Let’s refocus now

I can’t add much to all that people have to say about a memorable year and a still-unfolding election (at this writing, the president has not conceded, the presidential electors haven’t voted and two Senate seats are headed for a runoff), so I won’t try to say what’s already been said. But maybe I can say something unoriginal that is still pertinent to our day: pay attention to what you already know is important. 

Some things are just beyond our control. Tammi and I were talking last night after seeing a bit of the news and agreed that, although we have a preference on how the vote in Georgia turns out, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it that a talk show can convince us to do. To me, that’s the end of its interest until the runoff is decided. Apply this principle to much in your life—how someone else raises their kids or does their lawn, how someone else’s pastor leads their church, who someone likes or disdains in social media, the opinions of strangers or mere acquaintances, and the list could go on from there. What’s important for you and me is the set of things we’ve been given to affect. 

Much of what yells for our attention is mere mischief, worthy of rebuke rather than attention. Gossip falls in this category, as does idle speculation about even things that do matter, as does complaining. Learn to ignore things that upset you for no purpose or that harm others to any degree. Don’t carry those things to others, don’t investigate them and don’t bring them up as “prayer requests.” However much you know of your Bible and whatever the Spirit has taught you to this point will help you recognize what I’m talking about. 

Your discipleship, your devotion to your Lord, is important. Most of us have a lot more time for this than we use for it. We have more time to read our Bibles than we use. If that is true we also have more time for prayer than we spend in prayer. Gregg Matte of Houston’s First Baptist, in his sermon during our annual meeting, pointed out that 66 percent of believers who have Facebook check it every day but only 32 percent of believers read their Bibles every day. Those brothers and sisters have time for God that they are not using for growing spiritually. 

Your family matters, whether it is extensive or compact. Consider these people a stewardship before God. We are told in the Bible to honor our parents, train up our children, love our wives, submit to our husbands and care for those in our households. I admit that maintaining relationships with blood kin, those we didn’t choose and perhaps don’t see often, is more work than our relationships with those friends we chose because of our current common interests. Maybe that’s why God tells us more often to care for our families than he does to love those who share our preferences in most things—it’s not easy. Our families teach us about God the Father and God the Son. Our marriages teach us about the bride of Christ and the bridegroom of the church. We miss the teaching of God and the ministry he’s given us when we neglect or abandon these relationships. You have time for the important things in your life. 

Your church matters. You are members of a body, diverse and complementary. Because it’s diverse, it’s annoying in detail. Because we complement one another, fellow church members must be diverse. Don’t abandon them to any degree because the pandemic has made it easy. Don’t abandon them in any way because they are not sufficiently like you. Most of us have more time for our churches than we are willing to give, more time for our brothers and sisters than our flesh will easily relinquish. 

And yes, your work matters. At the end of this month I begin a semi-retirement from the convention. I will have some time to spend on other work and look forward eagerly to seeing what that might be. I don’t have time for idleness because I wasn’t created for that. Whether it’s work that is more thistles than grain or whether it is work that is immediately pleasing to you in this season of life, working at something that matters is far more than money. Adam’s curse was that work would be more difficult, not that he was given work. We, Adam’s sons, should be productive. Our work is not a distraction from the sweeter parts of life, regardless of what the hardworking folks in advertising try to tell us. 

As I said, these things are not original. But for me this has been one of the most distracting and scattered years I remember. The distractions will not go away with the new year but perhaps this season is a time to gain some perspective, some focus about how we prioritize the coming days.  

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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