Distractions can divert us from God's work
We need to overcome our distractions for God to use us effectively, says Revd Matt Stone of Norwich area URC.
Have you noticed how easily we humans get distracted? You may even be reading this right now to distract yourself from the ironing, from the dreaded visit to the mother-in-law, or from the work your boss has just asked you to do!
I know I really struggle to stay focused. Sitting in my study, I stare at the pile of things I need to deal with, and end up doing something totally different instead. I make myself another cup of tea. I recategorise the books on my shelves. I alphabetise my CD collection – first by artist then by album title! I check my emails for the twelfth time this morning. I send a text message to my fiancée. I decide to update my Facebook status for the fifth time this week with something like “Matt thinks he really should do some work”. (In case my church members are reading this, I do work hard – honest!).
Sometimes, having distractions can help us work more effectively. When I’m writing a sermon, getting up and doing the washing up can actually give my brain time to process my thoughts. But most of the time distractions are exactly what they say on the tin: a diversion from the path – a “dis-traction” – that stops us from giving something our full attention.
And as Christians, distractions can be a real problem.
Every morning I get up at around 7.30am and it takes me about 45 minutes to get showered, dressed and breakfasted. So by about 8.15am each morning I am free and ready to do something useful. Now I take the view that I should be at my desk by 9am. That’s the start of the working day, which means I have 45 minutes to do something else. When I started in ministry a year ago, I thought ‘Brilliant! I have 45 minutes to pray; to offer the day to God. To pray for the churches I serve, to read the Bible without having to write a sermon, to sing some worship songs, to ask God for wisdom and guidance.’
So I usually sit down on a chair in my study about 8.15am. And on a good day, I might be sat there for twenty minutes. On a good day. But on most days, after about 5-10 minutes I suddenly think of all the work I need to do and turn on the computer. Fatal error!
The problem is that I think my work is more important than prayer; that what I do is more important than what God does.
When I wonder why God never seems to use me as he used the first Christians in Acts, perhaps it’s because I am too easily distracted. Perhaps it’s because I am not focused enough on Jesus and the nudging of His Spirit within me. In CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, a senior devil writes to a junior devil to teach him how to stop a Christian praying. The answer is very simple: by a wandering mind. And when we don’t pray, we don’t hear and obey the Master’s voice.
In Matthew 15:8, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah and tells the Pharisees, “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” It’s easy for us to say the right things, whilst our hearts and minds are somewhere else entirely – distracted and off-course. On a Sunday morning, we can sing the songs and look like we’re listening to the sermon, whilst our minds are on the Sunday lunch. On a Monday morning, we can mentally know that we are supposed to pray without ceasing, but then forget Jesus as we go to work and meet up with our non-Christian friends. Sometimes we can even want to do the right thing, but we are diverted against our best intentions. As the apostle Paul put it in Romans 7:19, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
If we are to develop the kind of intimate relationship that the Father yearns to have with us, if the church is truly going to be salt and light in a hurting world, we need to overcome our disabling distractions. We need Christ to be our centre and our guide; we need dedication and devotion; we need passion and willpower. We must pray for God to strengthen us and to use us effectively for His kingdom and His glory.
Matt Stone is a minister in the Norwich Area United Reformed Churches.