We are continuing a new series entitled: How to Renew Your Mind.
I wonder how many of you are in the middle of a pretty decent life for the most part but still find yourself complaining a lot?
Why is that? That life can be really pretty wonderful in most ways, but we still have this amazing ability to adjust our focus onto what’s wrong.
And that’s what I’m wanting to talk about this morning: Adjusting your focus
I want to go to two places in scripture this morning that show us a powerful ability that we have and that is the power of our focus.
“Your focus determines your reality.” (Qui-Gon Jinn)
Now that’s kind of a hippie Jedi thing to say, but it really is true.
And I want to introduce a concept in psychology that will be new to some of you, and the concept is a ‘Cognitive Bias’. What does that mean?
Well, I love steak. I’m sure you can tell that by looking at me. And I like to grill, I’m not a grill master or anything, but I do like to grill steak, but my wife and I, we don’t have the budget for costly steaks, so we’re always looking for ways to make inexpensive steak really good and really tender. Well, often times, what I’ll do is I’ll grill some steak, and then I let it rest, and then I slice it. And I’m sure most of you know the right way to slice meat is against the grain to make the fibers in the steak as short as possible. But also, I’ve learned to cut steak on a bias. What does that mean? Well, it means to cut it at a 45 degree angle. So diagonally. So it’s not straight up and down, it’s cutting at a slant.
Well, a cognitive bias is the same thing. Where our preconceived ideas and conditioning cause us to not perceive things exactly as they are, but to perceive them at a slant.
Or take the news. A lot of people have a pretty strong opinion on who and who is not biased when it comes to reporting the news. And again, when we say ‘bias’ we mean something that’s slanted.
We ALL have cognitive biases. We all do. A cognitive bias is how you slant something in your own brain to accommodate your existing belief or past conditioning.
And they’re USUALLY not intentional.
So let’s use church as an example. Many people grew up in churches that had an unhealthy emphasis on human depravity. There’s of course a great deal of truth when it comes to human depravity, apart from God we really can be quite depraved, that’s absolutely true. But there can be churches that overemphasize that and never gets to the solution of understanding who we are in Christ, but it’s just “You’re horrible, you’re despicable, you pathetic worm, you deserve to burn in hell for all eternity.” And there’s no “You are made in the image of God, you’re a new creation, God deeply loves you and cares for you.” And so people will sometimes grow up and they have a bias against churches because of the bad experience they had at church.
It’s a cognitive bias.
Another example, many of you, tragically, grew up around abusive men. Be it physically, be it verbally. And that was how you grew up. And so now, you have a bias, created by your past, that colors how you see men. And your bias causes you to make wrong assumptions about men who are NOT abusive.
It’s a cognitive bias.
It’s a lens through which you see the world.
This is why two different people can respond totally differently to the exact same situation. It’s a cognitive bias.
This is God speaking to Moses.
“Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” (Numbers 13:2)
So at the LORD’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran (Pur-on). All of them were leaders of the Israelites. (Numbers 13:3)
God tells Moses to send men to go check out the land of Canaan. Canaan was the land God had promised to Abraham the Father of the Israelites.
Moses instructs them:
See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. (Numbers 13:18)
What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? (Numbers 13:19)
How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (Numbers 13:20)
So Moses tells these 12 men to go spy on the land and the people there to see what they were like.
So they go and sneak around and explore all these different places in Canaan.
At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land. (Numbers 13:25)
They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. (They show them these huge bushels of grapes that it took 2 men to carry) (Numbers 13:27)
But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. (Numbers 13:28)
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30)
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” (Numbers 13:31)
And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. (Numbers 13:32)
We saw the Nephilim there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:33)
Ok so here’s what’s happening. These 12 men give their report. 10 of the men say “Oh man, it’s so bad. We can’t do it. We’ll be crushed. The gigantic. They’ll squash us.”
But two of the men, Joshua and Caleb come back and say “We can do it. God has given this land to us, let us go get it.”
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: (Numbers 14:26)
“How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. (Numbers 14:27)
So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: (Numbers 14:28)
Interesting. Their complaints boomeranged back on them and became true.
In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. (Numbers 14:29)
One interesting thing to note here. The people’s grumbling about their situation, God took it as grumbling against HIM.
Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. (Numbers 14:30)
(The 2 non-complainers)
As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. (Numbers 14:31)
But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. (Numbers 14:32)
And then verse 38
Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived. (Numbers 14:38)
And I find it interesting that you have 12 men who all see the same thing. They all experience the same thing. They all get the same facts. But 10 of them come back and say “Oh boo-hoo, we can’t do it.” And two that say “We CAN do it.” God is displeased with the 10 and pleased with the 2. The 10 are killed in the wilderness, while the 2 are able to enter into the promised land.
Now there’s so many points we could draw from this, but my point is really pretty simple. They all got the same information, but drew radically different conclusions. It’s cognitive bias. The 10 probably thought they were being “realistic” but the 2, who got the same information, pointed their focus on faith.
If you want a good picture, you have to understand focus.
So here is a camera that I borrowed from our creative team. I am not a good photographer. I have no idea how to use this thing. But I know enough to know that focus is very important.
So let’s look at this photograph. (Pic)
It’s a great photo, isn’t it? It’s a bit like life, don’t you think? There’s some light and there’s some dark. There’s some clouds, and there’s some sunshine.
Now if I was go come up to this photo, and focus on just this part over here (clouds), well I would draw the conclusion that this photo is about stormy clouds. “Oh man, it’s so dark, it’s so dangerous, it’s so treacherous. Life is so hard. Everyone is so annoying, everyone is always in my way. And there are bugs everywhere. I leave my back door open to 2 seconds and these stupid gnats fly into my house and I hate them. The world is so awful. My family is so messed up. Nothing good ever happens to me.” And I wouldn’t be wrong. But I would just be focusing on the negative.
On the other hand, if I was to come over here (sunshine), well I would draw the conclusion that this photo is about sunlight. “Oh wow. Look how beautiful, and bright, and hopeful this is. Life isn’t perfect, but there’s so much beauty here. God I’m so grateful that you’ve given me this amazing life to live. I have a spouse that puts up with me even though I’m crazy sometimes. I have great children that bring so much laughter and joy into my life. And the world is filled with all these people, that are so diverse and interesting and we all help each other out. And there’s all these bugs flying all over the place. Everywhere you look there’s life, even these tiny gnats, that are so small you can barely see them, but there’s life happening everywhere. And God you’re helping me lead my family in the ways of Christ. You let me contribute to something bigger than myself, and I love my life.”
It’s not just the picture that matters, it’s also the focus. You can be in the very same situation and what you focus on, determines how you see it.
And you can see this at work constantly. That people can encounter the exact same situation, and experience is totally differently based on their focus.
So let’s imagine there’s a supervisor at your job and he gives two employees the exact same feedback. He tells them some things he’d like them to improve upon. Let’s say it’s the exact same feedback. Well, one employee might feel offended “Who the heck does he think he is? He doesn’t realize how important I am to this organization. That guy has some nerve. I may just quit, that’ll show him.” And the other employee, who get’s the exact same feedback might feel grateful “Thank you so much for that feedback! Now I can do a better job. The fact that you would take the same to say that means you really value me and I’m grateful.”
What’s the difference? It’s not the facts, it’s the focus.
Snowed in with your spouse
Or let’s say you are on a trip with your spouse, and snow hits and you get snowed in. All the flights are grounded and you have to stay in the hotel.
Well one person might think “Oh man, how lame is this?! It’s just my luck! I have to move my appointments, and we have to call the dog-sitter and tell them. And we’ll have to pay them another $7, and I have to keep sleeping on this hotel pillow that I hate. This stinks.”
And another person, confronted with the EXACT same issue might think “Oh my gosh! How wild is this! Look at all this snow! And I’m in this great hotel, with the person that I love. And this is a memory we’re gonna remember forever.”
It’s not the facts, it’s the focus.
Refocus a Day
Ok so now let’s take an average day. And now let’s say you’ve looked at your calendar and you’ve already determined that this is gonna be a bad day. “Oh man, I have so much to do. I work with these people that bug me. I don’t know how I’m gonna get it all done. Life is hard. Life is bad. I hate my car. Why do I have so many kids? Why is my husband so fat? Woe is me.”
Ok so now let’s say you’ve determined to have a good day. “I’ve got a lot going on today, but I’m so grateful I have a job. I get to contribute and make the world a better place. I get to come home and spend time with my spouse and my kids, and even when my kids are psyco, I’m so grateful that they’re safe and I can provide for them. God thank you for giving me this day. I will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Same situation, but a different focus.
Life Looking Different
I know for a lot of people, their life has ended up looking differently than they expected it to. You had expectations about your life, and now you’re experiencing the opposite.
Marriage – Divorce
Maybe some of you you dreamed about having this great marriage, and prayed for your future spouse, and you worked to become the best version of yourself you could be. And you married your sweetheart, and then years later, you’re broken hearted and divorced.
Education – Bad Job
Maybe for you, you went to college and got a degree and expected to get this amazing job in your field, and now you’re working at some job you hate that has nothing to do with your education.
Or maybe you thought by this time you would be married, or out of debt, or be traveling, or be in ministry, or your kids would be serving God and they’re not. And you’re confused by that.
Well if you’ve ever felt that, then you had a lot in common with the Apostle Paul.
If you have your bibles, turn with me to Philippians 1.
Paul was an amazing man. He had a heart for God and had a deep desire to please God. And he felt called to go to Rome to preach the gospel. Rome was very influential place and he knew is the gospel would spread in Rome it would spread across the world.
But instead of preaching on the street in Rome, he finds himself in Rome as a prisoner. In chains, awaiting possible execution. Not what he had in mind.
Paul could have pointed his camera on the situation in many different ways.
He could have focused on the negative.
In his letter he might have said something like this: “What happened to me totally sucks. I can’t believe how bad I’ve been treated and I’m ticked!!! Don’t these criminals who locked me up know who I am?! Just wait till they hear from my lawyer!”
But that’s not what he says, is it?
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12)
He saying “I’m in prison, but that’s actually a good thing because it’s advanced the gospel. Wow.
As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. (Philippians 1:13)
He’s saying “Man, this is so incredible. I’m preaching to the guards, I’m preaching to everybody. And everybody knows I’m in chains for Christ!”
And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:14)
He’s saying “How amazing is this?! Because I’m in here in chains, my brothers and sisters on the outside have become even more bold in proclaiming Jesus!”
So can you see what Paul has done here? He has adjusted his focus in a situation where most people would only see the negative, and he’s focused on what’s good in the situation and he’s praising God for it.
It’s not the facts, it’s the focus.
Ok so you might be thinking “Ok David. I got it. I need to turn my focus on the right stuff. But HOW?” – Well I’ve got 3 points for you that when I came across them, they just really resonated with me, so I’m grateful to share them. Here’s 3 tools you can use to refocus your life.
1. Thank God for What Didn’t Happen
Daughter got a D in chemistry
Here’s an example of this: There was a 16 year old girl who came to her parents one night and said “I have something to tell you. And I’m fine, but I’m gonna need you to sit down. Awhile back, remember when I went to that party? Well there was a guy there named Julio and we really hit it off, and we hooked up and now I’m pregnant. The good news is that Julio gets off probation next year and after that he’s gonna start looking for a job, and then we’re gonna get married. But until then I’d like to move into his house.” – And then she let’s that sit with her parents for a second, and says “Actually none of that’s true, but I did get a D in chemistry class. But I thought you should know it could be worse.”
I think most of us parents can certainly thank God for all the things that DIDN’T happen in our children’s lives.
Let’s say you get in a minor car accident. Well there’s a lot about that that’s negative – Your car is messed up, you might have to pay the deductible, your cars resale value takes a huge hit, it’s a huge hassle. But you know what. Thank God nobody got hurt, thank God you were wearing your seatbelt. There’s a million horrible things that could have happened, but didn’t. And I think you should thank God for that.
Not getting a promotion at Work
Maybe your boss scheduled a meeting with you and you were hoping you were gonna get that promotion you applied for, but he called you in to tell you you didn’t get it. Well that could be disappointing and you could have a totally bad attitude, but you know what? You didn’t get fired either. So you could thank God that you still have a job, that’s he’s watching out for you, he’s protecting you, he’s your provider. – See it’s adjusting your focus.
In the whole scheme of things, there are of course things that are a big deal but MOST stuff isn’t. It’s minor setbacks. Minor annoyances. Minor inconveniences. And so even when something happens that’s a minor setback, you can still thank God for all the bad things that could have happened but didn’t!
2. Pre-Focus Future Situations
Now what in the world does that mean? It means deciding what you’ll focus on a situation before it happens.
And it’s important because what you focus on in a situation shapes how you experience it.
If you go in and say, “This meeting is gonna be a total waste of time, I hate these people, and this is going to be so dull.” You think you have a good meeting? No, you’re going to have a bad meeting. If you go in instead and say, “We’re gonna do our best, we’re gonna be productive, I’m gonna enjoy the people that God has given me as co-workers.” You’ll have a great meeting.
Or maybe you’re going to go grocery shopping. “I hate that I have to do this. It’s always crowded. They’re always out of everything I want.” You’ll have a bad time.
Or how about “How amazing that God has given me this money and I can just go buy whatever food I want. I don’t have to go shoot animals. I don’t have to churn my own butter. I just go to this store and I get to pick whatever I want. I’m so thankful.” You’ll have a good time.
Carpal Tunnel Surgeries
As many of you know I had 2 carpal tunnel surgeries this last year. Wrist surgery. Now for a lot of people, the idea of having a surgery is a very negative experience for them.
But it wasn’t for me. Because I PRE-FOCUSED it. Before I went in there, I chose to focus my camera on what was good about the situation. I focused on how much better I was going to feel once it was all over. I chose to focus on how grateful I was that I live in a time where carpal tunnel surgery is even a thing! A hundred years ago, you’d just be out of luck. You could chop your own hand off. I guess that’s one thing you could do. But we didn’t have these scopes, and precision instruments to go in and make my wrists better. I thought “How amazing that this whole team of highly trained people are all going to focus their attention in on making my life better. That’s amazing! And these brilliant minds have figured out how to do anesthesia so I don’t have to just take a drink of whiskey and bite on a rag. And they have these great pain medications that I can take. And I have an amazing wife who is going to wait on me hand and foot, and hand feed me grapes and ginger ale while I get better. – And now, a year later, the whole surgery process was one that I actually really enjoyed. I thank God that I was able to do that.
Now I could have been like some other worldly person “Oh, boo-hoo it’s gonna cost a bunch of money, and I’m not gonna be able to use my computer. And there’s a 1 in a million chance that I’ll die.” No, I pre-focused on the positive.
Changing your focus changes your experience.
Some of you you’re pre-focusing on your failure before you ever fail. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Like I said last week, if you believe you can, you probably will, if you believe you can’t, you probably won’t.
3. Look for God’s Goodness
I’ve told you this a hundred times, but what’s wrong is always available. So is what’s right. People take so much pride is being able to call it like it is. Any bozo can point out what’s wrong. It takes a person of faith to see the good when other people are focusing on only the bad. It takes faith to see new opportunity and potential in broken situations and broken people.
Vulture and Hummingbird I heard a pastor say it’s like a vulture and a hummingbird. A vulture flies around (or walks around, they’re so fat) all day looking for what’s dead. And what do they find? Everything that’s dead. But a hummingbird, they’re in great shape. Great cardio. They fly around all day looking for what’s sweet. And what do they find? Everything that’s sweet.
You’ll always find what you’re looking for.
This Past Year
So let’s talk about this past year.
Part of being a pastor is talking of course, but being a pastor (at least a good one) also involves a lot of listening to people. And I can’t count how many time people have said to me “This has been the worst year of my life.” – A lot of Pastors behind closed doors say the same thing “This has been the worst year for the church in God only knows how long.” – Hey look, I understand what they’re saying. I mean we got shut down completely. How does church even work when you can’t have the church (and by that I mean the people) come together? And so I, just like most pastors, heard that voice in the back of our head “This is the end of your church.” And now even when we’re back, and churches across the nation are now operating with half the number of people and volunteers they had before the pandemic. So it doesn’t take some genius to point out that it was a trying year for churches just like it was a trying year for everybody. Whatever concerns you might have for the church, don’t kid yourself and say that that wouldn’t affect someone like me. All my eggs are in this basket. This is where I’ve followed God to. This is what I’ve chosen to give my life to. So if you’ve had concerns about the church, just know that I’m at least as invested as you. And probably much more. So I feel what you’re feeling. And we’ve all felt some version of that. Maybe for you it’s not the church, but there’s been that kind of unrest in a hundred other areas of your life. So we’re all in it together. It could be your job that was affected, or your family, or your business. So yeah, worst year ever.
Or was it?
You know it’s interesting, when people talk about 2020 it’s all about Covid, and racial tension, and political corruption. But when I scroll through the photos on my phone, I don’t see any of that.
1 – I see my beautiful wife who has faithfully stood by me for the 18 years that we’ve been together.
2- I see pictures of my daughter who went from a 2 year old to a 3 year old.
You know people would text me when we were going through the thick of quarantine just to check on us which was very thoughtful. And I remember telling folks “You know, this year is likely the most concentrated time I will get with my daughter for my entire life. When I’m on my deathbed and someone asks “When is the time you spent the most time with your daughter?” I will likely say “Quarantine 2020” – So for me it felt like a privilege to see my daughter growing up and experiencing things for the first time.”
3 – I see pictures of my new niece Ruby.
4 – I see my amazing family that supports me and believes in me.
5 – I see pictures of when I tried to grow out my hair. Didn’t work.
6 – I see pictures of our new puppy Charlie who eats everything!
7 – When I think about 2020, I think about this amazing church congregation, that stuck with us even when it was super inconvenient. We’d open something up just to close it down again. And we asked you to ‘come to church’ on your computers, and you did. And we asked you to keep giving and you did. We asked you to come back as soon as we opened and you did.
So no, 2020 was not the worst year of my life. 2020 was a year where, despite crazy circumstances, I experienced God’s goodness, and faithfulness. And I had an opportunity to grow in my patience and my kindness, and trusting in God.
COULD I focus on the bad that happened? Yeah of course, but why? So I can relive past pain over and over and turn into some crotchety person who is always pointing out the wrong? I’m not gonna do that, I’m gonna find what’s good, I’m gonna find what’s praiseworthy. I’m gonna find what’s worth celebrating. I’m gonna find when people were brave and courageous. I’m gonna find when something positive happens. I’m gonna find when something beautiful happens. And that’s not something I’m making up, that’s what God tells us to do.
I’d like to close with Paul’s final exhortation to the Philippian church:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
Paul is telling us very clearly to focus our minds, not on what’s wrong, but on what’s right.
Closing Statement: Are you excited about the direction your thoughts are taking you? Most of life’s battles are won and lost in your mind, so scripture teaches you to take every thought captive. God has given YOU the responsibility of focusing your mind on what is right, and pure, and lovely and admirable. That responsibility belongs to you alone, with God’s help. You’ll always find what you’re looking for; so pre-focus your mind on the goodness of God that is all around you at all times.
Which leads us to Jesus. You wanna talk about someone who focused his mind on the right thing. Did you know it says in Hebrews that it was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross. Think about that. The joy set before him. He was going through the worst pain imaginable, but was focusing on the joy that was on the other side. Now that’s focus. And so with relationship with you squarely in his focus, he came and he suffered and died, was buried, and on the 3rd day, rose again, so that he could offer us his free gift of salvation and eternal life, now just now but in the life to come.
As we close service I want to give everyone both here and online an opportunity to invite Jesus into your life.
Maybe for you, you’ve never accepted Jesus as your savior. The most important decision you’ll make in your entire life is to start following Jesus, and to give your life to Him. There’s an amazing scripture in Romans 10 that says “If you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you’ll be saved.”
Or maybe for you, the invitation is to come back home to Jesus. To recommit your life to him. The bible tells us that there’s nothing that can separate us from God’s love. So that means no matter where you are today, Jesus loves you, and welcomes you with open arms.
We don’t have to earn God’s love, we don’t have to deserve his love, all we have to do is accept it.
It would be my absolute honor to lead you in a prayer to invite Jesus into your life.
I want everyone to repeat this prayer with me.
Jesus – I thank you that you love me
I thank you that you died on the cross
And you rose again for me
I’m sorry I’ve sinned against you
Please forgive me
Come into my heart
And give me a brand new life
I thank you that you now live in me.
And I’ll follow you the rest of my days.
Put your hands together to encourage the people that just made that decision.
If that prayer was for you, I need you to do 3 things:
- Tell someone about the decision you made. Maybe that’s one of us pastors or a member of the host team or even the person who brought you, or if you’re watching online, there should be a button right there for you to click. We want to encourage you and help you along the journey of faith.
- Get a bible and begin to read it. We believe that when you do that, God will speak to you. And if you don’t have a bible, please let us know and it would be our pleasure to give you one.
- Become a part of a church. Gathering together to worship God and to learn about him is absolutely vital to your Christian faith.
Welcome to the family of God. One more time, let’s all encourage and clap for the people who have made that decision today.