April 1, 2013

Where Is Your Spiritual Focus

Do you ever have trouble locating something that is right in front of you? Sometimes I have that problem when I am searching for a particular item in the pantry at our house. My wife, Gale, will assure me that the can of soup I am looking for is there. I scan the shelves, move things around, and check the shelves again and again. Finally I call to Gale, “I don’t think it is here . . .” Typically, she will walk to the shelf and put her hand right on that can of soup! My response is usually something along the lines of, “Oh, there it is!” I simply had not focused on the right object, even though it was plainly visible.

The same problem can occur when it comes to our spiritual lives. Our attention can be so focused on the challenges surrounding us that we fail to see the available resources that are so vital to our spiritual well-being.

We find an example of that in an account found in the sixth chapter of 2 Kings. The country of Syria was at war with Israel. However, each time Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, planned a raid or an ambush, God revealed the king’s plans to Elisha the prophet. And then Elisha gave that military information to the king of Israel. This thwarted the king of Syria’s plans—not once or twice, but multiple times. Eventually, Ben-hadad figured there must be a spy in his midst who was relaying information from his war council straight to the enemy, and he demanded to know who the guilty party was. One of his servants responded that none of them were betraying his trust, but that the prophet Elisha was telling Israel’s king of Ben-hadad’s plans, even those that were discussed secretly.

Ben-hadad commanded, “Go and spy where he is, that I may send and fetch him” (2 Kings 6:13). He was told that Elisha was in Dothan, so he sent a band of soldiers there with horses and chariots to capture the prophet. Since God was revealing military information to Elisha, wouldn’t Elisha be aware of Ben-hadad’s intention to capture him, just as he was aware of the king’s military moves? But that did not seem to occur to Ben-hadad, so he sent a detachment of soldiers by night to take the man of God captive.

Verse 15 relates, “And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots.” The town was completely surrounded by the enemy. To this young man, the situation seemed hopeless. He cried out, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?” While the prophet understood his servant’s concern, he answered, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” What a classic response of trust and confidence in God! Then we read, “And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17).

Has the Lord ever helped you get your focus directed to the right place? Perhaps you faced a time when you were surrounded by “enemy soldiers”—problems and trials that seemed threatening in the extreme. Then, just when it seemed there was no hope, the Lord came down and opened your spiritual understanding. In a moment you no longer focused on the problems. Instead, you saw the “horses and chariots of fire” that were surrounding you, and you realized that God was in control!

The physical process of seeing is more than images being transmitted to our brains. There is also a process that involves sorting and choosing images. Scientists are learning that we cannot process all the information our senses transmit to us at any given moment. They say that if our brains did not have the ability to ignore some information, they would become overloaded.

As an example, I wonder how many of you noted the number of chairs on this platform. While you were aware of the chairs, most likely you did not bother to pay any attention to them. If you were the janitor and needed to make sure they were all in the right place, then you would have looked carefully and could tell me that there were six chairs on the first riser, twelve on the second, and so on. However, most of us probably took no notice of the seating arrangement. If I arranged for a lion to walk in that side door, and stroll across the platform, though, most of you would notice! The brain decides which images are important enough to pay attention to.

Think back for a moment on the past year. Does your mind go to times when God blessed and prospered you? Or does it go only to trials and temptations?

The same principle applies when it comes to our spiritual vision. Think back for a moment on the past year. Does your mind go to times when God blessed and prospered you? Or does it go only to trials and temptations? The question is: are you looking at the Syrian army or at the chariots of the Lord? Yes, the Syrian army is there. We do not deny that as Christians we face challenges and trials. However, God’s horses and chariots of fire are always there too! It is up to us to decide which we are going to focus on.

Psalm 34:7 promises, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” This verse does not tell us to ignore our challenges or trials. It just tells us that the angel of the Lord is present with us in every situation. If we honor and serve the Lord, He is there. Now, if we attempt to battle through the situation on our own, that is our choice. But God’s Word promises in multiple places that He will be there for us. We are told that the Lord will be a shield and buckler, a refuge, a hiding place, a high tower, and our shelter from the storm. In the New Testament we find assurance that God knows what we are going through, and He will make a way of escape with every trial. So we have a choice. We can choose to dwell on the challenge, or we can choose to dwell on God’s provision.

Sometimes it may feel as if the enemy soldiers get bigger and better armed as life goes on. The trials that we faced when we were in high school seem insignificant compared to the challenges we face today. But God has not changed! The enemy soldiers who camped around us during our younger years could not stand before Him, and the ones we face today will be vanquished as well. The enemy would have us believe that no one else has been through what we face, that no one else has had to endure something like we are enduring, that no one else has ever felt this way. The fact is, we all face challenges, but not one of the situations faced by man is too much for God.

I like the passage in Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” We often suppose that the “all these things” this verse refers to are spiritual blessings such as foundational spiritual experiences and healing, or material blessings such as steady employment and financial security. However, I believe it could also mean the delivering power of God. That is also part of what is added to our lives. When we seek God first, He provides the horses and chariots of fire when we need them. It is just that simple.

Today, if you are feeling discouraged or challenged to the point where you are not sure how you will get through the day, it may help to check your focus. Are you looking at God or at your problems? Remember, God offers the protection, the power, and the grace you need. Ask Him to help you keep in view the Heavenly army that is encamped around you!

apostolic faith magazine