There I was, desperately agonizing over things that were drastically out of my control, and I was sinking. It was one of those moments where you feel sick because you can’t see a way out. You don’t believe that the answer will come to you because you can’t visualize it. You realize you don’t know what to do next.
And then my own words came back to me: Jesus has to be at the center of everything.
I stopped. I blinked a few times and felt my forehead wrinkled in concentration. Could it really be that easy? Could the “answer” to my worrying not be an answer at all, but an action?
In short, yes. That was–and still is–the answer.
Back up a bit to the issue. Any issue. Whatever that thing is, it brings you down, makes you feel sick to your stomach, causes you to lose sleep, clouds your vision, and ultimately begins to take over your life. Have something in mind?
Now, take a step back from that thing. That’s what I did in that moment of realization. I started to see my troubles for what they were: additional. That’s not to say that what we struggle with isn’t important or shouldn’t be dealt with, thought over, and wrestled through, but I think we need a re-set in those moments to change our focus.
Read through Philippians and you’ll notice it is honed to a singular focus that can be summed up in Paul’s statement in chapter 1 verse 21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” That was the ‘end all, be all’ of Paul’s life and how he encouraged every believer to live.
Paul wasn’t okay with a mediocre, self-focused life. Read anything he wrote and you’ll see that he was a fiery, passionate man who believed in giving his all to the Lord. Sadly, I think that too often we applaud Paul and toute his Christ-focused life as something to aspire to, but we don’t put in the effort–or work, if you will–to live like that. It becomes an ideal, not a reality.
What if we were to live like Christ is central…to everything?
I often think of Peter walking on the water toward Christ as an example of what happens when our focus shifts. One minute Peter is making steady progress across a tumultuous, storm-fraught ocean with Christ as his focus, the next moment he’s looking around and realizing exactly where he is. Then what happens? He starts to sink. Peter lost focus. His eyes turned inward and he grew afraid. He let the circumstance and his lack of control influence him.
How do we do this in our own lives? Where has our focused slipped? Are we allowing our selfishness to dictate how we relate to others? Is it influencing how we love those around us? What are we prioritizing and making central in our lives that isn’t Jesus?
As I was struck by the reminder that Jesus must be central, I realized that I too often allow other things to grow in importance in my life and my heart. They can be good things or sinful things, but they slowly creep up (because if they were sudden I think I’d see them for what they are) and they indoctrinate me to their importance. Suddenly, I’m convinced that “this big thing” is all-consuming. It’s then that I start to sink.
The only recourse to escape from these entrapping fears is to change my focus (with the Lord’s help). It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s painful because it requires letting go of something I want. Other times it seems unfair because I think I deserve something. Other times my selfish focus is so intertwined in my thoughts that I have to detangle what is true and good with what is self-focused.
Denying yourself is never easy, but it’s always worth it.
I look ahead to these next few months and the holiday season. Thanksgiving and Christmas are prime opportunities for us to either slip into self-focus or readjust to selflessness. Before we arrive at the pressure-filled, busy times of these holidays, make sure you are asking the Lord for help. Pray for a change of focus and that your eyes would remain firmly on Him despite the temptations that will arise to make life about you.
Remeber Pauls words:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.