David Jeremiah - Choose: Diminish Your Distractions
Just months before America entered World War II, a young Marine from Ohio named Walter Osipoff, boarded a DC-2 transport plane. He and several other Marines took off on a routine parachute jumping exercise as pilot Harry Johnson headed aloft into a beautiful blue San Diego sky. Nine men jumped from the plane and then disaster struck. Osipoff was standing near the jump door when his ripcord caught on something and deployed. His 'chute flew open and he shot from the plane like a rocket, hitting the side of the aircraft. The impact broke two of his ribs, fractured three vertebrae, and, as Osipoff plunged toward the ground, he was yanked to a stop and then jerked backward. His parachute had wrapped around the plane's wheel and the hapless Marine found himself dangling 15 feet below the plane's tail. He was literally hanging by a thread.
And it gets worse. The 'chute's chest strap and one leg harness had broken, so Osipoff was dangling in midair upside down, suspended by a single strap which had slipped down to his ankle. His weight put tremendous pressure on the plane and Johnson was struggling to keep from nosediving. Furthermore, Johnson had no radio contact and the other men in the plane couldn't reach their buddy. The dangling Marine, injured and terrified, kept his eyes squeezed shut against the rushing wind. Blood dripped from his helmet. He was stuck and he was facing certain death.
I'll tell you the end of this story later, but, for now, I want to imagine how helpless Walter Osipoff felt. I mean, you may not have dangled from an airplane but you have, like all of us, felt like your life was turned upside down. Maybe you felt like you were at the end of your rope, stretched to the breaking point or stuck in a situation you couldn't escape. It's not usually as dramatic as what our Marine friend experienced, but feeling powerless to change anything is real, and it can keep you frozen in place. Authors call it writer's block, athletes call it a slump, economists call it stagnation, pastors call it burnout, swimmers call it treading water, off-roaders call it spinning their wheels, and retailers call it sluggishness. Scientists call it inertia, retirees call it "every day is Saturday syndrome". Sailors call it the doldrums.
Certain points in life, you'll feel incapacitated and stuck, unable to gain forward momentum. Some of the greatest characters in the Bible were immobilized for a time. Moses was stuck on the back side of the desert for years, unaware of God's future for him. Naomi was trapped in Moab after the death of her husband and her sons. Peter was caught in a dark depressive cycle on the Saturday before Easter. The Apostle John was exiled on the Island of Patmos, lonely and unable to continue his ministry, or so he thought.
So if you feel stuck by circumstances, or by your own lethargy, that's not where God wants you to stay. We all have temporary phases in life where we recalibrate, recover, regain our bearings. We start going forward again. Because, you see, you were created for an ever-fruitful, flourishing, thriving life, according to Jesus. John 10:10 put it this way: "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly". You can't be stuck and live abundantly at the same time. You can't be despondent while keeping your spiritual fervor in God's service. You can't be immobilized and give yourself fully to the work of the Lord.
So, how do you get free of the sandbar and back to sailing in open water? I have some thoughts I'd like to suggest to you. First of all, consider what's best. Start by accepting the fact that everything is not equally important. Almost every adult struggles with this today. We've become so distracted by molehills that we can't charge up the mountain. But we have to remember not every activity is vital. Not every situation is eternal. In his parable of the sower, Jesus said, "Now he who received the seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful".
Oftentimes, our inability to move forward is due to a lack of priorities. We fail to even consider that some things are more important than others. Without prioritizing your life, you just can't sort through the cares of this world. You become paralyzed by burdens and business and busyness. In trying to do everything, you end up doing nothing. This paralysis by analysis can devastate your morale and your emotional health, so you have to learn to consider what's best. Not everything is as important as everything else. If you're going to diminish your distractions, you're gonna have to come up with your priorities.
Secondly, clarify what's best. Once you've understood the significance of priorities, the next step to getting unstuck is to actually determine the most important things in your life. To do that, you need the clarity to know what's best. Start by asking what's most important to God, what isn't as important to him, what do you need to focus on in your life, and what can you start deleting? To generate momentum, evaluate your activities. Delete things of less importance to keep things of greater worth. I can't give you an itemized list of what should be important to you, but in Mark chapter 12 Jesus gave us three principles that should be central to everyone's life.
Let me read that passage: "The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these". Jesus boiled down the contents of the entire Old Testament into one overarching, overwhelming priority, and that priority is love. And he ascribed to that priority, three applications. Without understanding this, it's impossible to move forward. Love, as God defines love, is life's ultimate priority. First is the priority of loving God.
Deuteronomy 6 says it this way: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength", and Jesus quoted that in Mark chapter 12. More than anything else, this is what we're made to do. This is what we're made for: a passionate, practical embracing of God and all of his attributes, all of his virtues, and all of his grace, embracing him with an overflowing heart of burning devotion and passion in our lives. That affects everything else we do, everything we say, everything we think.
So, number one, your priority of loving God with all your heart, you really can't go anywhere 'til you go there because that's the ultimate goal of every Christian. But Jesus answered the question that was posed to him by giving more than he was asked. Jesus said, "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself". Within the same priority of love, there's a second application: we're to love our neighbors and, believe it or not, we have 7.7 billion of them. We can't know or personally care for each of them but the Lord knows exactly how to lead us to those that we need to serve.
You see, loving others is sharing the compassion of Christ with the people around you. The Bible says: "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does not harm a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law". And Paul wrote: "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'". And loving your neighbor is not something you feel. Loving your neighbor is something that you do. For as James 2:8 says: "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" If you do that, he said, "you do well". But keeping priorities correctly aligned is a daily challenge.
The first step is knowing what's at the top of the list. Once that's settled, everything else begins to fall into place. What comes first is clear: love God. And next is to love others, and finally, and this will surprise some of you, to love yourselves. Notice again how Jesus stated this commandment. He said, "You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself". Now, we have to be careful here because the devil always tries to turn self love into selfishness and ego, and low and high self-esteem, and conceit and haughtiness, and self-importance, and all the other things that make up for sinful narcissism. I'm not recommending any of these.
On the other hand, you have a God-given responsibility to take care of yourself. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Your personality is the means by which God touches others. If you get in a rut, you'll pull others down into it with you. But when you have your priority, love in its right place, and you understand the three applications, things have a way of moving forward. You have to take care of yourself.
I remember as a young pastor, walking into the office of a chiropractor and there was a note on the wall and this is what it said: "When you wear out this body, then where will you live"? We only get one body. We don't get a new one. We don't get a do-over. So we have to take care of what God has given us. So consider what's best and clarify what's best, and then, of course, you have to choose what's best. Once you've clarified what is God's best in your life, the next thing you need to do is actually choose those priorities. You need to make intentional planned decisions that elevate what is best and remove what is just good.
Once you establish your priorities, find the courage to say, "No", to some things and, "Yes", to some other things, and let's just look at two areas where this courage is required. First of all, we all need the courage to embrace our limitations. Beware of living in denial. To move forward, you have to be realistic. Progress comes by embracing your God-given limits. Here's something that will shock you. Even the Lord Jesus Christ had limitations. As Almighty God, of course, he had no limitations. He was and is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving. Not even the entire universe can contain him. His power, might, grace, holiness, and justice are limitless, boundless, and measureless. But when the Son of God entered the human race in Bethlehem, he was confined within an animal's feeding trough. He grew up in a small hillside town. He did no recorded miracles for the first 30 years of his life, and he lived in submission to his parents.
When Jesus began his ministry, he didn't fly around like an angel from one preaching assignment to another. He didn't even have a horse or donkey, except on one known occasion. He said in Matthew 8:20: "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head". Jesus's area of ministry during the whole time he was on this earth was limited to a little strip of land along the Mediterranean, and he never visited the great cities of his day: Athens, Rome, Milan, Alexandria, Carthage. He had a limited education, a limited income, and a limited time for his work: only three years. Oh, and his nation wasn't free. It was occupied by Roman soldiers.
The limitless Son of God was financially, geographically, chronologically, politically, and physically limited. And then, his limitations became far more stringent. On the cross, he became so limited by the nails in his hands and feet, he was unable to wipe the blood from his eyes or scatter the flies from his face. Yet, his limitations worked for the advantages of the whole world. Imagine that. Limitations should never become excuses for staying where you are. Your priorities are determined by the gifts God has given you, your stage in life, your personal shortcomings. Embrace your limitations. Realize you can't do everything.
All of us have limitations and before we can move forward, before we can see this principle take hold in our lives, we have to acknowledge that we're not superman, we don't have everything everybody else has. God has given us a certain set of abilities and giftedness, and in one way or another, those things limit us. Courage to embrace your limitations. And then, secondly, you need the courage to eliminate distractions by saying, "No", to bad things, and even saying, "No", to some good things. You only say, "Yes", to the best things.
Warren Buffett has learned he can't focus on too many things at once. This incredible man advises making a list of the top 25 things you want to accomplish in the next few years. And from this list, pick the five that are all most important to you. Now you have two lists. Buffett suggests you avoid at all costs the longer one for those items may well prevent the big things from happening. To move forward in life, we have to discover the beauty of the word, "No". Someone said to me recently, "No is a complete sentence". The art of a graceful, "No, takes courage but, boy, is it liberating". Jesus said, "No". He said, "No", to others so that he could say, "Yes", to his Father.
In Matthew 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus, asking him for a sign. He said, "No". He gave them a blunt little sermon instead and left them and went away. In Mark 1:38, Peter asked Jesus to return to Capernaum where everyone wanted to hear him but Jesus said, "No, let's go to the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth". So, write this down: We can't do everything, but we can always do our Father's will. When we know what God wants us to do, we can do that, but that doesn't mean we can do everything. We can fulfill his design in our life if we will.
So consider what's best. Clarify what's best. Choose what's best, and commit to what's best. Let me sum up where we are in this message. When you get stuck, find some traction to give you forward momentum. Once you're moving, you need clarity to know what direction to move. And Jesus provided that by telling us to love God, love others, and love ourselves. Armed with that clarity, you need the courage to say, "No", to some things so you can say, "Yes", to the best things. And finally, you need the consistency to practice what's best.
Proverbs 23:17 says this: "Be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day". Paul said that we are to be, "His own special people, zealous for good works". When you do what I've suggested in this message, you'll place yourself in the path God has promised to bless. Even when things appear discouraging, keep pressing forward, trusting God to make a way. Stay committed to what's best for the Lord takes things from there and he will take them to places you never dreamed. I haven't always lived up to these four priorities, but whenever I find myself straying, I feel these principles pulling me back into line. That's what a priority will do.
When you choose something and make it number one in your life, it will constantly be there and when you walk away from it a little bit, it'll be like a magnet pulling you back. And I've experienced that in my life. And that brings us back to our Marine. I'm sorry you had to wait so long to find out what happened to that boy. But he was left dangling when we left him. You know, those Marines have a motto: Semper Fi, always faithful. They're not people who easily give up.
Walter Osipoff was hanging by his ankle, pulled behind a plane by the cords of his parachute which were entangled in the plane's wheels. The pilot, Harold Johnson, was running out of fuel but he knew if he tried an emergency landing he would kill Walter Osipoff. So he descended to about 300 feet above the ground and he started circling around the airbase. Most people who saw the plane thought it was some towing piece of equipment situation, but one pilot, Lieutenant Bill Lowrey, looked up and he knew what was happening.
Spotting a nearby Marine, John McCants, Lowrey shouted, "There's a man hanging on that line", and they jumped into an SOC-1, a two-seat open cockpit plane, and they took off without even knowing if the aircraft was fueled. Suddenly, everybody on the ground realized the nature of the emergency. Every eye was transfixed. There were no radios on the planes but Lowrey hand-signaled Johnson to head toward the Pacific and the two planes rose to an altitude of 3000 feet. The SOC-1 maneuvered beneath the larger plane and McCants stood upright in his rear cockpit seat and lunged for Osipoff. Grabbing him by the waist, he pulled him across the tiny seat. But Osipoff was still attached to the harness.
Now both planes and all the Marines were in mortal danger. Somehow, I believe it was by the grace of God, Lowrey inched his plane closer and closer to the DC-2 and actually bumped it. But in the process, the propeller sliced through the remaining cords of Osipoff's parachute and freed him up. After flying through the air for more than a half an hour, dangling on a parachute line, Osipoff was free but he wasn't safe. Now, the cut parachute cord became entangled in the SOC's rudder and Lowrey struggled to maintain control of his plane. But he did and when he landed, a roaring shout came from the crowd. They had just witnessed what was later called one of the most brilliant and daring rescues in Naval history.
And as for our hapless Marine, he spent six months in the hospital and as soon as he recovered he went right back to jumping out of airplanes. What do you know? Good for him. You've been hanging around long enough, so I want you to grab on to the lifeline of God's priorities and move forward in his design for your life, always abounding with his momentum and with his blessing. Find out what God wants you to do. Make it your number one thing and then organize your life around that one thing and God will move you forward into his grace in a way that will surprise you and everybody who knows you. May God grant that happens for all of us.