“You’re drifting. YOU’RE DRIFTING!”
I can still remember those words like they were spoken yesterday. My driving instructor in Driver’s Ed went from fully pleased with 15 year old me’s ability to drive on the highway to tensing up and preparing for impact as I started to drift out of my lane at a high rate of speed. It happened fast, and as a young man learning to drive I didn’t fully understand why it had happened. All I’d done was look over my shoulder to check my blind spot, and the next thing I know I’m moving the car in the direction I’m looking.
All these years later, I’ve come to understand what happened to me in that car that day. The things we focus on are the things we move towards. It’s a great concept, and as such, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that it originated in the Bible. There are a few spots to draw upon for this, but the first one I want to look at is in the book of Luke.
Luke 9:61-62 Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” 62 But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
This section of the book of Luke sees Jesus illustrating for people the high cost of following him. Several different people express interest in being his followers, but one by one Jesus exposes in them a reason why they aren’t ready to follow him. But it was this plow guy that interested me the most as I studied, because I honestly don’t know anything about plowing or farming. Does it really matter if I look back while I plow? It turns out, it matters very much. Why? Because where we look is where we walk, feet and eyes, unconsciously and forever connected.
Farmers have only so much land to plant crops on. Plowing that land in a straight, proper fashion allows the farmer to utilize every single inch of space so they can grow more of whatever it is that they grow. This orderly, efficient manner of planting starts with proper plowing. What happens if I start looking over my shoulder while I plow? I’m no longer focused on where I’m going, and my straight line becomes crooked. And when plowing a field, if one line is off, then every line that comes next will be off too.
Jesus wasn’t being harsh with people in the book of Luke who wished to follow him, he was being real with them. Anything you’re going to do in life that’s worth doing is going to require laser-like focus. That’s the point he was making. What we focus on is the thing we walk towards, consciously or not. Our focus defines our situations, even. I’ve been on some pretty epic hikes in my life, and I remember one in particular included a stretch of trail that seemed to be endless. It was straight, flat, and stretched on for what seemed like miles. It became a mental challenge. If I stared down at the ground and just looked at the next few feet in front of me, then I was okay. The journey was all about the next few steps, and as tired as I was becoming, I could muster more steps. I could do this. But, inevitably my eyes would be drawn upwards, and I’d see the trail and the way it seemed that no matter how many steps I was taking I was no closer to the end than I’d been when I started, and I’d grow disheartened and feel even more exhausted than I had a moment before. My focus in those moments determined everything.
You see the same come true for Peter in the book of Matthew, chapter 14. Jesus is walking on water, and my boy Peter sees him and calls out.
Matthew 14:28-29 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” 29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.
In that moment, Peter’s focus was solidly fixed on Jesus, and because of that, he was doing something no other being besides Jesus had ever done. He was miraculously walking on water. But as we all know, something happened to Peter’s focus.
Matthew 14:30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.
Just like my boy Peter, I’ve gone through seasons when I was spiritually on top of the world, and seasons when I was sinking, and it all came down to my focus in both seasons. Jesus loves everyone, and he desires for every single person to be saved and to follow after him. It wasn’t snobbery or meanness that led him to deny the people in the book of Luke, it was love. He loved them enough to tell them the truth they needed to hear. They needed to understand what Peter learned out there on that sea, that flawed focus leads to failures. Faltering focus draws us off the path, or as I learned about plowing, it messes up the entire field, and thus the entire crop, and thus the entire community that now has less food to eat, and thus the entire farmer’s income who may not be able to plant as much the next season.
Some of the most profound and simple wisdom in the Bible is found in Proverbs, and this is how it puts this subject of focus.
Proverbs 4:25 Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you.
There’s a saying; if you go looking for trouble, you’re bound to find it. Likewise, if you focus on negative things, you’re bound to feel negative. If you focus on your problems, they’re bound to seem bigger and bigger, if you focus on your anger, it’s bound to grow stronger and stronger. And if all of that holds true, then so does the opposite. So I just want to encourage you to focus on positive things, things that are uplifting and good. I spent a good portion of my adult life focused on my disease, and it poisoned my mind and it controlled me for several years. Depression, spiritual and almost physical death, and isolation are what I got out of that. Since I’ve pulled my eyes off of that and focused them on Jesus, everything changed. Life’s not always a golden path of laughter and ease, but it’s a billion times better than it used to be, and for me, joy and peace are rarely far from me. A guy who spent his life unsure and uneasy and unconfident now rests so at ease in the loving embrace of my God. As he often does, David sums it up well in one of his beautiful psalms.
Psalm 57:7 My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises!