As a Christian, we can fall into 2 traps and in so doing lose our focus on Christ. We can focus on God’s people more than Jesus or we can focus on ministry more than Jesus. Either way, losing our focus on Jesus can cost us everything.
What do I mean by that? On the mount of Transfiguration, there was Moses and Elijah and Jesus. The point of Moses and Elijah being there was to point all of the attention to Jesus. What if we were naturally drawn to prophets and Elijah became our focus and our heart shifted to him because prophets are cool. And we followed Elijah around because we wanted to have the same power that he did to stop the rains from coming down for several years and we wanted to learn the ability to pray and bring down fire from heaven and that was our focus and our faith was in Elijah, then what’s the result? We will lose everything. The whole reason for Elijah’s existence was to point to Jesus.
James hammers this point in James 5:17. There, he makes the obvious point–Elijah was a man just like us. He had a special calling from the Lord to be sure, but he is a man. He eats, he sleeps, he goes to the bathroom, just like the rest of us. He is not cut from a special material that God reserves only when he fashion prophets. Elijah, he’s one of us.
What if our focus shifted to ministry and ministry became our main focus? This one is harder to discern. We see this shift in the way the disciples approached the demon possessed boy. I learned something, now I have to put it into practice. Or, Christ tells me to go and make disciples so I guess that’s what I have to do. I have to put something I learned into practice, or I have to obey Christ’s commandments. Everything is duty-driven. I’m obligated to this person so I guess I should meet him or her. And so if our ministry is going well, we think my spiritual life is going well. Conversely, if our ministry tanks, then this must mean that I am a spiritual failure.
It’s hard to discern whether our focus is Christ, whether our faith is in Christ, OR our focus has shifted to ministry.
Paul gives us some warning to us in Phil 3:12–
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
As long time Christ followers, we have to learn to forget what is behind. We have to forget our ministry successes, our ministry failures, the ups and downs. What matters is today. And what we are straining toward. What is the prize? It’s Jesus. He’s the prize. He’s our great reward.
Paul also says in 1 Cor 9:27–
1 Cor 9
27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
What was Paul’s greatest fear? What trap do many pastors, myself included, fall into? As a pastor, it is quite easy to be so focused on preaching to others and so focused on church and ministry, that I, myself, am disqualified for the prize. How tragic that would be, if I lost focus on Christ, I lost my faith in Christ, because I settled for ministry as my main focus. And in the process of shifting away from Christ, I might lose everything.
It’s a question of priority. Are God’s people, is church more important than Jesus? Is ministry more important than Jesus? Mary and Martha. Martha was busy working for Jesus. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet. The point is not that serving others is unimportant and we can ignore the people around us. The point is, what is most important? What is our priority? Where do we place our faith? It has to be Jesus. We have to worship him first and foremost.
Today is the Super Bowl. I’m not a 49ers fan or a Ravens fan. But if I were, I might be having a hard time preaching right now. Because I would be distracted. Fans know how to worship. They live for the glory of their team. Die hard fans might be complete strangers, but if you are at a sports bar and watching the game together, total strangers form instant bonds. And even if you are a bandwagon fan and you didn’t really follow the team until the Super Bowl, if these fringe fans come in contact with the die hard fans, the sense of worship emanating from these die hard fans rubs off. And so after a few hours, even the bandwagon fans are jumping up and down and cheering and doing high fives and chest bumps. Worship is contagious.
I pray that our church can be a community of worshipers. So that one person who has spent the week worshiping Jesus can come alongside another believer who had a rough week, and as they fellowship, the person who was struggling can get pumped up to put their faith in Jesus, too.
John 21 was a focus for me the last 20 years of my Christian journey. Jesus asked a discouraged Peter, do you love me? Jesus asked him 3 times. Peter answered yes and Jesus responded, then feed my sheep. My focus for the past 20 years was, I have to feed God’s sheep. It’s my calling. I have to be faithful. I have to obey. People are in need. It was a passage which I revisited frequently over that period. This passage formed me many ways. It was a passage which was on the forefront of my heart and mind as I prepared for my ordination 2 years ago, Feb 6th, 2011. But on this day, Feb 3, 2013, I want to add another chapter, Matthew 17. I pray that this chapter, along with John 21, marks the next 20 years of my Christian walk. I don’t want to rush off and try to feed God’s sheep on my own effort. I want to spend more time struggling with that first question, do I love Jesus? Am I placing my faith in Jesus? Am I spending time worshiping Jesus?
Don’t leave Jesus on top of the mountain. Don’t leave him as a fading memory. Don’t leave him as soon as you close your Bible or as soon as you open your eyes after prayer time. Don’t treat him like he’s your boss and he gives you assignments and then it’s off to do the work by yourself. He doesn’t want you to report in when you’re done with your work at the end of the week. Jesus is your lifeline. You need to stay connected to him. He loves you. He wants to stay near you. He wants you to keep him in view always even in the midst of working for him.
Faith in Christ as a worshiper – let this be the new lens through which we live life. Everything that happens in life is an opportunity to place your faith in Christ. Church, ministry, difficulties, broken dreams, setbacks, obstacles, unanswered prayer as well as answered prayer, gifts from above, blessings – may all these things help us to place our faith in Christ more and more. May our view of God be elevated as we spend time in His presence worshiping on our own and corporately as a body of Christ.