Focus and the Irony of Rabbit Trails
Focus. As I sit here contemplating this word, the brain fog sets in, and my weary eyes begin to blur the words together on the page. After looking at definitions and synonyms for this word...after reading verse after verse, my mind fractures into countless rabbit trails. Oh, the irony!
Focus is a word that is both a noun and a verb. We may focus on something to "bring it into view" as it becomes the "central point of attention", bringing both verb and noun together. (See what I did there? No? Well, you see I took the two definitions...oh well, never mind).
Focusing on this word brings to mind the One-Word Challenge. I have participated in doing a One Word Challenge for many years now. Some people call it by a different name. But the idea is to pick one word to focus on for the entire year...usually sometime in late December. Many who choose to do the one-word challenge look for a word that sums up who they want to be or how they want to live.
I, however, tend to look at it a little differently than most. Picking a word and becoming that word is not my goal. Instead, I choose to begin praying each year in December that God would show me the word HE wants me to focus on. This was not a New Year's resolution but a year-long one-word journey. As I focused on the word throughout the next year, God would reveal to me the things He wanted me to learn in relation to that word, creating a change in my heart and my life.
This One Word thing takes discipline and focus. Interestingly enough, FOCUS was my word in 2014. So, I went back through my journal in search of an entry on the word, and even looked to see if I had written a blog post about it thinking it would be helpful now that I was writing about it again. There was not one post on the blog, nor anything further in my journal about the word beyond the entry in December stating that it was my to be my word for 2014. Apparently, and I might add ironically, I had lost my focus. Perhaps I need to refocus on the word in 2021.
Oh but wait...that same year I had chosen a verse to go along with my One Word.
It was my life-verse, Matthew 6:33.
But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.
There it was. This verse "brought into view" the "central point of attention"...the very One I was to focus on. I went back through and looked at the articles I had written on my blog that year and I could see it...everything I had written was focused on bringing glory to God...seeking His righteousness and advancing His kingdom in my writing. Maybe I didn't lose my focus after all...because the point was that I was not to meditate on the word focus, I was to focus on the Word...His Word.
Wow! My brain is tired from all the wordplay. But I kind of love it when the rabbit trail takes me back to His Word and to the gentle way He leads me. I'm so thankful that He is patient enough to lead me into a new understanding of this word...albeit 6 years in the making.
WRITTEN BY: GAY IDLE
For more from Gay, head to her website: www.gayidle.com
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Shifting our Focus
Focus… how does such a little word have so much power over where we go?
We live in a fairly rural area and so we like to take the kids on the back roads every once in a while and let them take the wheel. They are both young and so it is still so exciting for them to get unbuckled and hop in daddy’s lap so that they can drive the car. My daughter will drive very slowly and she is focused. She sees the road and she knows where she is going and she is going to get us there. My son… well let me give you some back story.
You see, my son is a great driver when it comes to driving his little 6v pickup truck power wheels around the backyard. He weaves in and out of any objects that are in the way and never hits anything (unless of course it's on purpose. Boys, right?) He stops and backs up like an expert driver, but when he gets behind the wheel of one of our vehicles things change.
He is no longer focused on the road he is driving on or where he is going, actually when he’s driving one of our cars he is focused on anything but the road or safety. LOL Which makes it a very winding and bumpy ride. His focus is not where we all know it should be. His focus is on the buttons in the car. His focus is on that bush or tree that we passed 10 feet ago or how the clouds look in the sky.
He is so confident that daddy is going to correct and steer that he never really bothers to think about where or how we will be getting to our destination.
I think that sometimes I get like that in my walk with God, in my role as a Proverbs 31 woman, wife, mother, friend. I get so focused on distractions and the things that need to be done I forget why I was doing them in the first place. I let the things around me take my attention away from what I am actually supposed to be doing.
I haven’t lost focus, I have shifted it. I have shifted my focus from God’s plans to the distractions along the way. And let me tell you, it has brought stress and exhaustion and no peace. But then in just a moment, Holy Spirit brings a sweet reminder to focus my eyes back on the Peace Giver, the One who knows all my days before there was even one (Psalm 139:16.)
Shift our focus. Such a simple statement can alter the outcome of any circumstance or situation that we are in. And with the right help (Holy Spirit=Helper) it is just that simple.
I have learned that the shifting for me is the simple part, and it takes a conscious effort to KEEP my focus there.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.
It’s not always easy, but it is simple.
The next verse the writer tells us to “…put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Start doing that. It takes conscious effort. It takes persistence. We are not always going to get it right, but we have to work it.
I had a vocal coach that pounded in my head, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.” Let’s practice focusing on those things mentioned in Philippians till they become permanent.
Holy Spirit, I ask that you show us today how we can better focus on You and Your plan for our life today in every aspect whether it be in our relationship with Father God, at home, in our marriage/children, friendships, our workplace or any other area of our life. Draw our attention to those things spoken about in Philippians. Help us to practice lifting our eyes to You and drawing nearer. Guide us in focusing on the things that lead us into who You have called each and every one of us to be. Help us to set aside any and all distractions today and come ready to be the “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) You have called us to be in Your precious name Jesus, Amen.
WRITTEN BY: ALEXANDRIA BROWN
For more from Alexandria, visit her website at www.alexandriabrown.org.
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As quickly as our lives have slowed down, so many of us have somehow found a way to busy ourselves again, filling our days with non-stop information, interactions, noise, and to-do lists.
FOCUS seems a hard thing to discipline ourselves to do when everything moves at the speed of light and the entire wealth of information the world has to offer is one google search away. We've been conditioned to want instant gratification and accept nothing less than "right now". Our attention spans have shortened drastically. Is reading more than an short article or the max amount of characters in a tweet a challenge for you sometimes? I practically fall asleep every time I attempt to read a regular book!
FOCUS feels distant and BLURRY feels more realistic. Can you relate?
It's hard to be a Mary in a world built for Marthas! But, sis, we were made to put aside the day's work for a time - it will be there when we are done - and sit at the feet of Jesus. We were made to give him our whole hearts, our whole minds, and our whole attention everyday. Have you taken the time to do that yet?
We aren't looking to drop some wisdom on you today - we are looking to point you to the Giver of all wisdom. Today, we are hoping to give you space to FOCUS on Jesus through some scripture for reflection, worship music for soaking, and a prayer to pray today.
Top 40 Worship (August 2020)
SCRIPTURES FOR MEDITATION
1 Corinthians 10:31
MEDITATION PRAYER (Rebecca Barlow Jordan)
Lord, quiet my heart and still my soul as I wait on you during these moments alone. I recognize you as a holy and majestic God - one who deserves great praise and glory. All of creation testifies to your awesome and unique works. There is no one like you, no other god worthy of honor.
I want to focus on You, Lord, and to shut out all the distractions of the world. For these next few moments, it's just you and me, God. You are Spirit, but you are a God who knows us so intimately. I like to imagine you as literally sitting here beside me, because of your promise that you are Emmanuel - always "with us."
As I think about the truths in your Word, may the meditation of my heart be sweet and honoring to you. I am not trying to clear out my mind. I simply want to empty me of self and fill me with your Holy Spirit.
I long for your presence, Lord. Narrow my thoughts to include only those things that are honorable, truthful, beautiful, pure, and praiseworthy. I ask for your wisdom to apply these truths to my life morning, noon, and night - literally all through the day. For you are worthy to be praised all the time.
I remember your great faithfulness in the past and am so grateful that you shower fresh mercy and grace on me each morning. I rehearse your goodness through answered prayer and personal reminders to me daily of your love for me. Even when I feel alone or distant from you, you draw me back into your presence when I purposely slow down and draw close to you. I treasure your Word and want to chew on the truths you reveal to me today. As I pull apart each piece and relect on every principle and word of instruction, I'm asking you to guide me and teach me what you want me to know.
Is there a promise here for me to remember? Is there an action I need to take or a sin to forsake? Is there more for me to understand about your character? Help me to personalize your message to my heart today. Your Word is powerful. I celebrate the strength and wisdom you will give me as I learn to honor and glorify you more.
I need you and love you, Lord. And I ask you to speak through your Word and in these quiet moments together. Whisper or shout into my spirit, whichever you want, and whatever I need the most. But most of all, just receive my praise as I focus my thoughts only on you. I'm listening and anticipating as I read and meditate on your beautiful Word.
In Jesus' name, Amen.
Sisters, we want to encourage you to join us on the Community today. We'll be there ready to hear what God is sharing with you as you focus and turn your ears and eyes on Him today. What is He teaching you? Where is He leading you? What is He showing you?
How can we partner with you as you passionately pursue Him today?
Books & Babies
Y’all. When I was scheduled to write on the topic of “focus”… I should probably just spend time telling you all the things that focus ISN’T. All the things that mess with your focus. All the ways to lose focus. Because, let me tell you, I am no expert in this area.
In September 2017 my life was a wreck. My husband and I were working hard at rebuilding our marriage into something beautiful after we had just about run it into the ground, I was trying to rebuild my relationship with Jesus after I had spent too much time neglecting it and running from Him, we were trying to make new friends in a new place, a new home, and a new church. September 2017 was kind of a mess and yet, that is the place and time the Lord spoke so clearly to me: “Write.”
Excuse me… come again? “Write.” I was in the middle of a staff meeting at my new job. We were in the middle of prayer and I heard the Lord as clear as a bell, “Write.” I remember thinking, “about what?” And immediately the Lord said, “Full portion God.”
He gave me the name… of a book. My book.
I tried to shake that thought out of my head right away. I was the worst candidate to write a book on anything, especially concerning spiritual things. Don’t get me wrong, I am a deeply spiritual person, but I was a deeply messed up person at the time and I knew God must have been confused for a minute there because I could have sworn he told me to write a book about Him. But He really did tell me to write and I couldn’t ignore it. We were praying and as soon as I heard “full portion God” I pulled out my pen and paper and started furiously scribbling all of the thoughts flooding into my mind. I still have the notes from that moment. The Lord just pricked my spirit and my mind took off running like my life depended on it. I went home and, in secret, began to write.
I didn’t tell anyone because I was embarrassed. I was a colossal screw-up. Who did I think I was to write a book for the Lord? I was not smart enough or good enough or holy enough or experienced enough or any other kind of "enough" there was to be. It just wasn’t me and I knew it and so did everyone else. So I couldn’t tell a soul. Too many people knew my history and I couldn’t face the ridicule that would spew out over me if anyone knew I was writing a book. So I wrote in secret for a couple months. Here and there, whenever inspiration would strike, I would grab my laptop and write.
In January 2018 my husband and I were just beginning to teach a class at our church on the gift of prophecy when we found out we were pregnant with our third child. We could not have been more ecstatic and grateful and hope-filled. We wanted to have a baby and we could not believe how easily it happened this time around as it had been a struggle before. Just two days after we found out we were pregnant, I woke up to spotting and fear. The day progressed and things just got worse. There was no stopping it. We were losing our child we had only loved for two days. The baby we had already been dreaming of holding and kissing and loving was slipping away and I could do nothing but watch and wait and groan in pain, both physically and emotionally - the greatest pain my heart could know.
About a week later, I knew I needed to get back to this prophetic class with my husband. I needed to be immersed in the presence of God and actively listening to his voice and direction. I was scared someone would say “I’m sorry for your loss” or “how are you doing?” and I would lose it, but I went anyway. I just needed it and I couldn’t explain how or why, but I knew I did.
That first evening back, the Lord gave a friend of mine a prophetic word that he didn’t understand, but oh my gracious, I knew exactly what God was saying…
“I see a blank sheet of white lined paper. And it’s coming into focus, the way you would focus the lens on a projector. Laser-like focus,” he said. I about jumped out of my chair when he said, “laser-like focus.” He had no idea the Lord had told me to write. And I knew the Lord was saying, “I gave you an assignment. You better set your sights on your paper with a laser-like focus to obey me.”
It was not the message I had expected or even hoped to hear that evening. I wanted to be scooped up and held. I wanted to hear “Your baby is here in my arms,” or “You’ll be pregnant again in [fill in the month here].” I wanted to hear about my baby or the hopes of another child… not about this book. And yet, the Lord was speaking to me about the book, not the baby.
Listen to me, sweet friend. Sometimes the Lord is going to speak to you about the book when you are focused on the baby. Your heart and mind and soul may be wrapped up in the baby because that is where the trauma is, that is where the heartache is, that is were the wounding is. But friend, that may not be where His focus is. And I know that can hurt to hear because we want the Lord to be focused on the things WE are focused on. But that is just not how it works. His thoughts are above our own. His ways are above ours. He is on a whole different level.
After January 2018, I lost focus. My eyes were locked on our baby. My eyes were locked on my pain. My eyes were flooded with loss. My focus shifted from God’s calling to just surviving one day to the next. And it went on like this for almost a year.
December 2018, just a week before Christmas, I found out we were pregnant again. I was so scared, so excited, so anxious, and so hopeful all at once. My focus shifted once again from survival, to planning and building a future for our expanding family.
The spring of 2019, I began a discipleship group with 5 other ladies… the nitty-gritty kind that forces you do deal with all of your junk and get right with Jesus. Well… I got right with Jesus, okay? With the encouragement (and harassment - ahem - I mean accountability) of my discipleship group, I started to write again. I was reminded of the calling the Lord gave me in 2017 and the prophetic word from a year before in 2018. The Lord had told me to do something and I had allowed my vision to get hijacked by everything happening all around me. I had allowed my focus to blur, to shift, to change, to move from the book to the baby.
This time was so different. A year previous, I had given up on writing because of the heartbreaking loss of a child and now here I was writing while carrying a new life inside of me. A new life breathed into this child and a new life breathed into me and this book. It was a strange sense of coming full-circle and quite literally rewriting my painful past into something more beautiful now.
My daughter, Abigail Rose, was born in August 2019. After she was born, I wrote here and there, but things really slowed down. I was focused on the baby again instead of the book. However, at the beginning on 2020, I asked the Lord for a word for the year - something to help direct my attention to what He has for me - and I heard, “focus.” I knew it was primarily about the book. I had promised the Lord I would finish he first-draft by May. And you know what? I did. The first draft is completed and I feel more completed. I know it’s not done, there’s more to do, but I feel a spiritual milestone in this place. A monument to a new level of spiritual maturity has been built by the hands of long-suffering and continued obedience.
This is a long story to bring you to this point…
What is your “book”?
What is the thing God has called you to do? Maybe it’s changing careers, maybe it’s homeschooling your kids, maybe it’s starting a non-profit, maybe it’s writing a book, maybe it’s sharing Jesus with your neighbor. Whatever it is, name it - out loud. Don’t let yourself keep it a secret anymore. Own it and call it out and get some accountability. You need people to account for your ability when things pull you down or the devil is being his liar self telling you all the ways you are the wrong girl for the job. You need people in your corner cheering you on, telling you the truth about yourself, poking and prodding you to complete your metaphorical “book” and obey the Lord.
What is your “baby”?
What is pulling your focus away from the thing God has called/commanded/asked/told you to do? It’s not always wrong to acknowledge the baby in the room. For me, of course I needed to mourn. Of course my heart and mind and focus was pulled toward this baby and the pain we were experiencing. And that is not wrong. But what I believe God wanted for me during all of that was to continue to chase after the book. To continue to obey, even through the pain, even through the tears, even though the heartache because the act of obedience is what ushers in healing and comfort and peace. The baby and the book don’t need to compete.
How can you obey right now?
Focus simply boils down to obedience. When we obey the Lord in the small things, it keeps our eyes focused in His direction and we can more easily and fluidly move in sync with His Spirit. If I had just kept my eyes focused on Jesus during that painful period of loss, if I had just looked for ways to obey Him in the small things, I believe I would not have lost sight of the book. I would have experienced more peace when I felt so much turmoil and more strength when I felt so weak.
Friend, obedience sharpens our vision to more clearly see the life God has intended us to live with the unique gifts, passions, callings, and purpose each of us possess. So if focus is a struggle for you, just look for one way to obey the Lord today. Just start there. He’ll bring it all into focus as you just commit to the next step of obedience in front of you.
Written by: Lyndsay TERRY
Read more from Lyndsay @ www.lyndsayterry.com
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Hold Me Fast
My husband needed clean underwear this morning.
Like, really needed clean underwear.
He waited for our dryer, set on 'speed dry', for one pair to be dry enough to stand wearing while I sat and thought of all of the times I could have bothered to throw clothes into the washing machine before early this morning and I prayed for those underwear to miraculously dry like five minutes ago.
We both sat on edge because this is not how we wanted this morning to go. Today, after over 10 days on a ventilator, his dad is going to be taken off of sedation and extubated.
With his dad being in such delicate health after an extremely difficult year, we all have been so concerned. Today could go any number of directions. And with all of his phone calls, hospital visits and everyday responsibilities lately, I certainly could have made sure this basic need was met to help him with all he is carrying.
PS- I might have been successful at my quick fix if I had taken the other clothing out of the dryer and left the one pair of boxers in to dry on their own. Hindsight, right?
He called me on his way to the hospital and brought this to the attention of my tired ol' brain. And he said, "You know, I feel like this dryer situation is what we as the church need to do. We need to throw everything OUT except for Jesus."
Y'all, this is super convicting to me because gracious, how this very thing has been on my heart. My goodness, how the Lord has been refining me and drawing me nearer to His heart in this season.
And yet, I've found myself filling up on the things of this world instead, like He's not enough for me.
I have felt incredibly uncomfortable (telling my husband dramatically when he asks how I'm doing, "Oh, you know, just dying... to my flesh.") and turned from that discomfort to all of the THINGS going on in the world.. which doesn't even make sense, especially if you've checked out the news lately or caught up on the controversies of the week.
Instead of being faithful with the things right in front of me, like laundry for my loved ones, I often chose numbing out on social media and even got a little too caught up in current events. Instead of running to the arms of my Father and instead of sitting with the One who is able to empathize with my weakness, I often just traded His presence and His healing balm for lesser, "easier" things. These things have just served to clutter up the "dryer" of my life. As a result, my heart may feel heavy and overwhelmed and the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out underneath it all.
Doesn't Matthew 11:28-30 say to come to Jesus, all of His weary and burdened children, and He will give us rest? Doesn't He say that His yoke is easy and His burden is light and that He is gentle?
Isn't He the Lover of our souls, King of our hearts, the only One able to satisfy? Isn't the Word filled with promises to us from our Jesus??
So, where is our focus? And why is it so often not on Jesus?
Later on this morning, laundry in the washing machine and many, many more loads lined up for their turn through the wash, I put my phone down to walk outside and take care of our birds (chickens, turkeys and ducks- and a whole lot of mess!). Once they've been watered- the water-attacking dog, too- I begin to water the garden. It's a little sad looking because of all of the trees in the yard, but we have several squash plants that are growing well and a very large pumpkin vine we are super proud of, especially considering that it came from our compost bin after carving pumpkins last fall.
As I water, I inspect the vines for any new growth. Our squash climb the fence as they grow and the vines have these little tendrils that look young and delicate, but they are what is holding the entire plant upright. And the plants that have grown past the fence have tendrils growing out near the tops, reaching for something to grasp onto.
The thing about these tendrils that fascinates me is that they wrap themselves around the fence post until they look like curly-q's. They're not going anywhere. And the ones that are reaching? You can bet that once they find another part of the fence, they'll do the same thing and will not let go.
I'm standing in the garden, thinking about focus and distractions and fixing our eyes on Christ and I just think to myself, "I think these squash plants are showing me how to pray."
The thing is, my own will to lay down worldly things and to focus in on Christ will only take me so far. But I know that if I ask God to help me, to transform and renew my mind, and for the desires of my heart to be aligned with His heart, He is faithful to do so. I believe He delights in doing so, because He sees our hearts and our struggles and our shortcomings and when we see them and recognize our dependence on Him, that's an invitation for the Lord to come in and do a work that only He can do. His power in our weakness is always a beautiful, beautiful thing.
And so we can pray to be loosed from anything other than a firm foundation to hold us up on.
We can pray that the Lord will lead us into all Truth and that we will cling to Him and His Word and His presence in such a way that no one or no thing can easily remove or unwrap us from Him.
We can pray that when we've come to the end of ourselves and we are reaching and grasping for Him, that He will see our outstretched hands as beautiful longings for Him and Him alone to sustain us.
And we can thank Him that as long as we keep praying and asking and seeking, we can rest assured that He will be there.
Our unshakeable, immovable, unchanging God.
WRITTEN BY: OLIVIA CALDWELLHead over to the Community to join in the conversation!
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