Focus, Worry, Priorities
Many of you know that I wear contact lenses. Without my contacts I can do almost nothing. I can’t read unless the book is pressed against my face, I certainly can’t drive, and I even have to be careful trying to walk, for fear that I might run into something! I suspect that many of you have similar problems with your eyesight. I have heard from many people who have had some sort of corrective eye surgery (Lasik, cataract repair, etc.), and they all tell me how much of a difference it has made to their lives. They didn’t realize how much their poor vision was holding them back. They didn’t realize how much good vision made a difference until they had actually experienced it themselves.
This morning Jesus challenges us to correct our vision—to change the way we look at the world, to see the big picture. He says that once we start to see the way things really are, it will have a profound impact on the way we live our lives.
Our text this morning is Matthew 6:19-33, where Jesus gives us three principles about how we should live. Each one challenges us to see the world clearly, and to put our focus on the things of God first.
Invest in Treasure that Lasts
The first principle Jesus gives us is to invest in treasure that lasts. We see this in verses 19-21.
19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. (Matthew 6:19-21, NLT)
Not that many years ago, I used to buy things based solely on price. In my mind, cheaper was always better. Now that I am a bit older (and hopefully wiser), I am beginning to realize that sometimes it is actually better to pay a little bit more for something of higher quality. Many times the cheapest items are cheap for a reason and you’ll end up replacing it in not too long, either because it breaks or it doesn’t do what you’d hoped it would. The wise person learns to look at the big picture before deciding how to spend their money. They don’t just look at what something costs right now, but what it will cost (and be worth to them) in the future.
Jesus tells us the same principle we use to evaluate whether an item is a good purchase or not should be used as we decide how to live our lives. Jesus tells us to look at the big picture—to invest our time, energy, and money into things that will last, instead of things that will soon pass away.
He says there are two types of treasure we can invest in, earthly treasures and heavenly treasures. Earthly treasures do not last, they are destroyed by the things of this world or stolen from us by others. Heavenly treasures, however, cannot be taken from us, no matter what happens.
So what are some of the earthly treasures we are tempted to invest in? Jesus is pointing us to material possessions; things like cars, houses, clothing, jewelry, money, electronics, and all sorts of other stuff. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that these things will not last. Cars rust, houses require repairs, other things break or can be stolen. But the bigger picture is this: when we die, we cannot take any of these things with us. Jesus says that these earthly treasures do not last, because this life is not all there is.
But earthly treasures can go beyond simply material possessions. The fact is we can spend all our time, energy, and money trying to gain other treasures that will not last.
- Reputation or Image
- Awards and Accolades
- Physical Appearance
None of these things are bad, per se. It is not wrong to have money, be popular, or win awards. The question is what is it that we are really seeking? What are we choosing to invest in? When we spend our time, money, and talents seeking after the treasures of earth, we are investing in things that do not last. We need to see the bigger picture—that treasures in heaven are forever. Treasures on earth are not inherently evil, but what we should be seeking is treasures in heaven.
So how do we lay up treasures in heaven? What are the things we can invest in that will last? These kinds of things tend to be intangible—they often are not things we can see or touch or measure. Treasures in heaven have more to do with the impact we make in the lives of others. If being generous with your time or your money results in someone coming to know Jesus, nothing can ever take that away from you. For all of eternity you will know that you got to be a part of changing someone’s life. If you are able to bless someone else and make their life better, no one and nothing can take that away from you. If you spend time developing your relationship with God, the benefits of that investment don’t end when your life on this earth ends—they continue on for all of eternity.
We must be careful, however, because our motivation is important. Remember what Jesus said just a few verses before? If we do good things in order for people to notice us, or to respect us, or to reward us, then we have already gotten the reward we seek—an earthly reward that will not last. Instead, we are to invest in the lives of others, we are to invest in our relationship with the Lord, we are to try to make a difference with the resources God has given to us, without concern for whether we get praise from others. The praise we get does not last, but the impact we make in someone else’s life lasts forever.
Choose Who You Serve
The second principle Jesus gives us is found in verses 22-24,
22 “Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. 23 But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!
24 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:22-24, NLT)
In these verses, Jesus tells us that we cannot have two top priorities in life. Only one thing gets to be at the top. Jesus uses the image of the eye. He says that if your eye is good, your body is filled with light. If it is bad, your body is filled with darkness. Jesus isn’t saying that people who need glasses are evil! He is giving us a metaphor about where we choose to put our focus. If we choose to fix our eyes on the things of this world, we will find ourselves groping in the darkness, searching for meaning, searching for fulfillment, searching for a contentment that is elusive and always just out of reach. However, if we see things the right way and fix our eyes on the Lord, we will be filled with light. We will see things clearly and we will understand that this world (and the things that go along with it) is not all there is.
The question we must ask ourselves is what are we focused on? What is it that drives us? The challenge is to answer that question honestly. We know what our priorities ought to be, the question is what are they really? So look at your calendar. What dominates your schedule? When you get busy, what gets pushed to the wayside—the things of earth, or the things of God? How about your bank account? When money gets tight, does the Lord get cut out or do your worldly pleasures? Look at how you make decisions. Where do you turn for guidance? Do you look to the Lord? Or do you look to your friends, family, or so-called “experts”?
Jesus says we can only be focused on one thing—we can’t have multiple top priorities. If our eyes are not focused in the right place, we will spend our lives constantly groping around in the darkness. It is only when we fix our eyes on Jesus that we begin to live in the light and we are able to really find what we’ve been looking for.
Worry is a Symptom of Bad Focus
The third principle Jesus gives us is about worry. He tells us that if we are truly focused on the Lord, and we truly trust Him above all else, then we need not worry.
25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God* above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:25-34, NLT)
Jesus says there are two categories of things we tend to worry about. He uses the examples of having enough to eat or drink or having clothes to wear. The first category is things that are important but that we need to trust God to provide, such as food to eat. The second category is things that aren’t important, like having nice clothes to wear. Jesus says not to worry about the things we don’t need—because those are the treasures of the world. If we keep that perspective, it will keep us from worrying about whether we have the “latest and greatest”.
In terms of the important things, Jesus uses a couple of examples from nature to remind us that God will take care of our needs. He points first to the birds, and reminds us that the birds don’t worry about whether they will have enough food to eat. Birds don’t have stress-related illnesses like we do. Birds don’t work overtime so they can have as much food as the birds in the next nest. Why is that? It is because birds understand that God will provide for their needs. Rather than worrying about tomorrow, the birds focus on doing what needs to be done today.
He makes the same point with flowers. He says that flowers are beautiful; they have a beauty that far surpasses anything we as human beings can create. God provides for their needs, and yet flowers are here today and gone tomorrow. Jesus says this: we are more important than flowers, so what makes us think God won’t provide for us?
When we find ourselves worrying, it is because we are relying on ourselves instead of the Lord. Worry creeps in when we trust in our bank accounts, our skills, our hard work, or something else to ensure our safety and stability. Here’s the problem—no matter how much we worry or how hard we work, we can’t actually ensure our safety and stability. We ultimately cannot provide for ourselves! Only God can do that. When we insist on trying to take responsibility for things that only God can do, we get weighed down by burdens that are far too heavy for us to bear. We think God has abandoned us, but the problem is that we are trying to do what only He can do!
Jesus is not saying that we have no responsibilities. He is not saying that we should just sit back and do whatever we want, trusting that God will provide for our needs. He is saying that if we do what God has told us to do we needn’t worry about the results. Results are God’s domain, following directions is ours.
Jesus tells us not to worry for several reasons. First, it shows a lack of faith in God. When we worry, we are saying we don’t think God will take care of our needs. The birds don’t worry because they have more faith than we do! If we focus on our problems, we will fall into worry. We need to focus instead on the Problem Solver!
Second, worry is exhausting. Listen to what Jesus says in the closing verse of our text,
34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:34, NLT)
There is no sense in worrying about tomorrow, because we don’t know what tomorrow holds. The problem with worry is that we wear ourselves out trying to deal with problems that may not even happen! Jesus tells us instead to concern ourselves with doing what needs to be done today. We’ll deal with tomorrow when it gets here.
Third, worry doesn’t accomplish anything. Jesus points out that worrying about dying won’t make you live longer—as a matter of fact, it might do the opposite! Worry doesn’t do anything for us but wear us out. I’ve used the illustration before, but someone has said that worry is kind of like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but you don’t go anywhere. Jesus says that instead of worrying, we should devote our energy to doing the things we can (and should) do, and trust Him to do the rest!
So we shouldn’t worry. But how are we supposed to avoid worrying? Jesus’ solution is simple,
33 Seek the Kingdom of God* above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:33, NLT)
This means that when we focus on serving the Lord, and on doing the things He tells us to do, He will provide for our needs. Practically speaking it means this:
- When we make time to do the things God tells us to do (like worshiping together corporately, studying the Bible on our own, talking to Him in prayer, teaching our children the right way to go, etc.), He will enable us to get done the things that need to get done. Of course, we have to understand that what God says needs to get done may not be the same as what everyone else says needs to get done. God’s priorities might be different, but they are also better.
- When we work hard to provide for our families, God will provide the things we need. This is not a license to be lazy. He is not saying that we just need to sit back and let God do the work. God says we should do our part, and He will do His part. We may not have all the “treasures” that other people have, but we will have something far greater—a peace that comes only by trusting God.
- When we reach out to other people, God will handle the results. We don’t need to worry about whether the gifts we give, the work we do, or the words we speak to others bring results we can see right now. We need to concern ourselves with simply being obedient. God will use us to accomplish His will if we do what He tells us. This is a great relief to me. It means that when I talk to others about the gospel message I don’t have to worry that if I say something stupid or don’t know an answer to a question that they can’t go to Heaven. God is not hindered by my weakness or ignorance. He can use my obedience to accomplish things I could never imagine and the same is true with you! Our job is to serve the Lord to the best of our ability, and trust Him to provide the results.
When we truly trust that God will take care of us, and that His way is best, it sets us free! We can give up worrying about the things we cannot control and leave them in the trustworthy hands of the Lord.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us some very practical instruction on how to live our lives. He tells us that we should seek after heavenly treasures, because earthly treasures will not last. He says that only one thing can be the most important thing to us, so we need to get our priorities straight. And He tells us that Christians shouldn’t worry about the things of this world, because we know that God is in control, He has a plan, and He will provide for our needs.
Ultimately, Jesus gives us a simple principle that overarches all of these applications—Seek after the things of God, make sure that He is your first priority, and all the other things will fall into place.
Sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing until you get a glimpse of what it should be like. When I go into the eye doctor and he puts the new prescription in front of my eye, I realize again how sharp and crisp and clear the world should be. After having seen what I’ve been missing, I would be foolish to go back to the way I was before.
Jesus gives us a glimpse of what we are missing by focusing on the things of this world. The world promises us that if we can just get a little more, we will be happy. If we can just get a raise, then our problems will go away. If we can just get a different job, everything will be better. If we will just indulge our desires a little more, then life will be more enjoyable. If we just get the new and improved thing, then we will be satisfied. The world is wrong. What we are missing is not something on this earth. What we are missing is not money, possessions, power, friends, fame, fun, success, or anything else. What we are missing is a right focus.
Jesus tells us to make sure our eyes are focused on Him. If we focus on doing what He says, on honoring Him above all else, and on drawing close to Him both now and forever, we will find the contentment and peace that we all yearn to have. And no one and nothing can take that away from us.