You know it has been really interesting to me how many of my talks with you have come back to this idea of focus. Focus sure has been coming up a lot lately, and it seems to come up in scripture a lot too. We are to focus on God, we are to fix our attention on Him. Paul says it this way…
2 Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. NIV
Well it makes sense to focus on God. It makes sense to focus on eternal things rather than the temporary moments of today…but that isn’t an easy thing to do is it? I mean fixing our eyes on what is unseen, when what is seen is right in front of our face! Well in a lot of ways focusing on eternal things rather than Earthly things isn’t easy thing to do and it really goes back to what Ken explained to us in the first couple of talks in this series. We can’t do it on our own. We can try and many of us do try but we can’t seem to pull this off without help, and that help can only come from God. It won’t come from your own strength. It won’t come from self-help books, or vacations, or medications…or even small group studies…it comes from God.
Last Monday I went out on a hike just to try and clear my head and spend some time with God. It was so nice to just be in the woods. I hiked up a mountain and just sat there trying to decompress. It has been a pretty stressful season of my life. I have felt a little picked apart by people, I have felt a little stressed out about family, and friendships, and life. As I sat up there on the rocks looking out over this amazing valley, I was trying to just stay silent, and rest in the moment. I was trying to not look at my phone, and think of the list of things I had to do. I felt God speak and it really impacted my me. He said… “Sam, there is no hike long enough to give you the peace you want. You can only find it in me.” It’s so true. I must fix my eyes on Him. We can’t do what He does. We are in desperate need of Him! If we can’t recognize that, we will continue to try to muscle through life and let’s just say that speaking from experience it just doesn’t go well. We need Jesus living and active in our lives. Remember that powerful scripture that Ken did such a good job building off of the last two weeks? Let’s read it again!
Romans 3:23-24 Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them)and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
The message is so clear here…we need God in our lives. We must fix our eyes what is unseen, on what is eternal…we must understand our desperate need of Him! Now here’s why it’s so challenging, we live in a world full of distractions. There are lots of things that our eyes and our focus can drift too, and if you aren’t careful you can begin to lose focus on God and onto the things you don’t have…the nice car, the better job, more money, the championship trophy, the healthy family that everyone else seems to have…rather than on what you DO have, and do you know what that is? What you do have is God. What you have is more than enough! Boy oh boy, this is important, your attitude can rise and fall off of this very simple idea, what you focus on will dictate your ability to have an attitude of gratitude…or not!
You know I have learned so much around youth sports. There are so many life lessons, leadership lessons, and really just human experiences that can go on around these sports teams that our children play on. Don’t believe me? Try coaching sometime, you will learn a lot about yourself and others. It’s amazing what can go on around just one simple game and the more I’m around this stuff the more I realize how much our focus plays a role in that. It’s amazing how different people focus on different things out their around their child playing sports. For some parents they don’t see anything but their own child. Their son or daughter is their focus and they have no real conscious thought towards the fact that there is anyone else out there on that field. They don’t care what happens to the other kids. They don’t care how the team does, or any of that stuff…it’s all about their individual child. This person who can’t see or care about anyone but their own child often has a very frustrating experience around a team sport, because they can’t see that the coach must focus on everyone, play everyone, and make decisions that focus on the greater good of the whole team. Some people come focused on the coach. Staring a hole through him from the opposite sideline. What’s funny is the coach probably took the job with very pure motives, like I love kids and sports and want to help as many kids in my community as possible or something like that…but this person would never see it that way! They are always wondering what the coach with all that “power” is up to and why! The coach may have thought this was going to be fun and a time to enjoy sports and kids…LOL not on my watch right?!?! The parent focused on the coach is sitting comfortably in the lawn chair focused on that persons every decision, and move. They will analyze and they will criticize, and complain at every decision made, but they themselves would never be willing to lead or stick their neck out and make decisions themselves. You know what, this person is typically not having a very enjoyable experience either. Some parents are their focused on the scoreboard. It’s all about winning games, because you know how high the stakes are in children’s sports. So there is a lot of focus on the score…and just a general observation about the person focused on the score…the moment the score isn’t going the way those parents want it to be going…their focus shifts to the poor referee of the game, because it’s his fault little Johnny is losing! You know no matter what sport it is, this seems to playout all over the place, and the brutal thing is because the focus is on everything and anything other than what it should be on, it makes for a very miserable experience around the youth sports field today. And we wonder why they say that 7 out of every 10 kids stops playing youth sports by the age of 13. So focus dictates attitude…and rather than being grateful for the opportunity to watch our child have fun, running and jumping around healthy and happy…our focus is on all the things it shouldn’t be on and it steals what should be pure, and a fun time and makes it stressful and miserable. Our focus determines everything!
Our focus determines our attitude. Did you know there have actually been studies done on Olympic athletes where they have discovered that the person who wins the bronze medal is much happier than the person who won silver? Isn’t that interesting? Do you know why? It’s because the person who won silver is focused on how close they were to winning Gold…while the person who wins bronze is so grateful for the medal because they are focused on how close they were to leaving their Olympic experience without a medal at all! Our focus determines our attitude. Our focus has to stay on what we have rather than what we don’t have. Do you see it? What we focus on is a really big deal and that is what I want to talk to you about today.
You know over the last few years I feel like the Psalms have just come to life for me in a new way. And I’d like to study one of my favorite Psalms with you today. It is written by a guy named Asaph. What’s funny about this Psalm is how it came to be so meaningful to me. I was in a really difficult stretch of my life. I was overwhelmed by all that was going on around me. I was stressed out beyond what I felt like I could handle. I was physically exhausted, and I was starting to wonder if I could just call a timeout on life for a while. Have you ever been in that spot where you just wished you could stop the world for a little while and get off, and take a rest? Well that was the spot I found myself in…it was one of the lower points of my life and one morning, out of the blue my dad text me, which isn’t something that happens a lot. The text simply read “Praying for you my son, Psalm 73) So I opened my Bible and read Psalm 73 and boy oh boy could I relate to this. I think the Psalms are so special, they are so raw, so open, and so real…and they mean so much to me. This one maybe more than any other. I think we can all relate to this well.
So it’s really important to know who Asaph is and what he did. I think when we understand who he is, it helps this make even more sense. Asaph was a worship leader for King David…that means that he spent time with God. He spent a lot of time with God, like every day he spent time with God, in his presence focused on God and helping others focus on Him. I find a lot of what Asaph wrote to just be so real. It is so raw, and I believe it can really hit home for us today. So as I read Psalm 73 I want you to personalize it. Think about your focus. Think about how easy it is to focus on all the things you don’t have rather than the things you do have. Think about how real the emotions of this Psalm are…and how easy it is for you and I to feel this way.
Psalm 73 An Asaph Psalm Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. 3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. 5 They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. 7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. 8 They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. 9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. 10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. 11 They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” 12 This is what the wicked are like — always carefree, they increase in wealth. 13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. 14 All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. 15 If I had said, “I will speak thus, “I would have betrayed your children. 16 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. 18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. 19 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! 20 As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. 21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, 22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. 23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. 28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds. NIV
So this guy is in a pretty difficult spot as this Psalm starts out isn’t he? I believe it’s a spot that we all find can find ourselves in from time to time. He is tired. He is worn out and he is struggling to see anything to be grateful for. Have you ever found yourself running with no margin, stressed out, wondering how you will get through another day. Have you ever noticed how in those moments how easy it is to see all the negatives around us really well? That is where Asaph is, this is a man whose whole job was to worship God. His whole world is to do what Paul told us to do…to fix our eyes on what is unseen rather than what is seen…and he is having a focus problem that really gets him in a bad spot!
Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. 3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. 5 They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. 7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. 8 They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. 9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. 10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.11 They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” 12 This is what the wicked are like — always carefree, they increase in wealth.
Tell me this has never happened to you? Life hits hard, you are working hard, too hard and you look around and everyone around you seems to live care free. Everyone around you seems to get ahead of you. Mostly because they are cheating, and there you are, trying to do the right thing every day and the wicked of the world get everything they all, while you get nothing. What has happened here? This man of God who spent days, and weeks and years in the presence of God is now wishing he was acting just like the rest of the world. Wow!?!?!?
Asaph tells you very clearly what happened, he lost his focus. He allowed his eyes to drop from God to people. That is easy to do isn’t it? Remember Paul’s warning? Keep your focus on things you can’t see, not the temporary things you can see? So his pursuit of God kept him pure from all the nonsense of people and life but somewhere along the way his eyes dropped from God and onto the people around him. That will always get you into trouble. I think it’s important to point out that this is a good, God-filled man who is now at a point of complete exhaustion, ready to quit everything. This is what life does…it squeezes you. This is what happens in a world full of imperfect people, they take from you. They will hurt you. They will let you down. Life will absolutely press in on you and I just kept thinking there are a lot of things that can pull our attention away from God. We have a ton going on, think of the things that pull your focus away from God.
Think of the challenges of life. The people issues. The busyness of your schedule. Think of all the material things out there that you want but just don’t have. What’s funny is for so many of us we have this idea that becoming a Christian makes all those challenges of life go away…well God never promised any of that. He never said there wouldn’t be pain or challenges or adversity…what He said was that through all of that stuff we get to walk through it with Him! There are so many things that pull our attention and focus off of God. We have to remember that our focus determines our attitude…if our focus is on God we live in a different level of peace and joy and graciousness than we do when we go through life alone. We can learn from Asaph’s experience here…he is showing us what happens when our eyes drop from eternal things to Earthly things! When that happens we can end up in a very bad spot. I love verse 12 because I can see myself doing this at times, “look at all the cheaters of the world, they have so much, and I have nothing.” It is easy to do that isn’t it? How about in the work place? You see a lot of moral behavior and character at work? Doesn’t always seem like there is a lot of honest, character filled moments is there? Yet those people seemed to get rewarded for it. It can be frustrating and it is exhausting to feel like you are doing things right and the cheaters of the world seem to get ahead you doesn’t it? You see, that is where our boy Asaph is, and it’s not a good place to be sitting at all.
So what got him in trouble was his focus. His focus shifted from God to people. Remember Paul’s warning? Fix our eyes on the eternal, on the things we can’t see! Funny how easily this can happen. It’s almost like you have an enemy, who wants your focus on anything but God. It is not a coincidence at all that this is so hard to do. God focus brings peace, it brings joy, it brings gratitude. Being focused on the things of this Earth brings total chaos. Focusing on things like people will be a mess because people are imperfect and will take from you. Your job, your friends, your material possessions, your hobbies will let you down. When your focus is on God, the world’s troubles just aren’t as magnified. Let’s read on…
Psalm 73:13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. 14 All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.
This guy is not in a good place and he is screaming out to God. Why have I tried to walk this path when in the end everyone seems to get ahead of me! Ever felt this way? Like why in the world would I continue to do the good thing when life is just easier for everyone else. Hey God, I have tried all this God stuff and I want to go back to the way things were before I knew you! I mean everyone is getting out ahead of me, because I’m toeing the line and they aren’t! This is so real, so honest, and so passionate…and I think if you and I were honest we would say that we know this feeling very well. But here’s what is so cool, because this man spends time with God he pulls out of this awful spot…see as life starts pushing in on our buddy Asaph, the foundational parts of his life begin to come out. Remember me telling you this is a man who spent time with God? Well now we see why this is so important. His relationship with God, his daily walk with God comes out as life begins to squeeze in…this so important that we see how Asaph comes full circle and back to God…
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. 19 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! 20 As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. 21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, 22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.
It is amazing to me, that when you spend a period of time stuck in this type of season like Asaph was, this is where you end up. You spirit takes a hit. You see no positives in people and life…in many ways you automatically see and assume the negative. When you are tired, frustrated, and have no margin in your life it is amazing how the little things become enormous things. How a hurt person can be hurt more, and how senseless we can become. Asaph now engaging God again can see that in his life…he says I was senseless and ignorant…a brute beast before you. It is all begins to come clear again.
23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. 28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.
How powerful is this? Asaph has come full circle. Yes he walked through a difficult time but he was never really alone was he? He was walking in a relationship with God all along. Life has come hard at this man and he fell back on his foundation…which was his relationship with God. There were daily practices that he was placing in his life that got him through the tough times. He saw a time where he desired the things of the world. He wanted to get into the rat race of life. He wanted what all people around him seemed to be getting…and you know what you will be tempted with these things too…because you are human! But in the end Asaph realized that as fun as those things seemed, and as much as he wanted them, the only thing that matters is God…
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
Do you see it? Asaph got himself into trouble because his focus shifted off of God…off of the eternal things and onto the temporary things of this world. He realized something that we all need to see. That is that in the end our flesh and our hearts will fail…but God never will. God is the rock. God is the foundation. God is the source of all strength, peace, energy, and graciousness. Asaph’s problems began because he allowed his focus to shift…and you know what, we don’t know why exactly. Maybe his kid made the premier soccer team and he had to run him all over the place to different sporting events. Maybe work was getting harder and harder. Maybe he was overly stressed because of problems at home…we don’t know what caused the tough times, but we know this. He was a man who spent time daily with God. He spent time worshiping God, this doesn’t mean he didn’t struggle with temptation…and this doesn’t mean he doesn’t have tough times to work through, but what it means is that when life came at him, he was able to fall back on his relationship with God. Asaph was crushed and he came full circle. He came all the way back to God. He did this because long before he ever “needed” to fall back on God he was spending time with Him daily. This is the foundation of his life and it needs to be ours to be ours too.
Your focus is a big deal. Your focus will determine your attitude. Whether it was what Asaph was dealing with or you dealing with your work, or even your child’s sporting event or just life in general. It’s really all about focus. This is why we see warning after warning about staying focused on God all through scripture. It’s because when our focus is on God we live differently. We see life differently. We have a different attitude and appreciation towards life because we understand just how much we have in Him! Our focus must stay on what we have, not what we don’t have…because what we have far out weights what we don’t.
Ok so you don’t have the nice new house, or the nice new car, or the perfect family, or that new job, or even the income you wish you had…in the end we have more than we could ever desire. Because we have God. That is why our focus must stay on what we have, rather than what we don’t. It’s very challenging because we can’t physically see God all the time and we see all those other things that we don’t have but I promise you…the more time you spend resting in God’s presence, reading his word, and praying, the more you will see God in all of the ordinary moments of your life. He is there and that alone should make us so grateful. So I leave you with this awesome verse from Paul.
2 Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. NIV
Sure there are some things we don’t have, but we must focus on what we do have…and that is God.