To Miss The Forest For The Trees …

Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the big picture…

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“Okay guys, it’s time to go to sleep…”

I remember saying this to a cabin of five middle schoolers
that hours ago I met for the first time.
Even to this day,
it never ceases to amaze me how funnier things are when it’s time to go to bed
…and you are in middle school.

It was the night of September 7th, 2012 and I was twenty-three days into life away from home and a freshman in college.
I was eighteen years old and I remember days before feeling slightly in over my head when I was asked to help lead one of my professor’s overnight youth retreat for their church; yet, despite my anxiety,
I was extremely honored to have been asked to be a leader at the retreat!
I didn’t want to disappoint…

“… Guys, come on… time to go to sleep! Got a big day tomorrow.”

I had no choice but to become a little more assertive after another half an hour came and went and still the five rowdy middle schoolers continued to laugh and whisper among themselves….
However;
I had no idea that the Lord would teach me so much in the hours to come.

As I laid in my bunk, I remember being upset with myself for forgetting bed sheets and a pillow (which surprisingly, still happens to this day);
nevertheless, despite my self annoyance at my lack of preparation and the kid’s chatter that was now growing even louder
One, quiet, question kept coming to my mind.
Regardless of the growing noise, this quiet, yet probing, question somehow crept between my current desire for sleep & peace and traveled to the forefront of my focus:

“What is it that you are looking to accomplish during this retreat Jonah? 

A good question, I thought.
“Well…”
I remember taking some time to think it over to myself,
“… Goodness, Lord…
I just want them to feel safe, have fun,
but ultimately draw closer to You!”

“Well…
What will do that more?

Forcing sleep,
Or surrendering this moment to Me?
Listen
The opportunity to accomplish what you desire is all around you …
The big picture will make sense of the present canvas”

At that moment, I sprung out of bed and flipped on the lights…

“Guys… that’s it!
I’ve told you SO many times to quiet down, you’ve given me no other choice!!

“…”

I can never forget that silence,
even now as I write this I can’t help but have a smile on my face!

Those closest to me?
Have probably heard this story at least once before;
However, stay with me…

I’m not a scary youth leader,

But, may I add…
To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen kids that looked like they just got sentenced to years of hard labor like what I saw after flipping on the lights!
I’m pretty sure at least one of them stopped breathing.

“Alright guys… seriously, I have NO idea what to do!
I have no other option…
everyone out of their bunk!”
In what seemed like only a couple of seconds…
the kids rushed down swiftly,
probably thinking to theirselves:

“Well, I guess that’s it! We are for SURE going home…!”

Secretly?
I was laughing on the inside despite my attempt to appear frustrated
“Well…
What should I do about this?!”

I said to them still trying to keep a straight face.

After some period of silence…
One brave soul declared,
“We are sorry Mr. Jonah…

We will go to sleep, I PROMISE!”

Long story short?
No one went home that night…
Far from it.
We actually stayed up all night
Wrestling, laughing, telling stories,
and talked A LOT about Jesus.
In one short night, It truly was incredible to see the growth we had as a group.
Growth that can still be seen to this day!
To this day each of the kids in my cabin,
(who are much, much, older now)
hold a very special place in my heart
and visa versa.

This was a picture of us all after that night.

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This picture is special to me,
because it reminds me of the importance of focusing on the big picture REGARDLESS of the present circumstances.
That night I learned,

The big picture will always make sense of the present canvas….

… Oh how easy it is to miss the forest for the trees.


“But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,”
says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
– Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:21-24)

Even though that story is slightly funny,
can I be honest…?
Daily I miss the big picture.
It’s easy to relate with Jeremiah when it seems that daily you are under attack after attack
and hope seems like a foreign lullaby…
It’s so easy to get so wrapped up in what each day brings
that anxiety, worry, fear, or doubt is a part in someway of our daily operations.
There is a very popular saying that maybe you’ve heard before that states:
“Hindsight is always 20/20”
Goodness…
It’s crazy how true that is!
“Focus on the BIG picture.
Focus on the BIG Picture!”
I know for me?
I remember hearing this a lot growing up
It always is easier to make 
sense of what “was” when it no longer what “is”

I look back on pictures like the one that was taken after that night and I think how different everything would have been the next morning if I didn’t see the bigger picture RIGHT in front of me the whole time!
And it wasn’t a need for sleep …

But it would be wrong to not be upfront concerning what the picture DOESN’T show…
What that picture doesn’t show… ?
Is me going back to my dorm

and sleeping through my whole Saturday…
What that picture doesn’t show is being crunched for time getting my work done,
because I missed a whole day to get things done…
What that picture doesn’t show is the surrender and sacrifices that had to be made…

but the biggest thing that the picture doesn’t show?
Almost 5 years later the ripple effect for one simple surrender and sacrifice that was almost lost because of my desire for sleep…

Maybe your surrender?
Maybe your sacrifice?
… is much, much bigger.
Maybe your surrender?
Maybe your sacrifice?
… is much, much more complex…

Maybe it’s a struggle to forgive someone that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s a struggle to forgive yourself that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s the struggles of others that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s a grief that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s an unmet desire or need that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s a financial strain that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s a fear of the unknown that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s a worry of being 
inadequate that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s the loneliness of solitude that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s the loneliness of a new land that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s a dependence on something that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s something that you are refusing to surrender that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s a fear of not having a safety that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s a haunting lack of integrity that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s an overwhelming sense that you don’t have it all together that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s a hurt that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s a refusal to reach out for help that clouds your focus
Maybe it’s the endless constant reminders of a pain that clouds your focus
Regardless of whatever clouds your focus,
what can we focus on to re-calibrate?!

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world,
but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
– Paul, Romans 12:2

In all of the daily demands for my focus WHAT is the big picture though God!!
I’m so tired of daily waking up feeling all of this is MEANINGLESS! I’m so tired of it all… my heart is restless!
What do I get for all my hard work day in and day out?!
NOTHING!!
NOTHING CHANGES!!
I feel like the wind that just blows in circles,
and I can’t describe how meaningless everything feels God!
No matter WHAT I see,
No matter what pleasure I pursue
I’M NEVER SATISFIED!
(Ecclesiastes 1:1-12)

LORD!!
Where is contentment!?
Jesus, I know that your Scripture calls us to
have joy “in ALL troubles” (James 1:2)
and to “be content in ALL things” (Philippians 4:11)
and You PROMISE that Your “strength and grace is made PERFECT in our weakness”
(2 Corinthians 12:9)
But WHAT is the big picture!?

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 4:7

I KNOW what Paul says in Romans 12:2
But what does the big picture have to do with what He says in Romans 12:1?

“And so, dear brothers and sisters,
I PLEAD with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.
Let them be a living and holy sacrifice— that is acceptable to Him.
This is truly the way to worship him.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world,
but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
– Paul, Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)

That’s how it feels sometimes right…?!
Kinda like you are crying out…?
Lord, help us not miss the forest for the trees…
HELP US SEE that every day is literally a war zone for our focus,
HELP US FOCUS ON YOU JESUS… the Big Picture in everything!!
Help us make changes happen in our lives that needs to happen,
Help the forgiveness that needs to occur to occur,
Help us surrender our needs to and trust You to use us for Your purpose,
Like Solomon in Ecclesiastes that cried out and declared
“EVERYTHING is meaningless!” (1:1-12)
May we come to His same conclusion until we surrender to the same big picture that He eventually did at the end of his writing found in Ecclesiastes 12:13…

To be in awe of You God and obey You through surrender to Jesus and submission in relationship with You through learning who You are and Your terms for our relationship. 

Oh heavy heart, may we rest easy tonight
bowing down not to our present circumstances,
but surrendering to the one who can USE the present circumstances to grow us and grow others closer to a deeper walk and understanding of our Sustainer, Savior, and Creator.

Whatever we focus on will only grow and grow and grow…
MAY WE FOCUS ON YOU ALONE!

Like You taught me that night in 2012 Lord,

The big picture will always make sense of the present canvas….

Help us not miss the forest for the trees.

“But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,”
says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in Him.”
– Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:21-24)

J

Lyrics: Click Here

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
– Paul, Philippians 4:8

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