Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ (American, 1937?-), "O Root" (from the "O Antiphons" series). Of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Tags: Tree of Jesse. Source: http://csjstpaul.org/ansgar_holmbergs_o_antiphon_paintings.aspx; http://yokeofchrist.blogspot.com/2010/12/o-root-of-jesse.html

Day 5: A Life of Spiritual Focus

Jamie really didn’t think she should be complaining. Basically happy, she said, “Most of the areas of my life are good. I have three good kids. My husband and I have a good relationship. And I guess I’m one of the few people out there who really like their jobs.” Jamie hesitated. “But I know I’m not living for God. I’m not a big moral failure; it’s just that I don’t have a strong relationship with Him. God is just kind of in the background in my life.”

“Before I had kids, I spent regular time in prayer. Now it seems that my prayer life is an occasional ‘Help me, Lord.” I feel like I’m going through the motions at church I have so many things on my mind that I find myself thinking about all the things I have to do.”

“What would you like most if you could live a simple life.?”

“Oh, that’s an easy question. If I could really live a simple life, I would enjoy spending more time with God. Praying more. Reading the Bible more. Going on mission trips. Getting more involved in church. Getting into a women’s Bible study.”

Then she was asked, “What’s stopping you?”

“Let me see,” she said, this time with a smile. “Three kids, ages 10, 12, and 15, who have to be transported a thousand different places. A job that requires more than 40 hours a week with commute time. A house that is never clean. Trying to keep up with some church activities. Helping the kids with their homework. Going to school functions.”

So then she was asked a leading question: “Is there anything you do that is more important than your relationship with God.?”

“If you are trying to put me on a guilt trip, you’re doing a good job,” Jamie said sternly. “I know I need to give God more time I just don’t where to begin. I don’t know what I would eliminate.”

Jamie nailed it. She said precisely what was heard throughout this research process. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents wished they had more time for church and other spiritual matters. The simple life is elusive because elimination is too difficult for most people.

Do you struggle with eliminating activities from your life in order to have more time for God? Yes No

How can we begin to focus on things that really matter? How can we eliminate just a few items when they all appear to be necessities? Perhaps a _journey back in time can give us some perspective.

The Not-So-Simple Life Two Thousand Years Ago

The survey heard many churchgoers say they wish the church today could be just like the early church in the Book of Acts. But things were not always perfect in Jerusalem.

Read Acts 6:1-7

1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

What was causing dissension in the church?

What did the apostles identity as their top priorities?

What solution was adopted to meet ministry needs?

Notice the incredible response in Acts 6:7 when the apostles remained focused:

The preaching ministry grew more powerful.

More people became followers of Christ.

Some of the hardest to reach became Christians.

The early church leaders’ example provides us with live key principles that help us focus today.

Deal realistically with your messy world. How many times have we postponed the simple life because we were certain that, when life’s circumstances change, we would have all the time in the world? “When I finish my education, then I can simplify my life.” “When the kids are grown, I can have a normal life.” “When this major crunch at work has passed, then I can do some things that really matter.”

The early church leaders dealt with the messiness of life straight on. A significant group in the church was complaining. The gospel focus of the early church was in danger of being lost. The widows of Greek origin were being neglected in the church’s provision of food.

The leaders didn’t say they would forego matters of utmost importance to deal with the tyranny of the urgent. They didn’t say they would ignore the matter either. They acknowledged the messiness of life and then dealt with it.

Be brutally honest with yourself and others. Look at Acts 6:2 closely: “The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, ‘It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables’ ” Sometimes the first step is the toughest because it means we can’t fool ourselves anymore. If God is in the background of our lives, it clearly means we have lost our focus on the simple life that really matters.

Notice that the apostles told everyone (“the whole company”) about the challenge, making it clear they would lose focus on their main calling (“preaching about God”) if they took a detour to get involved in yet another activity (“wait on tables”).

Acknowledge that something good has to go. One of the most important ministries of the Jerusalem church was taking care of the widows The biblical mandate to care for widows is evident throughout Scripture (see l Tim. 5:3; James. 1:27). But the leaders of the church couldn’t do it all. They had to let something go, even if it was something good.

Be creative in discovering alternatives. Sometimes we are too busy, even too busy for God, because we have our own mini-messianic complex. We just don’t believe it will be done unless we do it ourselves. The leaders of the early church knew the ministry to widows was important. They just didn’t believe everything depended on them So the apostles looked for an alternative plan that would let them continue to focus on their primary calling. They found seven others who were physically and spiritually qualified to carry out the task (see Acts 6:5).

Keep your focus. The temptation must have been great for the early church leaders to take on the task themselves. They must have felt pressure to abandon what really mattered to handle the most vocal issue of the moment. But they didn’t. They kept their focus: “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry” (Acts 6:4).

Focus. Not easy. But it’s a must for the simple life.

Describe the way each principle applies to your personal need to focus on God.

Deal realistically with your messy world:

Be brutally honest with yourself and others:

Acknowledge that something has to go:

Be creative in discovering alternatives:

Keep your focus:

We can’t escape the fact that nothing else really matters in life if our relationship with Cod isn’t all it should he. If we are too busy for God we are just too busy.

Many of us insist that everything we are doing, all of the activities we are involved in, and every minute that is consumed are nonnegotiable. We just can’t eliminate anything.

Except time with God.

Elimination is a spiritual issue because it’s a matter of steward ship. Eliminating the nonessentials, even if they are good things, is vital Paul wrote, “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk-not as unwise people hut as wise-making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). The apostle Paul had two Greek words he could have used for time in this verse: chronos and kairos. Chronos refers to time in general. It is clock time and the root word for chronological. Kairos refers to a predetermined, specific amount of time. It is measured, allocated, and fixed.

Paul used kairos. His word choice is significant. He was saying, in essence, that you have a specific amount of time here in this world Thats it. It is already set. It is fixed. The clock is ticking. Your time is running out. Even now.

So make the most of it. Don’t just spend it. Invest it. Be wise with the time God has given you. Eliminating activities, as God leads, is choosing to be a wise steward of the time and resources he has given. Elimination is vital to having focus. And focus is indispensable to the simple lille and a closer relationship with God.

Describe what your spiritual life would look like ii you made the most of your time.

We heard several success stories from people who now spend more time with Cod because they have been successful at eliminating the extraneous. Here are a few.

° “I watched television an average of 15 hours a week. I made a commitment to cut my television time to 10 hours a week and gave the other 5 hours to prayer and Bible study. I now have about 45 minutes for prayer and Bible study each day that I didn’t have before.”

° “I spend 8 or 9 hours a week commuting to work. I decided to eliminate the time I listened to the car radio. Instead, I now listen to the Bible on CD and spend time in prayer. I also have a lot less road rage now!”

° “My ritual included reading the local paper for 45 minutes each morning. I limit myself to 30 minutes now and use the other I5 minutes each day for prayer.”

° “It floored me when I decided to measure my time on the Internet for one week. Twenty hours. I couldn’t believe it. I immediately cut that time in half and began studying  books of the Bible.”

° “I run about 45 minutes each day. I love listening to music and interesting speakers on my iPod. Now I listen to downloaded sermons and Bible readings at least three or four of the days I run each week.”

What can you eliminate or reduce to make more time with God?

Write your commitment to devote more time to God. What will you eliminate? How much time will you try to gain each day or week? How will you spend your time with God? The simple life may require some tough choices. It will probably require the elimination of something you are doing now. And it will mean saying no to things that threaten to pull you oil? track. But it will free you to do things that are really important-the things that really matter. That’s the only way you can bring God from the background of your life to the foreground, the rightful place he deserves.

Remember these:

Clarity

Movement

Alignment

Focus

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