As a faculty member, I’m accustomed to helping students readjust to school life after a long summer—the motivation, expectations, and general timidness of students tends to “reset” each year. But recently, I’ve been surprised at how much students are focusing on the wrong things.
One example: This year, I was surprised at how many students were focusing on things like perfect haircuts, back to school clothes, what social events would occur, and what the first sports game was going to be like.
Another example: In our first week, I had a standard “syllabus quiz” to see how well students had read the syllabus and were prepared for the expectations of the class. It was a simple quiz, but I had a student who emailed me fourteen times in a single day on the first day of class because he got one question wrong. The sheer volume of emails told me this was less about trying to understand what he missed and more about how the student was experiencing very high levels of anxiety to focus on a single point (in a class that has 1,000 points in it for the entire semester). How do I know? The same student missed the deadline for the first assignment, claiming he didn’t have the time to complete it even after spending much time going back and forth with me on those emails.
In no way am I trying to make light of a situation, or poke fun at any of these students. This isn’t even just a problem for students. But it highlights my point: Too often, we focus our efforts and resources on minor things and forget to make the main thing, the main thing. We need to make sure we know what really matters, as per Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21 on treasures in heaven versus treasures on earth. One of the best examples we have to help us with this is found in the Old Testament.
Be Like Job
Sudden destruction of property; death of loved ones; livelihood taken away; seemingly everything going wrong at once.
This isn’t just the chaos of what we have seen in the last few years. This is the story of Job. Again and again, Job had plenty of valid reasons to focus on the smaller things when tragedy and chaos surrounded him. Instead, he continued to seek out the Lord.
To be clear, this wasn’t an easy task for him. Job had questions—most of the book of Job, after all, is about all the questions Job had for God, wondering why he and his family had to suffer like this. Anyone in his shoes could easily be forgiven for doubting or folding. But Job continued to rely on his faith and even strengthened his pursuit of the Lord in tough times. It’s a simple task to state and far more difficult to employ, especially when we don’t know how things will turn out. (Remember, at the end of Job, God speaks, but he never really answers Job’s questions.)
It’s Going to Get Worse
“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus tells his disciples in John 16. We know things can and will be hard at times. I’m not saying that we should be anticipating daily destruction as bad as Job (though you might be fooled if you continue to watch mainstream media). But life becomes a lot simpler if you understand these tough times have been predicted and are even expected.
The student whose story I shared earlier said he was full of anxiety, and that was part of the reason he was obsessing on points. Look around you and take an honest assessment of things. Nations rising against nations; kingdoms against kingdoms; earthquakes, famines, and pestilences. These are all the norm in our morning headlines and not just biblical prophecy. Anxiety will continue to abound in our world because anxiety-inducing events are always going to be with us.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s time to shut down, ignore what’s happening, or take your foot off the gas. If anything, this is a season of leaning in deeper to hear what the Lord would have you do, and in trying to find peace in your work, even in the chaos. After all, Luke 21:28 says, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
I recognize this is easier said than done. None of us are perfect, and anxiety is an understandable response in the face of challenges. In addition, the fall means the return of school and the resumption of sports and extracurricular activities. We are also starting to think about the holidays and festivals and changing weather. These aren’t bad things in and of themselves, but they can add to the distractions and worries we face.
That’s why our focus should be intentionally thought out so that our priorities are in an actual, healthy order. After all, as Mark 8:34-38 reminds us, we have an ultimate goal and mission in life: Deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus.
We don’t want to mess up that order. Certainly, it’s fine to make sure to root for our favorite team, have a night out with our friends or family, and engage in hobbies to keep our sanity. But if those items are the top priority while we make excuses for missing church, not having the time to become involved in a ministry, or skipping time reading the Bible, the truth is we might be focusing on the things that don’t matter over what absolutely does. (And that’s not even getting into the all-too-common feeling of never having time even while scrolling endlessly on social media.)
This is not meant to shame anyone—we’re all in the same boat, myself included. I’m trying to equip you, remind you, help you shake off some of the dust, and encourage you to move forward. We need to keep the main thing, the main thing. The easiest way to defeat a warrior of the Lord isn’t to go into combat with them head on—it’s to convince them that the fight is elsewhere. But if we keep focusing on Jesus—on what really matters—then we will find those things he wants us to be truly focused on, and where our energy can best be used.