I have notebooks filled with my struggles against sin. I love having honest times with God—pouring out my heart, repenting of my sins, looking for comfort in His Word, and recording it all in my journals. But a while back, something began to nag at me. I tried to have longer quiet times. I sought more repentance, prayer, and journal processing, but comfort was rare. Peace and gratitude eluded me. I didn’t know what was wrong.
Then I attended an all-day prayer meeting and heard the words that transformed how I approach my time with Jesus. I was in no mood to spend a day in prayer. I had arrived late, feeling weary and worried. It had been a long week—four out-of-town trips and a serious conflict with an old friend. Slipping in the side door, I planned to stay in the back row and catch up on my rest. I expected the usual routine: singing, hearing prayer requests, and breaking into small groups for prayer.
Instead the leader gave us an assignment. Using the section titles in the Gospel of Mark, we were to find a story about Jesus that appealed to us and “sit” alone with it for an hour. “Concentrate on Jesus,” he said. “Do not compare yourself with Him; just look at Him. Focus on the qualities you see in Him rather than dwell on the deficiencies you see in yourself.”
I collected my things and wandered outside to a sunny spot on a bridge. I skimmed the book of Mark until I came to Mk. 6:31. There, Jesus invites His disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” This is the story for me, I thought.
Jesus’ plans for a quiet day soon fizzled, however, when a huge crowd gathered to hear Him teach. I felt disappointed. I wanted to learn about retreat, not ministry. Still I read on.
As I saw how Jesus satisfied the physical and spiritual needs of the people, including His weary disciples, I wondered, Can He satisfy irritable, demanding me like that? Following my natural pattern, I thought of my sins and began to feel unworthy.
Then I remembered the leader’s words: “Focus on the qualities you see in Jesus rather than dwell on the deficiencies you see in yourself.” I stopped analyzing myself and began picturing Jesus. How compassionate He was: loving His disciples, loving the crowds, satisfying all their needs. Soon I was smiling from deep inside. The hour flew by.
We regathered to hear our next assignment: to read aloud—slowly and repetitively—the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection in John 11. “Sift through the verses to find a special insight about Jesus,” our leader instructed. “What about Him in this story makes you want to love Him more?” Then he repeated: “Focus on the qualities you see in Him rather than dwell on the deficiencies you see in yourself.”
What a sweet hour that was, alone with the Word, looking at Jesus and His interaction with grieving people. I could not understand all His words or actions, but I felt His love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus seemed close, and I treasured being with Him.
For the last assignment of the day we were to contemplate Jesus in John 1 as we considered who, what, where, when, and why questions. “Most important,” the leader reminded us, “focus on the qualities you see in Jesus rather than dwell on the deficiencies you see in yourself.”
As I studied John 1, God spoke clearly concerning the conflict with my friend. The words in verse 11 exposed my heart: “His own did not receive him.” I had received Jesus, but I was rejecting my friend. I repented of my hard heart. God gave me the desire to forgive her and welcome her back into my life. Feeling at peace, I returned to John 1 and reveled in the good news that Jesus came to earth with grace and truth, piling blessing upon blessing on those who receive Him (vv. 16-17).
God gave me fresh joy in His Word that day and has done so many times since—not because I mastered some new-to-me prayer method, but because I began to fix my eyes on Jesus. Robert Murray McCheyne taught, “Take one look at your sin and 10 looks at Jesus.” I realized that I do need to take my sin seriously and confess it to God. But I must not stay focused on my failures. Instead I must quickly dwell on Jesus.
Now when I meet with God, full of myself, my problems, and my sins, I remember, Focus on the qualities you see in Jesus rather than dwell on the deficiencies you see in yourself. Then I take my Bible and look for something about Jesus that makes me want to love Him more.
a b o u t t h e a u t h o r
SARAH WETZEL and her husband served as missionaries in Bolivia and Ethiopia for 25 years. Together they have four grown daughters spread across four continents and four granddaughters. She and husband Jake make their home in the mountains of North Carolina and continue to take part in short-term mission work.
Used by permission of Discipleship Journal. Copyright © July/August 2006, Issue 154, The Navigators. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. www.navpress.com