When I’ve preached on the Parable of the Sower, I’ve thought that the thorn-infested soil best describes the spiritual danger that threatens faith in Christ in our particular day and age. In the parable, the seed sown in that soil fails to result in any fruit because the thorns choke the life out of the plant after it sprouts. Jesus explains that the thorns represent the “cares and riches and pleasures of life” that suffocate the incipient faith in the heart of the hearer, so that the Word of God sown there fails to produce any spiritual fruit (Luke 8:4-15).
Put another way, “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” are the distractions that can so easily turn us out of the way of following Christ. As Christians living in America in 2013, distraction poses a greater threat to the growth and vitality of our faith than outright persecution. The challenge is to remain steadfast in walking after Christ, resolutely and single-mindedly devoting our hearts to growing in grace and obedience, when the world offers a million other things to vie for our attention.
One way we get distracted is by overloading our lives with responsibilities and activities. “Busyness” plagues many of us: living harried, frenetic lives, we anxiously multitask and scurry from one thing to the next. This kind of incessant activity results in – and to our minds even justifies – no time left over to give to those things that nourish and strengthen our faith in Christ: worship, Scripture reading, prayer, and maintaining deep Christian relationships.
Even if we aren’t naturally prone to busyness, we live in a complex world in which mere survival means giving our attention to a hundred different little tasks and responsibilities. The wealth and prosperity we enjoy is a mixed blessing. Our homes, cars, boats and other “toys”, appliances, computers, electronic gadgets, etc., all require upkeep and maintenance. And, we always have bills to pay, phone calls to make, and e-mails to write. Life in a modern, prosperous, and technologically-advanced society makes enormous demands on our time. And we get distracted from what is most important – cultivating the life we have in Christ.
Another major distraction is our digital technology and social media. There’s always something new online to keep us interested and amused – unlike a book or movie, the internet and social media never “end”: a fresh facebook post, or Tweet, or Youtube video, or friend’s comment, or text, or news story, etc, constantly beckons. Smartphones – with their unceasing notifications – can be so powerfully habit-forming that smartphone addiction is a genuine problem for some. Perhaps that isn’t you, but if the thought of losing your phone strikes fear in your heart, then you have what has been coined “nomophobia” (no mobile-phone phobia)! If we cannot isolate ourselves from the constant flow of distraction and interruption these technologies provide, then how can we ever spend time in prayer or meditation, spiritual disciplines vital to our growth in grace (Psalm 1:1, 2; 119:1-16)?
Another way these screen technologies can distract us from our devotion to Christ is by so changing the way we read and receive information (skimming instead of careful reading) that we can no longer read the Scriptures in the slow, careful, meditative way we must if we are to profit from God’s Word. For more thoughts on this, see this post I wrote last week.
So distraction is a serious threat to our faith in Christ. But God gives us grace to meet this challenge in the form of two divine gifts:
1. The Sabbath. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27; cf. Exodus 20:8). The Sabbath – for Christians, the Lord’s Day (Sunday) – is a gift from God for our good: a day of rest from our usual work and activity, that we might devote ourselves to the worship of God and fellowship of other believers. If you seek to keep the Lord’s Day holy by taking a break from work and even from your usual recreation, if you will make going to church and fellowship a priority for Sunday, if you are willing to say “no” to every unnecessary demand on your time that day, then you will find that the Lord’s Day is a welcome respite from all the things that distract you throughout the week. It’s a day God gives you to focus on Christ – why shouldn’t you be blessed by it?
2. Wisdom. Part of the problem of distraction is that we often keep ourselves from the “best” by doing the “good”. In other words, many times the activities and demands that take our attention away from Christ are in themselves worthy things. When Martha was “distracted by much serving” and complained that her sister Mary left her all the work while she sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his teaching, Jesus said to her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Mark 10:38-41). Martha’s serving was good in itself. But Jesus gently rebuked her because she failed to realize that, at least at that moment, Mary was pursuing something even better – sitting at the feet of Christ. You need wisdom to discern the best from the merely good, that you might not be distracted from spending time with the Lord. And God will give you this gift of wisdom if you ask: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).
The danger of distraction is that it keeps you from beholding “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Is there anything in your life that is drawing your attention away from looking into the face of Christ by faith? Is there something that prevents you from a wholehearted devotion to Jesus? Don’t allow the thorns of distraction to choke the life from your faith. Pray for a clearer vision of Christ and a greater steadfastness in following him. God is good, and he’ll answer your prayer of faith.
Photo by Nina Matthews Photography.