“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” Proverbs 4:25-27 (NIV)
Life can get busy, and it can be pretty tough to keep everything straight and to even slow down and think at times. And with so many tasks that need to be accomplished, we’re often challenged to maintain an underlying focus in life beyond simply trying to get everything done that we need to. As we try to fulfill job responsibilities, care for family and friends, take care of our homes and belongings, and carve out some time to relax, our focus can be scattered and ever-changing.
Throughout our busy days, if we don’t have an underlying focus or consistent guiding point of reference, we will fail to orient ourselves in the midst of our routines and won’t be able to tell when we begin to drift.
The Problem of Drifting
Drifting is a natural human tendency—we tend to gravitate toward the things that we concentrate on. Our focus creates a sort of magnetism by which we become drawn toward things, and we gradually move in that direction whether we consciously realize it or not. This happens all the time when we are walking and not looking where we are going. It is incredibly difficult to walk in a straight line while looking at something happening off to the side. Our visually-oriented tendency is to slowly move toward the object we are focused on. Moreover, it’s while looking at something else that we most often run into objects while walking, because we are busy looking away and not paying attention to where we are going.
The same dilemma tends to occur in our lives when we are busy living and doing what we need to do. We can become distracted and preoccupied with lots of different things in this world, but what happens when we devote large portions of our attention to these things is that we can begin to drift. We become more and more involved with what is on our to-do list or what is going on around us, and as a result, we begin to lose sight of other things. It might begin with losing sight of our personal interests, our health, or helping others, but it can easily slide into losing sight of our friends, our families, or our faith. This distancing can seem harmless at first, but the unexpected downside is that distractions have no limits, and they can grow and invade every aspect of our lives by subtly uprooting and replacing what used to be a priority.
Our Point of Reference
The author of Hebrews offers some great instruction on how to keep our attention focused on what matters most. After listing a whole cohort of faithful people in the Old Testament who accomplished some crazy things through faith (Heb. 11), the author then turns to exhort the reader to consider such examples as a reason to not lose sight of their own faith and to keep looking to the one who demonstrated perfect faith—Jesus.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NET)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
The author encourages the reader to understand where their true point of reference should be. All of the individuals listed in Hebrews 11 were commended for their great faith (v. 39), but only Jesus is that true point of reference for faith. The author also likens the course of life to a “race.” In a race, the object that every participant focuses on is the finish line. That is the ultimate goal for each competitor, since the finish line is the most important thing that they can’t afford to lose sight of.
This desire to reach the finish line and to attain the goal for which a person runs in a race is also expressed in similar terms by the Apostle Paul when he states that his “aim” was to intimately know Jesus and to “lay hold” of that goal for which Jesus had “laid hold” of him.
Philippians 3:10-14 (NET)
My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already attained this– that is, I have not already been perfected– but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. 13Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, 14with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
To be single-minded and reach for those things which are ahead does not mean that we should neglect our daily responsibilities, or deny doing those things in life that we enjoy and that are a part of who we are. Paul’s admonition here is that we must establish our underlying focus and how it should function as the basis for how we look at everything. The most important part of us should be what we focus on the most, or else we might find ourselves drifting.
Where’s the Horizon?
In aviation, one of the foundational principles of flight training is how a pilot must be able to orient the aircraft with the horizon. This stabilizes the aircraft and helps maintain constant speed and direction. When the pilot focuses on the position of the plane’s wings with respect to the horizon, they can tell whether or not they are flying level. This prevents undesired changes in speed and direction that would cause the plane to deviate from its current course. A pilot must constantly reference the horizon in order to keep the plane traveling steadily in the right direction.
Keeping one’s eyes on the horizon is something that can be learned through training and experience, but pilots don’t always fly in clear weather. They are exposed to a variety of atmospheric conditions that can obstruct their ability to see the horizon. So how do they keep themselves oriented with the horizon if it becomes difficult to see?
A second basic principle in flight training is to be able to read and trust the instrument panel. When a pilot’s visual orientation is inhibited, they must focus on the information they can receive through the instrument panel, because that will tell them where the horizon is even if they can’t see it. A pilot’s focus is always with respect to the horizon whether they can visually assess their position or identify it according to the instrument panel.
Sometimes we face things in life that diminish our ability to focus directly on the horizon as well. Perhaps we are struggling with personal issues, such as doubts and fears, pain and sorrow, frustration and confusion, or any other number of life circumstances that cause us to question if we are heading in the right direction.
The Christian’s horizon is Jesus. He is the point of reference that we are to constantly check ourselves against to see whether we have drifted away or if we are maintaining that steady course toward our destination. And whether our current conditions in life allow us to clearly see him or not, there is always a way to know where the horizon is. Scripture points us to Jesus just like the instrument panel indicates to the pilot where the horizon is.
If we consistently focus on Jesus and make him our underlying point of reference throughout our daily lives, then we will be less easily sidetracked by the activities and worries that each day brings. We will be able to find Jesus amidst any obstructing circumstances that we face in our lives.
The famous American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”If our eyes stay fixed on our spiritual horizon and we strive to achieve that for which Jesus laid hold of us, then we will not drift away from the one foundation that can hold together every other part of our lives. Therefore, we must take care not to become distracted and lose sight of our Master and Lord, because anything can overshadow our focus on him if we allow it to.
Fixing Our Eyes
How can we fix our eyes on Jesus as our horizon and keep him as our point of reference and not let things crowd him out of our focus? How can we avoid allowing things to get in the way of our spiritual growth as we constantly strive toward the heavenly call that we have in Christ? Nearly everyone would probably categorize themselves as a busy individual. We all have many things that demand our attention. “Fixing our eyes” on Jesus is about how we approach life and where we find our footing to keep us moving forward. We can be involved in other life activities and focus on other endeavors, but not to the point that we become distracted by them.
Compare what “fixing our eyes” means to how breathing functions in our lives. We breathe in and out constantly throughout each day without thinking about it—yet our breathing sustains us as we work and do everything that we need to, whether we think about it actively or are focusing on other things. There are times when we do focus on breathing such as when relaxing, playing an instrument, and even during conversation. But regardless of what we are involved in doing at the time and whether we’re focusing on it or not, breathing is a constant element of our lives.
In much the same way, fixing our eyes upon Jesus should be a constant element. While we can’t consciously think about our relationship with Jesus every minute of the day, just like with our breathing, our relationship with Jesus can be the underlying point of reference in our lives. And just like with breathing, we canconsciously focus on Jesus wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Jesus told his disciples, “Follow me.” Following him and trusting in him requires us to keep our focus on him regardless of what circumstances arise. Our attention will shift in life depending on what we are involved in, but we can always bring it back to Jesus, who is our horizon.
The more we focus on Jesus, the more it will become a routine part of our lives, like breathing. And the more routine it becomes, the more we will grow into him and be in service to him, even in ways we will never consciously recognize. Oswald Chambers wrote, “If you want to be of use to God, maintain the proper relationship with Jesus Christ by staying focused on him, and he will make use of you every minute you live—yet you will be unaware, on the conscious level of your life, that you are being used of him.”
If we keep Jesus as our horizon, we will find our lives conforming to him, and we will be of use to him in the work of the Kingdom in ways we never imagined.
2 Corinthians4:17-18 (NIV)
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.