You'd think someone who would go so far as to post her Bible reading plan and a geeky bar chart documenting her progress would be committed to the goal. Unflagging in her enthusiasm. Persistent in her follow through. You'd think she'd probably make it at least six months before any temptations of deep-sixing said goal crossed her mind.
You'd think wrong.
Week three of daily Bible reading and exploring the lesser-read Old Testament texts, and I am flailing. My focus on being present with God, in his word... it's become rather blurry.
Every day I am tempted by The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest and The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days to push aside my Bible and indulge in more frivolous reading.
What's a person to do when focus fades?
This is where I take a page from Paul's epistle and another from Anne Lammott's book. "Oh, Lord. I do those things I don't want to do. And I don't do the things I aim to do. Help me, help me, help me get my God-loving focus back." It's the prayer of admitting I can't do it alone, that I need God's help.
As it is written in James 1:2-3, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." If we don't give up but give God the chance to refine our efforts and habits, then our faith can grow. So I add another prayer: "God, help me to persevere, to push through the hard parts, and to find the joy in the challenge and the promise of a stronger faith beyond it."
God surrounds us with a cloud of witnesses, not to document our shortcomings and botched attempts, but to carry us through life's hard parts and celebrate life's victories with us. The Big Guy in the Sky reminds me, when I'm tempted to stray away from his word, that there are 15 people who occasionally tune in to my bloggy blathering. Fifteen people who might actually ask, "Hey, how's that Bible reading going?" Fifteen people with whom to share glimmers of his goodness whether I succeed or stumble on this journey through Scripture. A cloud of witnesses to carry me through.
(Perhaps your cloud isn't in the electronic cloud. They can be family. Friends. Neighbors. Your personal Board of Directors. The point is invite them along on your journey and allow God to work his wonders through them.)
So with prayers, persistence, and a smidgen of the public invisibly watching over my shoulder, I settled in to read Joshua this morning. That's when this little nugget grabbed me.
"Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so.
That's how God made his presence known, when he made sure persistence paid off.
"The place where you stand, dear Liz, is holy."
Huh? I've been procrastinating and unfocused and flailing. How is that holy ground?
I swear I heard God clear his throat. "Ahem." Soft and patient, yet pointed. Okay, so possibly that was my dog trying to cough up a fur ball. But let's not rule out the mysterious ways in which God works.
As in, "Dear Liz, it is not your work or your effort that makes the ground holy."
In fact, it's not until I strip away my stuff — my sandals, my socks, my insecurities and frustrations about my mistakes — that I can see God's holiness in my midst.
When I'm all caught up in reading the Bible to satisfy my goal, of course I'm going to lose focus. First off, I'm forgetting that it's the Spirit who led me down this reading path. Second, I'm stuck in a "to do" mentality before I even open the Bible. How can God get through when I'm focused on getting done?
So here's the lesson I've learned: When focus fades, let go and let God take over. Shed the earthly shoes that drag me down crooked paths, and let God make my path straight. Because when I let him, he always leads me to his holy ground.
I pray that you find some time to focus on God today. May he fill you with prayer, persistence, and a cloud of witnesses to get you where you need to be spiritually. May he help you shed your earthly distractions so you can see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.