Come Join Us In Remembering What The World Has Forgotten.....  The Seventh Day Sabbath!

Spiritual Focus

The Sabbath Sentinel
July-August 2016

The human eye is a remarkable thing.  It can see in near darkness far better than any camera, can perceive depth remarkably well, and can distinguish about 10 million colors. But it can only focus on one thing at a time and that is a good thing.  The ability to selectively focus is something we don’t think about, but it is necessary to enable us to make sense of our world, to cut out the extraneous, and to see what is important.  But this skill has to be learned – every infant has to learn to focus its eyes.

Learning to Focus

Focusing is also an important part of spiritual life.  We need to learn to focus our “spiritual eyesight” rightly (Ephesians 1:18) and we can learn important lessons in
this area by considering some of the ways God’s word tells us that He focuses!

For example, it is clear that God does not focus on the outward and gives special favor or attention to physical appearances when dealing with His human family.  As God told Samuel, “Do not consider his [Saul’s] appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart
” (1 Samuel 16:7).
There is another equally important way in which God’s focus is often different from ours, as can be seen in the story of Gideon.  Gideon was a man of God, valiant warrior, beloved leader of Israel, idolater?  That last word sounds harsh, but God’s word makes it clear that after leading Israel to freedom Gideon erred by constructing an ephod, a religious item which he allowed to become an object of veneration (Judges 6-8 and notice 8:22-28).  God's biography of Gideon does not gloss this sin, but it doesn’t focus on it either. Despite his error regarding the ephod, God continued to help Gideon, and Israel had peace during the remainder of his lifetime.
This is not to say that God overlooked the sin, but it is also clear that God did not focus only on Gideon’s area of failure.

The same can be said for the way in which God worked with many of his servants (Moses, David, Isaiah are all examples). Surely God deals with all of us in this way. It is not that the One who sees all is unaware of our shortcomings and the errors we still need to root out of our lives, but God mercifully does not focus on these things–He focuses on our attitude of repentance and gives us time to grow.

There is a lesson here for our dealings with others.
Not judging others is often a matter of focus – of not concentrating on the small problems and weaknesses of those around us. God’s word gives instructions on dealing with truly serious problems that others may cause (Matthew 18:15-17),  but in everyday life, rather than judging others over areas in which they still need to grow, can we learn to pray for them (1 John 5:16) and focus, as God does, on the good things about them?

Focus and Growth

If we want to focus on problems, the proper place to direct our spiritual gaze is, of course, inwardly – just as Jesus stressed using an analogy of vision: “Why do you look at [focus on] the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).  

This involves learning to refocus, training ourselves to see properly, in order to grow. “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman,”

Job states (Job 31:1); and Jesus reiterated this same need for proper focus using the same example (Matthew 5:28).  Christian growth is only possible by regular, honest, and sincere introspection – inward focus - when we take time to look at ourselves closely and to work on overcoming sin in our lives.   

God specifically commands this inward focus in preparation for the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:28), but the exercise is one which can be repeated at other times (James 1:23).  On the other hand, God clearly does not want us to live our lives with constant inward focus.   

Can you imagine what would happen if you drove down the highway focusing only on yourself or the steering wheel of your vehicle rather than on the highway and those around you?  True Christianity should involve regular introspective focus (in “park” mode!), but then we need to look past ourselves and refocus outwardly on the responsibilities of our lives and the needs of others.  

We also need to be focusing on a much greater picture than everyday life presents to us – the vision which God has given us of His way of life and the plan for His human family.

A Day to Focus

Keeping these things in focus is not always easy with everything that clamors for our attention on a daily basis. Fortunately, God has given us a regularly scheduled opportunity for a “vision check” - a time when we can consider what our focus is, and refocus on the things that are most important in life.

Isn’t this what the Prophet Isaiah is saying in his powerful words regarding keeping the Sabbath: “ ...if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words ...” (Isaiah 58.13).

This is talking about focusing - not just drifting through the day in an out-of-focus blur of normal every-day concerns, but actively keeping the day by concentrating on its meaning so that the day becomes a delight.

To use another analogy, it is by refocusing on the seventh day that the “Ark of the Covenant”– symbolizing God’s presence – comes back into our lives, just as the physical Ark returned to ancient Israel (1 Samuel 6:13) and was a source of joy to the Israelites who stopped work and focused on it: “Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat ... and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight.”  

These Israelites stopped work, refocused, and rejoiced. It is as we stop work and refocus that we see things which transcend our everyday lives, and which are a cause for joy.

Every seventh day gives us an opportunity to see something better than the physical things that fill our every-day lives. “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law,”

David wrote  (Psalm 119:18), and we too need to regularly look away from our normal every-day pursuits to focus spiritually - on ways we can grow, on ways we can help others, and on the goals God has set before us.   

The seventh day gives us an incomparable opportunity to refocus – and when we do, like David, we too can see wonderful things.

R. Herbert