December 22, 2010

Focused and Undivided: A Success Story

 Just imagine, for one moment, that somewhere up in the universe a reenactment of the great convention described in Job 1:6-12 is taking place. This time, however, every son of God appearing before the Lord is supposed to present a paper on a successful method or experience as seen in the lives of God’s faithful followers on earth. Once more, Satan also comes along. He has not been invited, but somehow has managed to make it into the program as a last-minute addition. And he has his paper ready. Its title? “Distraction by Default: A Success Story.” The title is inviting, and the sons of God—though fully aware of his real intentions—decide that they will listen to what he has to say. Finally the moment arrives. Satan steps up, grinning confidently. There is many a thing the sons of God could say about him, but one thing they must concede: he knows what he is talking about.
Of Traction and Distraction
Among the incredible number of words English “inherited” from Latin we find the term tract. This word denotes, among other things, “extension or system that acts together to perform some function” and “the action of drawing, pulling.” The first meaning has given rise to such terms as digestive tract; the second one, several related words to be used in contexts as diverse as car features (traction), the moon properties or human behavior (attraction), politics or journalism (retraction), and economy or chiropractic (contraction). It has also given us the word distraction; that is to say, anything that diverts our attention. The word is even used to describe a state of mental turmoil or emotional disturbance.
Yes, Satan knows very well what he is talking about. Knowing what we know, we may infer that by “distraction by default,” he is referring not only to those of us who may somehow be wandering off track, but also to those who may be not even aware of it (default meaning “failure to comply” and “automatically made selection without proper consideration due to the lack or ignorance of a viable alternative”).
Yes, we guess Satan is not talking about the wrongdoers, those recalcitrant sinners who are intent on being God’s enemies here on earth. He may be talking about those forever-entry-level merry-go-round Christians, who happen to be in church, in some church institution, or even in the mission field without fully understanding what it is all about. They may be calling sinners to repentance, attending and chairing committees, or saving lives in the surgical ward, but their hearts are not in it. But for the comfort or the perks, they would rather be in some other place doing something else. And yes, we must concede that there is a fair chance that—in his carefully crafted paper—an accusing Satan may have mentioned us by name.
Christian Late Bloomers
Satan, however, is not the only one acquainted with this kind of Christian. The author of Hebrews already addressed their dilemma many centuries ago: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Heb. 5:12).1 Do we feel somehow included in his definition? We stay in primary school forever; we never get to college. But we feel comfortable. We are in, but not quite; we are almost there, but never actually make it. There is always a distraction, something that gets our attention off the narrow way. As regards God’s will and ways, we suffer from spiritual ADD, though we comfort ourselves by giving it some other fancy name.
2010 1541 page14As lukewarm members of God’s army, we have unknowingly reinterpreted some of Jesus’ parables by becoming a whole new category: In the parable of the two sons (Matt. 21:28-32), we are like a hypothetical third son who willingly goes to work in the vineyard, but once he gets there decides just to sit comfortably and start plucking the grapes for his own consumption; and in the parable of the two builders (Matt. 7:24-27) we are like a hypothetical third builder who takes great pains to build on the rock just to end up fooling around in the sand before ever spending one night under his roof.
Do not get me wrong: It is not intrinsically wrong to eat some grapes or play around in the sand from time to time. As fully undivided attention and focus is humanly impossible, we need sometimes to unwind, “to come aside . . . and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Calm and comfort are not essentially evil. But we are not supposed to ask for a week off the day before the King’s inauguration. As exhausted as we may feel because of our long-overdue redeployment against the powers of darkness, we should not ask for a much-needed vacation on the eve of the final battle. Or perhaps we are distracted by default and the fact that there is a war going on has escaped us; or perhaps we just do not care.
However, thank God, there is Someone who got it right.
No Sidetracking Allowed
From early childhood, Jesus understood very well His purpose and mission on earth. Ellen White says that “from His earliest years He was possessed of one purpose; He lived to bless others.”2 Moreover, by the time of His first Passover at the Temple He already knew (and reminded His parents) that He must be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49).3
No other human being on earth was so often tempted to get sidetracked from His mission as was Jesus during the three and a half years of His earthly ministry. Call it what you will: craftily devised temptations, tricky snares, well-minded “advisors”—all of them were often a means in Satan’s hands to try to push Him off the appointed path.
On at least one occasion Satan used even one of His most beloved disciples to try to discourage and turn Him from His mission (Matt. 16:22, 23).4 But nothing could divert Jesus’ attention from God’s self-appointed path to the cross and the final glorification. While we often keep asking Him permission to “go and bury” our dead (Luke 9:59, 60), Jesus had always an undivided heart for His mission, namely, to bear witness to the truth by revealing the true character of God and, in so doing, saving a disgraced race for His kingdom (John 18:37). We can be thankful that He never got distracted from His purpose, not even in the heart-wrenching hours of Gethsemane or in His final hour hanging on the cross.
Plank Holders or Bold Swimmers?
The great American poet Walt Whitman penned these famous words:
“Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light. . . .
Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea.”5
I do not know about you, but sometimes I feel I put too much value on those decaying planks off some capsized ship that wash out along the shores of life. Though I well know that the inviting lights beyond the dark waves point to the long-desired destination I was meant and created for, I would rather stick to my rotten plank, even when I am fully aware that it is useless. 
The Bible tells us that it is high time to stop thinking of that plank as a lifesaver. Take it for what it is—garbage—and put to better use those rusty biblical “swimming lessons.” It tells us that it is high time to stop window-shopping and get the real thing instead. It is high time to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us,” and “run with endurance that race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).
The prize is the same for everyone, but there is one for every single man, woman, or child who goes out boldly to finish the race focused and committed, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (verse 2). It is a prize we cannot underestimate. It is a goal we cannot afford to get distracted from. And it is the great success story that God is yearning to write for the entire universe to see. I have already made up my mind. Are you coming?
1Biblical quotations in this article have been taken from the New King James Version (NKJV). Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved..
2Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1898), p. 70.
3Ibid., p. 81.
4Ibid., pp. 415, 416.
5 “Song of Myself,” section 46, from Leaves of Grass (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1892), p. 74.
Marcos Paseggi is a professional translator, enthusiastic writer, and biblical researcher writing from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. This article was published December 23, 2010.