This morning, we’re going to look at how to refocus your life. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to waste a lot of time on superfluous things? It’s easy to waste hours, days, and even months on activities that really don’t matter. We need to invest more time, energy, and money on the things that matter in life.
The key to an effective life is focus – like a laser. The stronger the focus of a laser, the more power it has. When you focus your life on the things that really matter most, your life will be effective. The problem is that most of us have very unfocused lives. We’re trying to do a hundred things at a time, and we think they’re all of equal value. An unfocused life causes you to be ineffective. Somebody has said, “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” If you want to be effective, you need to be focused.
Why do we need to focus our lives? Two reasons:
- BECAUSE THE ALTERNATIVE IS TO WASTE YOUR LIFE. Ephesians 5:17 says, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.” Don’t be foolish with your lives. You only have one life to live. You only have so much time and energy and money. And you have a choice what you’re going to do with your resources – to act thoughtlessly, or to try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. Those are your only two choices – thoughtlessness or focus.
- The second reason we’re looking at focus is BECAUSE PERSONAL RENEWAL PRECEDES CORPORATE RENEWAL. In other words, if we are going to be a focused church, we need focused people. Now, some of you may have heard of Richview 2001. We’re embarking on a discovery process to answer three questions: Where have we been? Where are we going? How will we get there? We need to become a more focused church. In fact, the next two years will be a high-cost, risky, time-consuming process of asking God for greater focus as a church. But the reality is, we can’t be a focused church until we are focused people. Personal focus precedes corporate focus. We must become focused people if we want our church to become a focused church.
I talked to a man who used to lead churches into strategic planning in order to become more focused. He quit his job and joined another ministry. Why? Because becoming a focused church doesn’t start with strategic planning. It starts individually. It starts with our personal walks with God.
So don’t waste your life. Don’t waste your life on things that don’t matter. Make your life count. The Bible says, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.” How do you do this? How do live life wisely? The answer is by taking four steps to refocus your life. We find these four steps in the story of one of the most unfocused people in the Bible. His name was Jonah. Now, the tragedy of the story of Jonah is that God’s will was very clear for Jonah. Jonah didn’t have to ask, “I wonder what God wants me to do?” In Jonah 1:2, God says, “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh! Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
But Jonah was unfocused. He understood what God wanted him to do, and yet he ignored it. He knew that God had a specific job for him, but he didn’t want to do it. He chose to waste his life. You know the story. Instead of taking a ship to Nineveh to the east, he took a ship for as far west as he could go. On that ship, he ran into a storm. After figuring out that his disobedience was the reason for the storm, the others on the ship threw him overboard, and a great fish swallowed Jonah.
Now, we’re a lot like Jonah. God has a plan for each of us. He has called you for a specific purpose. But most of us rebel against God’s plan for our lives. We lose focus. We end up wasting our lives on things that really don’t matter. We become ineffective, both individually and as a church.
How can I refocus my life? How can I be more effective? Four steps:
1. REALIZE GOD IS EVERYWHERE
I was one of those kids that my parents would hate to take shopping. No matter what they did, I would get lost. They couldn’t take me to a mall without me wandering off somewhere. One day I made the mistake of having them paged over the store intercom. The lady said, “A little boy has reported his parents lost.” Did I ever get it when I got home! I thought that my parents were lost. I didn’t realize that I was the one that had wandered off.
We tend to do that with God. We leave him and then eventually we turn around and say, “God, where are you? How come you’ve left me?” But the problem isn’t with God. The problem is with us.
Listen to Jonah 1:3:
But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction in order to get away from the LORD. He went down to the seacoast, to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping that by going away to the west he could escape from the LORD.
I love this. He went the other direction in order to get away from God. I don’t think you could get a more graphic picture of how we try to escape from God. When God tells us to go east, we head west. We think that we can get away from God and his plan for our lives.
Why do we do this? Three reasons:
WRONG THINKING – Nineveh was part of Assyria, the most powerful nation at that time. Assyrians were enemies of Israel. They were known to be ruthless and evil. Jonah thought, “What is God thinking about? Why should I care about the people of Nineveh?” What you think is important. Author George Matthew Adams said, “What you think means more than anything else in your life. More than what you earn, more than where you live, more than your social position, and more than what anyone else thinks of you.” Wrong thinking causes us to leave God.
WRONG FEELING – Jonah didn’t go to Nineveh because he didn’t care for Nineveh. God’s feelings weren’t his feelings. He didn’t want to go in case his mission was successful. Many times we depart from God because we don’t feel the same way that he does. We think that it doesn’t matter if we don’t feel God’s way. As a result, we end up far away from him.
WRONG ACTION – The way that we think affects the way that we feel, and the way we feel affects the way that we act. In Jonah’s case, his action was one of complete disobedience. As a result, he wandered away from God.
This can happen to an individual, and it can happen to a church. But no matter how far we wander away from God, God is still there. God is still at work despite our disobedience. You can never outrun God.
Psalm 139 asks, “Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? To be out of your sight?” (Psalm 139:7, The Message). The answer is no. You can’t escape from God’s presence. God is everywhere. He is omnipresent. There is no place in the universe where God isn’t. No matter where you go this next week, God’s going to be there. You cannot escape from his presence. He is everywhere. If you’re a believer, he’s in you.
Not only that, but God is at work in your life and around you. Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.” God is always at work in your life. You may be far away from God. You may not even sense him working in your life. But if you’re a believer, then God is definitely at work. You may have left him, but he’s never left you. He won’t stop that work until Jesus Christ comes back again.
One caveat: God is at work in your lives. But you may never have come to that point of committing your life to Jesus Christ. You may be on the run from God. You’re running west because you think that God wants you to go east. You may think that you know and feel better than God does. I’m here to tell you to stop. Stop trying to outrun God. You can run, but you can’t hide.
As we begin the process of refocusing, we’re going to examine how God has been at work, both in our lives and in the church. The reason is simple: we want to answer the question, “Where have I been?” Once we discover what God has been doing, we can align ourselves with his activity. We can join in on what God has been doing.
How can I refocus my life? Stop running away from God. Understand that God has always been at work around you. Realize that God is everywhere. He’s at work in your life, shaping you for a purpose. You can’t outrun God.
What do you do when your life is unfocused? Realize that God is everywhere. He’s at work in your life. There’s a second step you can take:
2. REFOCUS ON GOD WHEREVER I AM
Refocus on God. Here are four absolute truths about our lives:
- God knows what is best for your life! He created you, and wants the best for you.
- We think we know what’s best! We think what we want is best, and often say, “If I only had this, I’d be happy.”
- We’re wrong! What we want is not always the best. In fact, sometimes it’s the worst thing for us.
- God will make sure you understand these absolutes. If you don’t believe me, look at Jonah!
Jonah 1 reads:
The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, ‘What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?’ ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault this great storm has come upon you.’…Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:11,12,16,17)
I don’t know if any of you have ever been in the belly of a fish. I haven’t, but I’ve done some fishing & cleaning. There are some things I know about the bellies of fish, big or small. You don’t want to end up there! It’s dark, damp, and it stinks. It’s cold, cramped, and it stinks. The company’s all dead, the future’s not too bright, and it stinks!
That’s exactly where Jonah ended up. Maybe it’s not the belly of a fish, but sometimes we find ourselves in places like that. We end up in hopeless places with seemingly no way out. We make a bad business decision. We maintain bad financial habits. We suffer through relationship breakdowns.
Whatever the situation, you find yourself asking 2 questions. How did I get here? And how am I going to get out? Whenever you find yourself asking these two questions, it’s time to refocus on God.
Some of you may be in Jonah’s place today. You may be running from God. If so, there are three actions you can take to refocus on God. You can take the same three steps that Jonah took.
FIRST, CRY OUT TO GOD. Jonah 2:1-2 says, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” Whether it’s in your personal life or in our life as a church, the place to start is to begin by crying out to him. When we cry out to him for his help and direction, we recognize that his help and his direction is what we need most. We recognize his plans are better than our plans. And we recognize true happiness, joy and fulfillment comes from being where he’s called us. So if you know where you are today is not where God would rather you be, then cry out to God: Pray to him. Tell him about it. Ask him to take control again.
SECOND, REPENT. Jonah 2:7 says, “When my life was ebbing away (as I was dying) I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” Jonah repented. Repentance means changing the way you’re thinking. You’re either thinking God’s way or you’re not. If you’re not thinking the way God’s thinking, repent. Change your thoughts.
Jonah thought his plans were better than God’s. We know that because of how he acted. The way you act always reveals the way you think. That’s why repentance begins with changing your thinking. Romans12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Ask yourself right now where you need to change your mind. Change your thinking.
THIRD, SURRENDER TO GOD. Jonah 2:8-9 says, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.”
It’s easy to cry out to God, especially when life’s tough and painful. It’s even easy to repent – to change our minds especially when we’re between a rock and a hard place.
But surrendering is tough. When we surrender we say, “From now on I’m going to do it your way, God. From now on what you want is more important than what I want. From now on, you’re in control.” That’s not easy to do for a naturally selfish and self-centered person like me. It probably isn’t for you either. But the more you do it, the more you’ll see it really is the best way. The more you do it the more you realize it keeps you out of the hopeless places with no way out. How do you refocus? Cry out to God. Repent. Surrender to God.
God will always allow you to run. But inevitably, you end up running into him. Don’t run too far before you begin to realize that God is everywhere. Refocus on him.
The third step to refocusing your life is this:
3. RECEIVE GOD’S SECOND CHANCE
God always gives a second chance. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Jonah 3:1. It says, “Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time.” God is the God of the second chance. He loves to give people second chances and third chances and tenth chances and twentieth chances. God never gets tired of forgiving. God gives second chances to people. He gives second chances to churches. He can give another chance to you.
The reality is that we often give up on ourselves or on a church before God does. Hebrews 11 gives us a list of heroes. Did you ever study the people on that list? A bunch of them are people that we wouldn’t have given a second chance. You’ve got adulterers and murderers and liars and cheats and swindlers and weak-willed and the wishy-washy. Yet God uses people. If God used only perfect people what would get done? Not much. The fact is, God uses us in spite of our weakness, in spite of our problems, in spite of our faults and hang ups and mixed motives sometimes. God gives us a second and a third and a fourth chance.
How can we receive a second chance? Proverbs 28:13 says, “People who cover over their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy.” Two steps are mentioned here. First, confess your sins. Tell God about your mistakes. He knows about them already. Let him know you’re sorry. The first step to forgiveness is confession.
The other step we have to take is to forsake our sins. Make adjustments so that it doesn’t happen again. Everybody makes mistakes, but only fools repeat them. If you confess your sins and forsake them, then the Bible says that you will receive a second chance.
I don’t care what your failure is in life. You are not washed up unless you choose to quit, unless you choose to give up, unless you choose to reject the grace of God. The choice is condemnation or confession. You can either live in condemnation or you can confess it and get on with life. Forget the former and focus on the future.
Do you want a fresh start? It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!” God specializes in new beginnings. It is never too late to start over. It’s called being born again. It’s not a new leaf; it’s a new life.
God wants to give you a fresh start. If you’ve never followed him before, then it’s time to start today. God can wipe out your past and give you a fresh start. It means coming to God, confessing your sins, and forsaking them. In a few minutes, I’m going to tell you exactly how to do this.
Isaiah 61:3 says, “He will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair.” Joel 2:25 says, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” (NIV). Jeremiah 29:11 says to a people who were in exile, “For I know the plans I have for you…They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” God can give you a second chance.
How do I refocus my life? I realize that God is everywhere. I refocus on God no matter where I am. And I receive God’s gift of a second chance in my life.
Receiving God’s second chance is great. For Jonah it meant; being vomited out of the fish, smelling like fish guts for a year, and never eating fish again.
But it meant a lot more than that. It meant that he took a fourth step to leading a focused life:
4. SHARE GOD’S LOVE WITH EVERYONE
If there was one thing Jonah knew about God, it’s that God is a merciful God. If he went to Nineveh, there was a chance that they would repent. God loves to forgive people who repent, regardless of their mistakes, failures, and crimes. As far as he was concerned, the Ninevites were beyond forgiveness. They had to pay. They were barbarians. If he ran, then they wouldn’t hear about God’s forgiveness, couldn’t repent, and then they would pay. So Jonah ran.
But God gave Jonah a second chance. Jonah took God’s second chance and went to Nineveh. He preached, and they cried out to God. All of them, from least to greatest, put on sackcloth and called on God urgently. They repented, and they surrendered to God Jonah 3:10 says, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion.” The Ninevites received the greatest gift. They received mercy when they deserved punishment.
God was teaching Jonah the greatest lesson, a lesson he wants us all to learn. God loves people. No one is excluded from that love. And if you’ve experienced that love, then you must share it with those who haven’t. God’s love is the greatest thing to realize and experience. But God doesn’t just want you to experience it. He wants you to take it one step further. He wants you to pass it on.
Have you experienced God’s love, mercy, and grace? Then pass it on! Share it with your family, your neighbors, your co-workers.
The book of Jonah closes with God telling Jonah, “Jonah, you missed the point. You’re angry because I forgave the Ninevites, but I love people. I love you and I love everyone else. You needed forgiveness and I forgave you. They needed forgiveness and I forgave them.” And God wants us to know the same. He wants to forgive the people in our life 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” That’s why we need to share God’s love with everyone.
According to God, there’s no cause that’s more important for our lives. This must be the reason we do everything else. Everything in your life must point people to Christ. This fall, we’re going to spend time in equipping you specifically in this area, because it’s so important for us as individuals and as a church.
How do I refocus my life? Realize that God is everywhere. Refocus on God wherever I am. Receive God’s second chance. And share God’s love with everyone.
There are some of you who are here this morning saying, “I don’t need this. My life is focused. Everything is going fine in my life.” Well, you need to write this down. We all have a tendency to wander. We all have a tendency to lose our focus after some time. God wants you to be refocused on him.
As a child, I sang a song called Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. The words in that song say, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” The man who wrote that song was Robert Robinson, who lived two hundred years ago. He was an unstable and an impulsive man. Near the end of his life, a story says that he came across a woman who has studying a hymnal and singing that song. The woman asked him what he thought of the song she was humming. He replied, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.”
You may be like that. You may have run from God. It may have been a gradual thing, or it may have been a conscious decision. But today you can refocus on God. You don’t need a program or a quick fix. You don’t need a gimmick or a formula. You need to refocus on God. You need to if you’re going to be effective. And our church needs to if we’re going to be everything that he’s called us to be.
You may be a follower of Jesus Christ, and yet you sense that you’re not focused. You haven’t been living the way that God intends you to. Maybe you’ve been running from God. Well, today you can become refocused. You can pray this prayer in your heart: “God, forgive me for running from you. I know that I need to be refocused. My effectiveness and my church depend on it. Personal renewal precedes corporate renewal. Today I realize that you are everywhere. You are at work in my life. I today choose to refocus on you, to receive the gift of a second chance, and I pledge to share God’s love. I surrender to you and to your will, and I pray that you would use me for your glory. This is my prayer, in Jesus’ name.”
Some of you may have never committed your life to Jesus Christ. Today you need to come to him and say, “God, I want a fresh start. I want you to give me not a new leaf, but a new life.” You can do just that today. Pray these words in your heart: “Jesus Christ, I ask you into my heart. This seems too good to be true, but forgive me. Wipe out all of my sins. Today I confess them and forsake them, and place my trust in Jesus Christ, who died to take care of my sin problem. Make me a new creature today, I pray. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”