distractions (3)

Billy Graham & the Law of FOCUS

Throughout Billy Graham’s life, people tried to give him career advice. “You would make a great congressman or senator!” some would say. “Have you ever thought about running for office?” Others even predicted he would have a good chance of being elected President, if they could just convince him to run.

Once a major motion picture studio offered him a million dollars to sign a movie deal. “Your good looks, booming voice, and natural charisma could make you star!” they told him.

But Billy Graham knew who he was and what he was called to do. His only ambition was to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and tell people about the cross.

That’s a great calling! Mr. Graham was just reflecting the words of the apostle Paul, who told the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 NASB).

However, there’s a principle here even bigger than analyzing Billy Graham’s specific calling as a preacher of the gospel: The Law of Focus.

You see, not everyone is called to have a worldwide preaching ministry like Mr. Graham. In fact, hardly anyone is!

Yet the Law of Focus is something that applies to everyone and every calling in life. Whether you’re in ministry, an entrepreneur, or are called to serve in some other role, you’ll be much more likely to succeed if you have focus.

Do You Know Who You Are?

How was Billy Graham able to find and maintain his laser-like focus? He knew who he WAS, and he knew who he WASN’T.

Is the same true about your life? If someone offered you a tempting opportunity today, would you be able to say, “Thank you very much, but that’s just not who I’m called to be”?

When I lived in Ohio, I had a nonprofit organization called Focus Ministries. But, ironically, focus has always been something very difficult for me. I’ve been an attorney, a pastor, an entrepreneur, and a writer along the way, and I’ve always enjoyed “juggling balls” and being multidimensional.

Nevertheless, these days I’m much more focused – and much happier – than I’ve ever been before. Yes, I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve had in the past, but at my ripe old age I no longer have the energy to run around like a chicken with my head cut off! I’m convinced that the key to my remaining legacy will be focus, focus, focus.

Setting Things on Fire

Of course, I should have learned this principle earlier in life. When I was a kid, there were no video games or cell phones, so we had to entertain ourselves with simple, nonelectric toys. One of my favorites was the magnifying glass.

It’s amazing all the things you can do with a magnifying glass if you’re creative. Did you realize that by focusing the sun’s rays on a piece of paper, you can burn a hole right through it? I discovered that although the sun would have warmed the paper even without the magnifying glass, only a clearly focused beam of sunlight could actually start a fire.

This illustrates an important lesson in life. Many of us are content to simply provide enough sunlight so the world is slightly “warmed,” when God is looking for a focus that sets things on fire!

You see, Billy Graham sought to do more than just warm people’s hearts. He wanted to set lives aflame for Christ – and because of his single-minded focus, that’s exactly what happened.

Life is short, and I pray you discover what you were born to do. You’ll have no greater joy than when you throw off distractions and fit into God’s great plan for your life.

So, are you ready to regain your focus today? Beware: You might even set some things on fire!

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Rediscovering My 'True North'

When I was a kid, we didn’t have all the cool video games and technology of today. Some of my most memorable toys were marbles, magnifying glasses, and gyroscopes.

Recently when I was praying, God spoke a powerful message to me through two of my other childhood toys: a compass and a magnet.

First, I recalled the amazing attributes of a compass. When set on a level surface, the needle rather mysteriously points to “true north.” Somehow the compass detects and automatically points toward the invisible magnet field emitted by the North Pole.

But as I pondered this wondrous ability, the picture changed. I saw a compass surrounded by various magnets. The needle was spinning, no longer able to discern the correct direction of true north.  

Like this compass, I realized I was in danger of losing my sense of true north. When I gave my life to Jesus and His Spirit came into my heart, I was given an internal guidance system much like a compass. And whenever I look time to quiet my heart and rid myself of external distractions, my spirit automatically pointed toward the Lord and my true north calling.

However, life is full of external magnet fields. While the compass needle initially points northward, it can be swayed by relationships, addictions, materialism, stress, and busyness. Many of us end up trying to please people rather than God. Or our lives become consumed with the quest for a paycheck so we can pay our bills. Even the good things in our lives can emit magnetic fields that divert us from God’s highest will.

Let’s be honest: the North Pole is a lot farther away than the external magnets around us. Yes, the Lord is very near to us (and even in us), but the attraction from what we see, feel, touch, and taste can appear much stronger at times. And the voices of people often drown out the voice of the Lord.

So how can you regain your sense of true north if your compass needle is spinning out of control? What can you do when you detect confusion in your heart about God’s plan and purpose?

Periodically, you must leave behind all the external distractions and take a personal retreat. You need to make sure your internal compass needle isn’t being influenced by anything other than the Spirit of God.

When can you take time to do that?

I know, it’s difficult to find time to rediscover your true north. But what’s the alternative? Do you want to continue living a life that lacks direction, impact, and satisfaction?

One of the great benefits of finding true north is that the other directions become clear as well. Once you know which way is north, it’s easy to find east, south, and west. Your relationships and priorities are much easier to sort out once you’ve established which way you’re headed.

When you rediscover your true north, you’ll no longer drift through life like a sleepwalker. No longer confused or purposeless, you’ll gain new appreciation for Solomon’s advice about finding divine direction:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB).

Straight paths are only possible if you’re clear about where you’re going. And your internal GPS will only function properly if you’ve first established which way north is.

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The Presents and the Presence

My precious daughter Molly will turn 30 next month, but I’ll never forget one of her first Christmases. It was 28 years ago, when she was about to turn two.

We had purchased some great presents for Molly, who was our only child at the time. It would be exciting to watch her reaction to the carefully chosen gifts we had purchased.

However, to our amazement, Molly showed very little interest in the toys, clothes, and educational materials we had wrapped for her. Instead, she was fascinated with the shiny bows, labels, and wrapping paper. Rather than appreciating the actual presents, she was having a blast as she tore apart the wrappings.

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed in her reaction. Didn’t Molly realize that the wrappings were insignificant in comparison to the gifts on the inside?

But God convicted me that day about my tendency to do the very same thing with His presents in my life. I’m often more caught up with the wrappings of the Christian life than with the presents He has prepared for me on the inside. If I like the wrappings, I may proceed to examine the gifts as well. If the wrappings are unimpressive, I sometimes fail to even open the packages.

I remember a Christmas Eve service I attended several years ago. The church had gone all out in preparing a dazzling display of special effects. The huge screens up front were filled with a wide array of specially created graphics. To the normal worship team, the church had added a full orchestra of extremely talented musicians. The overall effect was an astounding “shock and awe” experience of holiday lights and sounds, with high energy and an even higher decibel level.

The pastor preached the gospel that day too. I’m sure he did. But I’m having a hard time remembering anything about his message. It all seemed to get lost in the glitzy wrapping paper surrounding it.

I’m certainly not against creativity and modern technology in presenting the gospel message. But it’s sobering to remember that there weren’t any fancy wrappings around the baby born in a manager 2,000 years ago. The scene surrounding the newborn baby Jesus was starkly simple. Basic. Humanly unimpressive.

The point of the Christmas story was clear, and it should be the point of our church services as well: “They shall call His name Immanuel…God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

You, see God’s PRESENT to us was His PRESENCE with us. That’s why it’s such a tragedy when we get caught up in the shiny bows and wrappings and end up missing the miracle of His presence with us.

Yet I’m afraid this happens all too often. After our church services we typically comment on the quality of the music or the pastor’s message, when the more important issue is whether we ever encountered God’s presence during our time together.

I encourage you to take a few minutes today and examine your own spiritual life. Are you distracted by all of life’s activities…events…people…duties? Or are you enjoying an intimate relationship with the Savior who came to open the gateway to God’s miraculous presence?

Don’t be content with the ribbons and wrappings of the Christian life, my friend. Jesus is the Present who unlocks God’s Presence. We can’t settle for anything less.

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