Focus On What Matters

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33.

I was watching a college volleyball game when a noise from the stands distracted one of the players for a fraction of a second. Long enough for the Molten volleyball to careen off his forehead and into the air where his teammates played it and won the point. Play continued but the red mark on the player’s forehead was a testament to the distraction.  

We may not face volleyballs coming at us at high speeds, but we will face the consequences of distractions nevertheless. There are texts that need to be answered. There is that nagging back pain what just doesn’t seem to go away. There’s binge watching a popular TV series rather than spending quality time with our spouse. We allow worry, anxiety, busyness, work, parenting, marriage and temptations (to name a few) to distract our hearts and we slowly begin to feel disconnected from God; side tracked from His ways and His Word.

Our goal is to stay focused on Jesus Christ each day by ignoring the distractions that come into our lives. Sometimes we will lose our focus and those distractions can cause us to stub our toe or even do some significant damage to our walk with God. It starts gradually, it may only last a few hours or a few days. Regardless, of the circumstances or the time period, this is the time we need to refocus.  

Staying focused on God is not easy. It is a heart thing and heart thing are seldom easy. This is why Solomon boasts the importance of guarding our hearts and minds in Proverbs 4:23 where he says “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  Then in verses 25-27, he says “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.”

When we aren’t diligent in staying focused on Christ in our everyday lives, we give the enemy a foothold. Yet when God’s Word becomes the focal point of our lives, we are better equipped and more aware of how to handle distractions when they arise.

The truth is, we will all lose focus, stumble and fall every now and then. We may even get sidetracked for a while. But what joy it brings to know that when that happens, God will always be there to pick us up, tend to our wounds, give us the courage to trust Him, and the strength to begin again. Even when we get sidetracked, God will always help us find our way back if our eyes are focused on Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What types of things cause you to get spiritually sidetracked? 
  2. How do you refocus to get back on track?

What Are You Doing Here?

“There he came to a cave, where he spent the night. But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” – 1 Kings 19: 9. 

Recap:  Elijah had just slaughtered the prophets of Baal, the false god of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Queen Jezebel was cruel and now she was after Elijah. She had every intention of avenging the lives of her slaughtered prophets. 1 Kings 19:3 says, “Elijah was afraid and fled for his life.” 

Have you ever been there? Have you ever just had enough? Have you ever wondered what is the point of your life and your voice in the first place? When we look around, so often all we see is setbacks and failure. Elijah had just angered a powerful and evil woman. She had significant resources and countless ways to end his life. So Elijah looked at the possibilities and saw no way out. He was done. 

“Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” (1 Kings 19:3-4)

Later a voice asks “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah complains about the Israelites breaking their covenant with God and that he was the only prophet left. The Lord asks him to stand before Him on the holy mountain. A great wind (strong enough to split mountains and break rocks in pieces) came up. After that an earthquake, followed by a firestorm. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah? (1 Kings 19:12-13)

There will be times in our Christian walk when we will experience the Elijah-like shift from Mount Carmel to the cavern of Horeb – the overwhelming experience of God’s fiery power followed by times when we cannot feel God’s presence and are alone. God doesn’t speak until Elijah travels to Horeb, and then it isn’t comfort or guidance, it’s a question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Now God has a new command for him. “Go!” Go back into the world that is fraught with problems and full of reasons to fear. It is good you left it for a time. But just as I have been with you in the silence, I will be with you through all the storms ahead. Go, there’s work to be done. Go, don’t give up. I will be with you, and I will sustain you. Now go! 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you think of a time in your life when you were scared to do something you knew you had to do, but you went through with it anyway? How did you feel afterward?
  2. Knowing God and His Word allows us to face our fears with faith. Why? How can you do this in practical ways?

Rest For The Weary

“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” – James 3:2 (ESV).  

One of the well-known stories in the Bible is the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal found in (1 Kings 18:19-39). Elijah said to the Israelites, “If the LORD is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!”  The prophets were challenged and God sent fire from heaven and then ended a long drought with a great rain. Elijah must have felt a sense of victory; the evil King Ahab could not deny the one true God. 

But trouble awaited Elijah in the form of Ahab’s wife—Jezebel. When Jezebel heard what Elijah had done at Mount Carmel, she threatened to kill him. “May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.” (1 Kings 19:2) Elijah ran away and hid in the wilderness. “Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there.” (1Kings 19:3) Elijah went from a man faithfully and confidently praying for God’s glory to be displayed at Mount Carmel to a man begging the Lord to take away his life. (See 1 Kings 19:4.)

I love how the Bible has a way of portraying the saints, warts and all. Elijah had had such an incredible victory on Mount Carmel only to be defeated by fear, anxiousness, and panic.  Even the most committed of God’s servants may at times experience discouragement, pessimism, and a desire to call it quits. 1 Kings 19 tells the story of how the mighty Elijah succumbed to human weakness. Basically, he was burned out.  

You can read about a very tired prophet in 1 Kings, Chapter 19. He was exhausted. He tells God, “I have had enough Lord. Take my life . . .” Then he falls asleep. He is spent. Elijah is just too physically and emotionally drained. He is not that different from the rest of us attempting to push ahead in our own strength. God knows that we are very vulnerable to life’s circumstances when we are tired or when we are overwhelmed. Like Elijah, we can fall prey to “nobody knows what I have to deal with — and worse, no one cares!” There are times when we simply need to shut down, take a nap, or just be alone to read, refuel and re-energize through prayer and rest. There is nothing wrong with saying no when we need rest. After a while, God tells Elijah to leave the cave and get back to work. But first, he is allowed to rest. There are times when we need to do the same.

Some days we feel exhausted. Worn out. Feeling like we can’t go on. None of us are immune. Parenting, marriage, job, relationships, fears, worries about the future – it all can leave u s beaten down and worn. But no matter what we face, we can be assured: God is always with us just as He was with Elijah in the wilderness. For those who are weary we can find rest in Him. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways can you relate to Elijah when he says, “I have had enough?”
  2. Is rest important to you? Why? Do you have enough margin in your life?

Think Before Speaking

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.”  –  Colossians 3:1-3. 

We have all, at one time or another, spoke and reacted to something or someone without really thinking it over firsthand. There are also times when we jump into action without even pausing to get a full grasp of the situation at hand. Doing this can cause intended and unintended consequences on others and on ourselves. The Bible says, “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” (Proverbs 18:13).

Just because the thought comes into your head does not mean it should come out of your mouth. The wise course of action is to think before saying anything. The apostle Paul urges believers to “…seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2 ESV) If we habitually seek Christ and continually set our mind on things above we can control our thoughts and our words.  2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.”  If we continually look to God for help with how we think, He will mold our heart and shift our attention to things above rather than things below. 

Thinking before speaking is another reason to spend a little time with Jesus each morning so that He can prepare us for what we will face that day.  We will often read a verse that God will speak through during the day. And it may be that verse that God uses to say, “whoa, slow down, let’s pause” before we react to something that happens during the day. Psalm 139:1-4 says, “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. you know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.”

The Lord perceives the thoughts we’ll think and the words we’ll speak in response and He wants to prepare us, interrupt us, and maybe even rearrange us. He loves us enough to desire to protect us from ourselves. So, who wants to commit to spending a little more intentional time with Jesus?  And pausing before speaking?  

Discussion Questions:

  1. When was the last time your tongue got you into trouble?
  2. Today, what can you do to start thinking before you speak?

The End Or The Beginning?

 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” – Revelation 22:13.

In today’s world, meals are cooked within minutes and whole conversations happen within the exchange of just a few text messages. We are a culture of instant gratification. So hope and faith are needed when the fulfillment of a promise doesn’t happen instantly. It’s hard to wait and hope for the answer when something isn’t done instantly and conveniently. People aren’t used to having to wait, but waiting is something God expects you to do. One example is Abraham: God’s promise to him took several decades to come to pass. We all want God to fulfill His plan in our lives. But typically, it doesn’t happen in our timetable. So what do we do when we are waiting? We simply need to keep believing that nothing in His plan will ultimately harm us, and everything in His plan will ultimately be better for us. (Romans 8:28)

When serving God, failure is never the end; it can be the starting point of a comeback. Here is why it is so important that we trust Him. God knows the beginning from the end and everything in between. Isaiah 46:10 says, “Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish.” He knows ahead of time, the setbacks I will encounter and the choices and actions I will take.  He knows I will fail.  Often setbacks and circumstances in our lives take us from what’s “oh so familiar” and redirected our paths into the unfamiliar.  You don’t understand what’s happening in your life; what to do or where to go. But God knows where you are and where you need to go and the best thing for us to do is hold onto His promises.

Remember what Revelation 22:13 says, “ I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Only God can say that.  So when you don’t understand what God is doing in your life, consider the source. We are fallible; we fall short and at times we’re unable to keep our promises.  People can give us instructions that are misleading and imperfect.  With God, none of these things are possible.   

No matter how much you don’t understand life as it is right now; no matter how uncomfortable it may seem or how hard it gets, don’t give up.  If God is with you –  the same God who spoke life into you, the same God who is and knows the beginning and the end, the same God who knew you before the foundation of this world is with you, then ask yourself who or what can stand against you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to trust God? What is the difference between passive trust and active trust?
  2. What makes it so difficult to fully trust God?

Behind The Scenes Planning

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33.

What’s most important to you? Why is it important? Jesus emphasizes all throughout His ministry the three things that are most important: loving God with all our hearts, loving our neighbor, and seeking after God’s Kingdom. Philippians 1:20-21 tells us “For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.  Still, when we have setbacks we question God’s plan.  

Tough circumstances of life have the potential to change our minds about God. They either push us to doubt what He’s promised, or they draw us closer to Him in faith. The answer to why we have setbacks may never be answered in our lifetime. But even if we knew why, it’s likely we wouldn’t be overly happy with the answers because after all, who wants setbacks.  But that doesn’t change the fact that God has a wonderful plan for your life.  

Your situation may not be good, but I can guarantee you, God is working things out for your good. Sometimes our plans don’t work out because God is preparing us for something greater. God’s plans may not always be clear, but God has a plan for your life that greatly exceeds anything you could ever have planned out for yourself. He tells us in His word, He will never leave us or forsake us. It may not make sense to us today and it may not be what we want. The reality is that God always knows what He is doing, and He never makes any mistakes.

We don’t know what the future will hold, but we know that God will take everything that happens in your life—including every event that is not good by any stretch of the imagination—and combine it together for your good. Job, in the midst of intense suffering, said, “Though [God] slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15 KJV). The goal is not to move away or fight God’s plan for our lives. It is easy to trust God when things are going well, but when setbacks occur, all bets are off when it comes to trusting His plan.  

When setbacks happen, we need to trust God. Proverbs 28:26 says, “Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe.” What a relief to know that God has a plan for us and He is on our side through our setbacks and comebacks.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you feel about the idea that God has a plan for your life? 
  2. Proverbs 3:5-6 is a well-known passage about trust in God with our plans. Read it aloud. What is this verse saying about God? What is it saying about us?
  3. What can we do this week to trust more and worry less?  

I Really Did It This Time

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” – Francis Chan

Sometimes we really blow it. Sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of a life-changing failure that can’t be undone. There will be real consequences. The boss wants to talk to you ASAP.  Your spouse wants to have a long-overdue serious conversation. We have failed in the past. We could fail today. Fortunately. according to the clock, we’ve been blessed with a new day. What do we do with this new day to cope with failure? How do we turn failure into comebacks?  

When we make mistakes, we sometimes come to the conclusion that we finally did it this time. But we learn from Scripture that favor with God doesn’t depend on us and our wisdom, or goodness, faithfulness, or thankfully our ability to prevent failures. Proverbs 24:16 tells us, “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again….”  Daniel 11:35 (NIV) adds, “Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end…” And Job 4:4 (NIV) adds “Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees.” God isn’t waiting for you to get your act together, to try again and get it right this time. He created us and He knows we are far from perfect. He knows we will be over our head and we will fail. “The LORD helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads.” (Psalm 145:14)

In the midst of our failures it is comforting to know that God will never allow us to get outside His grace. We all have had our failures that we would do differently if we had it to do over. But God can use those failures  to get us where He wants us to go. God can use our successes and failures for His glory.

The lesson for us is that even if we have failed, we can’t let that failure paralyze us and keep us from following where God leads us. God will equip us and empower us to do what He is leading us to do. Success is not up to us, it is up to God. What is up to us is to get up after failure and go where God leads. Look at Galatians 6:9: “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”  I wonder how many of us let the fear of failure keep us from getting back up and causing us to give up too quickly.

When you think failure is final, remember that God is for us. He is always here for us, always here to guide us, teach us, help us to turn in the right direction. He will always love us. God wants us to be a part of what He’s doing. Of course God can accomplish everything in spite of us, but He’d rather accomplish it with us. He invites us to be a part of what He’s doing even if we fail along the way.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you think of a time in your life when you were scared to do something you knew you had to do, but you went through with it anyway? How did you feel afterward?
  2. Knowing God and His Word allows us to face our fears with faith. Why? How can you do this in practical ways?

The Fear of Failure

“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” – James 3:2 (ESV).  

Most people have experienced a setback in their family, or in their personal life, in their health, in relationships, in finances and in their relationship with God. Some of these setbacks are not our fault. Some of them are. We will fail in this life. The good news is your failure is not final. Your failure is not fatal. It was Jack Hyles who said, “Failing is not a disgrace unless you make it the last chapter of your book.”  

Failing never seems to be a good thing. But if you will let God, He will use your failure as fuel for your future. It depends on how we respond. In fact, your future is wrapped up in how you respond to your failure. Isaiah 61:3 says He gives you “…a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.”

When the subject of failing comes up in Bible study, the example that quickly comes to mind is Peter. Jesus predicted Peter would deny Him three times. Peter’s reaction? He was adamant that he would never deny Christ. Peter claimed he would be willing to die with Him. (Matthew 26:35) Of course, we know Peter did deny he knew Jesus three times. After his failure, Peter “…left the courtyard, weeping bitterly”  I wonder if Peter thought back to Matthew 10:33 when Jesus said, “But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” Again I wonder if Peter thought I’ve really done it this time. There’s no coming back from this failure. Fortunately, failure is not final. In fact, following His resurrection, Jesus took special care to rehabilitate Peter and assure him he was forgiven.

Early Sunday morning a small group of women went to Jesus’ tomb and found an angel who said: “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.” Then the angel said these words: Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter…” (Mark 16:7) A personal note from God to Peter. God was not done with Peter yet. 

That reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw one time that said, “Please be patient with me. God is not finished with me yet!” We are all under construction as God shapes us into the very image of His Son – the Lord Jesus Christ. And God promises to finish the work He began. When you feel incomplete, undone or distressed by your failures, remember God’s promise in Philippians 1:6 to continue the good work He began in you when you trusted Jesus as your Savior. Even when I feel like I am not making any progress, God is still at work.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What has been your experience with failure in life?
  2. Can fear of failure be paralyzing and motivating? Why or why not?

Every Good And Perfect Gift Comes From Above

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” – James 1:17

Many people today don’t want to be held down by religion. They would prefer to be autonomous; to have unsupervised fun and happiness. Those people envision God as a grimacing judge with a gavel, readily pointing out faults and stifling any sense of joy we have. When faced with setbacks, God can seem like a cosmic killjoy.

But then we read a verse that changes that perspective. James tells us in James 1:17 that God literally, actively, perpetually, and generously gives good and perfect gifts to His children. “Every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God, the Creator of the heavenly lights, who does not change or cause darkness by turning.” (James 1:17 GNT) His love for you is so great that He looks for every opportunity to give you a gift. He wants abundant joy and peace for you. Think of the best gift you ever got for your birthday or at Christmas and then think about gifts that are infinitely better and not restricted to holidays and birthdays.

Deuteronomy 26:11 tells us to “… go and celebrate because of all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.” What God gives is perfect and lasting—no gift receipt necessary. We don’t need to worry that His gifts will be ill fitting or that He will second-guess His generosity. Each of us is imperfect yet we receive perfect gifts that are perfect for us. These gifts are intentional. They are personal.

Gifts that we receive from others can come with strings attached. But God is not like that. He is the giver of good gifts and He never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. His love is not fickle or conditional: He gives the gift of His presence because He knows you need the peace that only He can bring. He gives you the gift of friendship because He knows you aren’t made to do life alone. He provides your finances because He cares about everything you need and desires to use you to bless others. 

Whatever gift you need from God today, His word promises in 1 John 5:15, “And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.” 

Spend some time today reflecting on the amazing gifts He has given you. And open your heart to receive all the gifts your heavenly Father longs to give you today.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Take a minute to reflect on all the good gifts you’ve been given by God.
  2. Thank God for everything you’ve been given. Thank him for your friends, family, job, church, etc.

How Can I Stay Focused On Christ?

We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete. He endured the shame of being nailed to a cross, because he knew that later on he would be glad he did. Now he is seated at the right side of God’s throne!”  –  Hebrews 12:2 (CEV).

With all the distractions in life, it’s easy to get focused on the wrong thing. The Bible communicates very clearly that we need to focus on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But life happens so fast in the 21st Century that staying focused on God in today’s ever changing world is not easy.  

When problems come our way we tend to take our focus off Jesus. We take our focus off Jesus and put it on our setbacks. We take our focus off Jesus and put it on our the walls we can’t seem to het over or around. We take our focus off Jesus and put it on our pain and heartache. And although we know that God “…is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV) we still take our focus off Jesus: our setbacks seem too big, our circumstances seem to heavy, our pain seems too much to withstand. The answer is to put your focus on Jesus. Put your focus on Jesus and He will turn that setback into a comeback. Put your focus on Jesus and He will ease the pain and heartache.  

Jesus had an incredible ability to stay on target. His ability to focus is a strong characteristic of His life. His life never got off track. From the day Jesus started His ministry, He was relentlessly focused on one task – the task that mattered – to reconciling mankind back to Himself again by opening up a way of salvation. He was so focused that His final words were, “It is finished.” (John 19:30)  Jesus could say those words because He had completed His designated task. His purpose was fulfilled. The job was done.

So how do we have that same type of focus? Reading Hebrews 12:2 reminds us to take our eyes off ourselves and our circumstances – off the setbacks or the walls in our lives—and fix them squarely on Christ. Because our focus determines our direction. When we look at ourselves, we see our weaknesses, past failures, and the many excuses we make. But in looking to Jesus, we find strength, forgiveness, and the courage to run our race. No matter how much adversity comes our way or how many disappointments threaten to knock us out of the race, keeping our focus on Jesus will ultimately bring us victory.

Christ is the perfecter of us and our faith. We can trust Him to turn our resolution into reality as we stay focused on Him.

Discussion Questions

  1. What “walls” in your life have you been looking at?
  2. What can you do to remind yourself to keep your eyes on Christ? What word would help you maintain focus?