Are you living your life with a focus on God? Or are you always, in a hundred little ways, focusing on sin in your life and that of others? It’s an important question, and one that more of us should be asking ourselves.
It’s so important that I believe it affects every aspect of your spiritual life. In fact, your focus will determine whether you struggle daily with sin or whether you almost consider it a non-issue. Crazy thought, I realize, if you absolutely know that all Christians must struggle daily with sin.
Here is my challenge to you today – recognize that that struggle is of your own making. You have no need to struggle daily with sin.
Let’s imagine, if you will, that this cup of coffee represents sin. Any sin. All sin. Whatever it is that you’re struggling with, to be honest.
It looks good, doesn’t it?
No, no, there’s nothing inherently sinful about coffee. While I have friends who are Latter Day Saints and I respect them greatly, I’m not advocating their anti-coffee stance. Sorry, guys.
I love my coffee, in fact. And because I love coffee, it becomes the perfect analogy for me to understand the problem of focus. Feel free to replace cola or candy bars … whatever you like … to replace any and all behaviour you consider sin.
It’s an analogy.
We’re not literally sheep, the Kingdom of God isn’t actually a pearl, Jesus is not a literal vine, the Father certainly has more than two wayward sons, and sin is certainly not coffee.
Ahem. Back to the coffee.
One of the biggest problems among Christians today is that we are very, very focused on that coffee.
We pray for strength to not drink the coffee … while we look at it and lick our lips.
We pat ourselves on the back for not drinking the coffee … secure in our pride.
We judge people who are drinking the coffee … confident in our superiority and angry at those who are drinking it.
We holler and stomp our feet and condemn people who want to drink the coffee … making us feel better because darn it, we want that coffee, too.
Or, we beat ourselves up mentally, and create all sorts of punishments for ourselves, and are consumed with guilt and anxiety because we drank the coffee, or wanted to drink the coffee, or remembered that time when much coffee was had.
Through all of this, of course, our focus is on one thing.
Some of you might have figured out where I’m going with this and where your focus is not when you’re super focused on that coffee and who is or is not drinking it.
Now let’s backtrack a little bit and talk about something I mentioned before in my post Grace, the Law and Christian Living. What God wants from us, and what He has always wanted from us, is a relationship.
We keep messing it up, but that was His plan from the beginning. We were intended to walk and talk with the Father and have an intimate, close relationship, like friends walking in a garden in the evening, or like a little child with her daddy.
Trusting, intimate, safe, loving.
He has made it pretty clear that the Coffee is a problem because it forms a barrier between God and man. Without a doubt, as long as the Coffee has control of your life, you are not going to have the sort of relationship with God that He wants to have with you.
Ah, then, we cry! We will focus more on the Coffee and destroy its power!
Of course that misses the point entirely, doesn’t it?
My favourite part of the Bible is Romans 8. Other people have favourite verses, and I have a favourite chapter. Maybe even a favourite book – I do love Romans.
If you have never read it in the version called The Message, I invite you to take a few moments and do so. Open your mind and try to forget what you may have been taught. The Living Bible is another version that puts the words – which sadly, many of us have heard too many times to actually hear them properly – into language we can understand.
If you’d rather listen to Romans 8 than read, I have this downloaded onto a USB stick and listen to it when I’m driving.
Now that you’ve read or listened to that, let’s get back to our example.
In that letter, Paul is pretty clear that we have no ability to avoid the Coffee on our own power. In another piece of his writings, he notes that before Christ, his life was defined by “What I would not do, I do. And what I would do, I do not.”
Wrestle with that one for a while, if you must, but it’s a very important point. (And make no mistake – he was discussing his life before Christ when he said that.)
If we could avoid the Coffee on our own power, we wouldn’t need a Savior.
If the Law had been able to save, we would not need Grace.
If it were all just a matter of willpower, Christ’s death was in vain.
There’s a very simple answer, though.
I mean, it’s so shockingly simple that my seven-year-old could tell you. He knows this.
Get your mind off the coffee.
Stop worrying about who is drinking the coffee, and whether or not they should be. And I’m going to make a really shocking suggestion – if you need to take a sip of that coffee in order to calm down and quit focusing on it, go ahead. You’ll neither surprise nor anger your Father. No matter what you ever do, He knows about it, planned for it before the foundation of the earth, and has forgiven it. He’s not focusing on the Coffee and He doesn’t want you to, either.
It grieves me when I hear people berating themselves and heaping on the guilt because they can’t quite will themselves into perfect thoughts and behavior.
That guilt then convinces them that they’ve failed God and that they’re unworthy of coming directly to Him for healing and help. At this point, it all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and there is a barrier between you and the Father.
You’ve indulged? You reminded yourself why the pleasures of this earth all have nasty side-effects? It felt great for a moment and then … oh, right … that’s why we don’t want to drink “the Coffee”. But since we can’t avoid it on our own power, we can’t will ourselves into perfection …
Thank God for doing what we can’t.
Now get your eyes back upon Jesus.
Sometimes I think we sing these old hymns so much, especially those of us who grew up “churched” that we forget to actually hear the words.
There’s an amazing thing that happens when you get your mind off “the Coffee” and focus on God.
What we focus on will grow in its power over us.
In other words, if your focus is continually on sin – that is, on judging it, finding it, getting rid of it – then you are giving it a great deal of power over you.
The problem with that sort of thinking is that Christ died to destroy the power of sin in our lives – and then we spend our lives striving to … do something that has already been done. We testify to people that ‘who the Son has made free is free indeed’ … and then we work really hard at trying to free ourselves.
We strive to do something that we are powerless to do, putting a lot of faith in our own power to please God, to eradicate sin from our lives and to make ourselves righteous enough to stand before a holy God.
You can’t do it on your own power. If you could have, you would have.
When you put your eyes on God, you will grow closer to Him. That’s a promise. That intimate relationship that He has always wanted with you – it becomes not only possible, but a growing reality.
And you will mess up. That’s a promise, too. This world offers us so many distractions and so much “Coffee” and you have so very much practice at thinking of yourself as a sinner.
But like Peter, walking on the water to Jesus, the problems come when we take our eyes and focus off Him. That’s when we allow the Coffee (or the storm!) to have power over us.
So taste that Coffee if you must.
And then get your focus back where it should be, on building a relationship with the One who has loved you from your mother’s womb. Rest in the calm peace and assurance that, while you are a fallible human you are still the Righteousness of God through Christ.
Even when you do what you shouldn’t do.
Even when you fail.
Even when you take your eyes off Him.
A day will come when you look at what you once thought held power over you, and you will feel surprised and shocked that you ever deemed it so important.
Just … get your focus off sin and onto God.