I hate to admit it, but though I pride myself to be someone who is very disciplined, I am at the same time very easily distracted.
Every little thing distracts me.
A text message on the phone.
A photo on my desk.
Dirt I saw on the floor at home.
A Facebook post.
A random thought that came flying past.
And the list goes on…
Distractions can be frustrating.
Most of us would have experienced the annoying intrusion by distractions. They spoiled our plans, and consequently, our mood. They made us fail to deliver what we should, thus plaguing us with accusations and regrets. And when our focus is shifted even for a split second from God, distractions can also make us shaken; one good example is Peter who was trying to walk on water when he suddenly found himself drowning when he only briefly took his eyes away from Jesus and looked at the wind (cf. Mt 14:30).
Yet strangely, distractions can also be alluring.
Despite the adverse consequences of some distractions, we secretly love, and may even actively pursue, distractions. The simple reason is distractions often appeal to our sinful nature. Thus, sin either drives us to seek out distractions on our own, or make us welcome distractions that come our way. Distractions such as love of the world, fun stuff, money, leisure, people’s company, etc, feed our desires to enjoy life, take things easy, avoid hardships and escape from boring stuff. Between writing a dull report and watching TV, it would be tempting to choose the latter, had there not been any prompting from the Holy Spirit and self-control.
Distractions are elusive.
The tricky part about distractions is that they always creep in secretly, they often come unannounced, at a time when we let our guard down and are unprepared to reject them. Moreover, in today’s context, distractions are embedded everywhere, even within meaningful stuff, such as being weaved into Christian websites. The very electronic device by which we use to read Bible or Christian articles, is also often the same device that exposes us to online advertisements, social media notifications, etc, which steal our attention away from the meaningful contents we had set out to focus on.
Therefore, as Christians, we need to be mindful that the cunning devil is always lurking in the background to distract us from seeking God and doing His will. The ancient serpent is at work now, just as he was in the Garden of Eden tricking Eve. He may be inconspicuous but he sure is working, even if we have forgotten about his existence. And it is not helpful that our own sinful nature made us easily enticed by distractions too.
Certainly, we all know it is important to turn ungodly distractions away, but the question is ‘How?’ Below are six suggestions on how we can conquer distractions:
1. Be sober-minded.
<1 Pe 5:8> Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
It is one thing to know that the devil exists, but it is another thing to be sober about his working in our lives. When we are sober-minded, we can better detect distractions which the devil slyly plants in our lives. When we are sober, we can also be more mindful of how our sinful nature could make us vulnerable preys of distractions, so that we can stay guarded. In battling ungodly distractions, we have to be deliberate in detecting the evil works on our mind.
2. Seek the help of the Holy Spirit.
<Jn 14:16-17> And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.
Certainly, we mere mortals cannot dream of succeeding without divine help. Even when no person is there to help or when no one is looking, the Holy Spirit is there with us, He will speak to us and gently prick at our conscience when we got carried too far by distractions. One concrete way by which the Holy Spirit helps us, is to remind us of God’s truth. The truth will reshape our perspectives and priorities to be in line with God, so that we can be directed away from distractions. Hence, to rely on the Holy Spirit practically, is to genuinely pray through the truth, till the truth sinks into our hearts and realigns our focus. This is how the Holy Spirit helps us when we pray.
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit not only rings His voice in our hearts, but also offers us actual strength to reject ungodly distractions and resume doing God’s will. The more we delight in doing God’s will, the faster we will be healed from our inclination to be distracted. Although it will take time to be completely victorious over our distraction-prone nature, we can believe in the powerful yet subtle work of the Holy Spirit
3. Organize your environment.
<Phil 4:8-9> Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
In order to brace yourself for distraction before it hits you, it would be wise to steer clear of stuff that easily distract or tempt you. For example, you can keep your workstation as distraction-free as possible by removing unnecessary clutter, objects, pictures, etc. Alternatively, you can also put up friendly reminders such as Bible verses, meaningful Christian quotes, prayers, or goal statements inspired by God. If you need to do some intensive work, you can deliberately leave your phone aside for one or two hours. Though people tend to feel uneasy without their phones nowadays, a few hours away from the phone would not hurt much.
4. Be with people who can “keep an eye on you”.
I do not mean people who will give you unwarranted pressure or accusations, but those who can help pull you back from distractions. My husband, for example, is not a judgmental person, and he is always careful not to hurt me. Yet, his sheer presence keeps me on my toes, because if he knows I am losing my focus, he will gently nudge me and I will be awakened back to my senses. Staying near blessed company can help preserve our right focus.
5. Use your distractions to get back at the devil.
The devil may think he got you if he successfully distracts you. Yet, you can always turn your distractions into prayer needs, such that you cling all the more closely to God because of your distraction-prone state. Much better still, you can translate each victory over distractions into deeper faith in God. Just as Peter got distracted while walking on water, yet he called out to Christ and was saved. I believe that incident played a role in deepening Peter’s faith and relationship with Christ. Also, you can turn any guilt you felt from being distracted into gratitude toward the forgiving God who pardons our moments of folly and helps us get back on track in doing His will again.
6. If you really can’t help getting distracted, find “blessed distractions”.
Sometimes the creative Holy Spirit can lead us to do other blessed things when we are stuck at the current task. For example, sometimes when I got bored with sermon preparation, I turned to texting a brother or sister, listening to a hymn, writing articles, doing the laundry, etc. Switching from one Spirit-guided activity to another can help energize us and offer new inspirations for the earlier unfinished task. Instead of feeling frustrated at being stuck at one task, or being entrapped by purposeless distractions, we can seek the guidance of the Spirit to do other God-pleasing activities.
Yet, not all distractions are bad.
Some distractions can be good; not every distraction needs to be avoided. We should welcome distractions permitted by God’s sovereign guidance. Some distractions can be deliberately given by God, to turn our attention away from what we have rigidly planned to do to what He resolutely wants us to do. For example, some distractions could come in the form of a needy soul pleading for help; and attending to such distractions will be pleasing to God, they are also opportunities for us to grow our love for others. Sometimes, distractions are allowed by God to train us to go by His leading in unforeseeable circumstances, instead of going by our designated schedule rigidly, thus building our faith.
Other examples of good distractions are those that shift our focus away from negative thoughts, temptations and sins. I remember hearing a testimony where a sister was dwelling perpetually in her negative thoughts, but she got distracted by a flying bug, which made her stop short in her faulty thinking. In such cases, distractions actually help redirect our attention from an undesirable thought or activity, thus bringing us back to focus.
We cannot totally shield our lives from distractions, yet with a prayerful heart, we sure can conquer distractions in our lives, embracing those which God slips in for our good, as well as guarding against those which steal our hearts from God. What is important is to fix our eyes on Jesus and not be distracted by things that hinder, as Hebrews 12 urges us:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”