“And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto Him, Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head. And He said unto another, Follow Me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow Thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57–62.
How to be Focused
Jesus was recruiting disciples. He was asking them to follow Him, and they were giving Him one excuse after another why they needed to hesitate in following Him. Did Jesus tell us that we should not bury our dead in this text? No. Does Jesus tell us that we should not return to our families and bid them farewell as we leave to follow Him? Is that what He is saying? No.
Jesus is saying, I want you to be focused. I want you to be as focused as the farmer who puts his hand to the plough and begins to put a furrow in his field.
I was raised in the city, and I did not know anything about this, until I read a story about a farmer who was plowing a field. Somehow or other he did not watch his mark, and the furrow was very crooked.
Do you wonder how furrows are kept straight? Farmers set their gaze upon a fence post, or some object in the distance, and they aim right at it. If they are constantly looking back over their shoulder wondering how the furrow is doing, eventually it is going to be crooked. So Jesus draws an illustration from daily life once again.
What is He saying to us? I want you, My disciple, to choose to follow Me. I want you to be focused on Me.
Serving Two Masters?
How do we in our Christian experience maintain that focus on Jesus Christ? Jesus warned us about not being focused. “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:22–24.
We can get out of focus by trying to serve two masters. We cannot serve the world and serve Jesus Christ at the same time. It is impossible. When we seek to do that, all the light that we have becomes darkness. It matters not how much light we have, if we are compromising in our hearts, all the theory of truth becomes darkness to us; it means nothing to anyone around us. The influence is darkness, not light. If we are choosing to serve two masters, we are going to be so out of focus that we will become involved in things that God does not sanction. This is why Jesus wants His followers to be focused.
“He who does not give himself wholly to God is under the control of another power, listening to another voice, whose suggestions are of an entirely different character.” The Mount of Blessing, 94. One thing we must understand is that with God it is all or nothing at all—either we are focused or we are out of focus.
Three Areas of Concern
If we are seeking to serve two masters, we are told that we are listening to another voice, a voice other than the Master’s. That other voice seeks to influence us in at least three areas of life.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” 1 John 2:15, 16.
A terrible example of this is found in the Word of God in the life of Samson. A tremendous fall awaited this man because he loved flesh more than he loved God. The first area identified in this text is the “lust of the flesh,” the passions and the appetites that all of us possess with our fallen human nature. We cannot trust our desires apart from the sanctifying influence of God’s Word and Holy Spirit. We cannot trust our appetites. We cannot trust our own understanding of things.
That other voice will seek to lead us to lust after the flesh, to become involved in things that are contrary to God’s work in our hearts, a work of character building, a work of transforming us into the image of Christ.
The second area is the “lust of the eyes,” or covetousness. What we see, we want. Ananias and Saphira, in the New Testament, exhibited this sin. When they saw the amount of money they received from the sale of their property, they coveted the money they had pledged to God. That is one area where the other voice is going to lead us.
Then there is “the pride of life,” loving our own way. We think our way is the best way, the only way, the right way.
Examples From the Bible
We can draw from examples in the Bible in regard to this sin. Consider Cain in the beginning. His experience was one of wanting his own way. He thought his way was better than God’s way. He was giving in to the pride of life.
Lucifer, a perfect created being, did the same thing in heaven. We are not perfect, and we are more prone to pride of life, to wanting our own way, to believing that our way is the best way than were the angels in heaven before they fell. We are told, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Proverbs 14:12. When we go down this road, Satan well knows what the end is for us.
If we are choosing to serve two masters, we are going to be so out of focus that we will become involved in things that God does not sanction. The light that is in us will become darkness.
An Absolute Principle
There is an absolute principle which takes place in our lives when we are focused. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 3:18.
What a wonderful principle that is. If we are focused and beholding Him, we will become like Him. But if we are out of focus, the same principle works—we become like that which we behold. You see, to be out of focus is to be focused on something other than that which God wants for us. There is a principle of beholding involved, when we talk about focus. All things that we behold, whether it is good or evil, we will become. “By beholding we become changed. By the indulgence of impure thoughts man can so educate his mind that sin, which he once loathed, will become pleasant to him. Satan is using every means to make crime and debasing vice popular. We cannot walk the streets of our cities without encountering flaring notices of crime presented in some novel, or to be acted at some theater. The mind is educated to familiarity with sin. The course pursued by the base and vile is kept before the people in the periodicals of the day, and everything that can excite passion is brought before them in exciting stories. They hear and read so much of debasing crime that the once tender conscience, which would have recoiled with horror from such scenes, becomes hardened, and they dwell upon these things with greedy interest.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 459. [Emphasis supplied.]
Is it any different in our time? That was written 100 years ago, as Ellen White looked out over the social structure of America. We live in a time that is fully corrupt. God is not waiting for the world to get worse; He is waiting for His people to get better. This world is ready for the coming of Jesus Christ, and He will come when He has His people ready. We will never be ready unless we are focused, and we cannot be focused on Jesus until we unfocus ourselves from the things of this world.
Tabloids, Radio, and TV
Some of us are reading material that should not be read; we are listening to things that should not be heard, and we are watching things that should not be seen.
When you walk past the grocery check-out counter, what kind of publications do you see there? The pictures alone should tell you that the content of such publications do not fall into the categories of Philippians 4:8, which admonishes us to think on what is “true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report.” And what about that radio? If you want to be out of focus, just listen to the talk shows, the sporting events and the questionable music that seemingly pervades the whole of radio programming today. Also, all of us should be aware that the reading of novels and theater going is not conducive to growing in the graces of the Christian life. And what about TV? Ten years ago I pulled the plug on my television set, being convicted that I was not only wasting my time, but I was wasting my mind.
Brothers and sisters, it is time for us to start asking, “What would Jesus do?” And “What would Jesus want me to do?” It is God alone who can give us the wisdom to know what is right from wrong in these matters, and also give us the power to do what is right! Let us stop compromising God’s truth and start obeying it! What do you say?
Out of Focus with Good Things?
We have seen that bad things can take us out of focus, but did you know that even good things can put us out of focus?
Consider an experience that Jesus had with Martha and Mary in Bethany. “Now it came to pass, as they went, that He entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard His word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to Him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things.” Luke 10:38–41.
Who was in focus in this experience? Was it Mary or Martha? Mary was in focus; Martha was out of focus. Martha was cumbered. What does that word mean? It means to overload or burden one’s self. Can we overload ourselves with good things? Can we place ourselves out of focus with Him while we are doing good? Oh, yes!
Jesus is going to surprise many some day when He says to many professed Christians, “Many shall come to Me in that day and say, Lord, Lord,” did we not do, did we not do, did we not do? And He is going to say to them, “Depart from Me I never knew you, you workers of iniquity.” (See Matthew 7:21–23.)
Brothers and sisters, God wants us to be focused. Even the good things and the necessary things will, if we overload ourselves, put us out of focus. We may not be watching television; we may not be listening to those radio programs, and we may not be reading novels, periodicals, or tabloids, but we have overloaded ourselves to the point that we are out of focus. We justify it all on the basis that it is religious work. Remember, the people to whom Jesus says “Depart from Me, I never knew you,” were not involved in secular work, they were involved in His work.
Running To and Fro
Daniel 12:4 describes the world in which we live, the world that God foresaw in Daniel’s time. God, through Daniel, was looking at our day. That is the kind of world that heaven sees. “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”
Are we living in that time? Is knowledge increasing? Yes. Can you keep up with it? No. The brightest minds in this world cannot keep up with the knowledge that is increasing day by day, week by week, and month by month. We are experiencing an explosion of knowledge and of technology. Daniel recorded that this would happen in the time of the end, just before Jesus comes again.
Daniel also wrote that society would be running to and fro. There is a spiritual application to this in regard to the study of God’s Word, that men would begin studying God’s Word to and fro, but there is another application. This refers to the kind of society that would be formed by the increase of knowledge, and it would be a society where you could fly from one nation to another in a matter of hours. The whole world would become a neighborhood.
I would suggest that too many of God’s people are seeking to keep pace, running to and fro, with a world that has gone crazy. We live in a complex society today, and much of it is due to the fast pace in which we live. Jesus brings simplicity out of complexity. He can simplify our lives so we can be focused on Him and what He wants us to be doing, instead of running to and fro, following the world.
Simplifying Life’s Complexities
Jesus gives us a key to simplify life’s complexities. Here is the solution: “But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42. One thing is needful. What was the one thing upon which Martha needed to get refocused and to stay focused? “The ‘one thing’ that Martha needed was a calm, devotional spirit, a deeper anxiety for knowledge concerning the future, immortal life, and the graces necessary for spiritual advancement. She needed less anxiety for the things which pass away, and more for those things which endure forever.” The Desire of Ages, 525.
Every one of us has that need. God simplifies things for us, if we allow Him to come into our lives and do it. God runs the whole universe on a handful of laws. He can simplify your life, but you have to be willing to take off and to put on the things that are necessary to do that.
Three Simple Steps to Gain Focus
Jesus gives us three steps to get us focused and to get our lives simplified:
“Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. Rest? That is an oasis in this society.
Rest and peace only come by receiving Christ’s righteousness. “Come unto Me.” That is the first step. We must come. Every one of these steps is a choice that we must make. “Come unto Me,” Jesus said. Now when we come, we “must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6.
2 “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me.…” Matthew 11:29. A yoke is something that you put on two oxen so they will work together. Jesus says, “Take My yoke.” He wants us to labor with Him! We will never learn of Him unless we take His yoke. He continues, “For I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” 1 John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His command-ments: and His commandments are not grievous.” The yoke is the law of God. When we allow God’s law to be written upon our hearts, we become focused with Him; we are able to be laborers together with Him.
The first two decisions that you and I must make, if we are to have a focused Christianity, are come and take.
3 Jesus says, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Luke 9:23. So this focusing has to be a daily experience.
To keep focused we are going to have to say no to self. Self is our greatest enemy! We must say no, if we are going to keep Him in view. We have to say no to those things that we know will put us out of focus. We must say no, not only to the bad things but to some of the good things.
Jesus took the first step, and now He asks us to take it too. He says, Come. Did He come? Oh, yes, He came to a world that did not receive Him, even knowing the kind of reception that awaited Him. Did He take a yoke? He took the cross, that was ours, and He died for us on our cross. Did He follow, as He has asked us to follow? He said, in the Garden, Not My will, but Thine be done.” (See Matthew 26:39.) He followed His Father’s will precisely. Jesus is not asking us to do something that He has not already done. What a marvelous God we have! Do you want to see Him face to face someday? We are not going to be in heaven unless we are focused on Him today.
Three steps have been given that we can take to become focused, or to become refocused, and to stay focused, but Jesus narrowed it down even more, to two: “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:35–40.
On these two commandments hang the salvation of man, two great commandments—love to God supremely, and love to our brothers and sisters. Does this simplify life? Oh, yes, anything outside of this is going to find us out of focus.
Sitting First at Jesus’ Feet
What will happen when we choose to be focused in our Christian experience with Jesus Christ? “There is a wide field for the Marthas, with their zeal in active religious work. But let them first sit with Mary at the feet of Jesus. Let diligence, promptness, and energy be sanctified by the grace of Christ; then the life will be an unconquerable power for good.” The Desire of Ages, 525.
Is that the kind of life you want to live for God, “unconquerable power for good”? That is possible only if we choose to be focused in the direction to which He is pointing us.
About the Marthas who choose to allow themselves to be focused, God says, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” Psalm 1:1–3.
Here is a man who says no to those things that are corrupt and bad, who does not listen to the radio programs, who does not watch the television programs, who does not read novels. Is this person focused? Yes!
Paul’s words should be the motto of every true Christian, and they will be the motto of Christians who are focused. “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13, 14.
You can see the allusion to the farmer, looking to the mark ahead, forgetting what is behind, keeping his eyes on the mark ahead. He is saying, I do not think about the past, I am looking at the mark. What is the mark? Where are we to focus? “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.…” Hebrews 12:2.
One Interest Prevailed
I am encouraged that what God has begun in us, He is able to finish. This set the world on fire in the first century, among God’s people. “One interest prevailed; one subject of emulation swallowed up all others. The ambition of the believers was to reveal the likeness of Christ’s character, [that was their ambition, their goal, their mark] and to labor for the enlargement of His kingdom.” Acts of the Apostles, 48.
Two things: to become more like Jesus and to share His truths and His love with others. It is pretty simple, is it not? “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize.” Philippians 3:13, 14. What is the prize? Heaven! Yes, heaven with Jesus and the redeemed throughout all eternity! Then let us now determine to be His focused people who shall someday hear the words, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 25:34.