5 Principles for Focusing on the Now

Having a Balanced Focus

Many people live in the past. Some long for the glory days while others staunchly resist any change. Others live planning for the future and focusing on “what ifs.”

Remembering the past and learning its lessons is healthy, just like planning for the future is wise. Yet, dwelling in the past causes stagnation, and being obsessed with the future leads to missed opportunities, usually those involving relationships.

Balance must exist.

Instead, the past too often fades into the future with barely a glimpse at the present. At the same time, living only for the moment can become a dangerous thought pattern. When learning from the past and planning for the future are ignored, a dangerous self-centered pattern of behavior tends to grow.

But when living in the now involves applying lessons learned from the past along with using possible future destinations as tools for guidance, the present becomes an exciting time filled with ministry. It allows you to live what Paul writes about in Ephesians 5:15-16.

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Focusing on the now allows for creating memories that enhance the past and create excitement for the future. We become motivated by the goal and guided by the past while at the same time remaining focused on the moment.

Principles for Living in the Now

We can choose to let the past consume us with fear of change. Or, we can let the future cloud our vision of the present as we constantly gaze into the distance.

A better option? Choose to live in the now, being guided by the past and motivated by the future.

The following 5 principles encourage that balance to happen in a way that helps us seize opportunities presented every day without letting our free will constantly put up obstacles from our past or our imaginations.

  1. Give relationships priority. We shouldn’t push people away because they don’t fit into our schedule. We need to love as Jesus loved, and he made time for the people placed in his daily activity. Living in the now allows us to see and to act on the opportunities presented to us.
  2. Determine not to give up too quickly. Jesus tells us that we can do “greater things” than He did (John 14:12). So why aren’t we? Perhaps it’s because we often give up too quickly. Determine to push through even if that means simply persevering for the day in front of you.
  3. Discipline your free will. God never permits sin. Deliberate sin always hurts His heart. And while he does not give us permission to sin, He does allow for our free will to make our own choices. Using the past as a guide and the future as motivation, disciplined free-will creates a productive now that is pleasing to God.
  4. Understand that people are afraid. As opportunities to minister arise, we must understand that how fear drives people. Rejection is often a person giving in to all-consuming fears rather than a rejection of us. For this reason, be ready to minister over the long haul. Take the opportunities in the now knowing the road is paved with perseverance.
  5. Pursue simplicity. Distractions abound to draw our attention from the present. Frustrations and over-commitment steal our focus causing us to fail to enjoy living in the now, and life quickly becomes complicated. Focus on simplifying life and discover an unencumbered life able to take the opportunities God presents.

As we learn to focus on the now and not just on what we plan to do or what will be, we begin to realize that compassion and ministry are very tangible. We realize we can always do more with the gifts God gave us.

Living in the now allows us to show Christ in us more through actions instead of just with words. When we live in the now, we see more of the opportunities he gives us for ministry, and we begin to fulfill His will for us as disciples.

“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

Love Holds the Key

Some of my favorite stories involve time periods where guards protected castles and all they stood for with fierce loyalty. The stories include bravery and courage. They show strength that goes well beyond what seems possible. Most importantly, these qualities are wrapped in love shown as compassion toward others.

Picture a guard in armor with this sense of duty as you read some of Paul’s closing words in 1 Corinthians. The terms used here are military words, and making that connection gives a better depth of understanding about how to live for Christ.

“Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

This verse expressed succinctly show how to carry out all of what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians.

Be on guard.

Watch so you’re not surprised by the enemy. Attacks and challenges will come at some point. Be ready for them. Always be in full armor.

Stand true to what you believe.

Know what you believe and why you believe it. Refuse to compromise. Fix your faith in the Gospel. Determine to keep your ranks unbroken.

Be courageous.

Be brave. Don’t flinch when attacked. Maintain your ground. Resist! Press forward. Refuse to let fear of failure or criticism stop you.

Be strong.

True strength comes from God. Even in weakness, we are strong if He is our focus. Maintain your position.

Everything done in love.

Without love, everything is pointless. We only serve ourselves if love is absent.

As a Christian, I know the key to successfully living out Paul’s words falls at the end — “let everything be done in love.” First, I know it because Jesus himself declared love the most important command for us to follow.

“What commandment is the foremost of all? Jesus answered, ‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:30-31)

Second, I know it because my favorite stories, and even more so many real life ones, show these qualities carried out both in love and in the absence of love. Strength, courage, standing true, being on guard all lead to evil’s victory in the absence of love.

Love truly holds the key to victoriously living for Christ.

Unbroken Perseverance

Unbroken

Toward the end of the movie Unbroken, Louis Zamperini is again being tortured by a Japanese prison camp officer. This man, known as “The Bird,” took a special interest in Louis.

Even after Louis broke his ankle, The Bird forces him to hold a railroad beam above his shoulders. The Bird ordered Louis shot if he dropped it.

When Louis’ strength waned after a half hour holding the beam, something clicked inside of him. His eyes gained a look of focused persistence, he took a new grip on the beam, and then he pushed it up as high as he could.

The rest of the POWs watched as The Bird falls to his knees with the realization that no matter what he does, he cannot break Louis.

Perseverance

This scene reminds me of the instructions the writer of Hebrews gives after talking about how God disciplines those He loves.

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet.” (Hebrews 12:12)

Scripture speaks in many places about perseverance. It even tells of the benefit believers gain from it.

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

Perseverance also plays a significant role in our individual spiritual growth. It serves as critical in our progress toward what God promises.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Responsibility

Our perseverance isn’t only for our benefit though. After being told to take a new grip, stand firm and mark a straight path, the writer of Hebrews tells us our endurance also sets an example for others.

“Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong.” (Hebrews 12:13)

We simply cannot live with just our own survival in mind. Others — our kids, spouses, friends, family, coworkers — see and follow our example. We have a responsibility to show them how to follow Christ.

This responsibility exists in our daily lives as we faithful serve Him. It exists when we refuse to let distractions consume us. And, it exists in the trials that would pull us into the muck and mire if we fail to take a new grip.

We fulfill that responsibility when we stand, even if on shaky legs, and focus our attention on Christ. We set an example when we follow that straight path regardless of what life sends our way. As we choose to persevere no matter what, others follow our example. In doing so, they discover new strength for their own efforts to persevere.

Reset. Focus. Prioritize. Encourage.

Reset

When anyone’s cell phone seems to “glitch” as my oldest son calls it, my husband immediately says, “Did you turn it off and back on?” He knows that will reset the phone and usually result in a return to normal functioning.

In computer terms, a reset clears pending errors or events and brings a system to a normal or initial state condition, usually in a controlled manner. (Reset (Computing), Wikipedia)

Recently, I found myself reviewing the basics in every area of my life. A significant life trial has turned me back to the foundations of my operating system. I can’t exactly turn my whole life off and then back on again, but I can return to the basics in a way that sort of works like a system reset.

Focus

Every trial over the past 7 years has brought me back to a truth the Holy Spirit revealed to me when I entered what I call the beginning of the end of depression’s hold in my life.

“Do not remember the former things, or ponder the things of the past. Listen carefully, I am about to do a new thing, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even put a road in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

This verse serves to refocus me on what God is doing and is going to do. Yes, we need to remember what He’s done for us, but only in a way that reminds us of what He will do for us.

Prioritize

When life gets overwhelming (busyness, concern for loved ones, hard times financially, etc.) the basics provide stability. They exist as automatic priorities that can remain consistent even when all else seems unstable and falling apart.

For me, prioritizing involves letting three simple truths keep my mindset focused on what God desires.

As God reminds me of the power I am yet to see Him display, I return to these truths knowing they are guiding principles to give my life stability. All the details of my life flow through these basics.

Encourage

Let the basics guide and direct you. They provide a foundation on which you can build and move forward, and they can encourage you when you feel defeated. The basics provide a system reset that might not erase the trials you need to endure, but they will allow you to operate from a place of stability.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Even though I don’t fully understand why these basics serve to encourage me so much, especially during really tough trials, I choose to trust in the future God has planned.

Because he has faithfully brought me through so many trials already, I know he will do so again. Because he has done the impossible over and over again in my life, I wait for the impossible to spring forth again.

Be Still & Know

Be Still

In high school, I stepped between two girls getting ready to fight one another. One was my friend. I don’t remember the other girl. With fist raised and poised to fire, my friend  would hit me if she let it fly. Instead, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Only because it’s you.” Then she walked away.

In Psalm 46:10, the “be still” phrase gets at stopping this same sort of activity. The original word — rapa — means to “slacken, let down, cease.” It’s used in the sense of someone stepping between two warriors in battle and telling them to stop fighting, to stop their frantic activity.

So, the idea to “be still” goes beyond just taking a little time to relax. Beyond stopping the frantic pace, acknowledgment of the pointlessness of the activity is also important. In other words, we must stop and realize that our frantic activity will not produce any positive outcome.

Are you Frantic?

Frantic is one of those words that sounds ridiculous the more you say it. And when you consider all of what it means, it’s equally absurd to live in that state.

Frantic (adj.): desperate or wild with excitement, passion, fear, pain, etc.; frenzied

Interestingly, Jesus’ parents were once frantic in their search for him.

“His parents didn’t know what to think. ‘Son,’ his mother said to him, ‘why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.’” (Luke 2:48)

I find comfort knowing that the mother and father entrusted to raise the Son of God were also frantic parents at times. Makes my sometimes frantic parenting seem a little less unreasonable.

Of course, we have plenty in our lives beyond parenting that can make us frantic… Cleaning the house like crazy to get ready for guests. Scrambling madly at the end of the quarter to meet quota. Racing from one task to the next hoping to be somewhere on time once in a while. We’ve all felt frantic at some point, and I’m guessing no one really enjoys it.

Mental Time Out

While we can’t always avoid being frantic — though we often can with some planning and simplifying — we can choose to not live in it. We can choose to not let it be our standard mode of operation. To do so, however, we must intentionally cease and decide to “be still.”

In the broadest sense, this means we need mental time outs. Especially in the busiest times of life, we need mental down time. Our brains need periods where they don’t actively focus or engage and can just wander. In fact…

“Time off is what your brain thrives on.” (Shape Magazine / March 2017)

What’s more, our bodies usually give us signs that we need this time off.

  • Can’t think straight
  • Under-accomplishing
  • Forgetful
  • Making mistakes

Again, we all have moments where these happen, but we need to pay attention when patterns emerge, when we begin to dwell there. After all, we can reap some pretty amazing benefits if we allow ourselves to “be still” on a regular basis.

“After you take a mental time-out, you’re better at creative thinking and coming up with clever ideas and solutions.” (Shape Magazine / March 2017)

& Know

Looking at that start of Psalm 46:10 again, but this time in several versions, helps draw out this idea of down time or time outs.

“Be still…” (ESV)

“Cease striving…” (NASB)

“Stop your fighting…(Holman)

“Be in awe…” (ISV)

“Let go [of your concerns]!” (God’s WORD ®)

“Let be…” (JPS Tanakh 1917)

Long before research proved we needed time to reflect and sort things out mentally, God told us as much. And while the mental experts say to let our minds wander, God’s word gives further instruction as to how to truly give our minds the crucial rest they need. We find the answer in the second part of the “be still” phrase that begins Psalm 46:10.

“…and know that I am God.”

What does knowing God is God do for our efforts to stop the frantic in our lives? Matthew Henry tells us in his commentary on Psalm 46:6-11:

“This shows the perfect security of the church, and is an assurance of lasting peace… in silent submission let us worship and trust our almighty Sovereign. Let all believers triumph in this, that the Lord of hosts… has been, is and will be with us; and will be our refuge. Mark this, take the comfort and say, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us? With this, through life and I death, let us answer every fear.”

This hits home because, truly, what is the source of our frantic activity? Fear. Fear of not doing, being, saying, making and creating enough.

I’m not sure how this exactly plays out in your life, but I know for me having God as my constant stability gives me what I need to “be still” even as life races on around me. Sure, some days are more difficult than others, but I know that going to that still place where I know God is God keeps the frantic from consuming me.

Select Your Thoughts Like You Select Your Clothing

Enclothed Cognition

What determines the clothing you’ll wear each day? Weather? Activity? Fashion? Cost? Mood? Comfort? All of the above?

“You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day.” (Eat. Pray. Love. by Elisabeth Gilbert)

Since I work at home, I could wear sweats most days. I don’t, though, because I struggle getting into a work mindset if I dress too casually. I usually plan my clothes well ahead of time, based mostly on comfort but also largely on the task at hand.

We all give some mental energy to the clothing we wear. Those choices are impacted by many factors, the combination of which are unique to each individual.

In Mind Games: Sometimes a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat, the New York Times explains that studies show people are better test takers when they dress up. Researchers call this “enclothed cognition,” saying it’s the effect of clothing on our cognitive processes.

“Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state.”

Research proves that clothing impacts thoughts. The Bible shows that this truth extends far beyond our physical dress and into our spiritual dress as well. Essentially, both show that there’s definitely an intimate link between our clothing and our thinking.

Spiritual Clothing

“Clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” (Romans 13:14)

“Dress yourself in humility” (1 Peter 5:5)

“Since God chose you to be a holy people he loves, you must clothe yourself with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

Our spiritual dress impacts our thinking. Where we allow our thinking to dwell affects our actions. We simply must continually consider how to dress ourselves spiritually if we are to please God with our attitude, actions and words.

Clean Clothing

Whether physical or spiritual, dirty clothing is easy to spot. Stains and smells almost always give them away. A washing machine and some detergent keeps our physical clothing clean. Likewise, our spiritual clothing receives cleaning too.

Unlike physical clothing, though, our spiritually clothing doesn’t wear out and become permanently stained.

“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

How are we renewed daily?

  1. Encouraged by the hope of eternity. No matter what happens in this life, we have the promise of eternity. Be encouraged by and focus on this truth.
  2. Strengthened by the resurrection power of Christ. Christ conquered death. Is there anything going on in your life more powerful than death?

A transformation of the mind happens when we focus on and allow the Holy Spirit to work this daily renewal within us. The result?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

We get to choose what we wear, both physically and spiritually, which determines our thoughts. And a power greater than death washes clean any stain that gets on the spiritual clothing we choose to wear. This daily renewal serves to transform our thinking, which leads us to pleasing God with our attitudes, actions and words.

The Mark of Love

Human Maturity

Human maturity involves independence and self care. It involves taking responsibility for commitments. It also means refusing to make excuses and to instead always strive for our best.

As a parent, one of my goals has always been to teach my boys to become independent. I want them to know how to take care of themselves and to be responsible in a well-rounded way. This is the essence of human maturity.

Recently, my husband had to remind me of this goal when I expressed discouragement over my boys needing me less and less every day. My sadness about their pulling away from me became quite heavy one day, and he said…

“Remember, that’s always been our goal.”

Like independence is important in our development as humans, learning dependence on Jesus and His Holy Spirit is even more so in our spiritual maturity.

Spiritual Maturity

Unfortunately, I don’t think I taught my boys the idea of spiritual maturity very well, probably because I’m still learning it myself. And largely because dependence goes against the human part of me that desires to be in control.

“Spiritual maturity is counter to human maturity.” (December 20th, Live Dead Joy by Dick Brogden)

Spiritual maturity involves dependence on God and allowing him to actively care for us. It involves waiting patiently for him to unfold his will and then moving fully into it. Spiritual maturity also means continually acknowledging our weaknesses and realizing we can only be our best under His grace and mercy.

“Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.” (Hebrews 6:1)

Moving forward in spiritual maturity brings growth that obviously lies beyond any we could obtain on our own.

The Mark of Love

Spiritual growth becomes obvious to ourselves and others through one indelible mark.

“Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:37-40)

If we only mature in a human sense, we become increasingly self-serving and defiantly independent. But, if we also mature spiritually, we live in humble obedience seen through the mark of love on our lives.

Defeating Discouragement

Promise of Deliverance

After about 400 years of being in Egypt, God sends Moses to deliver the Israelites. The Egyptians respond to Moses’ announcement by increasing the work the Israelite slaves had to do each day.

After this, God tells Moses to remind the Israelites that He promised to deliver them. He tells Moses to remind them about His covenant with them (Exodus 6:2-4). Unfortunately, the Israelites do not respond positively to this reminder.

“So Moses told the people what the Lord had said, but they wouldn’t listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the increasing burden of their slavery.” (Exodus 6:9)

Their present circumstances so discouraged them, they could no longer hear God.

Defeated by Discouragement

We too can become so discouraged (beaten down in spirit) because of what we see as impossible burdens that we cannot hear from God anymore.

An unsaved loved one. A rebellious child. Bad luck. Lack of progress. Physical illness. Mental illness.

The circumstances of life can wear us down and often lead to us no longer hearing God. As the discouragement increases, we sometimes become convinced it will never end.

Or, we might still hear God speaking, but we let those who are discouraged impact our response to His voice.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go back to Pharaoh, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave Egypt.’

‘But Lord!’ Moses objected. ‘My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect  Pharaoh to listen? I’m no orator!’ (Exodus 6:10-12)

To many, staying enslaved seems easier than going through the process leading to freedom. Getting out from under discouragement is hard work, and the unknown often feels more uncomfortable than the known even if the known is not good.

Defeating Discouragement

When we get too easily taken up by our troubles that we no longer believe God’s promises, discouragement has the upper hand. But Scripture offers several steps for getting out from under the blinding burden of discouragement.

  1. Admit dependence. Realize you can do nothing without God. (John 15:5 & Psalm 62:5)
  2. Focus on facts over feelings. Feelings are often blind guides. Refuse to indulge them and always remember that focus determines reality. (2 Corinthians 1:20 & 4:17-18)
  3. Receive comfort. Don’t deprive yourself of the comfort God makes available through His Word and His divine care and direction. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 & John 14:26)

The fact is that discouragement often grows before it dissipates. That’s life. It’s also why we cannot depend on ourselves or our feelings to relieve our discouragement.

“In the process of deliverance, things often get worse before they get better. ‘Anguish of spirit and cruel bondage’ (Exodus 5:9) often restricts us from hearing and receiving what would help us live.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead Joy, January 19th)

Refuse to let circumstances steal your focus. Refuse to let feelings dictate activity. Choose to live based on the secure and enduring promises of God.

Tough Struggles & Humble Obedience

Thoughtful Planning & Smart Work

“Some structures on Earth and beyond appear so graceful we cannot imagine the complicated designs, systems and procedures that made them possible. Architects, engineers, even astronauts must imagine fearlessly — anticipating problems, planning meticulously and course-correcting with split-second agility. Building successfully takes perseverance, teamwork, courage… and a willingness to try.”

~ Lego Interactive Display, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL

Tough Struggles & Humble Obedience

Some people in our lives, or maybe we see people on television or hear about someone in another city or country, appear so together and successful. They seem to be making a tremendous impact for God.

We cannot imagine the struggle, hardship, pain and growth that made being who they are today possible. Parents, pastors and even missionaries must pray fearlessly — confessing struggles, seeking wisdom and learning from mistakes — with continual humility and grace-filled obedience.

Building a Godly life takes perseverance, grace and mercy… and a willingness to die daily.

“When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.” (James 4:10)

“But those who obey God’s word really do love him. This is the way to know whether or not we live in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did.” (1 John 2:5-6)

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

Awareness of Trust

Awareness of Trust

Seems like trust always stays in our awareness in some form. From trust with the media and politicians to trusting with friends and family, it’s something we don’t give a lot of thought to until it’s damaged in some way.

Paul J. Zak in The Neuroscience of Trust, says this regarding trust in the workplace:

“In my research I’ve found that building a culture of trust is what makes a meaningful difference. Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.”

Zak’s assessment of trust in the workplace seems to fit well with trust everywhere else too. Trust increases the good in our lives, especially with regard to our relationships.

Over the years, I’ve given a good deal of attention to the topic of trust. I thought it was time to bring all of those posts together into one place for anyone wanting to delve into how trust exists in their own lives.

I trust these posts will help you in your efforts to increase the happiness and decrease the stress in your life as you work toward greater trust in your relationships.