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Focus on God First

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2020 19 May

It's so easy to forget all the ways God has already helped you when you are focusing on the difficulty you face right now. Take the present pandemic. I am sometimes tempted to think the circumstances are too intractable for God to handle. Instead of calming my fears and affording me a measure of control by being better informed, I seem to have less peace the more news I consume. I can forget that God is still faithful and that the future is still good. Placing myself and my problems at the center of the universe, I forget who the real hero of the story is. Perhaps you do the same.

Unrelenting stress like the kind most of us are now experiencing can either push you toward God or away from him. St. Paul counseled the early Christians to do something simple in order to experience more peace in their lives. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right," he counseled, "whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent and praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:8-9)

Too often I forget Paul's advice. Instead I find myself fixated on whatever is threatening, whatever is difficult, whatever is miserable, whatever is bugging me--if anything is broken or bad--I think about such things. Little wonder that at such times the God of peace seems far away. Instead of getting distracted by our difficulties, we need instead to focus on God and on what he has already promised.

When Moses sent twelve men to scout out the land of Canaan, only two came back with a positive report. All twelve had seen exactly the same thing, but they returned with completely different interpretations. Joshua and Caleb couldn't wait for Moses to lead the people into a land flowing with milk and honey. Yes, the Canaanites were powerful and their cities were large and well-fortified, but these two men were confident that God would deliver their enemies into their hands. By contrast, the other ten scouts were fixated on the obstacles, describing the inhabitants of Canaan as giants, compared to whom they were mere grasshoppers. According to them, the Israelites would be devoured if they tried to invade this land.

What would you have done in such a situation? I might have listened to the ten "reasonable" men, whose observations seemed to offer a large dose of common sense. After all, those Canaanites were big guys. Their cities did look impregnable. But this apparently reasonable take on the scene was all wrong because these ten men failed to build God into their narrative, doubting that he could deliver on his promise.

All of us have to face many difficulties in our lives. At such times, we cannot afford to entertain peace-destroying thoughts and beliefs that will take our gaze away from Jesus. Exercising our imagination in a negative way will inevitably steal our peace, making us fearful, frustrated, and depressed. What's more, if we develop a pattern of negative thinking, we risk becoming "practical atheists," people who call themselves Christians even though they think and act just like atheists.

Instead of forgetting, we need to remember who God is and what he has already done for us, believing that he knows everything we are going through, everything we are up against. We need to remember how big God is, how capable and in control he is. When we do that, we can relax and entrust all things, big and small, to his loving care.