I remember years ago the first time I heard someone say, “Your desires follow your attention.”
“That can’t be true,” was my initial response. “I look at women because I desire them; I couldn’t possibly desire them because I was constantly looking at them, could I?”
My world was about to be turned upside down.
Thinking back on my earlier life, I was always chasing after girls. Coming of age during the sexual revolution, it was nothing for me to have multiple girlfriends in any given year, sometimes more than one at the same time.
Like many others, I was constantly inundated with sexual images: Bikini-clad girls selling anything from soap to cars, modern fashions that became more and more risqué and the rise of the popularity of pornography.
I was not trying to serve the Lord at that point in my life, so these appealed to me on a purely physical level.
I was so interested in girls, I made them the focus of a project in college. I took a class on single camera TV operation and my final film was nothing but a video of various girls on campus with The Doors song, “Light My Fire,” playing in the background.
I always assumed I looked at girls because I desired them. It never occurred to me I desired them because I was constantly looking at them. My mind had a hard time comprehending this opposite position.
“Your desires follow your attention; your attention does not follow your desires.”
I had been convinced it was the other way around. And then someone enlightened me with the truth.
I had a choice to make.
I could blame my wandering eyes on my biology, “The Good Lord made me this way!”
Or I could exercise some discipline and look at something else.
It was difficult. I would find myself walking behind a beautiful woman; instead of admiring whatever prominent attribute she may have (e.g., hair, legs, figure, etc.), I would force myself to look at the ground in front of me instead.
Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount took on new meaning: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29).
Anytime you exert self-control, it is a painful situation; almost like plucking out an eye. I would be in the presence of a beautiful woman (or so the devil told me) and I would make myself look away.
On a side note: Beauty is however you define it. Allow me to explain …
We don’t think in words, we think in images. When you hear someone talking about a dog, you don’t think of the letters D-O-G, you picture a dog in your head. Whether it is a small dog or a large dog, it’s up to your imagination. If the same person starts talking about a Golden Retriever or a Poodle, you immediately get a different picture in your head. We assign images to the words and phrases we hear. It’s how our brains work.
I decided years ago when I heard the word “beautiful,” I would picture my wife. I would recommend any married man do the same (your wife, not mine, that is).
Hence the saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
You can define your wife as beautiful; it’s your choice.
Anyway, back to desires and attentions: Armed with the knowledge that my desire would follow my attention, I was curious as to what I should attend. Come to find out, the Bible had the answer all along.
“My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.” (Proverbs 4:20-22)
By simply focusing on the Word of God, life and health are promised to us. I have found this to be true; I am in great health and I am enjoying life.
There are more promises found in the book of Joshua: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
The way I interpret this: By meditating on the Word of God, I can make my way prosperous and I can have success. You may not agree, but I consider myself quite successful and prosperous.
Believing God’s Word is a choice. Believing it applies to you is also a choice. Attending to it, meditating on it, studying with the intent of implementing will bring a new set of desires.
Or, as James wrote, you can be drawn away by your own lust and enticed (reference James 1:14). It just depends on where you put your attention.
Tim Hughes is a lay minister and elder at Ascension Life Church in Athens. He can be reached at email@example.com