Focus – Keeping the essential in view
by Pastor Andreas Waldmann
Recently, there was a software update on my smartphone. It was not only about necessary security features, but all kinds of completely new functions were improved or introduced. I probably only use a fraction of all these possibilities, but one thing immediately caught my eye: In the so-called “Control Center” (that is, when you swipe up from the bottom), my favorite button with the crescent moon on it was no longer called “Do Not Disturb.” It was renamed to “Focus” and got additional subdivisions like “Time for me”, “Work”, “Sleep”, “Drive” – all things why you don’t want to be disturbed. And of course you can create more focus areas if you like.
I think it’s remarkable the thought that these smartphone manufacturers put into it. They really think their way into the lives of their customers – into us! And they seem to know what we need or what is good for our lives: minimize distractions. Allowing only the apps and people from the address book that I need in my respective “focus.” Everything else gets “muted” until you can make time for it. For people in this day and age who are dealing with an overabundance of information and who live in a society where almost limitless accessibility is assumed, this is definitely a great awareness and support. At least I think so.
What’s it like for you? Do you have a focus? For your life? Or for the start of the new year? What is your life focused on? What do you “focus” on?
Actually, I know the word “focus” best from photography. You have something you want to photograph, and you focus on making sure that exact detail of the image – a flower, a face, or a detail of an object or building – is sharp and clear. So you put the focus on the subject, which is the center! And from there, the sharpness decreases visibly to the edge. In this way, beautiful photographs are created in which the essentials are in the foreground, while incidentals do not have to disappear completely, but simply take a subordinate place.
Let’s assume that our lives correspond to such a focused photography, where is your focus then? What is most important to you in your life picture, what should be clearly visible in the end? And even here the pun from photography fits: What is your motive, your motivation? Is the focus really on what you want to see there? Or are there any secondary issues still too much in focus? This question becomes all the more explosive when you ask it more generally: Is the focus of your life on what is healthy and good for you or is the focus on things that are rather harmful?
Now it is often not so easy to make this classification. Does what feels good at the moment do me good? Is it good for me what challenges me and where I can prove myself? Is it good for me to only do things that keep me relaxed? Or is it good for me to grow from the resistance? We quickly realize that we can say “yes” to many of these things. But are they also good as a standard and motive for my life? No!
The answer I find in the Bible to this question has to do with a person. This has a considerable advantage over simple rules of conduct or the popular three, five, or seven steps to a fulfilled life. Because if the center of my thinking and acting is a person and the relationship to him, I have on the one hand a constant orientation while I may handle similar situations differently.
To make it concrete: In Jesus Christ, I have my “good shepherd” who gave His life for me and therefore deserves my full trust. In Psalm 23, we read that He knows where there are lush meadows and fresh water – in other words, everything that is good for me – and He leads me there. At the same time, He is also with me when it is dark, rocky, and uncomfortable – that is, when I am challenged and facing adversity. Verse three sums it up well from my perspective: “He shows me the right way for his name’s sake.” When I make Jesus the focus of my life, I always have a good point of reference in Him to align myself with. My relationship with Him is what is essential, and He will help me recognize what is important and put secondary matters in their place.
So when my relationship with Jesus is clarified, He becomes more and more the motive and motivation of my life! Then he brings the right things into my focus, such as through what he says in Matthew 6:33: “Make the kingdom of God your chief concern, live in God’s righteousness, and he will give you all you need.” (NL). Because He matters to me, what matters to HIM becomes important to me. The more I engage and rely on Jesus, the more focus I have in my life and the more that very thing comes out that makes my life picture beautiful and meaningful – not only to myself, but to those on the outside looking in.
Do you have this focus in your life? A focus that even survives death! The Bible is our God-given lens by means of which we can always readjust whether our focus is still sharp and the actual subject is still in the center of our interest. For this, Jesus has sent us His Spirit. We can count on Him to make good image adjustments. My smartphone can’t do that for me. But I can set up a “focus” on my cell phone so that I can spend undisturbed time with the Bible and in prayer. That would be a great start!