Category: Reflective Focus

Focus Is A Choice

“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31 NKJV).

Fear, worry and panic (all related emotions) have always been a struggle for me.  Loud noises make me jump. I often hesitate before stepping onto an escalator. I had a very hard time watching my sons climb beyond where I could reach them and have the identical response in observing my grandsons. In unfamiliar circumstances, I may experience a moment of panic. Perhaps it was something I learned as a child. Perhaps it is part of my temperament.  Whatever the reason, this tendency makes it necessary for me to exercise faith more often than I might otherwise.  My husband rightly says, “Fear and faith cannot reside in the same space.”  I choose to be a person of faith and so constantly work to remove the “fear factor” from my life.

My life verse is Philippians 4:6-7. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (NKJV)In many situations of life, I have had to say these verses to myself in order to get my mind off the situation that would cause me to be fearful or to worry.  More than anything, I know that I need the peace of God to guard my heart and my mind. If I allow myself to focus on negative possibilities, fear gains the upper hand.  If I focus on God and His unfailing provision, the negative emotions disappear. I have learned that focus is a choice.

Not only has my life verse (and many other scriptures) helped me conquer my fears, but my preference in reading material includes examples of those who have learned to focus on the positive.

Victor Frankl was a Jewish Viennese psychiatrist who recorded his experiences as a concentration camp inmate in his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning. In his observation of other inmates, he discovered “those with a why to live could live with almost any how.” He also concluded that once a man lost his faith in the future, he was doomed.

No one can argue that the horrors of a concentration camp can devastate a person both physically and emotionally.  But, as evidenced in the story of Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy, how you react to those circumstances is up to you. Corrie’s book The Hiding Place tells how she and Betsy chose to focus on Jesus and eternal blessings rather than the horrendous situation in which they found themselves.  Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things [focus on these things] (Philippians 4:8 NKJV).  With your focus on Jesus, you can birth a ministry even among the most terrible circumstances.

The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer is based on Proverbs 9:10. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (NKJV). Reading this book helped me understand that when we fear God (have an awesome reverence for Him), we need fear nothing else.

The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith helped me to see the sovereignty of God in a new light.  Focus on God and He will direct your life (Proverbs 3:5-6).

In Tozer’s book, The Next Chapter After Last, he states “Doctors are becoming increasingly aware of the deadly effects of  the burden of the imponderables; they are learning that if they would do the patient any permanent good they must minister to the mind as well as to the body.” Many illnesses are caused by or made worse by worry.   Scripture states that as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7).  Worry can make you sick.

Jesus knew that man had this tendency toward worry. He supplies the remedy in his Sermon on the Mount. One of the bullet points in this sermon starts with Matthew 6:19 and ends in verse 34. Jesus tells us that our perspective determines our loyalty.  Are we focused on the material and the immediate or are we focused on Heaven? An eternal perspective makes all the difference.

At first glance of verses 19-21 where Jesus tells us not to lay up treasures on earth, but in heaven, we might conclude that Jesus is telling us that we should not accumulate material things.  He had no place to call home himself and had few possessions.  However, we must always remember to take scripture in context and see the big picture.  Abraham, David, Solomon, Job and others were blessed with great wealth by God. He made the world and all that is in it for us to enjoy.  The key is verse 21, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Your heart determines your perspective.

Do you love God more than the things He provides? If everything in your life was removed, would you still trust Him? Is God enough? When you believe that life is more than food (Matthew 6:25), then your perspective is directed away from the concerns of the temporal.

Worry is mentioned five times in this passage (Matthew 6:19-34). In many other passages, God makes it clear that we should not worry. Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you (1Peter 5:7 NAS).

My only consolation about my tendency for fear or worry is the Bible says I am in good company.  David said, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You” (Psalm 56:3 NKJV).  God repeatedly told Joshua to “be strong and of good courage” (Joshua 1). At one point, the faith of the apostle Peter was so strong that he was able to walk on water. He discovered something important that day. When he took his eyes off the Lord and focused on the wind around him, he became afraid and began to sink. See Matthew 14:25-31.

Like Peter, you can choose to focus on the wind of fear and circumstance or Jesus.  I choose to focus on Jesus. I pray that you do as well.

© Stephanie B. Blake

July 2009

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Where in the World is Barnabas?

 Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another. . . (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

In our ministry, my husband and I travel internationally.  Because of those travels, I am on a quest.  I would like to find one Barnabas . . . or two . . . or three . . . or a whole church full would be preferable.  You know who Barnabas is, right? He’s that friend of the apostle Paul who was an encourager.  Barnabas was the guy who first accepted Paul into the fellowship of believers (Acts 9:27).  He was also the one who decided to set out on a missionary journey with Mark when Paul refused to work with Mark (Acts 15:36-39). Barnabas was the man who stood by someone who was having difficulty being accepted in the fellowship.  He saw God working in the lives of his friends. He believed in them, and encouraged them.

You see, I have discovered a very sad fact.  No matter where the body of Christ is gathered, there are believers who have been hurt by someone in the church.  I mean, no church in the world is exempt from this issue.  Many of the people that we work with are leaders in the church – pastors, their wives, someone with a leadership role. I can think of very few instances where we have had a chance to hear someone open up where the primary problem wasn’t someone in the church!  Even in countries where you would think the government would be the biggest obstacle to productive church work, it was often another church member who was causing the most heartache.

Unfortunately, that was the way it was with Jesus.  He came to His own, and His own rejected Him.  It was the religious leaders that had Him crucified. He hung on a Roman cross, but He was on that cross not because of the Romans, or the people who didn’t care about religion at all, or the man in the street – but the people in “the church.”  When He foretold His death, He showed His disciples how He would suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day (Matthew 16:21).  See Matthew 26:59, 27:1-2 as well.  The chief priests and the elders were the ones who incited the crowd and persuaded the multitude to free Barabbas, instead of Jesus (Matthew 27:20).

I cannot count the number of church leaders whom I have met who have been blindsided by someone in the church, often also in church leadership.  Most of the time, the onslaught has been a total surprise – from someone the leader thought he could trust, even someone who had been closer to him than most of the others in the church.  Many of the people telling their story were still reeling from an attack that happened months or years ago. What a tragedy!

It is not for me to judge whether the attackers were planted by Satan, unbelievers in the midst of a congregation, or believers who just stubbornly thought their way was right.  Whatever the reason, the result is devastating.  I have observed people with obvious spiritual gifts who are so downcast and hurt that they cannot see a way to continue ministry.  Or they are just “treading water,” trying to stay out of trouble.

In His last discourse with His disciples, Jesus said that He was giving them a new commandment.  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  He repeats that commandment in John 15:12 and prays for unity and love of the fellowship in John 17.

About this “new commandment,” G. Campbell Morgan makes this statement:

Then followed the arresting statement, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples.” Not by the creed you recite. Not by the livery you wear. Not by the hymns you sing. Not by the ritual you observe. But by the fact that you love one another. Tertullian tells how in those early days, the exclamation that was made about the Christians was, “See how these Christians love one another.” The measure in which Christian people fail in love to each other is the measure in which the world does not believe in them, or their Christianity. It is the final test of discipleship, according to Jesus.

Jesus knew where our biggest problems were going to come from.  And He knew that if the world didn’t see our love for each other, the witness of the church would be lessened.  Isn’t that happening today?  Think of how the media loves to broadcast discord within a church, a denomination, a Christian family.

Obviously, this problem is not going to go away until Christ comes.  However, the more we are aware of Satan’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11), the more likely we are to recognize that the cause of Christ is being harmed.  If we all decided to obey His commandment, then our focus would be on Christ and His mission.

Certainly, I have met some who qualify as a Barnabas.  Praise God for them.  However, they are few and far between. We still need to ask the question. Where in the world is Barnabas?

© Stephanie B. Blake

June 2009

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Quote from G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to John, Fleming Revell Company, p. 241

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The Forbidden City

. . . abounding in riches for all who call upon Him. . . (Romans 10:12b NAS).

My husband and I just returned from China. While there, we were able to view the Imperial palaces and gardens of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Construction began in 1406 and was completed fourteen years later. For over 500 years, 24 emperors ruled from the confines of this city.  The palaces were fully walled on four sides by 10-meter-high walls, 7,236 kilometers in circumference.  Outside the walls, a 52-meter-wide moat with a length of 3.8 kilometers surrounds the city.  Only the rulers of China and their servants were allowed within the city.  Anyone else attempting to come in was killed.  Thus, it was named “The Forbidden City.”

In one of the palaces, the imperial throne sits on a seven-floor base.  It is so high that when the emperor was seated on the throne, his feet were 11 meters above the heads of the officials.

The Imperial Garden, 130 meters long and 90 meters wide, has more than 20 architectural structures of different kinds arranged symmetrically in hierarchical order, dotted with rare flowers and trees, ponds and layered rocks.

Walking through this massive city, I compared the vast difference between those rulers of old and Jesus Christ, our Lord. For some human rulers (such as these were), exercising supreme power over the people was done from a distance.  From within the confines of “The Forbidden City,” these emperors, called the Sons of Heaven, issued commands with absolute authority to millions of subjects.

How unlike our Savior!  Leaving Heaven, He became one of us. John tells us that the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  Not only did He leave Heaven, but He came to serve . . . .The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). After washing the feet of His disciples, He said, “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:13-15 NAS).

Instead of ruling from a distance, Jesus came and lived among us.  Instead of sitting above us, He came and knelt at our feet.  Instead of killing any who would attempt to come near, He sacrificed Himself.  Instead of forbidding us to see His beautiful gardens, He offers us eternal life so that we can enjoy all the splendor of Heaven with Him. Jesus does not live in a forbidden city.  He invites all to live with Him.  For those who accept His invitation by trusting Him as Savior and Lord, He is preparing a place in His Father’s house (John 14:20).

It continues to baffle me that anyone who hears the truth of who Jesus is and what He did on our behalf could refuse such an incredible gift.  God’s grace and the riches of Christ are truly unfathomable. To God be the glory for such amazing grace!

©Stephanie B. Blake

May 2009

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Pulling Weeds

Oh, the joys of those who . . . delight in doing everything the Lord wants. . . . They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper (Psalm 1:2-3 NLT).

It’s spring time in the northern hemisphere. If you are like me, you are always eager for spring.  The beauty of new growth invites a more prolonged stay outside. Some of my friends say that I am a little crazy because I love doing yard work.  Although it is a lot like housework (never completely finished), there is a great deal of satisfaction in walking away from a flower bed after having rid it of weeds and letting the plants that we really want to see show through.  Of course, if it is not done on a consistent basis, the weeds really do gain the upper hand. Then, instead of loving yard work, I find myself wishing for an easy way to produce the result I yearn for.  As of yet, I have not discovered a weed killer that will discriminate between what I want and what I don’t want, so I am the one who needs to make the judgment and pull out the unwanted growth one by one.

As I work in my flower beds, I often reflect on the fact that Jesus gave many illustrations using seeds, trees, fruit, plants, sowing, pruning and reaping.  As a result of the fall, the ground was cursed and work became an effort instead of a joy (Genesis 3:17-19).  There remains, however, the beauty of God’s creation all around us. If we are privileged enough to have the stewardship of a plot of earth in which we can sow and reap, then we partner with God in His garden enterprise.

In my garden, I have encountered a variety of weeds.  Some of them have a single root.  If that weed is pulled out by the root, wonderful!  If not, it will come back.  Others have complex root systems that make them next to impossible to pull out.  They must be dug out.  In those cases, I remember that the Lord said that He was going to leave the tares and the wheat to grow together, and do the weeding at the end of time (Matthew 13).  Sometimes I make a similar decision.  I will deal with those weeds again and again in order to save the good plants that are growing close to them.

The task of weeding reminds me of sin.  Maybe you, like me, have discovered that weeding, like ridding your life of sin, involves the following.

  • Weeding is backbreaking work.  If I don’t stay alert and “prayed up,” sin keeps coming back.  If I don’t keep up with the weeding, the weeds overtake the garden. Vigilance is the key! Bill Gaither says that there is a plaque on the wall of his home in Alexandria, Indiana that summed up his parents’ attitude about faith, “Pray for rain, but keep hoeing.”
  • It helps if the weeds can be pulled up by the roots. If possible, it is best to stop sin at its source. For instance, my nature is to panic and be fearful of unknown situations.  That is the opposite of faith.  When fear raises its ugly head in my life, I have to go back to the basics: trusting God! As my husband says, “Fear and faith cannot occupy the same space.”
  • Sometimes I need help. The task of weeding is a bit overwhelming sometimes, especially since my husband and I travel much of the year. Occasionally my husband, a friend or a neighbor will sit with me and help me pull out weeds.  Likewise, an accountability partner can often notice an area that is displeasing to God that I have overlooked.
  • Weeding is easier if the soil is soft or wet. If you ever tried to pull weeds in hard, dry soil, you know how hard it can be. Likewise, it is easier to dispose of sin when it is fresh and recognizable as sin.  The longer sin is left to harden in our lives, the harder it is to remove.

I started this reflection by commenting on how much I love to see new growth and flowers in my garden.  That is how I want to end it as well.  Weeding, both in my garden and in my life, is well worth it.

As I observe the flowers in my garden, I am reminded that a garden is not just one flower.  It is many flowers.  You and I are part of a big garden that God has planted.

Flowers need attention.  But don’t we love the attention our Heavenly Gardener showers on us? We are linked to His Living Vine.  We need each other.  Together we can “bloom where we are planted” so that others can see Jesus in us.

© Stephanie B. Blake

April 2009

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Driven by Prayer

My book, The Prayer Driven Life,  examines basic questions we all have about prayer. What is prayer? How do we pray? Why do we pray? What difference does it make? By examining the prayer life of the great apostle Paul, you and I discover some great truths about how to relate to God through prayer.

I chose The Prayer Driven Life for the name of the book for several reasons. Paul’s life was driven by his relationship to God and their conversations. Also, I knew that if we followed his example, it would be possible for us to have that same kind of relationship. When a life is truly driven by prayer, the promise of Proverbs 3:5-6 becomes a reality. God wants to direct our paths.

I also want my life to be prayer driven. As much as I wish I could say that everything I do is bathed in prayer, I must admit that it is not always. However, I know that everything should be bathed in prayer. The more my life is prayer driven, the closer I get to God. As I journey through life, I am learning just how important prayer is and what a wonderful privilege it is to be able to speak to Him and to hear His replies.

I can testify that when I have made prayer a priority in my life, God’s presence has been more real and His answers have sustained me.  Space would not permit me to include all the ways He has answered prayers for me and my family: my beloved father, my best friend and husband, my two sons, their wives and my incredible three grandsons. However, I would like to give you one example.

When my sons were toddlers, I started praying for the women that they would marry.  I figured it was never too soon for that request!  Now they are married and have sons of their own.  I can see the hand of God on their lives every step of the way, but especially in their choice of godly women who love them and their sons.

One daughter-in-law was being prepared for us right in front of our eyes.  She and my son played together as children in our church daycare.  We have pictures of them as they celebrated second and third birthdays together. When they were both three years old, we moved away.  In the providence of God, however, our families lived in the same city again when they were teenagers.  They were part of a wonderful group of young people at a church where my husband was pastor.  It was not until they were ready to graduate from college, though, that our son told us that he was going to ask her to marry him.  The joy that filled our hearts (my husband, me and our youngest son) was nearly tangible!

Our other daughter-in-law came to our family after our son was already in the Air Force.  He had also been praying for a godly wife.  At a singles class in church, he met a girl that he was immediately drawn to.  He was impressed not only with her physical beauty, but her inner spiritual strength. The deep friendship that was formed at first eventually developed into a romance. You can imagine the rest.  I thank God every day for how He answered those prayers.

I have observed that in the big and little issues of life (and everything in between), God is pleased when we talk to Him.  As our loving Father, He responds with the answer that is best for us and for His perfect plan for our lives.

My hope is that you, too, want to know God better through a special relationship with Him which includes prayer.  The apostle Paul said that we should rejoice always; pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJV).  If you and I would follow his suggestion, that would make every day a wonderful prayer walk with our gracious God.

© Stephanie B. Blake

March 2009

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