Understanding the Power of Focus, Part 2
From the series I Choose Joy
What’s the toughest situation you’re facing today? A relationship? A negative boss? Financial pressure? Join Chip as he shares truth from God’s Word that will begin to neutralize that issue in your life and allow you to experience joy in the midst of your most perplexing problems.
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About this series
I Choose Joy
How to Live Life Above Your Circumstances
In the midst of difficulty, chaos, and continual pressure, what is it that sets a believer apart from the crowd? What causes people to notice that there's something supernatural at work in their lives? In this series, from the book of Philippians, Chapter 1, Chip tells us it's joy! He explains how understanding the power of focus, purpose, hope, and expectation enables an ordinary believer to live life above circumstances, weather the worst storms, and experience true joy.More from this series
How do you develop an upward focus? And I am going to suggest, right from this passage, number one, it’s a choice. It’s a choice.
And the choice is gratitude. And the way you do it is you choose to remember and you thank God for significant relationships.
In the mornings, our whole staff comes down here and we have a prayer time. And different pastors, actually, different people on the staff lead it.
And we all sat here and he goes, so here’s what we’re going to do for the first twenty minutes. I want you to write on these 3x5 cards everything that you can possible thank God for in twenty minutes. Just don’t stop writing.” I filled out five. God, thank You that You forgave me. God, thank You for Your Word. Thank You that Your Spirit lives within me. Thank You for Theresa. Thank You for Eric. Thank You for Jason. Thank You for Ryan. Thank You…right? God, thank You for this church. Thank You for the people I get to work with. God, thank You that in the midst of a crazy world, this is where we live. I mean, it was easy. I had five of these filled front and back.
And I had this weird experience afterwards. I had a great attitude that day. It’s just a weird experience! You know, hey! Why? Here’s why: I spent twenty minutes focusing on what God has provided instead of my humanness like yours is to always focus on what is missing.
Second, it’s an action – prayer. Prayer. By the way, remember? He said, “I willfully chose.” Willfully chose to remember the past youthfulness and the partnership.
See, I think, I think we think prayer is always going to be some ooey-gooey feelings and these wonderful, great connections with God. I, part of my rehab on this fusion on my back was walking, walking, walking, walking until I could walk for an hour. That’s a lot of walking.
And I just have to tell you, there’s times where I, one, I didn’t want to walk. Two, I’m bummed out. And just, honestly, a little pity party, Hey God, why me? And I’m trying to serve You with all my heart. And wimpy, wimpy, Chippy, Chippy. Just like you guys do.
And then I remember, I’m walking and I listened to some worship songs and I pull out those earplugs: Father, I thank You. And I started quoting verses. And then I started praying for people. I just started praying for people. I started praying for a lot of you. I prayed for our staff. I prayed for this city.
All of a sudden I realized, You know something? This is some of the best time praying I’ve had in a lot of years. Why? Because I had to walk. I don’t know what you’re going through, but it’s not an accident. You can develop an upward focus by choosing to give thanks, and by the action of prayer.
And, third, there is an attitude. And the attitude is confidence. I remember toward the end of my walks, what I realized was, I’ve been through a lot of hard times. I’m getting older. And I have had God’s promises and God’s character, God’s promises and God’s character. And I have these little packets where I have memorized verses over the years and I started reading some of these old verses and I found one: 1978 – God’s Promises for Chip and Theresa. That was, like, a month before we got married.
And God gave me this passage, this Old Testament passage and I was reading through that and I thought, Are you kidding me? My life is like a hundred x better than I ever, ever, ever dreamed. But it doesn’t matter how good it is, because if I have a really great day today, left to myself, I just want it a little bit better. Right? And so do you.
But I want you to know that you choose, you choose joy by being grateful, by being prayerful, and being confident of the future, not because you’ve got it all together, not because your circumstances are going to change, but there is a God who put His Spirit within you who says, I am confident of this very thing, that He who began in a good work in you has promises and character that He is going to see you through.
And I don’t want to be morbid, but the very worst thing that could happen is you die and end up in the presence of Christ with no more pain and the best atmosphere for ever and ever and ever. See, our hope isn’t in this world.
There are three observations that I see out of this passage that have been both helpful and convicting to me so I want to share the wealth.
Observation number one from verses 7 and 8 are that difficult circumstances reveal our true affections.
Fire number one: he was depressed because he lost his stuff. And he was a believer but he got caught up in stuff and money and prestige and flying to Vail and skiing and luxury vacations. And fire number two: he had a different set of affections.
Second observation is: living above our circumstances occurs when our hearts are so full of people there is no room for self-pity. That’s what happened in fire number two! Forty-eight hours later, all twelve of his Master Craftsmen had jobs with his competitors.
Paul, when you squeeze Paul, Paul is like a sponge. You squeeze Paul with pressure and chains and difficulty and what oozes out is who he really was. And who he really was, was a man who loved God with all of his heart and cared so deeply about people.
When pressure and difficulty and circumstances, whether it’s work or health or problems in your family – when the vice of pressure and circumstances come into your life, whatever oozes out, that’s who you are. That’s who you really are.
If you’re negative, if you’re critical, if you’re blaming, if you’re down on everyone – it’s easy to have a great attitude when things are going great. God uses affliction sometimes to allow adverse circumstances to realign our affections.
We all want to change, right? This whole deal, I have been with all my back, if you would have asked me before all this, I would have said, “You know, I’m working on some things.”
But God revealed some blind spots in my life and I’m so glad he did, and, actually, my wife made, it was very kind the way she did it, and my children as well, and a couple friends. Basically, these new revelations I had about these blind spots that I needed to address, they kind of looked at me like, Oh, really? You just, you just found out? So, you just got that you’re driven, over the top, productivity-centered, nuts? In a loving kind of way.
Sometimes God loves you so much that you’re praying, Oh, God, take it away, take it away, take it away, take it away, take it away. And He’s going, No! My goal isn’t to make your life comfortable. My goal is to make you holy and the only way you ever will really be happy is if you’re holy. And the only way you’re holy is if you see what needs to be addressed and allow Me to forgive and cleanse and empower you.
The summary on the first portion of this section was that our feelings always follow our focus, in case you missed that. Our feelings always follow our focus. So, how you are, emotionally, is always going to be determined on what you focus on.
And then, here, our focus always follows our affections. See, my focus is my affections. My affections were – and not uniquely – but my blind spot was my affections were around that being productive is what gave me value with God and people. Not solely, it wasn’t like I was just completely in left field.
But there was a lot more of that than I ever dreamed. And what I want you to know is that God is not down on you and the difficulties that we have in our lives and the circumstances in a fallen world there are storms, there are tsunamis, there are earthquakes. The issue will be: what do you focus on and how do you respond?
As I think about saying, Okay, Lord, I want to choose joy, I understand I need to have an upward focus and an outward focus. And I get to have an upward focus, I need to choose to be grateful, I need to talk to You. And I understand that there’s some things that adversity reveals.
But here’s the last question I want to address – it’s this – is how do you develop this outward focus? How do you get where, under pressure, you’re praying for other people the way Paul prays for other people? How do you do it where it becomes a habit? Where it becomes who you are, not just a thought under some pressure?
And I’m going to suggest that the apostle Paul is going to address that in verses 9 through 11, specifically. Number one, think about those who have loved you the most. When you are really discouraged and really down, just think: Who are the people that have loved me the most?
That’s what he does in verse 3. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” They have just sent a financial gift. And when you’re in prison back in those days, they didn’t serve food. If you didn’t have friends to bring you food, you just died.
And he was just, he, you think about the people who have loved you the most, instead of the people who have ripped you off the most. And then, here’s something interesting, you pray for those you think about the most.
And put a big circle around “prayer.” And, by the way, there’s a couple different ways to pray.
I had a good friend who really struggled with, if this was this full, he could focus on that much being empty.
I’m not a very good counselor but I gave him a few shots and tried to help him. And so I just said, “Well, are you praying?” He goes, “Yeah!” And so, I said, “Well,” he goes, “It doesn’t help.” I said, “Well, let’s pray, right now, together.” I’ll never forget this. And if you have heard this story, you need to hear it again, because it was like, “Are you kidding me?”
And so it was in my little apartment and so Bob and I both get on our knees. And I said, “Bob, you pray first and then I’ll pray.” And so Bob gets down and he goes, “Oh, God, You know the terrible childhood I had. You know how bad my father was. You know how the kids teased me all my life. You know…”
And he goes on and on and on and on and on. He didn’t pray at all. He was whining in the presence of God. At one point, I just opened my eyes and like, “For real?” “And, You know, that You know, I haven’t been able to hold down a job and I think everyone doesn’t like me.”
And then, finally, “Hey! Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob. Let me, can I cut in here?” “God, help Bob, amen!”
Okay, I said, “That’s how you pray, right?” He said, “Well, yeah.” I said, “I’ve got news for you. You can pray until the cows come in. God is not answering that one. Bob, that’s just, that’s not prayer, that’s you. You’re telling God all this, you’ve told me this. And I have heard it once or twice or three times. And now, have you noticed that people in this fellowship, like, when you come around they start going away?” “Yeah, it’s terrible, isn’t it?” I said, “There’s a reason, Bob!” He said, “What’s the reason?” I said, “You’re like a recorder. All you do is whine, complain, whine, complain. We tried to help you once but…”
I said, “Bob, okay, let’s try a different prayer. Pray something like this. ‘And this I pray: God, would You help Bob’s love, his passion, like never before, to understand who You really are, how much You love him, and have discernment about what truth is in life?’” Whoo. “In order that Bob could approve the things that are excellent, he might know what are the best things for him, and the people and the things that are worse for him so that his life could be blameless, the word means tested by sunlight, sincere – tested by sunlight – take that back. And blameless means morally pure.”
In other words, what Paul prays and what we can pray, this is, I pray this for my kids, I pray this for me, I pray this for Theresa, I pray this for our staff. Sometimes I think we, we have these prayers: “God, help so-and-so, help so-and-so, help so-and-so, help so-and-so.” God knows all that and I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it.
But when Paul prays, Paul prays, “This is what I am praying.” I pray this for my adult kids: Lord God, would You give them an experiential, genuine knowledge of You where they feel You and experience You like never before, in such a way, that in the world and all the pulls that are coming at them, they would understand, “I don’t want to go that direction, but I want to go this direction.” And, God, that each one of my boys, that You would keep them pure in their hearts and their minds and each one of my daughter or my daughter-in-laws would have such a love for You and understanding that as everyone tells them they ought to be this and ought to be that, that when You look like sun coming through a pane-glass window, they would be pure before You and morally pure so that they would be the kind of men and women that would love one another and honor You and create an environment so my grandkids could see Jesus in their life.
And if you look at this, he has a request. Then he gives the reason for the request. And the last phrase, he gives them the resource, “Having been filled with the fruit of righteousness.” It’s what is called a passive perfect participle for those of you that are English majors.
Passive means the action is upon you; perfect is something that happened in the past that continues on into the future. And what he is saying is: Philippians, it’s a hard world, but let me tell you something. I am praying that you’ll know God like never before. And I’m praying you’ll get it so crystal clear that all the trash and all the temptations that you’ll see: that is not the way I want to go. And that, instead, you will walk with God in such a way, because when you received Christ, the old man died, the Spirit of God came into your life, and the righteousness that He purchased, the fruit of it, this is how God sees you now. And it’s not about trying hard to be a good person. You actually possess the righteousness of Jesus Christ and, by faith, you live out what is already operating in you until the day of Christ, which is when He returns.
And so it’s a deeply theological and personal prayer. You start praying that kind of prayer for people you care about, and your self-pity will go whoo. And your “woe is me” will go whoo. And it won’t just be, some of our prayers are: Oh, God, help them sell their car, help them sell their house, help their back to get better, help this to get better, help.
We think that the, sometimes when we, I listen to myself pray and some of you is that the only goal is that God would make life better or easier. What if the bigger goal is He makes us more like Christ so that we are actually change agents that change everything and everyone around us?
C + P = E. Question is: where is your focus? Okay, in that box, when you think about that box, is your focus upward: God, what do You want to do in and through this? And is it outward: God, how are You going to use me? Or, What is happening in other people’s lives? I’ve got a tough situation, but maybe at work, or maybe the unwed mother, or maybe the lonely person, or maybe a relative, or maybe there is someone I know in this body whose difficulty and challenges…
You get your heart filled with loving other people, and I will tell you – joy! Joy! Not because things got better. It’s because joy is the evidence of Christ’s presence operating freely in your heart. It’s a gift of the Spirit.