What Is My Focus?
Summary: Christians should give, pray, and fast for God, but this is only possible when our aspirations, attention, and affections are focused on Him instead of on others or ourselves.
As we go through the Sermon on the Mount, we’ve noticed that Jesus is far more concerned about our motives and our ambitions than He is about what we’re actually saying or doing.
He is always, always, always, most concerned about what is going on in your heart. It’s not WHAT are you doing as much as it is WHY are you doing it? Do you have a heart that is aligned with His or are you going after the things you personally want most in life? Here is THE question: at the end of the day, do you live for yourself or for God?
And so Jesus is calling people out – letting us know there is a right way to worship and a wrong way – there is a way that tries to go through the motions and still get ‘credit’ for being good, and a way that genuinely worships from a heart that wants to know God.
That’s important for all of us to hear and consider – to ask yourself, when I come in here on Sunday mornings or Wednesday night or Thursday for Bible study, is my heart here or am I just going through the motions?
Listen to what Jesus says to people who were doing religious things, acting very spiritual, but entirely missing the mark when it came to really connecting with God:
Matthew 6:16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
If you have been with us lately, you probably noticed this statement follows a pattern. He has said something similar about giving in verses 1-4, and about prayer in verses 5-15. Each time, Jesus warns about doing something that you’re supposed to for God in such a way that the people around you see what you’re doing instead.
In each case the spiritual behavior is assumed. Jesus assumes you’re going to give to the church, or in their case the Temple and synagogue, but He says, don’t make a big deal about it, give as an act of worship between you and God.
Jesus assumes you’re going to pray. But, He says, don’t make a big show out of it, and don’t think you need to use some special formula of words in order to be heard. Talk to God like you would talk to a loving Father, remember who He is and what He has promised and then make your requests in simple faith.
And now, Jesus assumes people are going to fast. Notice what He says, “Moreover, when you fast.” Fasting was a regular part of the life of observant Jews – the people Jesus was speaking to in this sermon.
If you were raised in the Catholic Church you might remember having certain days for fasting. In fact, according to Canon law all Catholics between the ages of 14-60 are to abstain from eating meat on Fridays. And meat is defined as mammals and birds, so mainly beef, pork, and chicken. But, fish is permitted. And so, have you ever noticed that restaurants will often have a fish special available on Fridays?
Now, not every Catholic keeps this observance, but many will return to it during Lent, – a forty-day period of fasting before Easter – which we are in right now. If fact, McDonald’s Fillet-O-Fish sandwich was created because of this. In 1960, a franchise owner in Cincinnati noticed that his sales were falling drastically on Fridays so he petitioned corporate headquarters to come up with a fish based sandwich they could sell instead. And you may have noticed that McDonalds often runs a special on these Sandwiches during March due to Lent.
Some of you may choose to participate in Lent – to fast from something, that is, to give up something you would regularly enjoy during this time of year – but it’s not a requirement in most non-denominational churches, Baptist churches, or Presbyterian churches, etc. It’s not a requirement, or something we all do together that often, but individual fasting is still encouraged. After all Jesus said it was something His disciples would do, it’s just that we most often do it for personal devotional reasons.
And when you do, you can fast all kinds of things – some people take a day, or more, and fast from all food. Others may give up something like chocolate or coffee for a season. There are all kinds of fasts, but the purpose should always be something between you and God, not between you and everyone else around you, which is the problem Jesus is addressing here. He was encouraging fasting, He said, “And when you fast” but He was correcting the kind of people who would draw attention to themselves for doing it. He says the same thing about fasting as He does about giving and prayer: you can have your reward and approval from the people around you, or you can receive it from God.
And the Bible is very clear: God does give rewards. Jesus makes references to a reward 9 times in this one Sermon alone.
In other parts of Scripture we find God telling us about negative rewards – what God will give to those who have ignored or rebelled against Him and what He will do to those who have abused His people. A classic example of this is the instruction we find in Romans 12 telling us not to settle our own scores, but to let God take care of things. We read there:
Rom 12:19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Later, the apostle Paul would write to Timothy
2Tim 4:14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works.
And to the Thessalonians he said
2Thes 1:6 … it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you,
Paul knew he had an obligation to turn the other cheek, but he certainly seemed to believe a greater act of retribution and justice was coming. And it’s coming on a larger scale too.
In the book of Revelation a voice from Heaven calls for the judgment of the city of Babylon
Rev 18:6 “Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her.
I share all of this to make a point – there is a connection between what you do on earth and what you experience from God. He sees what’s happening, and He knows why we’re doing it and reacts accordingly. And there are only two options – He can act with disapproval and judgment or with approval and reward.
That approval and reward can come for all kinds of things, if they are done with the right motive.
So, in the book of Ruth we find the record of a young woman who married into a family and subsequently lost both her husband and father-in-law. Yet this young widow stood by her similarly widowed mother-in-law and worked hard to encourage and provide for her. Boaz, another relative takes notice of what’s happening and pronounces a blessing on Ruth. He says:
Ruth 2:12 “The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
Boaz expected God to reward Ruth for what she had done. He was so impressed by this young lady that he married her and they became the grandparents of King David who also recognized the rewards that come from faithfully serving God. He wrote in
Ps 19:9b The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.
Christian, the Bible is very clear: there are rewards for knowing and serving God. Here in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us about rewards for giving, praying, and fasting but also rewards things like:
Loving your enemies, doing good, and lending while hoping for nothing in return; because that’s what God does for us – Luke 6:35
Taking care of others (prophets, the righteous, little ones, disciples) – Matt 10:41-42
Including the poor in your parties, because they cannot repay you – Luke 14:13-14
Preaching the gospel 1 Cor 9:18
Planting and watering in ministry 1 Cor 3:14
There are rewards for all of these things. But the most important reward of all comes from simply seeking God. You have to know that! The Bible tells us
Heb 11:6 … without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
You MUST believe that if you seek God, He WILL reward you. And then, as you continue to seek Him and serve Him, these other things will naturally start to flow out of your life and you’ll be doubly, triply, qudaruply blessed for them.
But, what kind of reward of are we talking about? Well, that relates to what Jesus says next:
Matthew 6:19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The “reward” God has for those who follow Him is not primarily something of this world. Because, as I’m sure you have noticed, sooner or later the things of this world break down, fall apart, fall out of style, or get lost or stolen. The coolest phone is only cool for a year or two. Your favorite dress is only good for a year or two. And yet we spend most of our lives running on the little hamster wheel of materialism setting our eyes on the next thing we think will bring us joy.
Isn’t this a part of the reason why we have storage units and the whole phenomenon of hoarding? We’re laying up stuff for ourselves, always wanting more and seldom wanting to get rid of something else.
Right now I have two neighbors who are moving. They’re both in their 60s or 70s, and they have homes full of stuff. So for weeks we have been talking with them as they go through all the things they have collected through the years – some meaningful, some not. And, as many of you know, we lost my father in law this week, and I had to go and clean out his house, pack up or throw out his stuff. It’s a sobering experience, on so many levels.
But let me tell you what I’ve learned: when you downsize, or when you die, yes, there will be some things people want – things to remember you by. But you know what really lives on? The memories. And the pictures that bring back the memories. It’s not the stuff.
Ask yourself – what do you want to have gathered around you when you die: a pile of stuff or a crowd of people? I think the answer is pretty obvious – so let’s reverse engineer the process then and ask ourselves: what do we spend most of our time focused on? Stuff, work, projects, hobbies or people?
Consciously or not, you will inevitably align your calendar and your budget with what you think is most important. So, what are you aiming at? Storing up treasures in heaven or on earth? What are you chasing right now? What is the thing you’re looking forward to?
I can tell you what each of my kids want – it’s easy to tell what they treasure. But what about you? What is it that’s right over there, just a bit of out of reach, the thing you think about regularly and would really like to get if only you had the money or the opportunity? There’s something that takes that place in almost all of our lives.
But do you remember what Jesus said to the rich young ruler?
Mark 10:21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
Now, that’s not a command for us all to take a vow of poverty, this was not a prescription for all Christians, but it’s an important reminder that the stuff we have in our lives, the treasures we’re trying to pile up on earth can clutter our view of Heaven, God, and people.
Sometimes, it’s really, really, good for your soul to remember what you have in God no matter the value of your estate here on earth.
The Bible tells us there are treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ – Col 2:3. The gospel brings us new life, and shines like a treasure in an earthen vessel giving light to a dark world – 2 Cor 4:7.
You parents need to know
Ps 127:3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.
And most of all, we need to consider what God told Abram
Gen 15:1 … “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
God Himself is your reward if you will seek Him. What more do you want?
So, on the authority of Jesus Christ can I encourage us all to take a sober look at our lives and ask: am I living for heaven, or earth? Where am I trying to pile up my treasures? What am I really trying to get out of life? What am I most focused on, where does my time and my money go? And yes, I know most of us have to work or go to school, but as you do that, are you breathing eternal significance into your work or study, or are you just going through the motions?
Do you invite God into your work, do you ask Him to bless you and direct you, to give you wisdom and understanding in your decision making, to give creativity and endurance in your projects, to use you as a source of light, hope, peace, and joy to those around you? Do make yourself available as an outlet of God’s love and grace in the lives of your friends?
I assume most of us want to say yes, that sounds good, that sounds right, but you may not be sure how to keep your focus on heaven in the daily routines of life. Well, that’s something Jesus brings up next. It turns out we often sabotage our own souls by focusing on the wrong things. Jesus says:
Matthew 6:22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good [alt. trans. healthy, clear], your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad [unhealthy], your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Here’s what Jesus is saying – the things you look at, the things you focus on, will affect what you desire. If you spend time focused on God, focused on the Kingdom of Heaven, focused on the One who is light, then you will be full of light. But if you spend your time focused on things that pull you away from God, don’t be surprised when your heart and ambitions drift away from Him as well.
We live in what has now been coined an “attention economy.” And it’s fascinating to watch consumer advocacy groups coming out to say: we have a problem. Former executives at Google and Facebook openly questioning whether they’ve done the right thing in what they have created. We have predatory design being built into our smartphones and tablets, they’re using psychology and neuroscience to manipulate us and intentionally foster addictive behavior. Your attention is the commodity that our economy is being built on and trillions of dollars are involved.
Why? Because Silicone Valley and Madison Avenue understand what Jesus is saying: optics are important – what you put in front of your eyes affects what happens in your heart.
And then we add to that, this:
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Mammon is the god of materialism, the god of money and stuff. And God, well, He’s God. And you have to choose between the two. You can only really love, or be truly loyal to, one source of ultimate meaning. Which will it be?
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. It’s kind of hard to fulfill this most basic of commands while giving half your heart away to something else.
So, how are you doing, right now, in life? Are you on the fence about anything? Is your heart divided? Are you more caught up with the things of heaven or the things of earth? And what affect is that having on your soul?
We are going to take some time now to celebrate communion – to receive a physical, tangible, reminder of what God has done for us, what He has given to us in Christ. As the men distribute the elements, I encourage you to take a moment and pray. Reflect on the things we’ve considered this morning, and ask God for an honest evaluation. Is there anything that you’re making too much out of? Is there any thing you need to let go of? Is there anything you need to get rid of? Is there anything new you need to pursue, for His glory?
And maybe the first thing you need to get rid of is the guilt of your sin – maybe you sense that God is calling you to Himself. Maybe today is the day you need to jump ship, give up on the old life you’ve been living and surrender to God. If you are ready to confess your sin to God, ask for forgiveness in Christ, and surrender the leadership of your life to Him, then simply pray something like this – the exact words themselves aren’t magic, this isn’t a formula, remember God knows the true motives of your heart, so just pray something simple and honest like this:
Heavenly Father, I know that there have been things in my life that are wrong. And I ask you to forgive me for them in Jesus. I give you control of my life – my goals, my attitudes, my behavior, I give you everything in my heart, soul, mind, and life and ask you to make it all clean, make it all new, and show me how to live and think and love for You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.