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Traction – Part 2: The Fight to Stay Focused

They come from the Old Testament books of 1 & 2 Kings, at a time when God’s people were spinning their wheels. They were all over the place, and so 1 & 2 Kings answer the question, “How do I get from where I am, to experiencing God’s blessings?”

1 & 2 Kings answers the question,

“How do we get from where we are to experiencing God’s blessings?”

We began last week with the one that has to come first, and that is getting—or getting back—a heart for God. A heart for God. 725 times from Genesis to Revelation, God addresses our hearts. He is deeply concerned with your heart. Because your heart is command central. From your heart flows everything we dwell on, decide and do and say. 

We were introduced to Judah’s young king Josiah, who showed what it looks like to have a heart for God—by humbly responding to God’s Word. And we left off with an amazing statement about Josiah. It says…

“Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.”

2 Kings 23:25

Wouldn’t it be amazing to have that said of you and me! That we turned to the Lord with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength, in accordance with God’s Word. This is what the world needs most—always has and always will. 

Today builds on that. Early one morning recently, my daughter and her fellow students hit the road for the long drive to Virginia. More than 500 miles. All I could think of as they headed out is how hard it is to stay focused for that long. You get into the rhythm of those expansion joints—bu-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum—and time seems to slow down. Your focus drifts. Attentiveness slips. And you become at risk.

The same is true spiritually. In the spiritual life, it is easy and natural and common…to lose focus and begin to drift. That’s why the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians ends with a heads up to stay focused. The Message paraphrase of Ephesians 6 cautions…

“This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet.”

Ephesians 6:12-13 MSG

Those verses are the spiritual equivalent of rumble strips. If you head up I-69 this afternoon and you zone out driving 70 mph, as you near Pendleton you’re going to hit several rumble strips that will snap you back to awareness. In advance of three lanes becoming two for construction, there are a series of rumble strips cut into the highway. That same jarring effect is what Paul intended as he wrapped up the letter to the Ephesians. Stay alert! Fight to stay focused!

Today’s ride along starts at a time when God’s people had drifted. We pick up again in 2 Kings chapter 23. We left off last week with verse 3. All the people of God have just listened to the book of Deuteronomy read aloud. It hits them like a massive rumble strip. As they hear all the amazing and marvelous things the Lord had done for them in the past, and as they hear the ten commandments reminding them of God’s expectations for how we show love for him and love for one another, they are jarred awake. So they do two things. You saw the first last week: they recommitted themselves to the Lord.

But then there’s a second concrete action they did, in order to fight to stay focused. 2 Kings 23:4ff, I’m going to read selected verses that give you the heart of it without getting lost in too much detail. We’ll project it if you want to follow along.

“Then the king instructed [his people] to remove from the Lord’s Temple all the articles that were used to worship Baal, Asherah, and all the powers of the heavens. The king had all these things burned…and he carried the ashes away…He did away with the idolatrous priests, who had been appointed by the previous kings of Judah, for they had offered sacrifices at the pagan shrines throughout Judah and even in the vicinity of Jerusalem…He also tore down the living quarters of the male and female shrine prostitutes that were inside the Temple of the Lord…Then the king defiled the altar of Topheth in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, so no one could ever again use it to sacrifice a son or daughter in the fire as an offering to Molech…Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem.” 

2 Kings 23:4-5, 7, 10, 24

It continues like this all throughout this chapter, describing similar action all around Jerusalem and Judah. The king and the people, having run across the rumble strip of God’s covenant calling them back to wholehearted devotion to the Lord who is fully devoted to them, cleaned house spiritually. 

They aggressively went after three things that were causing them to spiritually drift. And all three are critical. 

The fight to stay focused: 

Go after the things, places, & people that cause you to drift

Let’s take them one at a time, and the parallels today—the people, places, and things that can cause you to lose focus and drift from the Lord who has set his love upon you.

First, they aggressively went after things that had caused them to lose focus and drift. The things they went after were idols. In their case, the things that had become idols to them were things used to worship the false gods of t. The nations around them—Baal, Asherah, and others. 

The very first of the ten commandments is the command to love the Lord only. Don’t give your heart to other so-called gods. Don’t give to an idol the energy and attention and loyalty that your heart is designed to give to the Lord who created you and who has redeemed you. 

In Josiah’s day, the things, the idols that caused God’s people to lose focus were religious in nature. They uncritically accepted the false spiritual practices of those who didn’t know the Lord. “If it works,” they imagined, “we’ll try it. Add it to the mix.”

Does that sound a bit familiar to you? Today, many people, and perhaps you have inadvertently become like this, engage in mix and match spirituality. Take a little bit of Christianity. Add in something that sounds attractive from Buddhism. Sprinkle in some of what Oprah is selling. Throw in a side of Deepak Chopra. Whatever the latest spiritual billboard advertises, people go for it.

But just like every billboard is designed to capture your attention and pull you aside from your destination, there are many spiritual distractions as well, intended to lure you and me into breaking the 

very first commandment, which says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3)

Today, on this side of the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, we can add that God says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the kingdom of darkness, out of slavery to sin. You shall have no other gods before me.”

Having heard this commandment read aloud to them, the first thing Josiah and his people did was rid themselves of the things that had caused them to lose focus and drift. They removed, smashed, and burned their idols. 

You say, “Good for them! But I don’t have any idols.” Hold on. An idol is something you end up giving a place in your life that should be reserved only for God. And by that definition, there’s a lot of idolatry that goes unrecognized as such. So give yourself an honest little test. 

Think about everything you own. Everything you’ve purchased, worked for, and treasure. 

Add to that your job or position or title. 

Now add to that your intelligence, your skillset, your education. All good things.

Here’s the question, the idol test: What’s the one thing in all of that that I most want to protect? What’s the one thing I would dread…losing? 

Got it? That’s the thing you need to be the most careful about. That’s the thing where you need most to fight to stay focused. Don’t let anything become an idol in your life. Fight to stay focused on the eternal, on God’s kingdom.

With Josiah leading the way, the people recommitted themselves to serving the Lord, and then they aggressively went after destroying the things that had become idols to them. They began to fight to get back their spiritual focus.

The fight to stay focused: 

Go after the things, places, & people that cause you to drift

They went after things. They also went after places that had caused them to spiritually drift. You see in 2 Kings 23 a whole list of places that had been devoted to the Lord back in the day—the Jerusalem temple among them—but then somewhere along the line, those places had been corrupted into places where unholy things were done. So they went after those places as well. 

They cleansed those places, restoring them to what they should have been all along. Did you notice, for example, that the temple, the temple of the Lord, of all places, had all kinds of pagan worship symbols within it and even on top of it? Some of the places they aggressively went after included demolishing rooms for male and female prostitutes that had been built into the temple itself? It was hammer time! They smashed that stuff to pieces, restoring the place to what it should have been all along.

For some of you, there are places that help you to connect with God—this is one of them, right here—but there are also places that are unwise for you to go, or continue going to. 

Hong Kong is in the news lately. I can give you a spiritual story about this very point from Hong Kong. When I was there on a grad school study trip, we visited with Jackie Pullinger. Jackie had moved in to Hong Kong’s infamous Walled City in the 1960s, to bring the message of Christ and to show the love of Christ to the people who lived there. The Walled City was a horrible place.

By mistake, this parcel of land was left out of the hundred-year treaty between Britain and China, and so it became lawless. Police wouldn’t go into it. Open sewers ran beneath makeshift buildings, that leaned against each other at the top such that no light could reach the narrow streets below. Known locally as ‘City of Darkness’, it was a place of extreme poverty, full of drug addicts, triad gangs and prostitution. 

Knowing no one, and with just ten dollars in her pocket, Jackie moved into the Walled City and began loving and helping and teaching the people. One got saved, then another, then more. It was hard for someone who had been a heroin addict or gang member or prostitute to stay in that place once they came to faith in Christ and began to change. The place was not good for them to continue. 

And so something wonderful happened. The Hong Kong government saw the good that was happening there, and gave these new Christians land. They named it, in Chinese, “Camp of Blessing.” Hundreds of former addicts and gang members and prostitutes moved there, where they engaged in legitimate business away from the place that had so messed them up. Today they have over 200 people living in a variety of homes, coming off drugs and being re-parented in a safe family environment.

What’s a place for you, that causes you to drift? To lose focus spiritually? Is there any place where, when you go there, you find yourself saying things you wouldn’t typically say? Or you end up doing things you wouldn’t otherwise want to do? Or you find yourself drawn into things you aren’t in other places? In the fight to stay focused, you need to name those places that, for you, they need to remain off-limits, places that in the past have dragged you down spiritually. Name them, and be done with them.

The fight to stay focused: 

Go after the things, places, & people that cause you to drift

In the fight to stay focused, Josiah and his people aggressively went after the things that had caused them to drift. They addressed the places that had become spiritually polluted and taken them off track. And third, they identified the people that had caused them to lose focus and so dangerously drift away from loving the Lord wholeheartedly. Verse 5 for example tells us Josiah “did away with the idolatrous priests, who had been appointed by the previous kings of Judah, for they had offered sacrifices at the pagan shrines throughout Judah and even in the vicinity of Jerusalem…” 

Right there are two words that should have never been put together: “idolatrous priests.” These were priests, chosen by the Lord and called to be holy, set apart for the Lord. Today, under the new covenant Jesus sealed with his blood, all of us are priests. Every Christian is called to be set apart to the Lord, to love him with all your heart. So don’t let anyone pull you away from wholehearted devotion to Christ.

There may be a person in your life right now who is a corrupting influence on you, whether morally, spiritually, or both. Having a heart for God, being set apart as a priest, may mean you break that relationship.

This is always the toughest of the three. There are times when you have to clean house of the things, places, and people that make you drift and lose focus. The most painful is this one: removing yourself from people who are a bad influence on you. But it has to be done. You have to make that decision for yourself. No one else can make the decision for you.

For the men and women in Hong Kong who came to faith in Christ out of backgrounds of drug abuse or prostitution or gang activities, they had to break away from certain people—from people who would only drag them back into their old lifestyle. It’s no different for you and me right here and today.

In the fight to stay focused, you need to become aware of, and beware of, the people who are a negative influence on you. 

Here’s another self-test. Ask yourself, “When I’m with this person, do they inspire me to love the Lord more or less? Do I find myself trusting and obeying the Lord more or less, the more time I spend around this person? If the answer is less, it’s time to put up boundaries, boundaries that keep you spiritually focused. 

The most common area I’ve seen this is when a single Christian dates someone who doesn’t love Jesus Christ. If someone doesn’t love the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, break up. Say no. Fight to stay focused. There are untold numbers of Christians who married someone only to realize down the road that they made a mistake. They’re in a marriage where they cannot share the most important thing in their heart.

So when you cease being a godly influence, and start becoming influenced away from wholehearted devotion to the Lord, watch out. Take a giant step back. That’s not a relationship you need to stay in. 

On that same study trip to Asia that took me to Hong Kong, we also met a salon owner in Singapore. Jenny was a Christian who, by her own admission, had not fought to stay focused. Over time, a little bit at a time, she began adding trust, shifting her focus and trust, from Christ alone, to Jesus plus Buddhism; Jesus plus idolatry; Jesus plus superstitions. 

But when we met her, Jenny asked for our help. She wanted to do a Josiah. Just like Josiah did in his day, she wanted to clean house spiritually. So here’s what she did. At the end of the day, after her salon was closed for the evening, she invited us over. She opened up the shop, turned on the lights, and began taking out all the items in her shop that didn’t demonstrate trust that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

She had put up a god shelf with a statue of Buddha. She took it down, carried the ceramic Buddha out to the balcony outside the front door, and with her hands shaking from fear, she took a hammer to that Buddha. She was breaking up with Buddhism.

Hidden above the suspended ceiling at the entrance was so-called sacred string. She pulled it out and took it outside. From various places throughout the shop, she pulled down and took out pagan items that she had been trusting in for business success. 

Then on the concrete walk outside the shop, she took a lighter to it all, and burned it in dedication to the Lord. Somewhere in my travel memorabilia is a picture of our study group surrounding Jenny after she had cleaned house spiritually. We knew she had been scared to do what she wanted to do that evening. So when it was all done, someone asked her how she was feeling now. She smiled broadly and replied, “Happy!” Jenny is wearing that smile in the photo, and has her index finger raised to the sky to show her trust in Jesus. 

Jenny fought to get focused again. 

She got back to having a heart for God—by letting God have her heart.

And God blessed her with joy.

So here’s the traction action for this week: think about the people, places and things in your life right now. In each area, is there one that is influencing you away from wholehearted love for the Lord? Is there one that is distracting you from staying focused on the Lord and his amazing covenant with you?

And if there is—if you identify something, place, or person that is causing you to drift, what will you do about it? Ignore it? Wish it would go away? Or do a Josiah. Do a Jenny. Do whatever it takes to get back your focus: 

  • Turn your back on something that distracts you.
  • Remove yourself from someplace that causes you to lose focus. 
  • Or end a relationship with someone who pulls you away from the Lord. 

If you need help, I’m available. It’s a privilege to listen to you, to ask questions, and to pray, so that you discern whether there is anything, place or person distracting your heart from the Lord.

This is the fight we must fight, the fight to stay focused, in light of the amazing covenant the Lord has made for us. 

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