My goal is to begin each day with a time of prayer, Bible reading and devotional study. I don’t make it every day, but I am able to maintain a pretty consistent schedule. This morning, as I was praying and reading the Bible, administrative thoughts kept intruding into my thinking. There are a half dozen e-mails I need to write. I need to find the leadership training materials that I used a few years ago. I have to update my calendar. Soon, my mind was far from connecting with God.
Distractions are a part of life. Our minds are always multi-tasking. Even as we are talking with someone, our mind is processing something else. These distractions can lead us in different directions. They can lead us closer to God or farther from God.
Satan is a master of subtle distraction. For those of us who are devoted followers of Jesus, a direct frontal attack often doesn’t work. We are on our guard against things that we readily recognize as inappropriate or unhealthy. We can quickly recognize the hand of Satan and activate our defenses. So Satan uses a different tactic. He floods our minds with seemingly innocent thoughts, such as the e-mails I need to write. He inserts these thoughts at times when they will divert our attention from Christ. He uses them to subtly redirect our thinking from connecting with God to the pragmatic issues of the day. There is nothing evil about the thoughts; they just cloud our thinking and distract us from what is most important.
Martha was a conscientious, committed follower of Jesus. She was also task oriented (like me). So on one occasion, when Jesus was visiting her house, she got very upset with her sister Mary, because Mary chose to listen to Jesus instead of getting things done.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42
There was nothing wrong with what Martha was doing; in fact it was necessary. But she was distracted from what was most important.
Satan stirs up the Martha in all of us. He emphasizes the tasks that we need to accomplish, as a way of distracting us from listening to Jesus. When this happens, we need to capture those thoughts and give then back to Jesus. By acknowledging the distraction, we can refocus on what is most important. I will often stop and write the thought down, so that I can move on.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5
The other side of the issue is when God distracts us. There have been times, when I was praying or reading, that an issue of importance, or a concern that I have, keeps popping up in my mind. I try to set it aside, but I cannot. Often, I have discovered that the issue is something that God wants me to bring to Him in prayer. When we realize that prayer is a dialog and not a monolog, we become open to God entering into the conversation.
Many times, my prayers descend into a routine. I find myself praying about the same things in the same way. At the same time, there are often significant matters that I have been struggling with, which I fail to bring to God in prayer. On many occasions, these are the very things that God keeps bringing to my mind. I want to settle for spiritual small talk, while God wants to go deeper, much deeper.
Paul challenges us to be honest with God about the genuine concerns that we carry like a burden on our shoulders. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
It is not always troubling issues with which God distracts us. There have been times when I have felt a distinct need to pray for a person, or about a situation far removed from my day to day experience. The thought comes out of nowhere. I have learned to pay attention to those thoughts. Often, God is calling me to intercede for that person or situation.
Paul was very sensitive to God’s leading in his prayer life. His letters are filled with snapshots of his continuous conversation with God. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, Philippians 1:3-5
Life is full of distractions. I have come to realize that I am basically a task oriented person. I often see distractions as inconvenient and unproductive. I have had to learn that, sometimes, God uses distractions to get my attention, and move me in the direction He wants me to go.
Satan wants to use distractions to divert us from what is most important. Christ wants to use distractions to redirect us. Whatever the source of the distraction, if we pay attention, we can take it captive for Christ.