One Thing
Tony Cooke

I’m curious if there is a particular theme that God has put on your heart for 2022. Of course, God can impress us at any time and for any period or season of time he deems fit. I feel sure that God (who dwells in eternity) is not as concerned about any given “January 1” as we are, but we humans tend to use the transition between calendar years to evaluate our lives and consider any changes that need to be made. Since we seem to be wired this way, it is important that we are sensitive to the leading and influence of the Holy Spirit in such matters regardless of when we need to make adjustments (and hopefully, we are just as sensitive to his promptings on August 17 as we are on January 1).

I was recently impressed with the concept of focus. Perhaps many find themselves juggling so many different responsibilities and activities that they are not able to appreciate or focus on the one thing they are doing at that point in time. Famed missionary Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” I know I have been guilty, many times, of not doing that well.

You probably remember the scene from Bethany fairly well—an honored guest, a frazzled host, and a devoted listener. Martha is feverishly serving, something that seems very commendable, but her irritation is boiling over. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to his every word. How does Jesus respond to Martha’s frustration?

Luke 10:41-42 (TPT)

41 The Lord answered her, “Martha, my beloved Martha. Why are you upset and troubled, pulled away by all these many distractions? 42 Mary has discovered the one thing most important by choosing to sit at my feet. She is undistracted, and I won’t take this privilege from her.”

“One thing.” In that moment, Mary had captured what was essential and of highest priority at that exact moment. Mary wouldn’t sit there forever, but she seized upon a precious opportunity. Mary would fulfill other responsibilities at other times, but she saw that one golden opportunity and completely savored it.

All of us have many demands, but we must somehow find out what is most important and make time for it. You may remember Charles Hummel’s book, The Tyranny of the Urgent. In it, he said, “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” We all have multiple responsibilities in life, but the tyranny of the urgent must not keep us from that which is essential to the health and well-being of our souls, and from that which will nurture our relationships with God and those most important to us.

Even in ministry work, we can undermine our effectiveness by trying to do numerous things that God hasn’t really called us to do. Many experienced ministers have learned it is better to do a few things well than to do many things poorly. D. L. Moody, the great evangelist, seems to have had a great understanding of this.

Moody states:

  • “Give me a man who says, ‘This one thing I do,’ and not, ‘Those fifty things I dabble in.’”
  • “The first thing a man must do if he desires to be used in the Lord’s work, is to make an unconditional surrender of himself to God. He must consecrate and then concentrate. A man who does not put his whole life into one channel does not count for much, and the man who only goes into work with half a heart does not amount to much.”

“Consecrate and then concentrate.” That is a powerful life lesson!

When I was young, I remember hearing that so-and-so “couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.” It is true that life usually involves some degree of multi-tasking… we usually make several decisions a day and carry out different assignments. That’s life. But somewhere in the mix, we have to be able to truly focus on what is not just urgent, but what is essential.

Someone once said, “If a dog chases two rabbits, it will catch none.” More recently, A. B. Simpson said, “A divided heart loses both worlds.” Depending on how a person is wired, he or she may really need to pray and develop disciplines regarding being truly focused. Life simply does not invite us to reflect, meditate, and consider. Rather, our existence here always seems to be yelling, “Next. Next! Next!”

The Apostle Paul was a man with a full plate. He traveled, wrote, and preached. He endeavored to monitor what was going on in multiple congregations on different continents. He not only had to deal with church problems and conflicts, but he also encountered governmental and religious opposition. In spite of the many things that screamed for his attention, he was a man of singular focus. In Philippians 3:13 he writes, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.”

I find it I interesting that Paul says he is focused on one thing, and then seems to mention two things: (1) Forgetting the past, and (2) Looking forward to what lies ahead.” I’m sure in his mind that constituted one sweeping shift of attention, but it is humorous to me how some things kind of expand and evolve over time in spite of our best intentions. It reminds me of when Paul says “Finally, my brethren” halfway through the book of Philippians (3:1). He probably wasn’t the first preacher who thought he was closing a message and it turned out he was only halfway finished. Life grows on us.

Paul was fully aware that his life was made up of hundreds of activities and interactions, and yet in his heart, he had one, supreme, overarching passion that captured his energy and his focus. Likewise, Jesus told us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” The New Living Translation renders that verse, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else.” What if Jesus instead had said, “Seek exclusively the kingdom of God?” Jesus knew we had jobs to go to, responsibilities to fulfill, and relationships to nurture, but he wants our ultimate focus to be supremely on him, and that will influence every other area of our lives. 

There are some other “One Thing” statements in Scripture that are worth looking at:

Psalm 27:4

One thing I have desired of the LORD,

That will I seek:

That I may dwell in the house of the LORD

All the days of my life,

To behold the beauty of the LORD,

And to inquire in His temple.

Mark 10:21   

Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

John 9:25   

He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.”

2 Peter 3:8   

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

There are simply times in life where we have to recognize that God is emphasizing something that is particularly needful for our lives at a given time or season. May we be sensitive to the special emphases that God may reveal to us at different times, and may we give ourselves to him and his direction in diligent obedience.