My faith often seems strongest in the morning as I have my morning coffee, but in fact that is an illusion. The truth is, I am more rested and less distracted by material concerns in the morning – before I invite the world in.
You see, I’ve learned that it is not so much my faith in God and Christ that ebbs and flows like the morning tide – it is my “focus” throughout each day that does that.
It is my inattention to spiritual “focus” after I invite the world in that makes me most vulnerable to sin. It is the worldly temptations that compete for my attention throughout each day that pose the biggest challenges to a meaningful relationship with Christ. It’s my preoccupation with organizing, “being in control” (another illusion), financial planning, paying bills, travel, credit cards, online shopping, remodeling projects, Amazon, Netflix, listening to the news, my career, the phone calls, the texts, social media, my obsession with food, and “a million other things” that compete daily with Christ for my attention – and, because that is where my attention lies, that compete for my affection.
“You may worship no other god before me.” Exodus 20:3
Things that unintentionally dilute, redefine, and threaten my relationship with Christ without me ever really realizing it.
“Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:37
A self-centered relationship with the material world that threatens my spiritual health.
Jesus stated, “The second most important (commandment) is similar: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Matthew 22:28
An accumulation of wealth and how I use it that so often demonstrates my disobedience to Christ and the selfishness of my heart: My very own “Portrait of Dorian Gray,” personalized to reflect those things about me that I might otherwise have concealed from myself.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth where they can erode or may be stolen. Store them in heaven where they will never lose their value and are safe from thieves. If your profits are in heaven, your heart will be there too.” Matthew 6:19-21
Like all Christians, I constantly face threats to my relationship with Christ from the physical world around me. Sometimes I am aware of it, sometimes I am not. Sometimes it is because of something I do, sometimes it is because of something I don’t do. Sometimes it is because my efforts are misdirected, other times it is the result of my neglect.
Matt Costella wrote in 2010 that Christians face four, distinct threats to our relationship with Christ from the world around us:
First, when we focus on ourselves or our physical desires at the expense of our relationship with God through Christ (such as selfishness, excessive consumerism and materialism, contrary to the teachings of Christ);
Second, when we focus on conforming to cultural norms or seek social approval at the expense of our relationship with God through Christ (such as when we uncritically conform to culture attitudes, behaviors, or norms, contrary to the teachings of Christ);
Third, when we focus on a secular worldview instead of a spiritual worldview at the expense of our relationship with God through Christ (such as believing that there are no absolute truths, or believing that all religions have merit and essentially reflect the same god, or believing that happiness is our ultimate goal and that money can buy it); and,
Fourth, when we focus on sexual gratification at the expense of our relationship with God through Christ (such as sexual exploitation, prostitution, promiscuity, adultery, and pornography).
In other words, whenever we focus on anything or anyone that diverts our attention away from our relationship with God through Christ, we may be demonstrating that we love something worldly more than we love God — or that we have otherwise lost our way to Him. Whether we lose our way temporarily or permanently depends ultimately on the choices we make — and how we deal with the consequences of those choices when we choose poorly. In either case, we depend on the love, grace, and mercy of God to find our way to Him, which cannot occur without faith in Christ.
“Jesus told him, ‘I am the Way, — yes, and the Truth and the Life. No one can get to the Father except by means of me.” John 14:6
So, from now on, before I invite the world into my life each morning, I hope to begin each day with a prayer: A prayer thanking God for making Himself known to me, thanking Him for the blessings He has given, and for asking Christ to walk with me each day so that I may keep my focus where God desires it.
“And then he (Jesus) said to all, ‘Anyone who wants to follow me must put aside his own desires and conveniences and carry his cross with him every day and keep close to me! Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it, but whoever insists on keeping his life will lose it; and what profit is there in gaining the whole world when it means forfeiting one’s self? ” Luke 9:23-25
Photograph by Piyawat Nandeenopparit