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Overcoming Distractions

distractionDistractions . . . they eat up our time and clutter our minds and our lives. Hardly an hour (or even a few minutes) goes by that we aren’t distracted by something or someone that has invaded our space. Just consider how much time our smartphones take away from us and keep us distracted by keep us busy doing so much “stuff” on them that is truly time wasting and most of the time absolutely not essential to our lives. In fact, at times it is very dangerous, like texting and/or being otherwise preoccupied by our smartphones while driving our vehicles.

I read a devotion this morning by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) that centers on distractions that occur during our prayer time, but a statement made in it can also be applied to our lives in general:

Whatever excites the curiosity, scatters the thoughts, disquiets the heart, absorbs the interests or shifts our life focus from the kingdom of God within us to the world around us—that is a distraction; and the world is full of them. Our science-based civilization has given us many benefits but it has multiplied our distractions and so taken away far more than it has given….

Distractions must be conquered or they will conquer us. So let us cultivate simplicity; let us want fewer things; let us walk in the Spirit; let us fill our minds with the Word of God and our hearts with praise. In that way we can live in peace even in such a distraught world as this. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” (Quote source here.)

The world is full of distractions, and we get pulled into them with hardly even a notice. For example, take technology, which is one of the truly remarkable advances in our world today. One of the biggest downsides to technology is that it has a huge capacity to constantly distract us 24/7. But there are many other distractions that have always been around; things that worry us and consume our time and our energy like the constant quest for money or material possessions that is so prevalent in our culture today. Even the plethora of “retirement planning” commercials cause us to worry about our financial futures 10, 20, 30 or more years down the road from now. Will we have enough money to retire on or even enough right now in our constant quest for more? Or consider the ever increasing pursuit of pleasure or lust for accolades as we climb a career ladder to gain a higher social status.

What did Jesus have to say to us about living this life on a daily basis that is so full of these distractions? His words ring pretty clear in Matthew 6:25-34:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I have to admit that in my early 50’s I was starting to be a bit fearful about what would happen to me when I reached retirement age as I knew that what I had accumulated in my retirement account (that wasn’t even started until I was in my late 30’s) was hardly enough to sustain me for a number of years after I reached retirement age. Also, some of the people I worked around at the time told me I needed to consider buying a condo or small house to have as an investment as I had lived in apartments all of my life, and they said I was just “throwing my money away” paying rent to someone else. However, the apartment I rented at the time was far cheaper then the payments on a condo or house would have been, and I was happy living in it. I did contact a real estate agent to help me look around for a while but what I felt I could afford (far less than the agent was trying to sell me on) did not interest me. And I had no desire to get myself into a 30-year mortgage at my age, so I put it on the back burner. It was only two or three months after that point that we were told that our division where I worked was being dismantled, and I was so incredibly grateful that I didn’t try to purchase a condo or a house in that town as I would have lost my shirt financially from the fallout.

Of course, from that job I ended up accepting a director position located in Houston, Texas, which, after losing it a scant seven months later, has lead into these past six years of unemployment. I’ve mentioned all of this to say that no matter how hard we may try to plan our lives and our futures, or even how much we worry about those things, nobody really knows what the future holds until it unfolds day by day. As Proverbs 16:9 (NLT) states, We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

I’ve mentioned the above example from my own life to show that if I had allowed the distraction of worry to get the better of me and taken the advice of some of my coworkers, I might have ended up purchasing a condo or house that would have been–in the very near future–repossessed by the bank or mortgage company and left me in financial ruin. After all, I had no idea that my division was about to be dismantled and there were no signs of it heading in that direction that any of us working in it were aware of as we were in a major growth cycle at the time of its rather quick demise.

distraction meaningless messageDistractions do exactly that–they distract us from the reality of what is really going on all around us. And if we pay attention to them and give a lot of time to them, they can destroy us in a variety of ways. I imagine a lot of affairs start off as distractions that are allowed to go on unrestrained until the end result is that families and relationships are destroyed. Texting behind the wheel of a car has most likely crippled and/or killed large numbers of people from the accidents it has caused. And just look at all the stuff being advertised on television and in other media that constantly beckons for our attention (and gets it, too): pricey diet programs; pricey prescription medications for illnesses we didn’t even know we had until the commercial tells us we might have them; lawyers advertising their services for lawsuits that might make us (and, of course, them) a lot of money; the “retirement planning” commercials that I mentioned above; the myriad of  hotel and vacation commercials, food commercials galore; and the list goes on and on and on . . . .

The first thing we need to start recognizing is all the “stuff” that is distracting us. In a short article titled, Hear God: Eliminate the Distractions,” by Rick Warren, Senior Pastor at Saddleback Church, he states the following:

You can’t hear God when your mind is crowded with thoughts, worries, fears, and plans, or if you always have the radio or TV on. And if you constantly have your phone against your ear, when God calls all he gets is a busy signal!

All of these distractions are what Jesus was referring to in Luke 8 when he talked about the seed falling in the weeds. Today’s verse [Luke 8:7 MSG] says those weeds grew with the seed and strangled it.

Now notice that this scenario is a little bit better than the shallow soil because the seed actually sprouts and grows. But the weeds choke it out so it never bears fruit. So many people hear God speak, but as they go on their way, life’s worries, riches, and pleasures choke them, so they never mature.

If you are always on the go and you can’t hear God, you are facing the barrier of busyness. Often we confuse busyness with productivity and they aren’t the same thing. If you keep going, going, going but you aren’t spiritually growing, growing, growing, you are busy, not productive.

Jesus says distractions are like weeds that grow up in your mind and heart, just as weeds grow in a garden.

There are three types of weeds that will keep you from hearing God’s voice:

WorriesThe Greek word for worry is ‘merinma,’ which means “pulled in different directions.” When you are pulled in different directions, you are worried. And when you are worried, you can’t hear God.

RichesYou can be so busy making a living, trying to make money to pay the bills and get out of debt that you can’t hear God.

PleasuresGod gives you pleasures, and they are a good thing. But you can get so busy pursuing pleasures and fun that you forget to pursue God as well.

How much effort does it take to grow weeds? None. Weeds are a sign of neglect. When you neglect your time with God, the weeds start to grow in your life. In order to overcome the weeds, you must learn to overcome your preoccupied mind.

First Kings 19:12 says that when God spoke to Elijah, it wasn’t in a wind or earthquake or fire; it was in a gentle whisper. If you want to hear God whisper to you, you have to be quiet. (Quote and article source here.)

One of my very first blog posts written in July 2011 titled, Don’t Lose Your Soul At The Crossroads,” and republished again in August 2014 titled, Second Time Around,” dealt in part with this topic concerning the distractions that take up so much of our lives. It centers around The Parable of the Sowerthat Jesus told in Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15. In this parable it is the third of the four types of soils mentioned that addresses the issue of distractions (e.g., the seeds that fell among the “thorns”–some versions use the word “weeds”) that Rick Warren’s article above focuses on in this particular parable which is found in Luke 8:7, 14 (also Matthew 13:7, 22 and Mark 4:7, 18-19):

And some [of the seed from the sower] fell among thorns [weeds], and the thorns [weeds] sprang up with it and choked it. (Luke 8:7)

Now the ones that fell among thorns [weeds] are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. (Luke 8:14)

It is the worries, riches, and pleasures of life that have a huge tendency to engulf us so much of the time, and they produce no fruit whatsoever in our spiritual life because they drown out God’s voice just as Rick Warren stated above.

The answer to all of these distractions lays in the quote by A.W. Tozer stated at the beginning of this post:

Distractions must be conquered or they will conquer us. So let us cultivate simplicity; let us want fewer things; let us walk in the Spirit; let us fill our minds with the Word of God and our hearts with praise. In that way we can live in peace even in such a distraught world as this. [As Jesus states] “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” (Quote source here.)

So may we learn to cultivate simplicity. . .

And let us want fewer things. . .

And let us learn to walk in the Spirit of God. . . .

YouTube Video: “Soul On Fire” by Third Day:

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Photo #2 credit here

Things That Strangle Us

One of the first blog posts I wrote back in March 2011 was titled Don’t Lose Your Soul At The Crossroads regarding a parable that Jesus told (“The Parable of the Sower” found in Matt. 13:1-23Mark 4:1-20Luke 8:4-15). It is about a sower (e.g., a farmer) who went out to sow his seeds, and as he sowed, some fell on the wayside and was trampled down and the birds devoured it. Some fell on rock, and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because of lack of moisture and the scorching sun. Some fell among the thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked it. And some fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded up a crop a hundredfold. When He finished this parable, His closing statement was, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

This morning I read a devotion by Dr. Charles Swindoll titled, “Things That Strangle Us,” regarding this same parable and I’d like to share it with you:

Things That Strangle Us

Mark 4

While reading through Mark’s Gospel recently, I was drawn into the scene of chapter 4. You remember, it’s that time Jesus sat down in a little boat by the seashore and talked about a farmer who dropped seeds into the dirt. Same seed, different soil, different results. Four to be exact.

Some seeds fell beside the road . . . the birds gobbled them up. A few seeds feel on rocky ground . . . the sun scorched the rootless growth, and they withered and died. Other seeds feel among thorns . . . which choked out the growth so severely there was no crop to harvest. Still other seeds feel into good soil . . . bumper crop. Then Jesus explained each point.

First, He said, the seed represents “the Word.” I believe we’re safe is saying that “the Word” refers to truth. God’s truth. Second, the different soils represent people’s varied responses to that “word.” All four “hear,” but not all reap a harvest. That’s significant. hearing guarantees nothing. Next, the results are directly related to the condition of the soil . . . not the quality of the seed. If you look closely, you’ll see that the first two groups lack roots. Only with the last two groups does Jesus mention fruit.

I think it’s obvious that the first two groups of people are without spiritual life. No roots, no fruit, no growth, no change whatsoever. The third group hears, but only the fourth group “hears the word and accepts it,” resulting in strong, healthy growth. It’s the third group that intrigues me. These people hear everything the fourth group hears. But those truths are not really accepted, allowed to take root, and grow. Instead, the thorns “choke the word and it becomes unfruitful.”

Thorns that choke? What are they? Jesus doesn’t leave us in the dark. They are “the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19).

The term “worry” is derived from the old German word wurgen, which means “to choke.” By extension, the word came to denote “mental strangulation” and, finally, to describe the condition of being harassed with anxiety. Worry begins as a thin stream trickling through our minds. If entertained, it cuts a deeper channel into which other thoughts are drained.

But the third species of thorns is the killer: “the desire for other things.” It’s the picture of discontentment, the plague of pursuit: pushing, straining, stretching, relentlessly reaching, while our minds become strangled with the lie “enough just isn’t enough.”

Jesus closed off His brief talk with that familiar line, “He who has ears, let him hear (Mark 4:9).

When the thorns of life scratch us, we need the pruning shears of the Word.

Source: Day by Day” by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 69
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

“Hearing guarantees nothing . . . .” That’s a frightening statement if we stop to consider what it is really saying. It means we either don’t believe what we hear in the first place (as in the case of the first two soils) or if we do believe, we don’t take it very seriously and let the “thorns”the world–dictate our lives (with it’s worries, cares, and desires, as well as the deceitfulness of money and what it can buy). I dare say very, very few of us today are among the fourth group–those who hear the Word and actually do what it says by living it out in our actions and attitudes on a daily basis.

Gossip, greed, getting over, getting more . . . and the pervasiveness of sexual immorality among Christians today is staggering (e.g., sleeping with a boyfriend or girlfriend and/or living together without marriage is not an option for Christians, nor is having sex with anyone we are not married to). Is anybody paying attention? And even if our “outward” appearance looks good to others, our thought life leaves much to be desired (e.g., bitterness, anger, lust, jealousy, envy, judging others, rivalry, etc.–we all know the list). Most of the time we don’t even try to live different lives from the rest of the world except on Sunday if we go to church at all.

And it’s all meaningless . . . .

Does anybody take the time to read the Bible to find out exactly how we are suppose to live? The New Testament is full of advice on how we are supposed to conduct ourselves in this life. If we are truly Christian, it is in Jesus that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But we don’t want any restrictions on how we live our lives or how we spend our time and our money, yet everything that we own and everything that He has given to us in the way of talents and gifts belong to Him. None of it is truly “ours”–not if we are Christian. But we hang on to everything we have tightly and still want more. And we want the blessings of God without any obedience to how we should be living our lives. When was the last time we actually repented of anything?

As Dr. Swindoll mentioned in his devotion it’s the constant call of our own “discontentment, the plague of pursuit: pushing, straining, stretching, relentlessly reaching, while our minds become strangled with the lie ‘enough just isn’t enough.'” And the love of money and wanting more, more, more of it is relentless in our society. The love of money has become such a cult in America that even family members will screw over other family members just to get more of it–friends, too.

We’ve left God in the dust except when we’re in church or when we are around others that we have to put on a good show for–but God isn’t fooled. We don’t like reading verses like Galatians 6:7-8 that clearly state, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” And ignoring them isn’t the answer, either.

If we read our Bible on a regular basis, do we read it with the intent of actually letting it sink in deep to change our thoughts and how we live our lives; to actually love God without using Him to try to get more of what we want? Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Do we really believe that? James 1:22 admonishes us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” The Message Bible states James 1:22-24 like this, “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.”

Besides the love of money and materialism ingrained in us from our society, gossip is prolific in the church and it is deadly, but it’s one of our favorite past times. Gossip destroys people and many times the gossip is false and misleading. Does that matter to us? What if that gossip is about us? I bet it would matter then, right? God has a lot to say about gossip and none of it is good. Just go through the book of Proverbs and see how many verses relate directly to gossip and how deadly it is. God takes gossip very seriously. We, obviously, do not, and it is to our detriment. Here’s a link to a short article on gossip titled, What Does the Bible Say About Gossip?

I realize not everybody who calls themselves Christian conduct their lives as described above, but a great percentage of us fall under a fair amount of it nowadays. As much as I hate to say it, we are a greedy and gossipy bunch. And, if we don’t clean up our own house first how can we expect God to bless America again?

Have we learned absolutely nothing from the history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament when they turned their backs on God and what happened to them over and over again when they refused to clean up their own lives? The Apostle Paul sent out a clear warning from Israel’s history (see I Cor. 10:1-13) about what happened to them when they fell into idolatry, sexual immorality, testing God, and grumbling as a reminder to us that it can happen again. Also, reading the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah as well as the minor prophets will give you a reality check if you need one. It’s the same today, folks. Nothing has changed–especially human nature.

Jesus came to set us free from all of this–free! But do we really want to be free?

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

YouTube Video: “Gotta Serve Somebody” (1980) sung by Shirley Caesar (originally written and sung by Bob Dylan):

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