“Beware of dissipating your powers; strive constantly to concentrate them. Genius thinks it can do whatever it sees others doing, but it is sure to repent of every ill-judged outlay” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).
THE ABILITY TO “CONCENTRATE” IS A GREAT GIFT, AND ONE THAT SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN LIGHTLY. Out of all the living creatures in the world, only human beings can deliberately choose to focus their thinking, their acting, and even their emotions on a particular point. Like all great abilities, this one has a duty and a stewardship attached to it: the power of concentration must be used wisely.
The Latin word centrum meant “center,” and we get a number of English words from that root, including “concentrate.” To concentrate means to bring disparate (and perhaps competing) elements to a common center. Just as “concentric” circles share the same center, so things that have been “concentrated” have been drawn toward some point which then becomes the main focus of all of them. Things that are not concentrated are spread out, scattered, divided, and disunified.
Now here is the point. Our lives need to be more concentrated. Emerson described our situation by comparing it to agricultural work: “As the gardener, by severe pruning, forces the sap of the tree into one or two vigorous limbs, so should you stop off your miscellaneous activity and concentrate your force on one or a few points.”
It is especially with people that we need to be more concentrated. For example, our attention needs to be more undivided when it comes to specific persons. We never give anyone a greater gift than when we say, in effect, “For these moments that we are together, I will concentrate my thoughts on you exclusively. I have no more important business than to hear what your heart has to say, so I will turn off all distractions and concerns. My attention is devoted to you.”
Concentration is hard, obviously, but we can take steps to improve it. In these days of multiple priorities and information overload, we desperately need to “prune” our thinking and our activities. And perhaps no one needs this advice more than us busy Christians.
“We must show a new generation of nervous, almost frantic, Christians that power lies at the center of the life. Speed and noise are evidences of weakness, not strength. Eternity is silent, time is noisy” (A. W. Tozer).