June 19, 2012

Focus required

Christians have been criticized for being “so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good” and for being narrow-minded and only interested in “church, church, church.” Perhaps this criticism still happens, but more often than not, our struggle is the opposite; we are preoccupied with the stuff of life to the point that we look just like everyone else.
The Bible is filled with declarations that I am set apart by God to do His will. His Son lives in me, therefore my life is not as it once was and my focus ought to be His focus. I’m to stand out as someone who has the character, words and actions of a person who lives to glorify Jesus Christ. My love for Him and for other Christians is to be the dominating force in my life.

This focus is not about that “heavenly-minded” perspective that keeps me from doing good things and helping others. It does not mean being so wrapped up in Christian interests that I cannot even talk about what is going on in the world. But it does mean putting the will of God first, yet for those of us who follow and belong to Jesus, this seems to be increasingly rare.
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. (2 Timothy 2:3–4)
When I read these verses, the idea of being a soldier puts images in my mind. A soldier is totally focused on his duty. He does have days of rest, but no moonlighting on a second job or even with time-consuming hobbies. Not only that, he has a superior officer who gives him orders and he listens and obeys those orders, no questions asked.

Soldiering involves keeping peace and fighting enemies. So does Christian life. As a believer in Jesus, I’m to seek and pursue peace, but also be involved in spiritual warfare, fighting evil and sin. Temptations come through enemies such as the world, the flesh and the devil. We fight inner and outer lies and deceptions that attempt to throw us off and keep us from doing what God wants us to do. In these battles, we are buffeted and often suffer.

We also suffer a sense of loss just for being a soldier. Some actual soldiers sign up to defend their country and go into combat as required, risking injury or worse, but some go AWOL because this becomes too much for them. Christian soldiers can have similar experiences, but instead of running away without permission, we can bury ourselves in “civilian pursuits” and stay in the church as if still on duty. I see this happen more often than I meet Christian soldiers who avoid such entanglements. 

Yet for me, and particularly at this time of year, going AWOL is a temptation. I’ve nearly finished ten months of teaching a Bible class and I’m tired. I want to work in my garden, make quilts, and go play with my family. Instead of praying for hours each week, I want to take a break, smell the roses, and even take a hike. While none of these pursuits are sinful, the attitude of becoming entangled in them is strong enough to threaten my obedience to God. For this, the next few verses are encouraging.
An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:5–7)
While not an athlete, I watch enough sports to know that those who win can never let up. They must always be focused, guarding themselves against lapses in their training schedule, diet, exercise, activities, and so on. They must also compete according to the rules or they will be benched. They get days off, but their focus is their game.

I’m more familiar with farming and know what it is like to work hard all year only to have a hail storm wipe out a crop, or a plunge in the markets make it worthless. Neither can a farmer play during the growing season and expect a bumper crop. Putting food on his own table involves hard work and a total focus on the land.

As a Christian trying to avoid the entanglements of civilian pursuits, I often think it would be easier if I could see the prize in front of me, or taste some of the firstfruits of my prayers. God could encourage me that way, but it honors Him when His soldiers do His will without question or complaining. He is pleased when I walk by faith and not by sight, focused His glory, and not trying to escape the challenges that go with my life in Christ.

Lord, last night someone prayed for my hubby and I with insight, asking You to give us that energy needed during stressful times when we feel like quitting. I need Your strength to get past the temptations. Renew my resolve to follow You, no matter what that requires.

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