Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Intentionally Focused

This is the second chapter in my Worshipping With All Your He{art} series.
To view the first chapter, go here.

Intentionally Focused
Focus may be the answer to everything.  Whatever your situation may be, maybe you just need to change your focus.  And you may have to be intentional about your focus.  Sometimes it takes effort.  Life is hard. All you have to do is watch the news or be part of a prayer chain and you know people everywhere are going through all kinds of suffering.  And the reality of the toughness of life can sometimes swell around you until it's too hard to see much else. About 3 years ago, I personally had my world rocked with trouble.  It came with pain and loss, and I could have easily been engulfed by all of that.  During this period, there were times when it was easy to cry out to God and focus on Him.  There were also times when I had to make myself sit down and pray, or open my Bible, not because I felt like doing it, but because I knew I needed it. It’s always a choice.  You have power over where you place your focus.

Sometimes, life is not overwhelming, but you seem to be consumed by the little things of life-- the daily to-dos--and you lose your focus. It shifts to the other things. You don’t have to be in the midst of trouble to lose focus.  Frankly, there are just too many things in our lives that seem to be demanding our attention.  This is especially true when you have a family. 

The words of an old and dear song come to mind: "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." That has certainly been my experience.  When my mind is on Him, my focus is in the right place no matter what I am doing.  The Bible tells us over and over where our focus should be, but I like Psalm 25:15 best.  Here is how the New Living Translation puts it: “My eyes are always on the Lord, for He rescues me from the traps of my enemies.”  Love that!  Now read the same verse in The Message: “If I keep my eyes on God, I won’t trip over my own feet.”  That one just resonates with me.  I don’t know about you, but I trip myself up all the time.  I don’t need others to do it for me.  Maybe you know the right thing to do is focus on God but changing your focus may not seem like an easy thing to do. 

Let’s first talk about killers of focus. 

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:33 is a verse that is well known, in fact many of us memorized it as children.  It brings up the first killer of focus that I want to talk about: worry.  According to the book “The Worry Cure”--38% of people worry every day.  And here’s some even more interesting statistics.  You may have heard them before because pastors and motivational speakers often use these. Dr. Walter Calvert conducted a study and here is what he found: 
  • o   40% of what people worry about never happens.
  • o   30% of what people worry about has already happened and they can't do anything about it.
  • o   12% of what the average person worries about is what others say about them, which most of the time is untrue.
  • o   10% of worry deals with your health and worrying will only make that worse!
  • o   That leaves about eight percent of the things that are considered to be real problems, and worry will not do any good with these either!

Isn’t that crazy!  I’d like to say that I’ve conquered this worrying thing, but I often find myself worried.  I worry about my kids not making friends, about getting in accidents, about the news, about finances…the list goes on and on.  I am constantly reminding myself that God is in control and He has told us not to worry.  And frankly it’s a waste of my time, right? 

When it’s broken down, we can really see why worry is such a silly thing to do.  But God told us that--He knew we would struggle with it and that is why He warns us against it.  I would lump fear in there with worry as well.  And if we focus on our worries and fears, we cannot focus on the things of God because these are NOT from God.  

Personal problems are our second focus killer.  We WILL have trouble in this life, God never said we wouldn’t.  In fact He tells us we will!  (John 16:33).  But you can use your trouble as a “woe is me” or as a reason to come to God.  If you look at the people of the Bible, they all had trouble and had to endure suffering.  Look through Acts and you will see Paul--he was shipwrecked, robbed, jailed, beaten, stoned and even more.  While all this was happening, Paul also had to deal with a “thorn in the flesh”.  We don’t know what exactly he was referring to but we know that Paul asked for this “thorn” to be healed and received a “No” from God (2 Cor.12:7-8).  Or look at Job--he was an expert on suffering.  Job 5:7 tells us that “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.”  Suffering in this life is inevitable.  Trouble will certainly come.  Yet the Bible tells us in Romans 8:35 that no trouble can separate us from the love of Christ.  The Bible even tells us that suffering is good for us and that God can work in us through suffering (Romans 5:3-5, 1 Peter 4:12-14, 1 Peter 5:10).  What you do when you are in the midst of trouble is what matters.  Do you focus on your problems or hand your trouble over to the Lord and focus solely on Him?  As I already mentioned, focusing on God is a way of making our own troubles seem so small.  If you are going through trouble right now, I urge you to open your Bible.  Spend a little time in the Word of God.  Last time I was going through something, the Lord brought me to 2 Corinthians, chapter 1.  I was reading The Message at that time, so I will share how the Message puts some of it.  Some of the scripture that hit me the most was:

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah!  Father of all mercy!  God of all healing counsel!  He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.  We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of His healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.”

And further down,

“It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it.  We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us.  As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened.  Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since He’s the God who raises the dead!”

It is so important for us to know that it is God who rescues us and it is God who comforts us, but He also USES our pain and our suffering for His glory.  Let’s let Him.

Talk to most Christians today and their excuse for not spending more time with God or why they are not focused on God is because they “have too much to do.”  They are “just too busy.”  Time.  It’s a four-letter word.  Busyness is our third killer of focus.  We live in a “go, go, go” culture.  We measure success with productivity.  And a lot of our busyness isn’t even important stuff.  We all need to take a bit of time and examine our priorities and then see if what we are doing is lining up with those said priorities.  Another thing we seem to be not very good at is keeping things in perspective.

Today we went to Taco Bell for lunch.  We went through the drive-thru.  We ordered three chicken soft tacos with extra cheese.  We like our cheese.  Seriously, is there any food better than cheese?  Yes, I know, I’m getting sidetracked.  Anyway, so we got home and got the food out.  There was NO cheese, on any of them.  I was so mad!  We had even paid extra for the extra cheese and there was none!  I started to grumble and my heart started to beat faster, and I got us back in the car to drive back and make them fix it.  On the way back I felt the gentle voice of God saying “weren’t we just talking about perspective?”  Ouch.  It may sound silly, but we do it all the time.  We get really worked up over little meaningless things. 

Another focus killer would be literally having too much to do.  I’m not just talking about being busy, but being over-committed.  That one is an obvious one.  If we don’t have enough time to sit down and spend time with God, then we are doing too much or managing our time poorly.  I fail in this category…a lot.  I often think I’ve taken on too much to do when I look at my long to-do lists, but in all honesty, I probably wouldn’t feel that way if I managed my time better, and perhaps watched less television.  Yep, I said it.  Our culture spends a lot of time in front of the television, myself included.  I tell myself that it is relaxing, and a time of de-stressing.  But I don’t ever want to calculate how much time I have spent watching television, which is essentially wasting time (come on…be honest).  Do you know more about a television character than you do about God?  We have favorite shows that we will never miss because we are just dying to know what happens next.  We spend so much time with these fake people and neglect to spend time with our real God.  It’s a waste of time.  We will focus more on time later.

The fourth focus killer is earthly passions.  This can include hobbies, sports, classes, lifestyles, dreams and goals, and much more.  What are you passionate about?  Don’t get me wrong, passions can be good.  But when the actual passion becomes number one in our life, there’s a problem.  Or if we are not honoring God through our passions, perhaps we should examine and dwell on whether that passion is from God.  We are told over and over to keep our eyes on heavenly things rather than earthly things.  Psalm 119:37 tells us “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to Your word.”  Colossians 3:2 tells us “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”  And Matthew 6:19-21 tells us “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Getting the picture?  The Bible tells us over and over not to dwell on earthly things.  They can be a road-block.  But we don’t have to get rid of all of our passions, we just need to figure out if we can use them for God.  For example, I love to scrapbook.  People may say it’s just paper and glue.  Some think it is a waste of time.  But as with my art, I can worship God through my scrapbooking.  I can also pass on my faith and witness through my pages.  No, not all of my pages have to do with my faith.  Most of them are about my kids or events.  But it’s something I love to do, and I believe it is a passion that God gave me.  He made me creative, and I like to think that He likes watching me be creative.  Certain passions, you will know right away are not from God, and you need to get rid of them.  And you probably don’t need to be told that.  We know when we are doing something that God doesn’t want us to. 

The last focus killer I want to discuss is anger, or feelings.  It’s just another topic of focus and perspective.  We often hold on to our feelings…how a person or event made us feel.  We often act like we think our personal feelings are what are most important.  One night I was extremely upset with my husband and how he was making me feel(unloved, unwanted, used).  And he probably didn’t have a clue that I felt this way.  I was in the car thinking about how I felt.  The song “Lead Me” by Sanctus Real was on the radio…

I look around and see my wonderful life
Almost perfect from the outside
In picture frames, I see my beautiful wife
Always smiling, but on the inside
I can hear her saying

Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can't
Don't leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, but what about us?

Show me you're willing to fight
That I'm still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone

And I was just nodding and agreeing with it…yes, yes…that’s how I feel.
Then the focus of the song changed, asking the Lord to lead me…

So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I'm called to be
Oh Father, show me the way
To lead them

Won't You lead me?
To lead them with strong hands
To stand up when they can't
Don't want to leave them hungry for love
Chasing things that I could give up
I'll show them I'm willing to fight
And give them the best of my life
So we can call this our home
Lead me 'cause I can't do this alone

I suddenly realized that, once again, I needed to change my focus.  My thoughts were all on me.  I feel this, I feel that.  And God spoke to my heart and said “Sweetie, you know you are loved.  You know you are wanted.  Let me fill those needs.”  Nothing against my husband, but we sometimes forget that God wants to fill those needs for us.  And you know what?  After I had changed my focus, another song came on.  I don’t even remember what song it was, but it had a lot of “hallelujahs”.  And I started singing out to my God.  And I hate to say the “F” word but suddenly I felt better.

Feelings are not bad.  God created us as emotional beings.  But if we focus on our feelings we are not focusing on the bigger picture.  And feelings often cloud our judgment and perception.  Sometimes we just need to make a point to focus on God instead of self.  That said—we can use our feelings in a healthy way, they can be what leads us to God. 

We are called to live a life intentionally focused on God.  So how do we change our focus?
o   Dwell on what He has done for you.
o   Acknowledge His authority.
o   Spend TIME with God!
o   Ask God to change it for you.
o   Limit distractions.

People often talk about “losing yourself” in worship, and that’s simply because you are no longer focused on you, your life, or your struggles.  You have successfully changed your focus…to simply God.

Focus on God!  Dwell on Him!  What kind of emotion does it evoke?  Use it to create.

Now is when it gets personal, because art IS personal.  This first one I am sharing in this chapter is very personal to me, and you know what…my husband doesn’t like it.  He thinks it looks too romantic to be about God.  You may even agree, and that’s okay.  When I look at it, I am reminded of how it feels to be loved, to be held, and to be comforted by my Father in Heaven.

    All Who Are Weary canvas 

Supplies:  Canvas, Paint, Floss, Gesso, Cardstock, Flowers (Prima Marketing Inc.) 

How I created my piece: I covered my canvas with gesso so I could add texture to it.  Then I added my paint and background design.  The black cardstock piece is my own design and I just adhered it on top of the paint.  Then I added my words, stitching and flowers.  

This next one makes me feel calm, relaxed and a bit peaceful.  But it also reminds me of a very specific time.  When I was in college we often hung out at a friend’s house.  He lived in an apartment…you know the kind, with the pool and the playground in the middle of the apartments.  There was one particular evening when I was just feeling down.  I wandered off by myself and sat on the swing.  It was dark and nobody was around.  There on the swing I called out to God.  I can still remember exactly what it felt like to feel His presence that night.  So while this picture may just seem like a pretty, quiet scene, it evokes a certain emotion from me that it wouldn’t from other people.

Love canvas

Supplies:  Canvas, Paint, Cardstock, Ink, Glue, Stamps (Creating Keepsakes), Patterned Paper (BasicGrey), Floss.

How I created my piece:  I first painted my green and blue.  Then I took ink and sprayed a bit of a design on top of the colors.  I took foam stamps and dipped them in ink to create my “love” and the numbers.  I punched circles and added a row of circles.  Then created my tree and swing.  For the texture on my tree, I allowed glue to dry before painting it.

If you are doing this study as a group, share your work with one another and talk a little bit about it.  

If you want to share your work online with me and anyone who reads this, go ahead and link your work up here:

Group Discussion Questions

Chapter 2:

1.     How do you change your focus?

2.     Is it easy to know when you need to change your focus?

3.     What kinds of things keep us distracted?

4.     Is worrying a waste of time?  Why do we do it?

5.     How do we keep from being so busy?  Is it ok to say no to things?
6.     How do we know we are too busy?
7.     What are you passionate about?  What hobbies, clubs, or goals are big parts of your life?
8.     Are these passions bad?  When do they become unhealthy? 
9.     How can our feelings keep us from being focused on God?
10.  What benefits do we reap by keeping our focus on God?

** All scripture comes from the New International Version unless stated otherwise.  

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