Here’s a little experiment you can try this coming Sunday at church. It’s a little experiment involving facial recognition. As we walk around inside the church and make our way to our classrooms or to the sanctuary before the service, we pass by dozens of people, most of whom we recognize even if we don’t know them by name. Generally, as a human figure enters our peripheral field of vision, we automatically shift our focus to that person’s face and look directly at them. It’s a reflex action. That’s how God programmed our brains. Even if that person turns out to be a total stranger, we know that he or she is someone we don’t recognize.
So here’s the experiment: When walking through church or in some other setting where you’re in the midst of people you know, and when someone enters your peripheral field, do not allow the reflex action to take over. Instead, force yourself to shift your focus off to one side as though you were looking at something a couple of feet off to one side over that person’s shoulder. Keep that person in your peripheral field but do not look at him (or her) directly. See if you’re able to recognize who it is. It only takes a few seconds. Then go ahead and make eye contact. If that person is someone familiar to you, odds are, it will surprise you when realize you did not immediately recognize who it was until you looked directly at that individual. With few exceptions, in order to recognize someone when we come into contact with them, we have to look directly at them.
When the disciples realized Jesus was walking to them on the surface of the water, Peter called out to Him and said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water“. Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus, But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Peter got distracted. He took his eyes off of Jesus for just a moment and began to sink. I don’t think Peter turned his head completely around. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But all it took for him to begin sinking was to shift his focus away from Jesus, however much or little that may have been. Maybe Jesus was still in his peripheral field, but Peter’s focus was on the wind. It’s an important lesson for us and one that I had to learn recently.
Over the course of the past several months, actually the past couple of years to be honest, there have been distractions that caused me to shift my focus ever so slightly away from Jesus. I was looking toward Him but not directly at Him. It’s as though I was looking over his shoulder.
This is the most important lesson I took away from that experience: We cannot effectively serve God if we only have Jesus in our peripheral field. Our focus must be directly on Him. Remember the experiment? If we allow our focus to shift away from Christ, even slightly, we may not recognize Him, which is to say we may not recognize His miracles, or His answers to our prayers. We may not recognize His work in our lives. We may not recognize a calling to go help someone or to share the gospel. We may not recognize a need. We may not recognize when are called to meet that need. That’s what can happen when Jesus is in your peripheral field of vision, but your focus is not centered on Him.
We keep our focus centered on Christ by doing His will, even if it’s in conflict with our will. We keep our focus centered on Christ by seeking His will in prayer and accepting the answer, whether it’s yes or no. And those times when the answer is no, we keep our focus centered on Christ by thanking Him when He says no to our prayers, by giving Him praise when He closes a door we wanted opened. That’s a big one for me because He has recently told me no, and He has recently closed some doors that I wanted opened, and in the aftermath, I can’t begin to thank Him enough! I am absolutely ecstatic that the answer was no! He saved me from making a major mistake in life at a time when we can least afford to make those kinds of mistakes. And that is also how we keep our focus centered on Christ, by recognizing that our ways are not His ways, and that He truly does know best!