Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sermon Lessons: Concentration

16-18"When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint. If you 'go into training' inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing; he'll reward you well."
(Matthew 6:16-18)

When I was growing up, homework required peace and quiet.  I was not allowed to have the radio on (yep, that means I did not have a stereo!).  I could not have TV going (as a matter of fact, it could not be on till chores were done and homework was finished!).  I did not get to chat on the phone with a friend while we worked on the homework together (maybe because we didn't put phones in kids rooms at that time!).  Mom and Dad were really trying to give me an environment in which I could "concentrate" on what I needed to get done. 

Jesus points out that there will be some times (periods) in our lives when we will set aside some time and energy toward really "concentrating" on God.  We may think of these times as going to a retreat, choosing a time to fast and pray, or even just a few days set aside with limited interruptions from the outside world, such as camping in the outdoors.  The purpose of the "set apart" time is to focus on God.

In the process of "concentrating" on God, we are bringing all our efforts, our activities, and our attention to one central place.  We are moving from being very scattered in our efforts, activities and attention, to being very focused.  When we are concentrating on something or someone, there is a tendency to come to a place of "convergence" - we become in sync with each other.  

For example, my grandson is at a stage where he loves to talk - sometimes about anything that comes to mind.  In that "talking" he sometimes doesn't make a lot sense.  Yet, when I take the effort to really concentrate on him (putting aside all other distractions), I find that he is really trying to connect with me, learn something, or share some very meaningful experience he has had.  If I miss the chance to concentrate on him and what he is sharing, I miss the chance to connect with him.

When we are in the process of concentrating on something, we are coming to a place where that object becomes clearer, stronger, and more intensified.  It is like turning up the power on a microscope, with each lens serving to intensify the view we have of the object of our focus.  Jesus reminds us that we need those times when we are concentrating on him - not because he needs to be the center of our attention - but because we gain something in the time of examining him this closely.

It was no big production to do my homework - nor is it a big production to take time to listen to my grandson.  All it takes is a little time, effort on my part to concentrate, and a heart desire to get something out of the encounter.  That is what God says he will reward.  Not a big show of religious activity - just the simplicity of a heart focused on knowing him better.

So, don't miss out on the times of "concentrating" on God.  The ability to focus on him, the desire to have him "intensify" himself in us, is really a matter of us making the time and effort into the encounter with him.