On Friday night, I came across a book called “The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook.” It calls itself “The Indispensable, indestructible guide for surviving life’s turns for the worst.” It had sections on how to escape from quicksand, how to wrestle an alligator, break down a door, land a plane, and how to fend off a sharp. It even had two sections on how to deliver a baby in a taxi cab, and how to jump from a moving car. I really don’t know if the two were related! It has everything that you need for those worst-case scenarios in life.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be prepared for life’s most-likely-to-happen scenarios. One of the most likely scenarios to happen in your life is that you will lead an unfocused life. There’s a pretty good chance that you’re over-committed in your life.
The natural question is why do we get overloaded? Why do we allow our bodies, our emotions, our schedules, our budgets to get overloaded? The answer is always the same. We try to do too much. Then the question becomes, “Why are we always trying to do so much?” The answer is because we forget what matters most. Instead of focusing on the few things of life that really count, that really matter, that really make a difference we just try to do everything. And as a result we get overloaded.
Some people try to address this problem by squeezing more into their days. They try to get more things done by getting more things done. I really want to be honest with you. I’m not interested in learning how to get more done. Most of us are already doing too much. The last thing we need is to learn how to do another hundred tasks. We need to stop and ask, “What is my focus? What really matters in my life?” And we’re going to look at how to get that kind of focus for your life.
Why are we discussing this? Because the key to an effective life is focus. Like a laser, the more concentrated the focus, the more power the laser has. When you focus your life on one, two, or three things that matter most, your life will be effective.
Like a laser, the stronger the focus, the more concentrated the focus, the more power the laser has. And when you focus your life on one or two or three things that really matter most, your life will be effective. The problem is most of us have very unfocused lives. So we’re trying to do a hundred things at the same time and think they’re all of equal value when they’re not, not at all. So an unfocused life causes you to get overloaded. The more you focus the more you center in on what really matters.
Ephesians 5 tells us:
So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Don’t waste your life. Don’t use it up on things that really don’t matter. Make your life count.
How do I do this? There are five steps that I will need to take if I am going to live a focused life:
F: FACE THE FACTS ABOUT YOUR OVER-COMMITMENT
The first step isn’t about doing anything. It’s about understanding. It’s about knowing why it is in the first place that you’re in over your head. You’re not over-committed for no reason. You have chosen to be over-committed, and the first step that you’ve got to take is that you’ve got to figure out why.
At various points in my life, I’ve been way over-committed. I remember the time that our daughter was first born. I was working full-time as a pastor. If you know a pastor’s job, that means a lot of nights out. On top of that, I was the president of a community organization and a member of two other boards. My wife worked more than full-time and was a member of two boards too. All on top of having a new baby. I was burning the candle at both ends, and I wasn’t as bright as I thought I was. I was running tired, I wasn’t being effective, and my relationships were suffering. One of the things that I had to do was to take a step back and examine what was driving me. Only after that could I begin to make some changes.
Psalm 90:12 tells us, “Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.” The verse literally says, “Teach us to number our days.” Some of you wish that you had an extra hour in your day. You think that extra hour would solve your time problems. Wrong. The answer isn’t, “If only I had more time!” Every person has been given 86,400 seconds a day. We all have the identical time. God has given us just the time we need to accomplish his purposes. You don’t need more time. You need more focus.
So, this morning, face the facts. Understand that it’s not a problem with your spouse or your career. Accept that you do have a choice – a responsibility – before God. And pray the prayer of David, “Teach ME to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.”
O: ORDER YOUR LIFE AROUND THE RIGHT PURPOSE
You need to order your life around the right purpose. A lot of people have different purposes in life. People live for different things. Some people live for a career. Some live for sports. Some live for family. Some live to make money or to have fun. You can order your life around any number of things. The key to focusing your life, though, is to order your life around the right purpose – God’s purpose.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with these things. There’s nothing wrong with a career or sports or a family or money or fun. But they’re not strong enough, they’re not solid enough, they’re not secure enough to be the center of your life. You need something at the center of your life that is absolutely unchanging, that can never be taken away from you. If it can you will lose your security. You will always be under stress. You need something that is unchanging and secure.
The Bible tells us in Psalm 62:10: “If your wealth increases, don’t make it the center of your life.” That’s good advice. Why? Because money can be taken away. Jesus said, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves.” (Matthew 6:19-20). What was Jesus saying? Invest your life in things that won’t depreciate. Invest your energies in God’s purposes for my life.
What are God’s purposes for my life?
- God wants me to get to know him and to love him. I was made to put him at the center of my life. So I need to set some specific goals about getting to know God, learning to trust him. I need to set some goals about how much time I’m going to spend getting to know God.
- God made you to become like Jesus. Romans 8:29 says, “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son.” You need to set some specific goals saying, “What kind of character do I need to work on? and how do I want to be different a year from now than I am today? What character qualities, specifically, do I want to work on?” God is more interested in your character than he is your comfort or your career.
- He made you to make a contribution to the world. He’s given you certain gifts and talents. So you need to set some goals saying, How can I best make a contribution? Where am I going to get involved in giving my life away? Set some specific goals about where you’re going to make a contribution to help other people, to help make the world a better place.
In fact, Pastor Ed is going to be teaching a course called Class 401. It begins on October 8 in the evening, and it’s going to cover this sort of material. Maybe one of the goals you can set is, over the next year, to discover God’s purposes for your life and to begin to live them. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:26: “So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step.” Order your life around the right purpose. Organize them around God’ s purposes for your life.
What is this going to mean in your life? It means that you make the care of your soul central to your life. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.” Your heart has to make it to your DayTimer. You will need to take steps to make sure that everyday you take time to connect to God and receive directions from him about how you should be living your life.
C: COMMIT TO RELATIONSHIPS
Commit to the relationships in your life. That’s the next step. 1 Corinthians 14:1 says, “Let love be your highest goal.” Love is to be your number one priority. When you bring life to its essence, it’s all about relationships – relationships with other people, and a relationship with God. Relationships aren’t one of the things you want to do. It’s not one of your top-ten list – “to have loving relationships.” It should be number one on your list.
Why? Why should love be our highest goal? I heard the other week from someone whose career was on the fast track. His boss said, “Here at this company, we expect work to be the number two priority in your life, right after your family.” The man thought, “Number two? Forget it. I’ll put work as number one in my life.” But that’s not what the Bible teaches. Your relationships are what life is all about. 1 Corinthians 13:3, in the Message paraphrase, says, “No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” You can have a million dollars, but if you don’t have love, you’re bankrupt. Love needs to be the focus of your life.
The problem is that a lot of us think of our relationships as something we have to squeeze into our schedule. Many times, when something has to give in our schedule, it’s – what? Time for relationships. Time with God. Time with our spouse. Time with our kids and with our friends. We say that our relationships are most important, but we act as if our career is what matters most.
Why do you need to ask “Whom will I love?” and make that a central focus of your life? Two reasons:
- BECAUSE LOVE IS WHAT LIFE IS ABOUT. When Jesus was asked for the Coles Notes version of the Bible – what life is all about – Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Matthew 22:37-39). The point of life is love. It’s not making a living; it’s not paying the bills; it’s not accomplishing goals. If your life isn’t about love, you’re wasting your life.
- BECAUSE LOVE IS ALL THAT WILL LAST – 1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “There are three things that will endure – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” Love, not work and not wealth, will be your legacy.
I was reading about the Olympic medals that people have won in the past. Do you know that many of the Olympic athletes who win medals just toss them in a drawer or a box somewhere? A few years later, they can’t even find them anymore. All the medals and trophies and accomplishments you achieve are going to be trashed and forgotten. And when you’re on your deathbed, you’re not going to say, “Bring me that gold watch again. Let me see it one more time. Show me my medals.” When you reach the end of your life, it’s going to be about relationships.
How do you focus your life? God has brought certain people into your life. It’s about time that they started to be a priority. How is it going to happen? It’s going to happen by giving them their time. Where am I going to find the time? It may come from your career. It may come from your hobbies. It may come from the TV and the Internet. The average person watches TV and/or works or plays on the computer an average of five or six hours a day. That’s 30 hours a week. That’s 1,560 hours a year. That’s the equivalent of spending 65 days around the clock watching TV and using the computer. I’m not telling you to stop doing these things; just limit them.
Charles Colson, former advisor to the President of the United States, says these words:
As I think back on my life my biggest regret is not spending more time with the kids. Making family your top priority means going against the culture where materialism and workaholism are rampant. It means realizing in advance you may not advance in your career as some do. It means being willing to accept a lower standard of living knowing that you’re doing the right thing for your children, giving them the emotional security that they will draw on for the rest of your lives.
So what are you going to do to make relationships a priority in your life? What steps are you going to take to make relationships a central focus of your life? I’d encourage you to go home today and list just one change that you can make to build stronger relationships in your life, because it’s what life is about. Nothing will outlast love.
If you do this, though, there’s going to be a cost. That brings me to the next step:
U: UNDERSTAND THE COST
Some of you have been sitting there saying, “Great. I thought this was a sermon about margin. Instead of telling me how to do less, Darryl’s been telling me that I need to do more. I need to build my character. I need to spend time in relationships. Where am I going to get the time to do that?”
If you’re going to live a life of margin, there’s going to be a cost. It may cost you some pride. You may have to go to a colleague or a friend and say no. You may have to make major adjustments to your career. It may cost you money. You need to understand the cost of living with margin. I want you to hear the story of Lois Tullo. Let’s give her a welcome.
So you might be wondering, “Why did he ask me to speak”? Well, I know lots about over-commitment. If you look at the world’s view of success, I’ll tell you the story of how I made it and what it cost. When I was twenty, I finished by Bachelor of Commerce. When I was twenty-one, I was the youngest chartered accountant in Ontario. I was a member of clubs. I was a consultant with a Boston consulting firm at twenty-four, charged out at US$250 an hour. I got married. It was very happy. The things that you see, I did. I did an Executive MBA at age twenty-seven. I was the youngest in the class. I was the director at a telecommunications firm at twenty-nine, and I was a CFO for a major bank with a $6 billion dollar portfolio at age thirty-one.
But there was a cost. So what was that cost? Well, I worked a minimum of sixty hours a week – sometimes eighty-five. With board meetings, I worked all night. We had a little daughter, and my husband would bring her to have supper with me at work because I was never home. When my mom and dad came for Christmas, they stayed up until midnight to have coffee with me, and they said, “Don’t you think you should maybe get a different job?”
So, there are things in your life that the world views as a success, and there is a cost. There are nice things about being a CFO at a bank. You have a big office; you have a bunch of people work for you. But it’s really not that important.
So, what do you have to do? You have to trust God when you say, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” But you know, God’s plan is actually better than my plan.
What happened? I gave three months notice in the summer, and over that summertime God gave me a part-time teaching position at York. I didn’t have to apply. It was just there, and it was a gift from God. He weaned me off work easily. He gave me some consulting jobs, where I was able to make more money in a couple of weeks than I made in a couple of months in my old job. And he’s given me now three lovely children that I actually get to see. And when I do go off to work one night a week, they say, “I don’t want you to go, Mommy!” And that’s really the best. And there’s nothing that can substitute for that.
You will never give up anything for God that God doesn’t repay tenfold. Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.”
So what are you waiting for? What is so good about the life that you’re leading right now that you’re not willing to trade it for a bit of margin? The purpose of margin is not to live a life of selfishness but to live a life of significance. Margin is not just about cutting things out of your life and schedule. If that’s all you got, you missed the point. Margin is about making time for what matters most.
Jim Elliott, a missionary martyr, said these words: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jesus said:
Then he called his disciples and the crowds to come over and listen. “If any of you wants to be my follower,” he told them, “you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul? (Mark 8:34-37)
Understand the cost. Understand that there’s nothing that you give up to live a life of margin, to begin living a life centered on God’s purposes, that God won’t repay many times over. The key isn’t to try to do more things; it’s to do the right things.
There’s one more step to focusing your life:
S: START TODAY
The most dangerous part of a sermon like this is the fact that a lot of you are going to agree with everything I said, and yet you’re going to go home and change nothing. Why? Because it’s too hard to change. It’s too hard to break old patterns, to begin to say no, and to begin to live a life of focus.
The only benefit of being stretched to the limit is that it brings you to the point where you need to trust God more. Some of you are to the point at which you can’t do anymore. You’re in way over your head. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9:
We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally – not a bad idea since he’s the one who raises the dead! (The Message)
God can do what you can’t do. You’ve got a role to play, but don’t even try to do it without God’s help. God is a God who can change your life. He can change you from the inside out.
The Bible 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!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Why chose to remodel your old life when you can have a new one? You can come to Jesus today .
Let me pray with you this morning.
Father, today we come to face the facts about our over-commitment. Today, maybe for the first time, we accept responsibility for over-committing our lives and investing them in secondary things. We commit today to ordering our lives around you and your purposes for us. Today, we commit to loving those around us. We commit to paying the cost, knowing that nothing we give up for you ever goes unpaid. We commit to start today to live a life of focus.
If you haven’t committed your life to Christ, you can pray this prayer. It’s sung at the end of every Billy Graham crusade:
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.