Altar Call -- Opelika-Auburn News
August 19, 2001
Have you ever noticed how many people talk about the need to stay focused?
Coaches do. Car race drivers do. Athletes do. Engineers do. Surgeons do. Just about everybody recognizes the need to focus clearly on the assignment at hand.
Baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser attributes his success to his ability to concentrate on the next pitch. To do his best he cannot afford to worry about an earlier bad pitch.
Neither can he afford to worry about the power hitter standing in the on-deck circle. So he has learned that his survival as a major league pitcher is to concentrate solely on the pitch he is about to throw.
I have learned that lesson in preaching. My friend Jackie remarked to me recently, "Some of your sermons are better than others." Indeed they are, and I make it a habit to quickly forget the poor ones and move on. Incidentally, my poor sermons motivate me to improve. When I realize that I have done a sloppy job in preaching, the embarrassment fires me up to do better next time. I promise myself that the next time I stand in the pulpit I will be ready.
The price of being ready is simple: hard work. There is no substitute for it. My most helpful critic is my wife. After church on Sunday she sometimes says, "That was a pretty good sermon, but you are capable of doing so much better. Do you need to spend more time in preparation?" On the face of it, that is not a very harsh comment.
But after so many years, I have learned that this is what she is really saying: "My dear, since you are capable of preaching well, you should be ashamed of that poor sermon this morning. You need to admit to yourself that you spent too little time preparing your message this week. And if you don't do better next Sunday, we may have to start packing."
Duly motivated, I push myself to devote more time to careful study and preparation. The temptation is to just throw something together and wing it on Sunday. But I have learned that excellence does not come easy. And distractions are no excuse. Distractions are a part of everyday life, and the way to overcome them is to discipline myself to stay focused.
It helps to realize that excellence is not limited to geniuses. Ordinary people can do excellent work if they are willing to work hard and stay focused on the primary objective. A study conducted by a Stanford psychologist confirms this. The psychologist observed 1,440 genius-level children throughout their lifetimes. He concluded that exceptional intelligence does not guarantee spectacular achievement. The difference between low achievers and high achievers was that high achievers remained focused on what they wanted to do in life.
Former all-pro wide receiver Paul Warfield made this comment about catching passes: "I would block out everything else that was occurring. It was just the football, and I had an obsession with catching it." He was focused.
I admire people who can listen to music while they work. I cannot. Music is enjoyable during relaxation. But when I am trying to concentrate on constructing a thoughtful sermon, music is a distraction to me. If I recognize the song's lyrics, then I begin to think about the words of the song even if no one is singing. Quiet is essential for me.
The value of quietness was a discovery I made while a student at Auburn University. Realizing that I studied poorly in an apartment with two other students, I found quiet and seclusion in the stacks of the old library at Auburn. So for three or four hours every afternoon I went to my special hideaway and my grades improved.
Actor Henry Fonda once said "a thoroughbred horse never looks at the other racehorses. It just concentrates on running the fastest race it can. We have to fight the tendency to look at others and see how far they've come. The only thing that counts is how we use the potential we possess and that we run our race to the best of our abilities."
That can happen only if we remain focused on our mission.
Someone has said that a true sports fan is one who can leave the game and ask, "What cheerleaders?"
That may be taking focus to the extreme. I would be a little suspicious of any man who did not notice the cheerleaders. But the point is clear: staying focused is one of the major reasons for success in any of life's arenas. So try to stay focused if you want to be a winner.