We live in a distracted world. Business entrepreneur Michael Hyatt writes, “I can’t imagine living in a more distracting time in human history. Hundreds of cable channels, millions of Web sites, and the constant pinging of email and social media all compete for our attention.” These are only some of the things that bombard us. Most of the time, a person finds their attention being pulled in a thousand directions. To best understand, David McKinley describes distraction as “the temptation to give the focus and energy needed for something highly important to something that is often quite insignificant.”
Distraction is not something new. Jon Bloom says, “Since the fall of man, people have had trouble staying focused, but we live today in an age of unprecedented distraction.” Each day we are bombarded with the temptation to be distracted by things, some good distractions, but they are often insignificant. Since we live in a digital world, it’s easy to blame technology. However, distractions come in all shapes and sizes, meaning that not all of humanity’s distractions are digital or technological. Regardless of the cause, distractions can and will get in the way of our growth in Christ.
Since the fall of man, people have had trouble staying focused.
Distractions are a problem, and we face them daily, if not minute by minute. In short, Bloom’s assessment is correct. The Fall of humanity in Genesis 3 brought many consequences, namely, choosing to put other things before God. When this happens, we live in disobedience and are in danger. John Sailhamer writes, “Man is put in the garden to worship God and to obey Him. Man’s life in the garden was to be characterized by worship and obedience.” Humanity chose to rebel against God’s rules, thus, bringing severe consequences. For example, one of the most devastating consequences of our sin is the separation between God and humanity.
Further, because of the results, we are tempted to put other less essential things before God. This, of course, is one of the struggles we all face. Therefore, distractions of any sort will only compound our efforts to put God first. Many things compete for God’s place in our lives, including technology. Understandably, technology has given us the ability to access so many things, for example, gather information, get unlimited news, research topics, conduct school online, and stay connected to each other. Families can connect via video with a loved one who may live in another state or country. The ability to connect, access, gather information, etc., is in our hands. However, it comes with many distractions.
Popular apps have contributed to our distraction struggles. Many sit for hours scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Additionally, gaming devices have contributed to people’s distractions. People spend an immense amount of time online gaming with others, possibly neglecting important things. Whether it is technology or just the many things that compete for our attention, we all face the consequences of distraction.
We live today in an age of unprecedented distraction.
As already mentioned, technology cannot be the sole blame for the many distractions in our lives. It would be difficult to find someone who would say that distraction is not a problem. For many people, there are so many things daily, weekly, and monthly that fight for our attention, it is hard to focus. Some of those “important” items compete for our attention, and while they seem very important at the moment, in essence share no value whatsoever.
Not all distractions are negative. Sometimes they can be both positive and negative. For instance, when a person has a problem worrying, even with even the most mundane things, someone may advise them to “find a way to get their mind off of the problem, circumstance, etc.,” and focus on something else. In other words, be “distracted” by something else with the hopes that it helps refocus. In this case, distraction may help. It may help a person create new habits and tools that will further help them not worry. However, most of the time, distractions are negative and interfere with the most important things.
Effects of Distraction
People in biblical times faced distractions as well. Luke 10:38-42 tells us that Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha. One of the best biblical examples of distraction comes from Martha, who “was distracted while serving.” Martha was doing something good, namely, “serving,” which meant she was going to make preparations for her guests. Michael Woods says, “When Jesus met Martha that day she was ‘distracted.’” She wasn’t doing anything horrible; in fact, many would empathize with Martha and want to serve and prepare for houseguests. In essence, Martha was helping others.
In contrast, while Martha was “serving,” Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening. In those verses, Jesus rebukes Martha and exhorts Mary. Martha was doing something good for sure; however, she was distracted from the most important thing, simply sitting at Jesus’ feet. We can convince ourselves that we are doing “good” things, but if those “good things” ever distract us from truly knowing God, listening to God, or growing closer to God, then we resemble Martha more than Mary. In this regard, C. A. Coates says, “The Lord wants to convert us from Marthas into Marys.” One of the best lessons that we learn from Martha is to stop, slow down, listen, and focus on Jesus.
There are some practical steps to fight distractions. In fact, “Expecting to fight distraction daily is a necessary mindset if the fight is to be won” (Jon Bloom). One of the best things to do is to identify the less essential distractions in our lives. Kendra Cherry says, “While it may sound obvious, people often underestimate just how many distractions prevent them from concentrating on the task at hand…Minimizing these sources of distraction isn’t always easy.” That is a very true statement. It is not easy but necessary to minimize distractions that interfere with us doing the “best” things and not just “good” things.
Imagine if a person constantly let distractions interfere with their Bible study. While those “distractions” may be good, such as giving advice or helping someone, it may not be the best thing at that moment, mainly if that person is unable to focus on God or hear from Him. One suggestion may be to find a quieter place to eliminate distractions. Practically speaking, it may involve putting the phone on silent to focus on God or the task at hand. However, that is not the only step that needs to be taken.
A second step is hard for us all. We must concentrate on the most important things, which will involve some level of discernment. It is imperative to block out some time, focus on the most important things, and eliminate the “lesser” important items that compete for our attention. In sum, we must pray for God’s help to be successful at making progress. To discern what is best, we must seek His guidance and will for our lives. Knowing that God is in control, we must seek His wisdom and will above everything else. In doing so, we will be able to live out His plan and rest in His wisdom. Remember, we want to be more like Mary and less like Martha.