Many distractions battle for our souls on a daily basis, but there is One who is worthy of our full attention. With all this noise, it can be hard to focus on what really matters.
There are countless external voices vying for our attention. Even our own internal voices can get out of control. Our ambitions can trap us. Our worries can entangle us. Our striving can entrench us in chaos of our own making.
Here’s the thing. We are all going to focus on something. We are going to pursue a goal we have or a dream we carry. We are all going to live with a purpose, and we must be diligent to guard that purpose. For even good intentions can distract and deceive us. Even good intentions have the potential to destroy us.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
Wow, am I ever grateful for the wisdom in this verse.
As believers, we understand that there are many good, God-honoring passions for us to pursue. Encouraging others, using our gifts to advance the kingdom, etc.
But these good pursuits have the potential to keep us from what is best.
They can quickly become idols if we are not careful. They can easily fuel our pride. They can easily deceive us into complacency.
I say this from personal experience. I have found that I have a tendency to become so consumed with ministry–that I actually can forfeit going deeper in my relationship with God.
In light of this, I strategically pray that the Lord would guard me from distractions. I pray for his correction and conviction to protect me from my weakness of being deceived by unhealthy ambition and even by the blessings that come from his hand.
Here are some ways I intentionally refine my focus on what is best, instead of settling for the deception that can easily creep into what is good:
Focus Solely on His Presence
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
Psalm 27:4 is one of my favorite verses. It keeps me grounded and focused in a world of constant clamor for my attention. It’s all about seeking God’s presence alone. Also, notice the language of narrow and precise focus. I mean, I don’t think you can get any more precise than “one thing I ask” and “this only do I seek.”
Lay Down Your Life
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it'” (Matthew 16:24-25).
We will live the abundant life Jesus died to give us when we lay down our entire life to follow him. When we choose to give our entire lives over to him, we will actually understand more than ever what it means to live.
Surrendering our dreams, ambitions and desires over to Jesus is key to guarding ourselves from deception. Also, it is so critical to understand that we are co-workers with God (2 Corinthians 6:1). We are not working for God. We are working with God. This eliminates our pride and the pressure to perform for the approval of man.
Our responsibility in partnering with God is to seek his specific will for our lives. This ensures we are not building something in his name that he did not author. Following the Holy Spirit’s leading keeps us from presumption, which can easily entangle us into vain pursuits that can sidetrack us from God’s will and ultimately cause us to suffer loss for all eternity when we stand before the Lord at the judgement seat.
Again, it all comes down to relationship. Knowing God’s will for each of us is a result of spending time with him, which helps us become familiar with his voice. It is also wise to intentionally seek and ask him for his plans for our lives. When we ask, we will receive. When we seek, we will find (Matthew 7:7).
Have a Heart Like Moses
“And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here'” (Exodus 33:15).
God would not go with the Israelites any further on their journey to the land He promised them because of their disobedience. However, Moses desired the presence of God more than the promised land, and pleaded with the Lord to remain with them.
Sometimes we emphasize the promises of God more than the presence of God. We should definitely believe in and receive his promises with joy and thanksgiving. But let us always remember to seek the Promiser for who he is and not for what he can give us. Let us seek God’s Face and not merely his hand.
The Promised Land was a land filled with milk and honey. So often, the blessings and good gifts that the Lord loves to give us can distract us from him. When the milk and honey flows, we can become complacent. We can easily worship an idol of God’s promises and forsake him for his gifts. We can easily forsake him for more influence in ministry.
In a wilderness season, it is easy to recognize our need for God, and we are more likely to seek him with all our hearts. But when life is easy and we are enjoying abundance, indulging in milk and feasting on the sweetness of honey, we are prone to great danger if we are not careful.
Set Eternity Before You
It can be so easy only to consider the here and now. Heaven can seem like a distant reality. Therefore, it is easy to put contemplation of eternity on the backburner. However, the Bible places much emphasis on how what we do in this life will affect the next one.
For example, when the religious leaders interrogated Jesus before his crucifixion, he told them that he would sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Matthew 26:64). He endured unimaginable suffering for the joy of sitting next to the Father for all eternity.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).
In the above verse, we are commanded to seek the things that are where Christ is. Jesus is at the right hand of God the Father, so we are therefore to seek the things which pertain to being close to God.
It would take some time to discuss the subject of eternal rewards at the judgement seat of Christ, but this concept is so important because it pertains to eternity, where there is no end. (For more on this topic, check out: 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, 2 Corinthians 5:9-11, Hebrews 6:1-2, John 12:48, Revelation 20:12).
Living with passion and purpose is wonderful. But if we are not alert, our good pursuits can distract, deceive and ultimately destroy us by keeping us from God’s best.
Here is a prayer that I am diligently praying as I learn to keep these matters in mind throughout my life.
Father, I want to be eternally near you. Please give me a heart that earnestly seeks and pursues you, rather than pursuing my own ambitions and calling it Your will. Please give me a heart solely devoted to you, so that I always value my relationship with you above everything else. Please create in me a heart like Moses, where I desire the Promiser more than the Promised Land.
Father, I ask you to give me a heart that values you above what comes from you. A heart that is resolute in pursuing You in all seasons, through the wilderness and the Promised Land. May I seek your Face always, caring more about the next life than this one, living my time here on earth in light of eternity, not merely holding heavenly things as a shallow concept in the recesses of my mind. May my drive in life, the success I desire to attain, be how close I can be to You. Amen.