Quite a few decades ago, the writer and his better-half signed up for cross-country skiing classes. There are both enjoyable and challenging aspects of that sport, not the least of which is that the most pleasant places to practice it are hilly wooded tracts with picturesque winding trails. But sliding down even a modest slope on long slippery skis (no brakes!) can be a prescription for disaster when the narrow trail is winding between unyielding trees and rocks! Thus, one of the most important aspects of the skiing class was the repeated mantra of the instructor: “Keep your eyes on where you want to go, not on what you want to avoid!”
It sounds simplistic, but it was amazingly effective advice. It was astounding how just glancing at a rapidly approaching tree seemed to pull the ski tips into a collision course! Conversely, when one could muster the discipline to keep one’s eyes on the track, the skis would often seem to magically steer their way around obstacles. As our confidence increased this became automatic, and our ski outings were transformed from anxious exercises in danger-avoidance to the joyous experience we had hoped for of gliding serenely through the woods (or at least a decent approximation!)
Now, you’ve undoubtedly guessed that the point of this Fish Hooks isn’t to talk about the strategy for avoiding physical hazards, but spiritual ones. But the same principle applies!
Anyone who has ever tried to stay on a diet knows that it simply can’t be done by focusing on the food that you don’t want to eat. A golfer knows that you can’t step up to the tee thinking about all the things that can go wrong. Similarly, we can’t avoid sin by obsessing about the temptations we want to resist. Rather, we must focus on the goal. For the woman on a diet, that might mean hanging the one-size-smaller dress where she’ll see it constantly. For the golfer, it means visualizing the perfect drive that he wants to hit. And for the Christian who is trying to break free from a cycle of habitual sin – well, let’s let the Apostle Paul ‘tell it like it is’ regarding his own problems with temptation:
“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. … Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death.” (Romans 7: 19,24)
In those words we hear the desperate voice of one who knows what it’s like to see the boulders and stumps of sin clearly, yet finds himself drawn irresistibly into them. And he’s also clear that what’s at stake is not just bumps and bruises, but death. Yet, Paul can exult in the very next breath:
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! “ (Romans 7:25)
Paul’s epiphany is that righteousness is not achieved by steering around sin, but by following Christ – the Way of Righteousness. Being fully redeemed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and held blameless before God, he can forget about all the failures of the past and the hazards of the present and simply fix his gaze on Christ – the One who ‘blazed the trail’ to eternal life:
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made [righteousness] my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)
Each of us knows, at some time or another, the desperate feeling of being trapped in our own inadequacies. And the brutal spiritual truth is that we really are doomed when it comes to steering a safe course on our own. It is then easy to listen to Satan who directs our gaze to all the things that we crash into – Satan wants us to obsess about our sins! But Jesus begs us to change our focus – to forget about what we can’t do – and concentrate on what He has done and is doing in us! That change of focus takes a ‘leap of faith,’ but it is the only way to the exhilarating freedom of true righteousness in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.