Sharpen Your Focus
In this first issue of Kindred Spirit following the worldwide celebration of a new millennium, we consider resolutions, goals and new beginnings. Thus, it seems appropriate to consider Moses’ address to the children of Israel as they stood on the threshold of a significant “new”: God's announcement of the first-ever Jewish new year (Exod. 12).
The Egyptians, having suffered nine plagues, still refused to fear the Lord. It didn’t matter that they’d endured lice, locusts, and dead livestock. They weren’t about to free their Hebrew slaves. Can you imagine how much creativity it took to concoct God-less explanations for the nine nationwide supernatural events they’d witnessed? Yet they chose to explain it all away rather than admit they were wrong about Yahweh.
So Moses stood before Israel on the eve of the first Passover and relayed to the Hebrew slaves a list of divine instructions. “It's interesting that God tells them, ‘You're going to have a holiday in honor of something I'm going to do’ before He has even done what they will commemorate,” observes DTS Hebrew teacher, Dorian Coover-Cox. “In fact, God set up the entire calendar around what He was about to do. He said, ‘This month is going begin the year for you.’”
God told them that what they were about to do would become such a part of their lives that it “will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the LORD is to be on your lips” (Exod. 13:9). Why? So His law would become an integral part of daily living.
Later (Exod. 16) God gave Israel a Sabbath. He set apart His people as those who could refrain from work one day out of every week because of what He had done for them. Can you imagine if you and your ancestors had worked without one day off in a few hundred years? The whole suggestion that God's people needed time off to worship seemed preposterous to Pharaoh. He assumed they made such a request out of sheer laziness (5:9). So he told them, “I'll give you more work so you won't listen to Moses' lies.’” In his mind, time off to worship constituted a colossal waste of time.
Yet Yahweh considered true worship so beneficial that He gave Israel a special day every week (Exod. 20:8–11). God’s people could cease from work, recognizing that their provision came not from their own efforts, but out of His providence.
Yahweh wanted to remind His people of who He was, what He had done for them, and who they were as a result. And He did so by building into the calendar the sanctifying of ordinary events—first the weekly Sabbath and then the consecration of every firstborn male child and animal.
Several years ago, I took part in a group discussion using a popular Bible study guide. This study helped us explore how God often gives us impossible tasks—“God-sized tasks”—which require us to exercise faith. The success stories in the guide included inspiring testimonies of how God provided millions of dollars or how He planted huge churches all because one person exercised a little faith.
A woman who had sat quietly finally spoke up. “I have trouble identifying with these examples,” she said. “I’d love to be out planting churches or raising money for God. But at this season of my life, the laundry is a God-sized task. Add to that putting endless meals on the table, getting the oil changed, and showing up on time for work. Finding purpose in the daily responsibilities God has given me—tasks that reappear tomorrow and for which I will never receive thanks—that requires mountain-moving faith for me.” One by one all the people present said they felt the same way.
They had a point. Our identity as humans comes from something greater than our “to do” list. The children of Israel worked for centuries without a break, and yet what set them apart from the nations was not what their work accomplished, but what God did for them and their response Him. We may want to quit our daily responsibilities so we can focus on doing something glamorous for the Lord. Yet God has not called most of us to be famous; He has called us to be faithful, day in and day out. In Luke 16:10, we read Jesus’ words on the dignity of the mundane: “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much” (ASV).
It seems backwards, doesn’t it? The last shall be first; the least shall be greatest; little is much; take time off to “waste time”; the way up is down. Yet that’s how God set it up.
So perhaps for many of us, the exercise of great faith in “visionary thinking” means we need to sharpen our focus on the small—to “decrease our vision,” if you will. Stephen spent his last days serving food to widows. Yet at his martyrdom we read of the only time in the New Testament where Jesus is said not to sit but to stand at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:56). Decreasing our vision may mean learning to view the seemingly insignificant tasks of wiping noses and drying tears (whether in home, hospice, or house of prayer) as important, focusing on what matters most. If God blesses beyond our borders, wonderful; but that's not the “main thing.”
And what is? What a group of powerless slaves celebrating a New Year after nine plagues had—the fear of the Lord. Happy New Year…Century…Millennium…Day!
Sandra Glahn teaches at DTS and edits Kindred Spirit. Her most recent coauthored work is Lethal Harvest, a medical thriller.