Focus and discipline

On my way home from work earlier in the week I felt really thirsty and I remembered an illustration I heard once in my youth: we were in church and our Sunday School teacher was talking about this boy who would always get angry in school and get into trouble, although he was a very able and intelligent boy. He was always getting distracted and getting in with the wrong crowd. One day he was sent to the headteacher’s office and was fully expecting severe sanctions to be put in place for the 100th time. In fact he was probably expecting to be expelled. The Headteacher calmly walked towards a cupboard on the side got a glass out and filled it with water, then handed it to the boy, who at this point was quite surprised. The headteacher said: “I want you to hold this glass all the time, everywhere you go today in school. In and out of the classroom, during lunch, break, inside and outside without dropping any of it”. “That is impossible said the boy!” The Headteacher looked him in the eye, smiled and said “Off you go! I will see you here at the end of the school day with your glass of water”.

Bear with me. I do have a point – I promise!

The boy in the story walked around all day very carefully and very slowly carrying his glass of water. At the end of the day he was summoned to the Headteacher’s office and he had his glass of water still full. The Headteacher said to him: “Did you notice all the confusion going on in the corridors while you were walking?”, “No, sir”. “Did you hear all the swearing, all the fighting, all the music?”, “No, sir”. “Did you hear all the people calling you names and inviting you to join them in their mischief?” “No, sir”. “Why?” “I had to keep my eyes focused on the glass, sir”.

I don’t know if this was a real story or maybe just an illustration my Sunday School teacher heard but the point of the story is so important and so relevant to our lives. We must keep our eyes focused on Jesus. We must seek to live our lives to please Him and to be transformed into His likeness.

In the book of Colossians chapter 3 we find the apostle Paul challenging us:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

The Colossians had lost focus, were distracted by other things. There were problems with false teaching in their midst and Paul reminds them of who they are in Christ. They are now His, they belong to Him. They must set their hearts on things above not on things on earthly things.

There is so much to learn from the book of Colossians that it would be impossible to summarise in a post (if you haven’t read it or haven’t gone back to it for a while, I challenge you to read it – so many riches and so much guidance to live a life to please our Saviour), but as I remembered the illustration above I heard so many years ago these words popped into my mind. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” The idea of walking around carrying a glass full of water all day, all the time without spilling any of it seems to require a lot of focus and discipline.

Setting our hearts on things above requires focus and discipline too. Thankfully we have been given all we need in order to accomplish that. We have God’s word to teach and guide us. Paul encourages Timothy to stay firm and remember all he had learned. depicted in 1 Timothy 3:14-17

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

It is so important that we read, study and memorise God’s word in order to know God better and the ways we can live with our eyes focused on Him. That is our discipline. There will be days when we will feel discouraged because we get distracted and feel like we are loosing the battle against sin, but we must remember that God did not leave us alone to complete the task of living a life to glorify Him. He gave us His Holy Spirit. In the illustration above the Headteacher leaves the boy to walk on his own and figure it our by himself (ok, maybe he made the point he wanted to do). God is with us through His Spirit. Jesus promised his disciples in John 14:12-18 that he would send the Spirit of truth:

12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. 15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 

Be encouraged when it seems the glass is going to slip from your hand (to use our illustration). You are not alone! Jesus continued in verses 25-27:

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

The Holy Spirit comes from God to us and will teach us all things and remind us of what Jesus has taught us! What a promise and great truth for us to hold on to. When we feel distracted, tired, discouraged, finding it impossible to keep our eyes focused on things from above let us remember that we are not alone! We have a comforter and teacher to help us with our discipline of being transformed into Jesus’s likeness. May God continue to guide us through his Spirit.

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