into December with all the joys, sorrows, and the busyness it brings, our souls need a moment to reset, release, and receive. It’s my prayer that these little notes minister to your heart as well as whomever you choose to forward it onto too.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–The spirit of Truth.” John 14:16-17a
“But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26
My heart swells with relief that I have a counselor, someone who listens and who guides, in the Lord. Do you ever have those days where you wonder whether your efforts make a difference? Or what about those days when you don’t know if it’s worth pushing against a tide that seems relentless?
It’s in those moment when I remember the psalmists example of pouring out our hearts to the Lord. To tell the Lord our silly thoughts like a “I love these socks!” and the gigantic heart-rending concerns like “I can’t take another step,” brings our hearts to the One who can laugh and cry with us.
Jesus truly is a Wonderful Counselor. He’s wonderful because he knows all, loves perfectly, and stands beside us through the highest mountains and the lowest valleys. He’s a wonderful counselor because he guides us with wisdom, truth, and peace so our hearts can know rest.
I adore you and say with my whole heart, “O come let us adore you.” You make ways when I can’t see the way. You work miracles that I don’t understand. You part seas and walk on stormy waves. You shine light into my darkness. I stand in awe of who you are.
Make a way this Christmas season for my heart to experience a reset. I pray your counsel would guide me so that I would walk in your ways and know your peace.
You give me space to release all the angst that’s stored up in my heart. I release it to you and leave it in your hands. My fears. My concerns. My regrets. They’re yours and I release them to you.
I receive your wonder and grace this Christmas. Guide and counsel me as I rely on you. You are my wonderful counselor and I run to you with my joys and sorrows.
In Jesus’ name,
Have a delightful week as you lean into Jesus’ wonderful counsel. May your days be filled with the reality of his presence and may you know his wisdom for your circumstances.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5
The Thin Place
We walk this in this thin place of living in this world while knowing our home is in the next. It’s a thin place because it’s far too easy to slide into living and doing according to the world’s philosophies or to lean so far the other way that we cannot relate to those around us.
The key to living in the thin place is abiding. I know this world knocks us around and we wrestle between flesh and spirit. Will we trust God in the midst of trouble or will we accuse him of abandoning us? And if we choose to accuse then we miss an opportunity to grow in our faith. We must remain in him.
Remain in Him
Abiding in Christ is to remain in him when life sparkles and when life darkens. It’s what enables us to walk by faith when we cannot see and to believe when we don’t understand. It’s remaining when leaving tempts us.
In order to remain in him, we must choose endurance, dependence, and obedience.
To choose grit over quit. Endurance isn’t glamorous, but it leads to some pretty spectacular results.
Wait on God for the outcome. Dependence looks a lot like waiting on God for his outcome.
To obey is to trust God at his word. If he says to love, then love and trust him to supply. If he says to forgive, then forgive and trust him to enable.
You are mighty and most worthy of praise. I adore you, Lord, and thank-you for who you are. You are grace and kindness and mercy. Goodness and beauty. Lord, I want to abide in you and remain in you because that is the secret to living this life well for you. This life surprises me with its beauty and its ferociousness, but you are the constant through it all.
Help me to choose you in the face of deep disappointment and to recognize you in the light of great achievement. You are my everything and I worship you. God, I choose grit, dependence, and obedience. Give me the strength to endure. Help me find my strength in dependence on you, and guide me in obedience.
You are God, my rock and my refuge, and I am forever enamored by you. May your face shine upon me and your glory overwhelm me. Let me be caught by your goodness and mercy and may I forever depend on you.
Our identity in Christ covers three basic needs: significance, security, and acceptance. It’s out of these three things that our ability to minister to others without experiencing twisting and turning based on their approval or disapproval flows. But so often, we forget who we are in Christ. We begin to think that the answers to this world’s difficulties rests on our ability to provide answers and service.
But the picture in Psalm 23 of the good shepherd, leading me by still waters, through death’s valley,and near pain’s shadow that I realize that it’s not up to me to carry all the burdens. I am weak and weary. Exhausted from the battle. It’s here, in the presence of my enemies, that I realize that God’s abundance in the midst of mess is for me and for you.
Our Cups Overflow
Further into Psalm 23 we read that He anoints our heads with oil and makes our cups overflow. In ancient Eastern culture, hosts anointed their guests with perfume as a sign of honor. The host would give their guest a cup and then were careful to fill it till it overflowed. This implied that while in the host’s presence the guest would have all the abundance the host could offer.
This is a beautiful picture of what it looks like when we abide in Christ. Our cups overflow as we hold our cup upright to receive from him. But so often, when we see the urgent in our life,we run around, holding our cups in a pouring position. Then, when cups run dry, we dash back to the Father for more filling. But what if we changed the position of our cups? What if we held them always in the upright position? This would allow the overflow of what God is doing in our lives to flow to those around us.
Our agendas would change. No longer would we treat our quiet time as a fill-up station, only pulling up for refuel when we’re empty. No longer would we feel the burden of the world’s cares on our shoulders and be overwhelmed by the great needs around us. Our position would be one of upturned cups, being continually filled and overflowing into the lives around us throughout our day.
Hold Your Cups Upright
This position, of holding our cups upright and realizing the overflow that comes from being together with Christ in every moment, releases us from the burden that service sometimes brings. Instead, we find ourselves able to do more than we ever imagined because our cups are always full.
Carrying our cup upright allows it to overflow into other’s emptier vessels. We discover that our confidence has nothing to do with our strengths. At the same time we learn that our insecurities don’t have to bind us to inaction.
Hold your cup upright and receive this blessing:
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that our of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19 NIV
My perspective in the waiting gets clouded by my impatience. Waiting. I don’t love it. It can make me feel crabby and in the long waits for answers to prayer, it can make me feel hopeless. And hopelessness is a desperate place to be.
But what happens when the things of life drag us down to depths we never dreamed we would reach? What happens when hope seems as distant as the faintest star in the night sky? What happens when we lose our perspective in the waiting?
It’s easy to get stuck in a disbelieving cycle that God can and will come through for us. In fact, I daresay, it’s a tactic the enemy of our souls uses to isolate us even further. It’s in these moments of doubt that we must turn to the only one who can help us. In fact, we can bring our doubts to him and receive grace.
This week’s Scripture passage
“We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” Psalm 33:20-22.
Positioning myself to wait in hope means that I need to recognize that God is my help and that he is working in ways that I cannot see, but I need to trust him. He is your helper. You can trust in him.
Then I need to hide in him–he is my shield. He is your shield. When we hide in him, we go where he wants us to go, and we stay protected from the tactics of the enemy.
One key component to this kind of waiting–the kind that knows hope–is found in rejoicing. We can rejoice because of who God is. He is kind, merciful, full of grace, loving, good, just, faithful. Think about his goodness towards you, remember his faithfulness, rejoice that he rescues you.
This week’s prayer
“Lord Jesus, King of kings, and Lord of lords, we glorify your name. You are most worthy of praise and there is no one like you. Our hearts bear burdens that steal our hope and we need you. We need you to be our hope. As we wait in you let your unfailing love fall upon us. Wrap us in your love like a comforting blanket on a cold and windy day.
You are our help and shield. You are with us, you guide us, and you defend us. May we rest in you, trusting and believing that you are working behind the scenes in ways that we cannot see. If we cannot see your hand at work, help us to trust your heart. You are for us and you never leave us nor forsake us.
What are you gripping? Do you ever feel like if you let go, you’ll fall into a chasm of hopelessness? There’s a time to fight and hang on for dear life and then there’s a time to release.
And sometimes the release is the best battle strategy we could ever choose. Sometimes the release is what fighting looks like and releasing is when we find our strength.
It’s one of the paradoxes of following Christ. It’s a both/and. It’s both facing the battle and releasing. You can stand firm on your battlefield and still choose to release. But what do we release?
We release our thanksgiving, our praise, our remembrance of who God is and what he has done. That’s how we battle.
We release our control and perceived outcome on how God should move in our situation. That’s how we know peace and hope.
The following scripture passage is taken from 2 Chronicles 20. The verses I share here are only a small part of the greater story and I hope you’ll open your Bible and read the full chapter. First, they stood, and then they released.
Stand and Release
“After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.” As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” 2 Chronicles 20:21-22
Enemies take different forms. They can be people, but they can take shape through our insecurities, our doubts, and even our thoughts. But God. He transforms, he renews, he holds us close, and he never fails.
Let’s release today. Release what? Both praise, worship, thanksgiving and our fears about the future, or our grip on the outcome of our current circumstances.
We come to you unknowing how you will work things out, but we stand firm in our faith that you love, that you are our refuge, that through you we are strong. And as we stand, we release our praise for your goodness and kindness. That you are great and mighty and oh so gracious. Oh Lord, you are with us, right here, right now. You are in our past, and already in our tomorrows, and we are grateful.
God, we release our angst over our lives and our kids’ lives and the circumstances that we have no control over, but seem to be controlling us. We surrender them to you and we trust you. We know that as we trust, we cannot be shaken, we cannot fail, because you are our rock and refuge. You help, you provide, and you guide.
Lord, as we release we ask that you would move on our behalf and that you would enable us to trust you even when we cannot see you. Holy One, you are mighty and good and filled with inexpressible love for us and we receive you. We believe you and we receive your love.
Let us go into our todays with confidence and face our tomorrows with trust because you are with us.
I love you, Lord and praise you with all that I am. I look to you. You are my everything, In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I pray that this week is a week of release. That you will be set free in ways you never dreamed.
I wrote an article on what it means to have a gentle and quiet spirit. If you’d like to read it, you can find it here.
May Lord bless you as the sun rises and sets and may you know the light of his face as he looks at you,