David Jeremiah - Focus: Make Your One Thing the Main Thing
The maestro was born in the northern Italian city of Modena. His mother was a cigar maker, his father was a baker and amateur tenor. It was the amateur tenor part that most touched young Luciano Pavarotti. He loved hearing his dad sing, and he spent hours listening to the family's collection of recordings of great tenors. Father and son sang along with the records at full volume. Mr. Pavarotti wouldn't sing in public due to stage fright, but he did sing in the church choir. And at age nine, Luciano joined him. The boy loved to sing and people loved hearing him. "Your voice touches me whenever you sing", his mother said. But the question of a career was vexing.
In those days, just after World War II, a musical career was risky. His mother suggested Luciano become an athletic instructor, while his father encouraged him to continue developing his voice. "But you'll have to study very hard, Luciano", he said. Luciano continued his musical studies and also enrolled in a teachers college and, after graduation, he asked his father, "Shall I be a teacher or shall I be a singer"? The older man wisely avoided giving a direct answer. Instead, he spoke words his son never forgot: "Luciano, if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall in between them. For life, you must choose one chair". And Luciano chose singing.
It took seven years of hard study and intense practice before he made his first professional appearance, and it took another seven before he reached the Metropolitan Opera. But Pavarotti lived with a single focus: ultimately he became one of the most famous operatic singers in the world, the king of high C's and a crossover performer who won the admiration of millions who had never set foot in an opera house. His final performance was viewed by the entire world as he sang "Nessun Dorma" at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. "I was blessed with a good voice by God", Pavarotti said. "I think it pleased him that I decided to devote myself to it, and now I think whether it's laying bricks, driving a straight nail, writing a book, whatever we choose, we should give ourselves to it. Commitment", he said, "that's the key. You've got to choose one chair".
Like Pavarotti, you have been blessed by God. You've been blessed with talents and resources and a dream for the next phase of your life. Once you've prayed about that dream and set the right priorities to achieve it, your very next step is to focus your life on the one main thing. In the Bible, the apostle Paul had that kind of focus. He said he was straining forward, pressing on to reach a heavenly treasure. He wrote to his friends in the city of Philippi in these stirring words. He said, "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me". Listen carefully. "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus".
Today, as we unpack Paul's words, I wanna show you four principles that will sharpen your focus and guide you forward toward your next steps in life. Number one, focus on God's purpose. Paul said, "I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me". That's God's purpose for you and for all of us. Of course, he also has an individual plan for your life and he has one for mine, and I'll deal with that in a moment, but first, consider God's ultimate purpose for your life, that you become more and more like his Son Jesus Christ. Romans 8:29 puts it this way: "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son".
So, number one, focus on God's purpose. Here's the second thought. Focus on God's perspective. The next thing we read is Paul talking about seeing life through God's eyes. He speaks about his past and said it wasn't worth focusing on. He said, "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind". That's an interesting thing, isn't it? To forget those things which are behind.
It was back in 1954, Roger Bannister was a medical student who enjoyed running. He entered a race in Oxford on May 6 of that year and he made history, becoming the first athlete to run a mile in less than four minutes. Bannister's time was 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. And half a globe away, Bannister's rival, John Landy of Australia, took notice. A month later, Landy beat Bannister's record by one second. The media turned their spotlights on these two runners, and thousands of people watched later that summer when they lined up at the British Empire Games in Vancouver, Canada. It was called the Mile of the Century. The racers shot from the starting blocks and Landy took the lead, which he maintained. The roar of the crowd was deafening.
With only 90 yards to go, Landy made a fatal mistake. He glanced behind him and, at that exact moment, Bannister streaked by him and won the race by less than a second. The race became known as the Miracle Mile, and a Vancouver sculptor created a bronze statue of the two men at the moment when Landy glanced back. Landy later said, "Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back. I am probably the only one who ever got turned into a bronze statue for looking back".
The apostle Paul would have loved that story because that's what he was talking about in Philippians 3. He spoke of "forgetting the things that are behind us", using the word "forget" in the sense of minimizing the negative impact of our past. So stop allowing things from the past to control you in the present. Paul shook things off. He didn't let them cling to him like anchors pulling him down. What do we forget when we forget the past? Well, there's a couple of things. First of all, we have to forget our successes. Here's this great apostle who's accomplished more than most of us could ever accomplish in ten lifetimes, and he said, in effect, "I have not yet arrived".
And that amazes me because I've spent my lifetime studying Paul's life and writing, and his influence for Christ is breathtaking. I don't know any man you could say was more successful than Paul, but the key to his success was he knew he had not arrived. He wasn't proud; he was humble. He didn't look at the past and try to live on his laurels. He lived for the present. And we need to do the same. Maybe you look back on your life and you had a great career. Maybe you were at the very top of whatever it is that you do. But that isn't gonna help you now and it surely won't help you in the future.
For you to go forward, you have to learn to forget. But you know what? Successes may be harder to forget. We like to forget our failures. That's the second thing I wanna talk to you аbout: forgetting your mistakes. The other way of taking God's perspective regarding your past is to simply make up your mind to forget those things that haunt you. As Ruth Bell Graham quipped: "Every cat knows some things need to be buried", ha, ha. The founder of the Red Cross, Clara Barton, was once offended by a co-worker, but she quickly forgave her friend and went on. Years later, someone reminded her of the incident and said, "Don't you remember"? "No", said Mrs. Barton, "I distinctly recall forgetting".
There need to be things like that in your life and in mine. "Distinctly recall forgetting". What things in your past could you choose to forget? For example, guilt is remembering a sin that's already been buried by the blood of Christ. Bitterness is remembering an offense that should be buried by grace. Discouragement is letting the last setback become a roadblock. If you know Jesus Christ as Savior, there's no reason to be obsessed over your past failures. Paul didn't just have successes in his past, he had a wicked past. He cruelly persecuted Christians, he attacked the church. He helped condemn Stephen, the first Christian to be martyred for the cause of Christ.
After Paul's dramatic conversion on the Damascus road, many Christians remembered what he had done and they were still afraid of him. What if Paul had continued to live in that past? What if he kept flogging himself for what he had done? He would have lost his influence, and instead, he acknowledged his past, but was full of gratitude for God's grace and for his total forgiveness. The past lends perspective for the future, but if you linger there too long, your recollection will obliterate your dreams and hinder you from going forward. Hear me carefully. Focus on God's purpose, focus on his perspective.
And then, thirdly, focus on his plan. As we continue with our passage in Philippians, notice that Paul becomes more specific, moving from our perspective to our plans. He says, "Reaching forward to those things which are ahead". God's purpose for all of us is the same: to become more like Jesus. But his plans for each of us are unique. He has a distinct blueprint for the life of every individual on earth and in history. His plan for you is tailor-made and it's for you alone. It's perfect for the way he made you and the experiences that you've had. Everything has prepared you for his next step in your life. But you have to follow him into unknown territory, into the future. You have to learn what it means to walk by faith.
The Psalmist put it this way: "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way". We aren't good in ourselves, but we are good in Christ. And in Christ, God not only orders your steps and your stops, he delights in the way he guides you forward. He delights in his plans for you. Shouldn't you delight in them too? If God is delighted in his purpose and plan for your life, should you not also delight in those plans? So you need to focus on God's purpose and focus on his perspective, looking back, but not staying back in history.
Focus on his plan, find out what he wants you to do, and then focus on his prize. Finally, to live a focused life, you need to fix your attention on heaven and the reward that awaits you there. Paul wrote, "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus". For Paul, the goal and prize were one and the same. Not defined in this verse, this is a clear reference to the many promises given to those who are victorious in Christ.
Remember, the Bible says that when we get to heaven, if we've lived for the Lord, the Lord Jesus is gonna welcome us home with these words: "Well done, good and faithful servant". It embraces "the crown of righteousness". I could also refer to what Peter called "the crown of glory which doesn't fade away". Whatever else, this prize and goal will be more than "eye has seen or ear has heard". God's plan for you is to reward you so abundantly, I promise you, you won't believe it. According to the apostle Peter, you have "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you". How many of you know how important it is to keep your eyes focused on the future?
Florence Chadwick learned that lesson. She was an accomplished long-distance swimmer and the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions, setting new records each way. It was back in 1952, she was 34 years old, and she set out to break another record. No woman had ever swum the more than 20-mile channel between Catalina and California. The conditions on the morning of her swim were not ideal. The water was cold and the fog had settled in. Soon after she began to swim, she could barely see the boats accompanying her and, to make matters worse, sharks trailed her several times and had to be driven off. Still, Florence Chadwick swam on for more than 15 hours.
Finally, physically and emotionally exhausted, she stopped swimming. She was pulled into the boat and taken toward the California shore, which she discovered to her dismay was a little more than a half mile away. After swimming almost 20 miles, she had quit a half a mile from her goal. On the following day, she told the news media, "All I could see was the fog. I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it". Two months later, Florence was back on Catalina Island, stepping into the water to try the swim again. Unfortunately, weather conditions were no better. The water was cold and, again, a dense fog settled over the channel. But this time, she swam all the way: the first woman to make it.
What made the difference, she later said that while swimming those last grueling miles, she kept her mind focused on a vivid mental image of the California shore. "At that moment", she said, "I knew the real meaning of faith described in the Bible: 'the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.'"
This, then, is your four-lane road that God wants you to focus on as you go forward: driving down the lanes of his purpose, his perspective, his plan, and his prize. But there's one final thing that draws all of this together as you seek to move forward toward God's plan for the next phase of your life. You must find your passion and give your life to one thing. You must choose one chair. As an old Russian proverb put it: "If you choose two rabbits, you'll not catch either one".
Gilbert is one of the best runners in the world, a skill he developed when he had to literally run for his life as a boy in Burundi. His story is harrowing. In October of 1993, Gilbert was sitting in his high school class, probably thinking about running. He could hardly wait to tear around the track again. But on that day, the simple routines of the classroom were shattered by Hutu terrorists. The school was invaded by hostile members of the tribe. They descended on the children with genocidal rage. More than 100 Tutsi children and their teachers were forced into a small room and hacked to death with machetes and burned alive.
Gilbert wasn't killed, but he found himself at the bottom of a pile, buried under the burning corpses of his classmates. The smoldering fire ate into his skin, but he remained hidden for more than nine hours while the torturers stayed outside, laughing and dancing. Finally, Gilbert smashed through a window and took off like an arrow. The Hutus chased him, but Gilbert outran them and made it to a local hospital where doctors told him he would never run again.
Gilbert didn't believe the doctors. He felt God had spared him and that the Lord had a plan for his life. He said, "I always knew that my faith would be tested, and it certainly was in those hours when my school was attacked. My belief in God has never faltered. I never blamed him or wondered how he would have let such a thing happen to me or my classmates. I accepted what was taking place and I knew that it was all part of a plan much larger than me".
Gilbert persevered until he was running well enough to win the Burundi National Championship in the 400 and 800 meters. His coaches felt he had Olympic potential and he was sent to the United States as part of an Olympic training program. There, Abilene Christian University offered him a scholarship. After graduation, Gilbert moved to Austin to coach young runners and, soon, his ministry was off and running. His books, his speeches, his coaching, have touched thousands of lives. What's more, Gilbert started the Gazelle Foundation, whose slogan is "Run for the water", to fund and build clean water projects for the people of Burundi. His Gilbert's Gazelles training group provides motivation to help runners of all ages at all levels.
I like someone like that, someone who never loses focus, who runs to win, whose life is defined by one thing. You see this kind of focus often in the Bible because the writers of the Bible knew something about focusing on one thing. For instance, David said, "One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord". Jesus said to the rich young ruler, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me". Jesus told the distracted homemaker, Martha, "One thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part". The man healed by Jesus said, "One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see". And the apostle Paul said, "I focus on one thing".
This phrase, "one thing", implies consecration. It's a word meaning to dedicate yourself and your every day to the wonderful will of God. At the core of Paul's life was one motivating principle: he focused on Christ, he concentrated his walk with Jesus. He said, in effect, "Lord, your will be done today and every remaining day I have on this earth. Not my will, but yours be done". And that brings me to the secret of the focused life: staying committed to your passion, to your one thing.
Several years ago, I was reminded of this truth when I was invited to tour one of the largest carrot farms in America. Our host showed me the countless ways carrots are consumed: carrot juice, carrot cake, baby carrots, dozens of other products I never dreamed came from carrots. When I asked, "How much of the carrot do you use?" my host replied, "We use every part of the carrot. Not a single bit goes to waste".
To illustrate his point, he went to the whiteboard in the conference room where we were, and on that whiteboard, he drew a picture of a carrot. And then he carefully labeled every part of the carrot and how it's used. And he was right: nothing goes to waste. My friend built a hugely successful business by staying focused on carrots. When I returned to my office, I gathered our staff together and I told them about my whiteboard lesson on carrots. And I went to our whiteboard and I sketched a Bible and I said, "This is my carrot. Let's stay focused on our one thing".
Our goal is the same as my carrot-farming friend: let nothing of the pure and precious life-giving Word of God be wasted. To be good stewards of the calling of God that has given us the privilege of proclaiming his Word to as many people as possible in our lifetime. This is our mission. This is our one thing. This is our main thing. This is our focus.
I don't know the details of God's plan for your life, but I do know this. As you focus on his purpose, his perspective, his plan, and his prize, he will guide you on the journey forward. Commit yourself to following the Lord to the best of your ability. Soon, you will enjoy the adventure of discovering and living for one thing, step by step and day by day. I will never forget the power of the story with which this message began. You have to get to the place where you're willing to sit in one chair and let God lead you forward with his plan.