When I think about defeating distraction, this story comes to my mind. This story of Jesus hanging out at the home of Martha and Mary is a super short story in the book of Luke. That’s the whole story, right there. It’s sandwiched in between the parable of the good Samaritan and Jesus’s teaching on prayer. It might just be two little paragraphs but it contains a huge lesson.
The world is full of distractions. There are things we believe to be really important and deserving of our time and attention at the expense of our relationship with God. Clearly this isn’t new, even Martha got distracted by the things she thought were important when Jesus himself was in her house. Can you imagine? He’s sitting right there but you just ignore Him to get the “important” things in order? Jesus might not be physically present today, walking this earth and stopping by your house as He passes through town. But He is absolutely present in your life. He is there, wondering when you’re going to stop focusing on the distractions and start paying attention to Him.
We all get distracted
Martha was probably just trying to figure out where Jesus would sleep if He needed to stay for the night. Maybe she was wondering what they were going to feed Him for dinner. Those things seem pretty important to me. I bet she was even wishing they had dusted the cobwebs from the corners of the ceiling. You know, the ones that you don’t even notice until you have a guest in your house. There are really two big lessons in this tiny, little story. One is that Jesus is not worried. If He isn’t worried, we don’t need to be either. The second, the one we’re focusing on today, is how easily we’re distracted from our personal relationship with God.
These days our distractions have definitely multiplied. It’s easier than ever to be pulled away from our focus on God. It happens to all of us. I bet Martha was just as excited as Mary was that Jesus was hanging out in her living room. Martha just thought there were some important things that needed to be done. Do you ever feel like Martha? “Jesus, I know you’re waiting but I have to do ________.” If we aren’t careful our distractions can keep us away for a long time, long enough that we’ll start feeling empty, lost and confused. Suddenly we look up and we’re like, “Where the heck am I and how did I get here?” I know I’ve been there, over and over.
What causes distraction, anyway?
According to Wikipedia, distraction can be caused by different things. Which means there are different ways to approach defeating distraction. Maybe you don’t have an interest in the object of attention or maybe there’s something really attractive that has your attention instead. I think if you’re reading this we can safely cross “not interested” off the list. But let’s be real, in addition to the things that keep us busy and distracted, there are a lot of really attractive things in this world that grab our attention daily, if we let them. That’s one of the enemy’s best tricks. If he can’t change our mind about Jesus, he’ll just distract us from Him.
The most important thing they mention (in my opinion) is, “Both external and internal distractions contribute to the interference of focus.” That’s so true, right?! We might notice we’re distracted, but do we know that it might not only be external (busy) distraction?
What do you treasure, or value, to the point that you seek that thing before you seek a relationship with God? That’s an internal distraction. And don’t think for a second that knowing that everything you need internally comes from God makes you immune to internal distraction. Again, the devil is on a mission to distract you from what you really need.
Because of our sinful nature, we have a predisposition to seek fulfillment from people and things, basically, anything shiny here on earth that promises love, attention, a sense of belonging, a sense of importance, etc. When we don’t know what’s going on inside and we’re not working on defeating distraction, we give the enemy all he needs.
You guys, focus is a fight
On top of that, we have what I like the call the law of priority juggling. Have you ever noticed how we tend to give the least attention to those people in our lives who we know aren’t going anywhere? Those relationships we know we can count on sometimes get the shaft. It shouldn’t be like that, but we’re inundated with things that we think won’t wait. You know ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’ analogy?
I think it’s kind of like that with God. We know He’s going to be there so we put him off for all the different, squeaky things we’re juggling that we think will come crashing down if we don’t keep our eyes on them. When in reality, keeping our eyes on Him will keep the truly important things in motion. Not to mention drastically reduce, if not cancel out, the perceived importance and all the pressure of those other things.
How to focus on God
Do you know what I’ve found to be true in my life? It’s something you’ve probably heard a lot, “What you focus on will be magnified.” But remember, focus is a fight and you have to take defeating distraction super seriously if you want to win. So how do we get really intentional about our choices to focus on God without reducing our relationship with him to a checklist of things to do? I think it’s one of those things that’s simple, but not easy.
Being in the habit of starting my day with God with just a simple prayer, reading my bible every day, learning to pray without getting distracted, talking to God all day, and dealing with distractions intentionally are the things I try to make sure I do daily. You might be thinking that looks a lot like a checklist and to be honest, some days it is. The reality is, sometimes you might not feel into it. Guess what, it happens. That’s just a part of being a human being, because being a human being comes with a tendency to be governed by emotions.
Getting into the habit of spending time with God
When and what your time with God looks like will change with different seasons in your life. What used to work for you might not work for you anymore. What works for you now might not work later. Don’t be discouraged when things change. Spending time with God doesn’t have to look the same every single day, week, month, and year. The important part is showing up and spending time with Him in the Word regularly. The Bible is living and active and if we are in it daily it changes us. It is how we grow in Christ and mature as Christians.
Reading your bible when you don’t feel like it
Discipline is a huge factor in defeating distraction. Sometimes we don’t feel like doing the things that keep us close to God. Again, these are the days that can feel like we’re just checking off a list of things to do. But having an overall desire to abide in Him means that sometimes we check the list off as a discipline instead of being driven by an emotional connection. And again, that’s okay. Human emotions/feelings are fickle – remember that and don’t let them guide you. Repeat after me, “Emotions are a gauge, not a guide.” God’s word is living and active, so that means when you’re taking it in, noticed or unnoticed, felt or not felt, it’s working in your life.
Praying without getting distracted
I have struggled with this my whole life. I vividly remember, as a young kid I would lay in bed at night after I had already been tucked in and left to fall asleep, and I would say my cute little kid prayers in my head and fall right to sleep mid-prayer. Fast forward to age 34, I’m still falling asleep mid night-time conversations with God and I always feel bad about it. Every. Single. Time. In fact, on nights when I just cannot fall asleep, I have thought to myself on occasion, “I should just start praying, then I’m sure to fall asleep.” Just keepin’ it real, that’s how often I fall asleep while praying.
Then, there’s literally every single time I talk to God throughout the day when the most random thoughts interrupt me and sometimes, as they trail off, I follow them. Then three hours later I’m like, “Man, I’m so sorry I dipped out on our conversation, God!”
First of all, it’s okay. Again, if you haven’t caught on yet, we are human and it happens. I think sometimes we’re so hard on ourselves that we stop talking to God because we think we’re just disappointing him over and over and we might as well give up. But it’s not like that. God wants a relationship with you. Keep talking with him!
What works for me
So, from my experience, what works best for defeating distraction while I’m praying? I use a prayer journal. This works wonders for me. Obviously, I can’t have every conversation with God this way because I can’t always sit down and write. But first thing in the morning I try to sit down with my prayer journal and it is the single most focused time of my entire day, as well as my absolute favorite time of the whole day. For some reason when I’m focusing on physically writing the words I just don’t get distracted as much, if at all. Not to mention, the ability to look back at the things I’ve prayed for in the past and see the way that God has worked in my life is awesome.
How I deal with distractions intentionally
I talk about intentional living a lot. There have been so many times in my life that I’ve found myself just coasting along on autopilot. Most recently, like…yesterday. Let’s be real, it’s a struggle. Life is happy to carry you like a current and dump you off into the massive ocean of purposelessness if you forget or don’t care where you’re going. If we want a relationship with God then we have to take control and make the decision to work on it. That means seeing a distraction for what it is and prioritizing God throughout your day. Being aware of what distracts us is the only way to make sure we get distracted much less often.
“Intentional” is just another way of saying pay attention and have a goal
If defeating distraction is your goal, pay attention to the time you spend on social media, watching TV, being obsessed with your career, or even your housework. Take a look at your commitments and re-evaluate their importance or place in your life. And don’t forget the internal distractions. Things like that shiny approval, acceptance, and love you might catch a glimpse of in a person and start chasing after. Be ready for it because we all face that struggle. If you’re ready, you can redirect yourself. Life will always throw unexpected things in the mix. So survey your life for the things you can control and start controlling them.
Don’t get me wrong, I still catch myself not defeating distraction. Sometimes I’m still trying to be sure people accept and approve of me. I still pick up my phone a hundred times a day and scroll through Facebook instead of talking to God. I’m still human and so are you and God gets that more than anyone. If He didn’t He wouldn’t have given us the gift of salvation through His son, Jesus. His grace reaches us all, even when we’re off somewhere being distracted.
Share your thoughts and tips for defeating distraction in your walk with God in the comments below. I would love to have some more ideas!