The theme for this years Vacation Bible School is “FOCUS: Taking a closer look”.  “Taking a closer look at what?” you may ask.  Taking a closer look at Jesus of course.  The theme verse is Hebrews 12:2, but I’m going to include verse 1 as well.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV

A few years ago there was a product that came out called “Focus Factor” that claims to improve “Working Memory, Concentration and Focus”.  This is not an advertisement, because most products like this are not necessarily proven to be effective.  But, wouldn’t it be great to have improved memory, concentration, and focus?  We could accomplish a lot more and avoid embarrassing situations.  How many of us have forgotten where we put our keys or wallet?  Have you ever gone to do something and on the way you forgot what you were going to do?  We all forget names and other information, but have you forgotten a close friend or family members name just for a second?  As someone who speaks in public, it’s embarrassing for me when I lose track of where I am during a talk or a message.  Some speakers use “dramatic pauses” purposefully while speaking to create anticipation, but about half the time I do it because I’m trying to figure out where I am in the message.  Maybe I’m daydreaming, floating off into la la land, or my brain has just decided to shut down.  Either way I’ve lost focus and concentration.  Focus and concentration is a tricky thing.  We can definitely work on it, but there are times when we just check out.

When I was a youth minister at a large church in Charlotte, we would have staff meetings every Tuesday.  We had about 10 people on staff.  Each department or ministry would give reports, we would have planning for upcoming events that everyone would be involved in, and sometimes we would have brainstorming sessions.  Brainstorming is a good way to describe my brain.  There seems to be a storm in my brain reeking havoc most of the time.  Anyway, one of the associate pastors said that she could always tell when I “checked out”.  I must have had a blank look on my face.  It happens a lot:) It’s like when your asked a question in class in high school and the teacher has to repeat your name several times to get your attention.  You try to act like you were paying attention, but everyone knows that you’re not. BUSTED!  It’s embarrassing.  All kidding aside, focus and concentration are vital to our success in any and all areas of life, plus it can help us stay out of trouble.

There are some people who are “multitaskers”, able to focus on doing multiple things at one time, like walking and chewing gum at the same or our younger generations claim that they can study and do homework while watching TV, listening to music, engaging on social media, and chewing gum.  It depends on your definition of “studying”.  They may be “studying”, but I’m not sure about their retention and comprehension.  One of my favorite comedians, Brian Regan, said, “I took a speed reading course and my speed shot up to 43 pages a minute, but my comprehension plummeted.” 

According to an article I read online “multitasking” is “more than just a popular buzzword, multitasking has become a workplace badge of honor that many proudly wear. But current research shows that multitasking does not serve us well, and that we engage in the behavior at our own peril…When humans attempt to perform two tasks at once, execution of the first task usually leads to postponement of the second one. This task delay is thought to result from a bottleneck occurring at a central, amodal stage of information processing that precludes two response selection or decision-making operations from being concurrently executed… Our results suggest that a neural network of frontal lobe areas acts as a central bottleneck of information processing that severely limits our ability to multitask.”  According to the article multitasking makes us less efficient, inhibits creativity, causes stress, and it’s addictive.   So, doing more isn’t always a good thing.  It’s the “quality vs. quantity” question.

Do you remember the old saying, “jack of all trades and the master of none”? There is nothing wrong with being good at a lot of different things, but isn’t it better to be great or a master of one or two things?  Masters, those who are great at something, almost always receive greater reward, attention, and notoriety than those who are just good.  People are more attracted to great than just good.  The quality of what they produce stands out.  The cream of the crop will rise to the top.  Look, I even made it rhyme.  Gold star!

For many years, churches have bought into the “more is better” philosophy.  I’ll admit I got caught sucked into this trend as well.  If we just have MORE programs, ministries, and activities on the calendar, our church will grow because more is better, right?  In a way it is a form of multitasking.  It may sound good or look good on paper, but when you plan more you need more resources: money, leaders, volunteers, etc. When people are overworked physically or mentally they get burnt out, lose interest, and are less effective.  It’s just not sustainable or healthy.  Wouldn’t it be better to do a few things really well or with excellence than doing a lot with mediocrity?

Let’s go back to Hebrews 12.  The writer encourages us to throw off or get rid of everything that distracts us, the sins that entangle or get us tied up in knots.  Distraction is one of the greatest enemies of focus, concentration, productivity, and efficiency; and of course sin pretty much messes with everything.  Once, we are unhindered and unshackled by distraction and sin, we are free to “run the race marked out for us”.  The use of the word “marked” in this verse brings to mind a map or a plan; a plan requires focus and attention to detail.  We are trying to get to a fixed point on the map, so what is the easiest or most direct route?  For a follower of Christ, Jesus is that fixed point on the map, imitating Him is the easiest and most direct route.  He is the finish line and the ultimate prize.  Whether you are follower of Christ or not, the idea of “fixing our eyes” or “focusing” on someone or something is key to greater efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity.

I understand that life is crazy, and I’m not exactly the poster child for focus and concentration.  There are times that we have to multitask, individually and vocationally, but should it be the norm?  I’ve read and heard leadership gurus talk about learning to say no.  As a people pleaser, I struggle with saying that word. Obviously, your not going to apply this by telling your boss, “Sorry, I’m going to have to pass on your request because Robby from my church said that I need to get focused on the things that are really important.  What you’re asking me to do will only distract me and add more stress to my life, so no thanks.”  We have to be realistic, right?  We know how the world works, but sometimes we have to make hard choices and REFOCUS for our overall health and well-being.  The race of life is a marathon and we have to pace ourselves.  Also, there is an added bonus when we NARROW OUR FOCUS.  We can get better at what we do well.  Instead of just being good or the “jack of all trades”, maybe we could be the master of one or two.

Have a great weekend and 4th of July!  Love y’all!

Weekly Devotional by Robby Morris, Director of Family Ministry & Facility Coordinator @ Andrews UMC.