Staying Focused When Life Is Difficult

And we eagerly wait for a Savior
— Philippians 3:20

You don't have to have 20-20 vision to stay focused.

My eyesight is poor. I wear contacts during the day and reading glasses over my contacts while doing close-up work. When my contacts are out and my glasses are off, my focus is way out of whack -- you don't want me on the highway.

I have discovered that there are things other than glasses that can throw off my vision. Suffering is one of them. Paul, no stranger to difficulties and suffering, shares a very important truth about this in his letter to the Romans: 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
— Romans 8:18

Difficulties have a way of clouding our vision. Paul knew this from personal experience. Interestingly, Paul's solution to times of difficulty is not to change our circumstances (sometimes that is impossible), but to change our focus. Commenting on this passage, R.H. Mounce notes,

As a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20) he realized that his earthly life was but a moment in time in comparison with eternity. Not only that, but the glory of the coming age will be qualitatively distinct from the trials of the present. If we allow the difficulties of life to absorb our attention, they will effectively blot out the glory that awaits us.

 When Mounce referenced Philippians 3, I had to turn over and take a fresh look. Here's what Paul says:

13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way....17 Join in imitating me, brothers and sisters, and pay careful attention to those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, 20 but our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:13-20 CSB

I am a part of that tribe that loses focus when times get tough. That's why I need to remember what God says through Paul:

  1. Don't let present circumstances distract you. v13
    Our hearts go out to victims of tragedy and violence. Those suffering in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, or due to the senseless violence in Las Vegas, capture our hearts (as they should). These events leave us dumbfounded. Stunned, we can get lost in frustration and anger. God wants us to help those who hurt, but not be crippled by our own pain. We grieve. We help. And we keep moving on, thoughts fixed on Christ who will overcome all evil and who heals our pain.
  2. Keep your eyes on great examples of Christian faith. v17
    Sure, there are a lot of charlatans out there, but there are many men and women who have been walking with God for a long time -- whose words and life line up. Keeping my eyes on "heroes of the faith" helps me stay focused.
  3. Keep your eyes on your true citizenship. v20
    It's tough to think about the new heaven and the new earth when you are a citizen of Boca Raton. Yesterday was Chamber of Commerce weather. Bright blue skies and short-sleeve temps. Nice as this is, it pales in comparison to my true heavenly citizenship. Keeping my eyes on my true citizenship helps me stay focused.
  4. Keep your eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ. v20
    I started to write, "keep your eyes on Jesus," but realized that Paul used the full title: Lord (owner-ruler), Jesus (Jehovah saves), Christ (Anointed One). Jesus alone upholds the universe. Jesus alone brings salvation. Jesus alone is God's anointed Messiah. Keeping my eyes on the true Hero of the Story keeps me focused.

Difficulties distract me. They throw off my vision. I easily lose sight of God and his care. I can get discouraged, depressed, and start to doubt. On these days I want to change my circumstances -- God wants to change my focus.

Where are you setting your eyes?

______________

Notes:

  1. Spanish River is assisting in relief efforts for those suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Click here and follow the banner headline at the top to join in the relief effort.
  2. If you need a little back story on the challenges he faced, read Acts 9:23-25, 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, and 2 Corinthians 11:16-33.
  3. "As a citizen of heaven..." from Mounce, R. H. (1995). Vol. 27: Romans. The New American Commentary (184). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  4. "Suffering provides the gym ..." from Suffering: Making Sense of Suffering by Joni Eareckson Tada.