Tag Archives: focus

Characterized by distraction

“Don’t let your life be characterized by distraction.”

I wrote that in my journal Tuesday morning. I’m not sure why.

I mean, I know that I wrote it as I was taking some notes on a mentor’s last letter to his closest follower. A couple blank lines later, I wrote “Timothy, let your life be characterized by a wholehearted devotion to…” And then I didn’t finish.

That’s what my journal looks like. Many short sentences, incomplete thoughts. I’m working out conversations with God, with you, with myself, with others. And I think it’s okay to have a place for drafts of thoughts. But sometimes I wish I finished those thoughts better. So I would know the context of my thinking.

“Don’t let your life be characterized by distraction.”

I cannot find any specific sentences in 2 Timothy that would have triggered my comment. But the specificity of Paul’s reminders to Timothy blaze a trail through distraction. He calls for focus, from the early affirmation of self-discipline: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline,” to the reminder about the distraction of argument: “Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen,” to the call to consistency and fidelity: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,” to the final charge: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

A person who followed these directions would be characterized by direction, not distraction.

We’ll always be distracted. But I don’t want to be remembered for wandering off, for drifting away. Not any more.


Nehemiah talks about focus

This is from my weekly enewsletter about Nehemiah called “A Great Work“. Nehemiah is talking here: 

“What you are reading is a God-driven case study of how we built the wall first and then the nation. What you are reading leaves out all the parts about my momentary doubts, my hesitation before plunging in. Because those aren’t nearly as important to the whole story as the habits that were formed, the discipline that developed over years.

“First, I tried to get my priorities from God. I find that if I know that the project or the work or the day is consistent with God’s priorities, that self-discipline is easier. Not in a guilty way, but in a clarifying way. If there are six projects in front of me and one is consistent with God’s way of talking and writing and teaching, then the decision about what to do next if much clearer. If two of the six are, it’s a little harder, but I can get rid of four choices.”

I stopped him. “But when do you know when to go? When is it clear that it’s time to move?” I was thinking about all the times that I couldn’t decide what God wanted.

Nehemiah hesitated. “I know this is a big deal for you. But I’m not sure exactly what to tell you. For me, when the king said ‘what’s bothering you?’ I knew that it was time to commit. When we were dealing with all the attacks from Sanballat and Tobiah, I knew that it was my job to lead and protect.

“Maybe I needed to just keep moving. Because second, and very related, I talked with God. All the time. Four months at the beginning. When I talked to the king. When we were facing attacks. Even at the end of the story, when we list several last challenges, I included my prayer just to show you the kinds of things we talked about. I know that it sounds like bragging, but I was just being honest with you readers about how honest I was with God.There were lots of times I didn’t talk to God. But I made sure that there were several of my short prayers included in the book. I didn’t want anyone to think that I was a great leader just on my own.”

He stopped, suddenly emotional. I tried to help him out.

“You know, just this week I saw a video from Bill Hybels. He talked about a guy who had morning coffee with God. He picked a rocking chair, turned it toward a nice view, had a place to put his coffee cup, got up 15 minutes earlier, and talked with God. Hybels talked about a couple decades of hearing the results of those conversations. That sounds like you. We just read some of the results, forgetting that you and God had talked a lot.”

To read this whole enewsletter edition, see “Nehemiah helps me focus.”

How I get things done. Sometimes.

In a hallway on the other side of the building from my office are two sofas. They are more like love seats. They form the angle of a third of an apple pie, two slices, one for you, one for me. When you sit on these sofas, your back is to a couple windows, your face is toward the empty church sanctuary, hidden behind a brick wall. And most of the time, traffic in this hallway is light.

A couple times a week, when I remember, I walk to the sofas with a cup of coffee and a pile of lists. It’s a printout of my current projects, the list of drafts of various writing things, some articles that I want to read, the list of things that have to get done before I walk out of the building.

I never stay on the sofas very long, unless I fall into the sleep that looks, I tell myself, exactly like prayer. I never stay long because when I sit down and start to look at the list, I start writing. The log-jam clears. I make sketched-out progress on four or six of the things on the list, enough to go back to my office and my computer and write emails and essays and next steps.

There is nothing special about the sofas, I don’t think. Except that I intentionally move away from my connections. I intentionally move away from people. I intentionally move to God.

Because when I walk to those sofas, I am also saying “I need to be able to hear you God.” I would like to believe that it’s what Jesus did when he walked away from the crowds into the hills to pray. When I remember, that’s what I do, taking my lists and brainstorming with God.

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Advent 17: Focus

Jesus had boundaries.

He had never read the book, “Boundaries”, not having created the authors of that book yet. However, he knew that doing everything and being always with everyone was outside his reason for being.

So he went away.

The text at the end of the fourth chapter of Luke suggests that he had pulled a ministry all-nighter. People showed up sick and he sent them away well. It started in the evening and went until daylight. Finally, he went away.

He went to a secluded space. And the crowds came looking.  And he said, “no.” Actually, he said that saying yes to helping them was saying no to every other city and every other synagogue and every other person who needed his words. His reason? He was sent to preach the kingdom of God.

People were seeking him not as a kingdom speaker but as a healer. To be blunt, they wanted what would make them feel better rather than what would make everyone whole.  And so Jesus moves on. He refuses to be the Jesus that they want him to be. He has to be the Jesus he was sent to be. He took his direction not from people but from God.

And in that, he sets a wonderful example.

(From Luke 4:40-44)


Here’s part of my reading list for this year: 2011 Books

one thing I do

I had a friend who had a dream of following God.  For him, following God had a certain location to pursue, a certain amount of meditation to conduct, a certain amount of following God without having to follow anyone else. And then he got married. And then he wondered whether he could follow God while married. And now it looks like he’s deciding that he can’t.

It’s incredibly sad. It’s incredibly familiar.

The apostle Paul wanted to devote himself to knowing Christ. He wants to be completely identified with Christ. “This one thing I do,” he writes, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on” toward that goal.

My friend thought that meant not having “spiritual time” – Bible reading and prayer – interrupted by people. And many of us would agree with my friend.

But right before he talks about this consuming passion of his own, Paul encourages  us to the same humility of service that Christ had in living and dying. We try to rise in reputation. Jesus fell in reputation. Not so he could win points for martyrdom, like we often do. It was what he had to do.

And Paul knew that to know Jesus, to understand his work, to be with him, we need to live with and serve and be served by others.

As I am up in the middle of the night over and over with the dog, this one thing I do. As I am trying to figure out how to reload the drivers on this server, this one thing I do. As I am trying to concentrate on writing these words, this one thing I do.

It’s hard. It’s clarifying. And because we are finding Christ, it can be a delight.

Except the dog part.

Pray for me.