Since the fall of man, people have had trouble staying focused, but we live today in an age of unprecedented distraction.
Lots of experts are talking about the negative effects this is having on us. Many of us feel it: the buzzing brain, the attention atrophy, the diminishing tolerance for reading, especially reading books.
We’re becoming conditioned to distraction, and it’s harming our ability to listen and think carefully, to be still, to pray, and to meditate. Which means it is a spiritual danger, an evil from which we need God’s deliverance (Matthew 6:13).
The Causes of Distraction
Distraction, at least the dangerous kind I’m referring to, is shifting our attention from something of greater importance to something of lesser importance.
Our fundamental and most dangerous problem in distraction is in being distracted from God — our tendency to shift our attention orientation from the greatest Object in existence to countless lesser ones. The Bible calls this idolatry.
“Our attention often runs to what’s important to us. So distraction can reveal what we love.”eg Facebook, whatsapp, twitter,linkedin and so on.
This fundamental attention shift disorders us in pervasive ways. We find our tendency to be distracted from the more important to the less important cascading down, detrimentally affecting our relationships and responsibilities. So, at the deepest level, we are distractible because of our fallen, selfish nature; we have evil inside us.
A Heart Revealer
When we are regularly distracted by something, we need to take note. Our attention often runs to what’s important to us. So, distraction can reveal what we love.
“So, in our busyness, we must ask, what is the real distraction? What does our heart desire? Are we choosing “the good portion,” seeking the great “one thing” (Psalm 27:4), or something less?
Distraction is a frequent reminder of our frailty and limits, that we indeed are not God. And since we are given to such unjustifiable, and frankly ridiculous, levels of pride, this is very good for us. Distraction humbles us and forces us to ask God for the help we so desperately need.
If we see the Spirit-given graces of humility and faith growing in us through our struggles against distraction, we will count it among the “all things” we give thanks for (Ephesians 5:20, KJV).
Building the Muscle of Self-Control
God also uses distraction to strengthen our self-control. Christian self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). And like nearly all the Spirit’s fruit of sanctification in us, they are cultivated through the primary, decisive gift of the Spirit and our secondary but indispensable intentional hard work.
“Muscles do not grow stronger without pushing against resistance. Neither does self-control.”
It’s helpful to remember that we strengthen self-control similar to how we strengthen muscle: through resistance. Muscles do not grow stronger without pushing against resistance. Neither does self-control. There’s no getting around the hard work of applying ourselves and figuring out what works best for us. But if we prayerfully and faithfully apply ourselves, the Spirit will empower our efforts and we will see our capacity for self-control increase.
If you’re a person who, for whatever reason, has a more difficult struggle with distraction, you need not feel condemned (Romans 8:1). For you, good stewardship looks like fighting distraction as best you can. Push yourself. You may not be able to do what others can do, but God will only hold you accountable for the measure of grace given to you (Romans 12:6).
It’s right for us to see certain distractions as evils in themselves. Every one is a time-tax we pay, a tax for which there is no refund. Time spent simply means we have less to spend. Every distracted minute is an unrecoverable minute, now frozen in the permanent past. It is right to seek to make the best use of our time in these evil days (Ephesians 5:16).
And yet, we also do not need to be more paralyzed by this than by any other struggle with sin or futility. Our Father wants us to grow in the grace of faith-fueled focus, and will, through Christ, cause our difficult struggles against distraction to work for our good (Romans 8:28). He will, through his Spirit, use them to free us from idolatry and pride and to help us grow in self-control. So, in confident faith we can approach his throne of grace with this prayer:
Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my resolve to pursue only what you call me to do, and deliver me from the fragmenting effect of fruitless distraction.