It is fascinating to watch top athletes in action: Jerry Rice catching a 40-yard pass, Mike McGuire hitting a homerun, Michael Chang chasing a tennis ball, Michelle Kwan doing a triple, or Carl Lewis running the 100 meters.
Musicians are also intriguing. I enjoy watching Yo-Yo Ma play the cello. His hands and head move in different directions, but they work together to produce one incredibly beautiful piece of music.
The one thing that is common to all these people is their total concentration. They are totally focused on the task at hand.
We have two eyes, but we can only have one focus. We have two ears, but we can only listen to one source of sound at a time.
The limitations of our eyes and ears are blessings in disguise. Imagine our experience if our eyes and ears could process two things at the same time. We would become so confused that we wouldn't know how to act or react.
On the other hand, we have only one mind, but our one mind often entertains many different interests, purposes, aspirations and foci. Our one mind, with its conflicting and competing thoughts and feelings, sometimes brings us confusion and helplessness. The mind, which provides us the ability to make choices, can also lead us into fear, lack of focus, and procrastination.
The One who makes us has provided clear guidelines to help us use our minds. These guidelines give our lives meaning and purpose. The first of the Ten Commandments tells us to focus our attention on God alone (Exodus 20:3). In order to help us focus on God, we should not allow other images to distract us.
In Psalm 123:2, the psalmist gives us an analogy on how we should focus on God. "As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy."
King Solomon's single desire was to do the will of God. At the beginning of Solomon's reign, God asks Solomon what he wants. Solomon has only one request. In 1 Kings 3:9, he asks for a discerning heart to govern His people and to distinguish between right and wrong. God is pleased with Solomon's request because Solomon does not ask for worldly things for himself. He only asks for the ability to carry out the responsibility God has entrusted to him. Seeing Solomon's single purpose of heart, God also promises to give him wealth and honor.
The teaching of Jesus is in total agreement with the first commandment. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus teaches that no one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and the god of money at the same time. In verse 33 of the same chapter, Jesus assures us that if we put God first, other things in life will be taken care of.
In Luke 9:62, Jesus says, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." The only way to look is forward. Once you look back, you will be distracted and the line you are plowing will not be straight.
A simple but vital tip in skiing can illustrate the importance of having a single focus. Someone explained this tip to me in this way: "When I am skiing off the main trail where there are trees, it is vitally important that I do not look at the trees. I have to look at the spaces in between the trees. If I were to look at the trees I might lose sight of the spaces and ski into a tree, which could be fatal." A moment's distraction can cause you your life.
The apostle Paul also echoes the importance of focus and concentration when he shares his secret of living the Christian life. In Philippians 3:13b-14, Paul writes, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
The author of Hebrews also understands the importance of focus when he writes in Hebrews 12:1b-2, "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus."
I have heard people express their desire to serve God. Unfortunately, many of these people attach some conditions to their desire. These conditions may include financial considerations. Many people say, "I will serve God when I am financially independent." Others claim they are waiting for the right time to serve God. They say they will focus on God when their children are grown, when they retire, when they finish college, or when their spouse accepts Christ. Others say they are waiting for a time when China's door is open or when they have more experience.
I believe people are sincere when they say they want to serve God. Their motives are good. Their desires are pure. Their conscience is clear. But they don't understand that their vision is blurred. Their focus is unclear. They see double. They want to run the race, but their concentration is broken by the cheers and boos of the spectators. They keep looking over their shoulders.
The next time you see a world-class athlete or musician, notice their concentration, focus and single-mindedness.
In watching them, we might learn something about our walk with God.