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Walter on Being Single-Minded

January 9, 2005  

Dear Paul,

One thing I have wanted to write you about is what I am going to call "single-mindedness." 

I well remember watching Donovan Bailey run the 100 meter dash at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. What a race! Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to see it over and over again in slow motion from lots of different angles. My favourite shot of all, though, was the one of Donovan crouched in the starting blocks staring straight down the track to the finish line. What a stare! What a glare! Those eyes could've cut a hole through a cement wall! It was like he had hooked his nose to a speed-winch attached to the back wall. Boom! The gun shot and off he went in 9.84 seconds! The fastest man on earth won a gold for Canada! What a race!

Now one thing is for sure. If you had been there, sitting in the front row alongside the track at, say, the 60 meter point... then shouted out as Donovan approached, "Excuse me Mr. Bailey - may I have your autograph?" why, you would have gotten no response! And rightly so! That man was single-minded! Nothing could interfere with his gallop to gold.

I think we all live in a race of sorts - more a marathon than a dash... but a race nonetheless. Yet there aren't too many of us who run it very smart! Old Solomon promised profit to the one who worked ( 14:23 ) and abundance to the diligent (21:5), but failure and poverty to the idle and hasty. I read the other day that we North Americans struggle from "choice excess;" that is, we have too many options and too many decisions to make in the course of a day. Which of the 32 different brands of toilet paper should I buy? Should we lease a car or buy it? Which of the 736 shades of dark green should I paint my walls with? My, oh my, we really suffer don't we? But combine this overload of choice with a culture of "I can't get enough" and you've just made yourself the recipe for distractedness.

If you want to sneak up on a bull, distract him by herding 50 cows into his pen. Leave him all alone and he'll line you up in his sights tighter than a Ranger Sniper. I think we need some of that bullock, single-mindedness. One of the great lessons of life is learning to stay at your task and keep your eyes fixed on the right goals.

Proverb 12:11 "Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense." 

I've known men who've spent their whole life running after this cloud and that rainbow only to reach the end and find they have nothing in their pocket but lint and memories. Sure, quick money always looks pretty, but nothing can beat faithful and diligent labour. The Apostle took up a lot of his parchment to shame the idle man. Listen to that instruction carefully:

2 Thessalonians 3:6  Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9  It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10  For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11  For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

"Idle hands are the devil's tools," as the saying goes. And a lazy man will get sun-burnt and tired begging before he works an honest day. Even the manure pile serves a purpose, but a man who can't keep at it, whatever his task, is like a cow that only gives milk once a week. Useless and costly. More suited for the grill than the barn!

Now, the first thing to be diligent at is your own spiritual life. I've had plenty of talks in my day with folks who've grown weary and hardhearted with the Lord. They talk all about how God has forsaken them, and how they've been abandoned... but the first thing I ask them is: "When did you stop reading your Bible and praying?" 

I recall my first day as a youngster working in town for Mr. O'Reilly, the handyman. He had gotten a job taking out a patio in one fine lady's backyard. Well, after carrying three of those 100 lb. concrete slabs up the hill and out of the yard, I had pretty much decided this was a job that would never get done! Yet, done it got. How? Well, we just kept walking back down there, heaving up another slab and waddling up the hill to the truck. Now, we could've sat there and devised all kinds of ways to speed up the job by building special cranes or creating pulley systems and the like - and taken 5 times longer than we did! But, there's a time for talk and a time for doing.

A man can talk all he likes about being a fine Christian, but: 

Proverbs 11: 19   "Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live" 

Like old Peter said, "Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure..." (2 Peter 1: 10). 

Sometimes we grow a little weary trudging up and down the hill called Spiritual Disciplines and try to devise some easier way of getting by. But the Lord will not have it. And we need to be steadfast and single-minded in our following after Jesus. 

Hebrews 12:1-3 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." 

I recall a preacher saying once that a man in Jesus' day would gather up his robes round his waist and tie them off so he could set to runnin'. Well, I ain't ever worn a dress nor do I intend to, but I get the point. A man runs faster with the pack off his back and the tools out of his hand. There's plenty of weights and encumbrances to slow us down and get us off course. A boy with his daddy's boots on tends to waddle and dawdle - but stick him in his bare feet and shoot a pistol in the air behind his head and watch him go!

We modern folk need to learn to cut some of the extra's out of life. There's plenty to do just staying fresh with God, going to work, minding your home and training your children. A woman who can do all that and stay sane and pleasant is a true saint in Walter's book. No need for adding all kinds of extra cargo to veer us off track. Stick to the bare necessities and do them well and you'll have bread in the winter and ice in the summer.

2 Peter 3:14   Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 

Now being single-minded is important in the rest of life, too. We need to be folks who keep our eyes, like Donovan, fixed on the finish line - whether it's getting the laundry folded or the taxes paid. Remember the tortoise beat the hare... more because he kept his mind on the race than anything else. It was no pleasure for that poor old reptile to trudge through vale and forest - but he just kept at it... stayed on the path... gave no heed to his surroundings and the likelihood he would never win!

Now a man who's learnt to be single-minded will be a man who puts the proper order to things. No sense in buying the leash before the dog or storing up gas when you don't own a car. "First things first," as they say.

Proverb 24:27 "Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house."

The sprinter has to tie his shoe before he can break the tape. Part of living wise then, is learning what needs to be done first - then doing it! I knew a city-couple that bought a big old farmhouse near here. Nice house - except that it was empty! They spent all they had on the house and had to sit on the floor. That is what we might call "poor planning." A single-minded man plans well. He not only thinks about where he needs to go, but how he is going to get there. Jesus said the man who built half a tower then ran out of money was laughed at by every Jack and Jill who walked by... and rightly so!

My uncle once built a boat in his basement over the winter. He worked night after night hammering and cutting and nailing and gluing and painting... until that first spring day when it was time to launch his beauty. Too bad he never took the time to measure his basement door before he started building his boat! Had he done so, lopping four inches off the width of the boat would have saved remodeling the kitchen! "Measure twice. Cut once." is the way the carpenter says it - probably from experience! A man needs to plan.

But planning can be downright hard sometimes. That must be why Solomon said:

Proverbs 15:22   Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 24:6  for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counsellors there is victory. 

Being single-minded does not mean being a hermit. (Leave any man alone with his own thoughts long enough and he'll be thinking he's a tree with wings.) A wise man knows that having the right finish line in his sights is just as important as keeping his eyes fixed on it! I remember golfing once and thinking I had just made the best drive of my life... until I realized I was aiming at the wrong pin! A man's gotta have the right goal! Part of the way he gets that figured out is by consulting with others.

Once he has a fair idea of what he ought to aim at, he sets himself to figuring what things ought to be done first in order to get there. People today call it "dream-casting" or "vision statements" or being "purpose-driven." Walter calls it having a goal and getting after it!

I once met my neighbour in the woods shooting off his rifle. Thankfully, I came up on him from behind, so the bullets were going away from me. I asked him, "What you shootin' at, Tom? Did you hit it?" To which he replied, "Sure did! I was just seeing if the gun worked." Aim at nothing and you are sure to hit it every time.

Lots of Christian folk are just plodding along, shooting off their guns at nothing in particular and feeling quite happy with themselves. Walter says, a person ought to have a target, a goal of some kind to aim at. I've got a dart board in my basement and there's not a few holes in the wall surrounding it. Not to worry though - I may not hit the bull's eye every time, but I'll never hit it at all if I'm not throwing hard toward it over and over again!

However, every man needs to remember this warning.

Proverbs 16:3  Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.

9  The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

Or the words of our Lord's half-brother, James:

James 4:13   Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"-- 14  yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15  Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."

That's why a man needs to be single-minded on Christ first and above everything else. Once that is in place, he gladly lets the Lord change all them other goals and desires where He deems fit. 

Now just what should a Christian be shooting for? That question is easy. It starts with the Lord Himself. 

Colossians 3:1-2 "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth."

According to Paul, there's no such thing as being too heavenly-minded. If you want to do some earthly good, you need to get your eyes on heaven, where Jesus is. Paul had done this to such a degree that he could actually say: 

Philippians 1:21  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Mr. Spurgeon wrote on these words of Paul the following:

Jesus is to believers the one pearl of great price, for whom we are willing to part with all that we have... Paul's words mean more than most men think; they imply that the aim and end of his life was Christ- nay, his life itself was Jesus. In the words of an ancient saint, he did eat, and drink, and sleep eternal life. Jesus was his very breath, the soul of his soul, the heart of his heart, the life of his life. Can you say, as a professing Christian, that you live up to this idea? ...Many there are who carry out this principle in some measure; but who is there that dare say that he hath lived wholly for Christ as the apostle did? Yet, this alone is the true life of a Christian- its source, its sustenance, its fashion, its end, all gathered up in one word- Christ Jesus. Lord, accept me; I here present myself, praying to live only in thee and to thee. Let me be as the bull which stands between the plough and the altar, to work or to be sacrificed; and let my motto be, "Ready for either."

Paul had worked out in his own mind what it was he was living for. I once took a map and plotted out those three big trips he took to tell the world about Jesus. One thing is for certain - he knew where he was going and why he was going there! Even then, didn't he tell the Romans and the Corinthians how he had intended to come to them, but the Lord had blocked the way? You see, there is a single-minded man. He has a goal and he pursues it, but he is willing to let the Lord alter his course as the Lord sees fit. 

No wonder Paul could write to the Ephesians: 

Ephesians 5:15-16  " Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil." 

A Christian life is a life full of purpose and goals and we Christians need to get after them with all our hearts. If there is a woman alive who ought not be wasting time and fiddling away days, it is a Christian woman. We Christians understand that life is short. We're not fantasizing all sorts of nifty lies to make us think we'll live forever here on earth - no, we are spending our short time here getting ready for eternity in heaven. And our Master said that life was to be full of important things...

Titus 3:1-3 " Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another."

It is a mark of ungodliness to be out of focus and impulse-driven. The godly man is the one who is pursuing the kinds of things Paul described here to Titus. The truth is, most of the world is just spinning around and around trying to feed its next urge or fascination: 

1 John 2:15-17  "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever."

My Granddaddy was just a farmer... but he was a good farmer. When I was a boy, he used to tell me, "Son, just learn to do a few things well - rather than a bunch of things poorly." Now, my Granddaddy couldn't read so well, didn't know much geography and couldn't figure out how to get the batteries in and out of his hearing aid - but boy, did he know farming and people. He was focused on them two things, so he died a wealthy and satisfied man - successful in his business and surrounded by lots of friends.

A person needs to figure out a few things and do them well. There's hardly anything worse than a boring preacher or a tone-deaf soloist at church. Somebody just needs to tell those folks that they are off-focus. They need to do one thing well, and leave the rest to everyone else.

The fact is, God desires us to be folks that are focused on Him and doing what He wants us to do. Even what we think about matters to Him! The scheming of evil is sin in the eyes of God (Proverbs 24:9). So, a man or woman needs to get single-minded from the inside out. 

Now, I am sure that just like all good things, someone might take this too far and turn a strength into a weakness. I've been at church picnics where some Joe is so focused on scoring a goal for his team that he doesn't even notice the three 5-year olds he just ran over to get to the ball. Some people are naturally driven and focused... they were born with blinders on and once you point them in a particular direction they'll run a straight line through swamp and syrup to get to where they need to go. I am no psychologist, but it seems to me that lots of these folks are running hard for a lot of bad reasons. Yep, we need to be focused and single-minded... but not so we earn someone's approval or get that long-desired pat on the back. Nope, our being focused and planning and seeing things through is all so that the Lord might be glorified in us.

True, godly, single-mindedness is having eyes set on Jesus and following Him in the ways He tells us to follow.

I suppose this may not sound that important to some of your people... but I think it is. I am at the end of life now, and looking back I see a whole field of folks who never got this one idea figured out. They weren't the worst people I've ever met, but their lives didn't amount to much either. Being agreeable is nice, but being agreeable and single-minded is better.

Why do I always write too much? Feel free to edit what you like! Hopefully this gets to you soon - I'll have to dig out the mailbox from snow before I can mail it!

Your friend,


P.S. Tell that young lady that wrote me the nice letter that I'll write back to her just as soon as I can. I need to think about her questions a little more first.