Staying Spiritually Focused in a Distracted World – Ministry Spot

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As I settle into my favourite prayer spot, a cozy armchair by the window, my Bible resting on my lap, the tantalizing aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting nearby, my resolve is firm: I am determined to have some quality time with God today. With my Bible open and my heart eager for communion with God, I close my eyes prepared to engage in heartfelt dialogue with God. But alas, the universe seemed to have other plans.  But no sooner do I begin my heartfelt plea for divine assistance than the cacophony of life barges in like an uninvited guest at a serene tea party. Just as I began to utter my first “Dear Heavenly Father,” my neighbour’s lawnmower roared to life outside my window, its cacophony drowning out my feeble attempts at communion with God. Meanwhile, my stomach, apparently determined to join the symphony of chaos, chose this precise moment to remind me of its existence with a resounding growl—a reminder, perhaps, that breakfast was an oversight.  And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, my phone chimed with the latest notification, clamouring for attention like an impatient child. Ah, the joys of trying to pray in a world determined to distract you at every turn!

Distracted We Drift

A hallmark of Christian maturity is understanding that recognizing that none of us simply drifts towards Christ, regardless of how long we’ve been on the journey of faith. Instead, it’s like navigating the tumultuous sea, where undercurrents of indwelling sin and relentless waves of temptation threaten to pull us out to sea. Often, despite our efforts, these forces persistently buffet and tug at us, making it essential for us to actively swim against them if we wish to draw closer to God. In this spiritual ocean, we are confronted with a clear choice: either we muster the resolve to swim towards God or risk being swept away, carried adrift to destinations far from his presence.

The author of Hebrews keenly felt the undertow depravity and sin and the buffeting waves of temptation and persecution, warring against his affection for Jesus. Having exalted the Son’s supremacy in creation, redemption, authority, and glory in chapter 1, he admonishes the church at the beginning of chapter 2, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” If we do not pay attention, then we may not even realise that we are drifting.  Looking away from Christ leads to inevitable drifting away from Christ. In the journey of faith, it’s a matter of either fixing our focus or drifting into distraction.

Digital Distraction

In today’s hyper-connected world, digital distraction has become a pervasive challenge, with smartphones, social media platforms, and captivating content commanding our attention more than ever. These digital tools, designed to enhance communication and entertainment, often become double-edged swords, drawing us away from important tasks and meaningful interactions. Notifications incessantly vie for our focus, pulling us into a constant cycle of checking, swiping, scrolling, streaming and surfing. Social media platforms, meticulously engineered to be addictive, offer an endless stream of tailored content, further fueling our propensity for distraction. However, attributing distraction solely to technology would be shortsighted. Escaping the issue requires more than just unplugging our devices and retreating to a life of monastic solitude.

During the past couple of weeks, I immersed myself in the profound insights of two 17th-century Puritan works focused on the theme of distraction. One such work is Richard Steele’s A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in the Worship of God (1673), while the other is Nathanael Vincent’s Attending Upon God without Distraction (1695). Both books offer prolonged reflections on 1 Corinthians 7:35, urging readers to “attend upon the Lord without distraction” (KJV). Steele, in dedicating his book to the Triune God, acknowledges, “Against thee, thee only, have I offended by my distractions, and done these evils in thy sight; and therefore am bound to seek the destruction of them in all the world for thy sake” (iii). He tells the reader, “My own disease caused me to study the cure” (1). Steele’s and Vincent’s writings serve as a clarion call to take proactive measures against distraction. While it’s easy to assign blame to social media or digital devices, distraction is an active choice—a brief escape from demanding or difficult tasks or circumstances. More than that, distraction is a heart problem that requires a gospel remedy—a renewed focus on Christ and the transformative power of his grace. We are not mere slaves to our distractions; there are measures we can take to address them. There is so much that could be said here, let me offer four potent antidotes for the affliction of distraction.

Deliverance from Distraction

(1) The Gospel Remedy for Distracted Hearts

When we frequently find ourselves pulled away by distractions, it is essential that we pay attention. Our focus tends to gravitate towards those things that hold significance in our lives. Hence, distraction can reveal where our hearts lie. Therefore, amidst distraction, it becomes imperative to inquire: What truly captivates our hearts? What consumes our attention and affections? Where do our minds and affections find their most familiar and comfortable dwelling? Just as we have a physical home we return to daily, our minds also have a mental “home” where they naturally gravitate during idle moments. This familiar territory often exposes our deepest priorities and what we cherish most dearly. Distractions act as mirrors, reflecting our heart’s treasures.  As Jesus declared, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:2). Addiction to distraction is a heart matter. We cannot change our hearts; only the gospel can. Use your distractions as subject matter for prayer to God who alone can deliver from heart distraction. Vincent writes, “He who spans the heavens, and holds the winds in his hand so that they stir not in the least against his will, certainly is able to keep your hearts undistracted in your duties, in close to himself. … Call in help from heaven against distraction if you would be helped effectually” (184).

(2) Jesus is Worthy of All Our Attention

In seeking to diagnose the curious heart condition of “Distractionitis,” the key question that needs to be asked is: Where does your heart feel most at home? What does your heart treasure most? Our hearts have a way of constantly returning to some “home” where they feel most comfortable. Christ advises us to prioritise heavenly treasures, urging us to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:20-21). Similarly, the apostle Paul encourages us to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2). Why ought we to set our minds on the things that are above? Verse 1 clarifies that is where Christ is: “seek the things that are above, where Christ is.” Our primary challenge amidst distractions lies in being diverted from Christ. Christ is wholly worthy of our full attention.  If we could catch a glimpse of who Jesus really is, we would struggle less to focus on him. In fact, we might find it difficult to be captivated by the things that currently consume our attention. We are enabled to fight distraction when we fill our minds and hearts with the glories of Jesus Christ. Vincent writes, “This God, as excellent and glorious as he is, is willing in Christ to be yours. Such loveliness! Such lovingkindness! What love do these call for from you! Let nothing be able to draw away your love, and the less will your thoughts be drawn away from him” (180).

(3) Self Control is a Fruit of the Spirit

Distraction serves as a poignant reminder not only of our sinfulness and depravity but also of our inherent human weakness and frailty. Consequently, it prompts us to acknowledge our dependence on God’s grace, urging us to earnestly seek his presence with our full, undistracted, undivided attention. Richard Steeles writes, “When you look on a hard task, and your heart fails you, raise your eye of faith, and you will find God the strength of your heart. His power is at your service, and therefore avail yourselves of it” (35-36). Through the transformative work of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to cultivate the grace of self-control in our lives (Gal 5:22-23), which directly counteracts the detrimental effects of worldly distractions. While it is the Spirit who produces this fruit in us, we must also be cultivating, nurturing, and developing the fruit of self-control. Will we allow the age of distraction to erode our focus, or will we, relying on the strength God supplies by his Spirit (1 Pet 4:11), actively strive to reset and refocus our minds on what truly matters, thus bearing meaningful and God-glorifying fruit in our lives?

(4) Don’t Give Up!

Achieving focus is no simple task, and the allure of distraction can be strong. Yet, as Steele wisely observes, God’s promises “were never intended as a pillow for the lazy, but as a support to the weary; not to exempt us from our duty, but to comfort us under our weakness” (Steele, 71). If an undistracted mind seems allusive, don’t lose heart. Instead, acknowledge with gratitude to God for any moments of focused attention granted this week, and earnestly seek more in the days ahead. Whether in prayer, meditation, studying Scripture, or worshipping with believers on the Lord’s Day, let us fervently seek God for minds and hearts liberated from distraction, trusting him to nurture our spiritual growth as we fix our gaze upon Him. How sweet it would be to say with the psalmist, declaring, “My soul followeth hard after thee” (Psalm 63:8, KJV).