Pastor Terry shares several keys for us to live a more focused life for Christ.
It is a great privilege to be able to share with you right now and to talk about what we want to talk about. When it comes to focusing, we’ve been talking a lot about how to follow through on our good intentions. We’ve been talking about confronting the real tendency we all have to lose momentum as we can drop back into an unhealthy place, it’s not uncommon. I think we all know it. By the end of January, a lot of good intentions have already started dying or have been left behind. It’s notorious, New Year’s resolutions get left behind. The bottom line is it is not, I won’t say unhealthy, that easy to sustain focus. It’s one of the challenges we have, which is why we wanted to sit with the theme.
It’s normal to drift. That’s the normal thing, to drift. I would like you to challenge that and encourage us. The very word encourage includes the idea of courage to face certain things and to think about certain things more deeply. We live in a culture, and I’m a part of it as all of us are, that tends to live life more on the surface. The Lord invites us to go deeper into our hearts and into the soul of things. So we’re going to try to do that. We’re going to try to push forward into some things. I want to look at a particular portion of scripture at the time of the writing of the words that we’re about to read. The great Apostle Paul was faced with reality. We’re going to look at it together in Timothy 5.
Paul was faced with the reality that his days on earth were coming to a close. He knew he was going to be executed by the decree of a man who could only be described as a raving lunatic. The fifth emperor of Rome, the notorious, infamous Nero, was noted for the unique atrocities that he perpetrated against a group that he saw as an easy out. He blamed the fire in Rome that many believe he started on these followers of Christos. Nero had a lot of believers in Jesus hung, crucified, some, he had dipped in oil and used them as human torches in his garden for parties. Paul is operating in that environment and these are his concluding words because he knows he’s about to be executed. These concluding words are to his protégé, his son, not literal son, but his son in the faith.
The two books that are in the New Testament that are written to Timothy are written by Paul to Timothy who was a young pastor. He’s also someone that Paul has mentored and loves. Timothy is interestingly enough, a young man of a different disposition than Paul. He seems to have a more gentle disposition. Part of the reason why you’ll see, at times, Paul encouraging him not to allow his fears to get the best of him. Instead, to be courageous because Timothy struggled with his fears. Remember, that’s who he says, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, Timothy, but of power and of love and of the soundness of mind, how many things are won and lost in the mind.” Paul knows he won’t see Timothy again in this life. It makes what we’re about to read even more powerful because it’s not only his final words to his young son in the faith, but it’s also a summary of how he sees his life and closing self-assessment.
Let’s look at it together. I’m not going to spend a lot of time here. I just want to read through it. He says, “I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead. When He comes to set up His kingdom, I want you to preach the Word of God, Timothy. I want you to be prepared whether the time is favorable or not. I don’t want you to be a person who only speaks about Jesus when it’s easy to do so because it may not always be that way. I want you to be courageous enough to speak whether it’s an easy or a hard thing to do. Don’t be ashamed of Him.” Remember what Jesus said about John the Baptist. He was not a reed blowing with the wind.
Paul says, “I want you to be a courageous proclaimer. I want you to patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. You’re the primary responsibility of the faithful pastor for a time that’s coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. No. They will follow their own desires and they’ll look for people, teachers, who tell them whatever they want, their itching ears want to hear.” I really do believe it is easy to find teachers who will tell us what we want to hear, who will shift the gospel to suit the times. I understand that. Adaptability is important, but not redefining the gospel. “They will,” according to Paul, “reject the truth, chase after myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Clarity of mind is a gift. Do not be afraid of suffering for the Lord.”
Paul was a man who had trained himself to be unafraid of suffering, which is not easy. In the Apostle’s case, it was suffering for the Lord. His body was a walking testimony to his suffering. He had been beaten. He had been stoned with rocks. He’d been left for dead. He had his back ripped. The guy was scarred beyond. He bore the scars. But suffering of any kind is hard. Some of us, honestly, we’re suffering. I know not everybody is, but some of us came in here and we were hurting and people may not even know it. We may be sitting next to someone who’s suffering, struggling, hurting, or wounded. May God’s grace and mercy sustain. We’re going to talk about this.
“Work at telling others the good news, fully carry out the ministry God has given you. As for me, I’ve already been poured out as an offering to God. I’m as good as dead and I’m ready to go. The time of my death is near. I fought the good fight. I finished the race. I have remained faithful. Now, the prize awaits me. It’s the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will give me on the day of His return. The prize is not just for me, but for all who eagerly look forward to His appearing.” It’s clear from this passage that Paul was looking back as well as ahead. He was reflecting back on the long arc of his life and how he had fulfilled his calling. I think many of us know this, but Paul had not always followed Jesus. In fact there was a time when he vehemently opposed him. Paul really hated Jesus. He hated the way of Jesus. He hated anybody who was associated with Jesus. In fact, he was the one who wanted to hunt them down. He wanted them silenced. He saw them as a threat, as a problem, and they needed to be dealt with. They were fanatics who needed to be silenced. There was a day in his life though when everything changed. It changed the world by the way, the day he changed.
I put a little piece of it in the handouts from Acts 9. It says, “Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” He went to the high priest, asked with letters, for permission, legal permission to the synagogues of Damascus so that if he found any who were of the way was how the early followers of Jesus were described. The way of Jesus, the way of the Nazarene. Whether they were men or women didn’t matter. He might bring them bound to Jerusalem. He journeyed. As he did, he came near Damascus. Suddenly, a light shown around him from heaven and then he fell to the ground. He heard a voice saying to him, “Saul. Saul. Why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you,” instinctively, “Who are you, lord?” The Lord said, “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting.”
Then Jesus says, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Now that’s a word we don’t use a lot. That’s the older, older language. What is a goad? A goad was a stick, a rod. It usually had a little something sharp at the end of it, sometimes it was like a thorn, but it was designed to move an animal forward or spur, something that caused discomfort. The picture is of resistance of stubbornness. The Lord is saying something to him. He’s saying something to Paul that he may say to us sometimes. “It’s hard for you to fight against me. Don’t fight against me in your life. Don’t fight against me.” From that day forward, Paul, then Saul, lived a life of singular focus. He’s a model for anyone who would sincerely follow Jesus. In fact, later, to the church at Corinth, he would write these words. “For I am the least of the apostles. The truth is I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God.” He says, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am. His grace toward me has not been in vain. The truth is I’ve labored more abundantly than them all, but even that I cannot take credit for because truly it’s not even me, but it’s God’s grace that it has allowed me to do that.”
This is what I was trying to layout foundationally. The great apostle lived with tenacity. He lived with singleness of mind. He lived with tremendous focus. If that is the case, then Paul had a shift in the middle of his life. That’s what we’re talking about. Early in the middle of his life, he has this shift that we just read about and he’s captured by Christ. It’s a fascinating phrase because now at the end of his journey, he’s in a different type of captivity. He could declare that he had run the race that he was supposed to run. He had a degree of satisfaction that he had completed his assignment. Now that he was at the end, he felt like he had sung his Jesus song, so to speak.
I think we all have a song to sing for the Lord. We have a life song and we have seasonal songs. Part of what I want us to wrestle with a little bit is what is the song He wants us to sing? I know I’m never going to get a chance to sing in the band. It was pretty clear to me. There’s no room for me in the band. It’s not going to happen. But we all have a song to sing. I have personally found that in the great fellowship of the wounded, they sound most beautiful when we sing in our suffering, in our disappointment. I think the most beautiful songs we ever sing to the Lord are the ones sung in our hurt. Sometimes I’ve learned that the questioning hurting place is often the place of the greatest grace of God.
It was an interesting situation that happened with Paul earlier in his ministry life. In Acts 16, Paul and his ministry partner, Silas, are in a Roman colony and were arrested unjustly and thrown into prison. They were beaten up, bloody, and brought down into the lowest part of the prison. The picture is of them wracked with pain. They’re bound up into stocks, bodies bent over, their backs are bloody. They’ve been beaten up. The place stinks. It’s damp and dark. There is human waste. It’s awful. They’re in this place and all they’ve done is tried to represent Jesus. They thought they were doing what He wanted them to do. This is what happens?
One of the most remarkable things that are described is that in the middle of that place, while they’re there at the midnight hour they began to sing. They sing songs of praise and hymns in their hurt. It says an earthquake comes. There’s something powerful because God has songs for us to sing in the midnight hour. Sometimes it’s the most powerful thing we can ever see. They were not just resigned. It’s one thing to be resigned and say, “Well, it’s just the way it goes.” That’s better than, “I can’t believe you would do this to me. Where are you? We were doing what you wanted and this is what we get. You didn’t fulfill your part of the bargain.” They didn’t say that. They weren’t resigned though. They were neither accusatory nor they were resigned. “Well, this is just the way it is. I’ll have to endure.”
There was a third thing. They began to praise Him in their pain. They began to sing a song, a song that He gave them. They sang a song in the midnight hour. The songs that we sing in our hurt to the Lord will alter the terrain of our soul. It’s what they do. I think we all have songs to sing. I think God gives us songs to sing and unique races to run. It may not be noticed, it may not be understood, it may not be applauded, but they’re essential because they’re the songs He’s given to us and it’s going to require our courage for some of us to sing them. Some of you are singing your songs courageously. I honor you in Jesus. Well done. Well done, good and faithful servant. Sing on. Sing on because sometimes it’s harder than anyone ever knows to keep on singing your Jesus song. But He is with us.
I’ll make a slight shift here. C. S. Lewis said every person is composed of a few themes. When I think of themes, I think of those things that God has placed closest to our hearts. Let’s call it the place where our gifts and our passions intersect. I think part of our job as followers of Jesus is to represent Him well. Part of doing that means that we’re going to develop and concentrate on the few primary themes that He has placed closest to our hearts. We have been given this invitation to think about from a spiritual context what our strengths and our gifts are. So the idea is here. I’m thinking about what are the songs that He has for us to sing? What are the themes that He has for us to develop in our lives?
How do we do that? To me, those are keys to a focused living. I’m going to try to take that from the passage to the concept to the practical. Firstly, just think about what this means. I think one of the things God wants us to do is identify focused living. He wants us to identify our themes, our life themes, and commit ourselves to develop them. For some, the idea of a life theme might be too big, so maybe it’s a seasonal theme. But they have to do the things that the majority of our focus should be going to. Unless the Lord reveals to us otherwise, we should usually soar with our strengths and try to minimize our weaknesses. I talk to my kids. I say, “It’s important to try to identify your strengths. Throw a majority of the weight of your life into your strengths, into your gifts. Manage the weakness, soar with the strength. Manage the weakness, soar with the strength.”
God gives us gifts. I might call them high leverage aspects of life that we’ve been given to honor God and bless others with. There are things that make us uniquely who we are that God has given us to honor Him and bless others with. Someone described that once as the value of limiting our life palette. The idea is that when we do that, we’re less stressed and more energized. So what am I talking about? Honestly, when we serve others, it seriously brings life to us. Others get blessed when we lead. For others, it has to do with artistic expression. For some, it might have to do with showing mercy, listening. For some, it is in praying or giving. There are so many different things we can do and the list is long. The list may shift as our life shifts. That’s why I talk about seasonal themes.
I really think part of what some of us need to be doing is thinking, “Lord, what is the song you have for me to sing at this time in my life? What would that look like in relation to the circumstances that I’m in? Also, what are the themes in my life that you’re asking me to focus on and develop? What are the high leverage intersections between my gifts and my passions that you’ve planted inside of me?” This is very different. This means I am moving off of a deep defensive approach to life that is passive and drifting into a more intentional pursuit of cultivation. We’ll talk about that in a second under this next piece here. Which is, we need to focus on the first things as defined by Jesus.
Jesus taught us not to live our lives in the lopsided pursuit of money, wealth, power, prestige, or possessions. We get that. I think we do, even though I know that a lot of us think of our success based on what Jesus called the abundance of the things that we possess. Possessions are only temporary since none of it will go with us when we leave this life. We know that it contributes to the quality of our life. Since that’s the case, we can get caught up in the pursuit of things that cannot ultimately satisfy our hearts and soul. The yearning that God put in us to know Him and to have true life. The symbols of life can never bring life. They’re just tokens that may make us feel better for a period of time, but they can’t get at the deepest part of who we are. That’s because every one of us has a piece that only God can fill.
it’s easy to get lost in the pursuit of things, the pursuit of titles, the pursuit of promotions, the pursuit of whatever. In our culture right now, it’s easy to get stuck in trivial pursuit because we are just immersed, if we haven’t noticed it, with all kinds of entertainment options. Technology has opened up opportunities if we can call it that. I think we can. But every part of our day could be filled constantly. I’m part of this. If we’re not careful, every moment that we don’t have something going on, we can turn something on. We can start going through something, play a game on something, it’s just nonstop. We are inundated with noise and you can’t hear God well in noisy places.
The main place where I’m at is in the mission, the church. I walk around the neighborhood. I’ve watched it change since I was a teenager where I remember first. I’ve watched it through a number of iterations. One of the things I can tell you is I’ve never seen it quite like it is now. I walked around Valencia Street when it was dangerous, really dangerous. The reason I’m going to say what I’m about to say is that San Francisco is like a playground right now. People all over the world want to be here because there are deals and money to be made. It’s a different kind of gold rush. It is interesting that a city can continue its characteristic as the years and decades go by. It’s a place where deals are made. People come from all over and will risk everything. Oftentimes get very beat up and wounded as they leave.
The truth is though, I’ve watched what’s happening and there are so many pursuing things that cannot satisfy. It’s trivial pursuit on steroids, dressed in the veneer of prosperity and opportunity. But not a lot of attention is being given to the things that truly matter. For Jesus said, “Seek first what is right in the eyes of God. All these other things will fall into place. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures in this earth where moth and rust and thieves corrupt. Thieves break in and steal it.” Stocks, the economy turns, the world shifts and everything we’ve acquired is lost. Don’t base it on those things. Be rich towards God, that your soul will be rich towards God. Focus on the first things.
In an era of trivial pursuits where we can fill every aspect of our life with something to do. Something to entertain us, to watch on-demand when and where we want it, all the time, anywhere, you name it. It can happen. We have to exercise more discipline to live a focused life that is going to produce something at a deep level in our souls. Something that’s going to have an impact on the critical relationships in our lives because God cares about the health of the people who claim to know and love Him. He loves everybody, but the people who represent His heart, He wants us to not get caught up with the movement of culture, even though we’re a part of it. He wants us to learn how to operate as one apart while we are even a part of it, which means we’ve got to be intentional.
Remember what we said last week? The quote, “Anything less than an intentional commitment, a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant. Anything less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant.” What that means is we have to choose to be intentional about how we utilize what we sing about our time and how we’re spending this gift of life. I’m certainly not anti- enjoying things, by any means. I’m not. I do say that we need to work extra hard in light of the world that we’re living in right now to pay attention to the first things. That means we can’t do everything. If we don’t choose to do the important, we will drift into a life dominated by the unimportant because that’s the cultural tide. At the end of our day, it won’t matter what we watched. It won’t matter how much we acquire. What will matter is did we follow the Lord in our lives? Did we love the people we were given most to love? Did we try to extend that out? “Love the Lord your God,” Jesus said, “With all of your heart, all your soul, mind, and strength. You were made for it. Love your neighbor as yourself.” The circle of our love, extend it out.
Thirdly, another way to live focused is to keep perspective. This is tied to what we just shared. Keeping a perspective is an important aspect of a focused life. The tendency, especially when things go wrong, is to overreact. Have you ever noticed that? Someone said, “Overreacting is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat.” That’s an overreact. Wouldn’t you say? You got rid of the rat, but you burned the whole house down. That’s how some people approach relational problems. I want to get rid of the rat, so I’m going to burn the whole house down to do it. Sometimes, the bigger problem is not the problem. It’s the way we’re allowing problems to define us. The real problem is not the act. It’s the reaction. That’s the real problem because we’re making matters worse. We’re losing our focus. This too, I have done. A lesson I took to heart when I was recovering after my vocal surgery. I wasn’t in a good place. I wasn’t exactly sure how things were going to play out. I was feeling discouraged. There were a couple of other things going on. I don’t want to sound hyper-spiritual here. I think that’s the wrong way to say it. I don’t want to sound hyper unspiritual right here. I ended last week by saying, “If you’re going to go through it, you might as well grow through it.”
One of the things I’ve told more than a few people since I’ve been back as I’ve listened to them sharing their hurt, wound, or struggle is to be gentle with yourself. Sometimes I’ve watched people who are very easy on themselves, but most of the time we’re too hard on ourselves. Sometimes, what the Lord would say to us is, “Be patient with this process. Don’t be in a hurry to let me do what I need to do. There are some things I want to work in you and there are some things I want to work out of you.” Sometimes the word is this simple. Be gentle with yourself. Stop it. There’s a lady, a great lady who has known suffering and goes to our church. I’m hoping she’ll share again before the year is out. She’s an amazing example of what it means to endure. She said something and I remember hearing it in one of the messages she shared. She said, “It’s going to be okay.” She says, “This is my mantra. It’s going to be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s still okay because His grace is sufficient. It’s going to be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s still okay because His grace is sufficient.”
Lastly, periodically, we need to ask God for a fresh touch of grace. That’s the invitation of the focused life. When passion is lacking, patience is waning, or the pressure is mounting, ask God for a fresh touch of grace. I don’t know which one is the bigger issue for any of us. Maybe none. Maybe we lost our passion somewhere. We’re worn down, tired, and weary. Maybe patience is really hard for us. “How long is this going to go on? When do I get out of this thing? When does this change?” For others, we feel enormous pressure. Some of it may be self-imposed. For others, it is the way our life is structured. What is it? Passion, patience, pressure.
If pressure is mounting, one thing I’ve learned, I knew it theoretically, but I got it in a different way, is when we’re struggling with stuff, don’t run away from God. Run to Him. That goes back to the end of the prison moment when you’re sitting there going, “Why is this happening to me? All I did was what you wanted me to do.” Sometimes we say, “No, I know I didn’t do what you wanted me to do, and that’s at least in part of the reason why this is happening.” There are sometimes we have no clue. Did I do something? Did I not do something? Is God trying to teach me? Is this the Lord? Is this the enemy? What’s going on? I don’t know. Is it a mixture of everything? Possibly.
Somewhere down the road, we’ll explore that more. We’ll explore the why and what to do in the why. How do I see this? How do I think about this suffering? How do I walk through it? Those are different questions. One thing I know is the grace of God is always near to us. My favorite teaching of Jesus is the parable of the prodigal son. The son, if you remember, is the lost boy who runs homes. He is weak, beaten. He’s lost everything. He’s the picture of failure. He comes back despairing, but desperate. He gets enveloped in the father’s love. At this place of greatest shame, he feels the greatest love. It is the way of Jesus. He invites us into His grace. Don’t run from His embrace. It’s okay. Be gentle, patient, sing the song, and learn the song. Learn the song and sing it. Sing it by His grace.
Let’s pray. Lord, I thank you for the opportunity to submit and share, to be able to have the privilege of representing your heart. I asked that you would create good things, that life would flow in places where death has reigned. Even in places of despair, there would be the reminder of your grace and that it’s going to be okay. Even if it’s not okay, it’s going to be okay because you’re with us. Your grace is sufficient for us. You have things to teach us. You have words for us to claim. You have promises for us to embrace. You have a love for us to be enveloped in and to trust you in. I pray life flow. As we close out our time, our time of giving, and our closing song, I ask that you be honored in these closing minutes. Then help us to walk out with more courage than we came in with and to take that into our real-world to represent you imperfectly but sincerely to the best of our ability. Where we lack, you would be able to help us to do it better. This is what we ask. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.