Heart Distracted? Ways to focus on God with these super easy steps.
As I sit to write this third and final blog of the Atttention series, the irony is, I am struggling to focus. Not a joke. God has a sense of humor.
There is a Netflix series called Locke and Key. It is literally about keys and the doors they can unlock. The anywhere key can cause a door to become a portal to another door you have seen before...anywhere in the world. For me, I would so use it to go back to the front door of the chateau I stayed at in Aix-en-Provence, France. The mending key works with the mending cabinet and allows the user to place something broken inside the box for it to be mended. (We could all use that one.) There is even a head key which allows the user to step inside a person's mind to see what they are thinking, feeling, and experiencing.
If you could use the head key and walk inside of my mind as I started to write this, I know what you would find. You would see a hamster running at the speed of lightning on a hamster wheel. Next to it would be a squirrel that darts from one spot to the next, nut, after nut. You would come to know that all I could think about was bringing honor and glory to God, while living out my calling, in order to reach the one who needs to know about God and growing in their faith. And the hamster runs and the squirrel darts.
Types of Distractions
Before I get to the types of distractions, it needs to be said that the ungodly forces of this world use distractions for their benefit and our demise. Distractions are a form of spiritual warfare. The bible is clear about the reality of the love and goodness of God. It is also clear about the reality of evil forces that know who God is and are actively seeking to divert us from knowing who God is and living a Christ like life.
So, distractions come in two broad categories: external and internal. External distractions come from our environment. They are caused by events, people, or things. Internal distractions come from within us and are due to our emotional and physical states and random thoughts. Drilling down further into external and internal distractions, I see four subcategories of distractions, those that: confuse us as to whose we are, confuse as us to who we are, change our timing, and present us with a substitute.
1. Confuse us as to whose we are. We are first and foremost children of God. Period. This is
power. This is strength. This is hope. If ungodly forces distract us from this truth, their jobs are
made so much easier and ours so much worse.
2. Confuse us as to who we are. Our identity or character is constantly under attack. If we can be
convinced that we are other than who God created us to be, then we will take the wrong
3. Change our timing. God's timing is not our timing. God knows when we should go, stop, sprint,
or tiptoe through life. Distractions of frenzy, impatience, confusion, fear, and anxiety can cause
us to move too fast or too slow.
4. Present us with a substitute. When we are about to make a major change or have a
breakthrough that will draw us closer to God, we will be presented with a substitute. The
substitute is a counterfeit that is distracting us from where God is trying to lead us or how God is trying to change or mold us. Think back on your life, it is true. Oh, so true.
Distractions are a tool to continually draw us away from God. Away from God's truths and promises. Away from God's will for our lives. Away from God's hope. Away from God's peace. Away from being a personal beacon of God's light to a dark and broken world. Distractions are a tool to continually draw us away from God. Let that sink in.
In Philippians, 3:15-16 it says, "So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it." (MSG) Amen.
In my personal story, at the beginning of the blog, I shared that as I began to write this installment, my mind was on hamster and squirrel overload about serving God. I truly am trying to dial into God and serve and honor God; however, if I let the various possible ways of doing this service become distractions, then the evil forces have done their job. Ouch. We are most likely to be distracted when we are trying to follow God's will. Whether God's will involves writing a blog, exercising, eating healthy, changing jobs, or being kind and loving to those in your household.
Focus and attention on God require our total commitment in every act, and in every thought, for each and every day. Without the total commitment to focus and attention, even when serving God, our vision will become blurred, and we will stumble off the right track that God has for each and every one of us. There are only two choices: total commitment to focus on God or blurred vision. There can be no fence sitting.
Steps to Overcome Distractions
1. Identify what distracts you. What distracts one person may or may not distract the next. Some of you, as you read my personal story thought: "I never have hamsters or squirrels running around in my mind." No, you may not, but I bet you struggle with something I do not. Hebrews 12:1 says, "...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." (NIV) What hinders (distracts) you? Name them. Own them.
2. Initiate a distraction-free mode. This can take two forms: time and elimination. Establish time periods that are distraction free. One hour, 2 hours, or whatever you need. Label these in your mind as "distraction-free mode." During this time period you will only do _______, and then fill in the blank with a task or activity. (Daily devotionals should fall into distraction-free mode.) You may need to eliminate things, activities, or events. If you are running from activity to activity like a maniac, then let some go. Leave your phone in another room. Get rid of junk food. Turn off sounds like dings for incoming email or texts. Turn the music and television off. Start saying no.
Even Jesus engaged in distraction-free modes. Whether his focus was to work through grief (Matthew 14:1-13) or distress (Luke 22:39-44). Or when he wanted to focus on an important decision (Luke 6:12-13) or pray (Luke 5:16) Something tells me that if Jesus did this so He could focus on God and whatever was going on in His life, then maybe we should too.
3. Change your environment. If at home, find your hiding place and hide to get your quiet time alone with God or to get a task done. Close a door and tell family members you need 1 hour and not to disturb you. Going somewhere else other than your home or office/cubicle space could be helpful. Maybe you need to close your office door or put a "Do not disturb until _____ o'clock" sign on the entrance to your cubicle. Rearrange your desk in your office or cubicle so that your back is towards the entrance. Or, as one of my colleagues did years ago, he positioned a bookcase in such a way that he could not see people as they walked by his office. His door was still open but, unless you really needed him, you would not have walked around the bookcase for idle chatter. Genius. He also placed "This is NOT an Exit" sign on his door and "Do you really want to come in?" sign as well, but I do not necessarily recommend those techniques. And, in case you forgot or was unaware, Jesus was known to change His environment too. (Mark 1:35)
4. Set daily objectives. If you feel overwhelmed by tasks or life, it is easy to become distracted from what God wants for you in that day. It is much better to set a list of objectives for the day. You can have a list of tasks for the day; or things to be completed by noon and then things to be completed between 1:00-5:00. Do what works best for you. However, when setting objectives to finish, be reasonable. Some days one objective may be so complex it will take the whole day, while other objectives may be quickly worked through. It could be that you are so mentally and emotionally bruised that one simple objective is enough for the day. So be it. Do not beat yourself up. Be honest about what is required for the objective(s), examine your emotional state, and then get to work. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." (Colossians 3:23, NIV)
5. Set a time limit. When you or I have copious amounts of time, we tend think, "I have plenty of time, let me just_____." Then the blank gets filled in with 30 minutes of emails, an hour of t.v., and way too much time surfing the internet, or scrolling away on the phone. Setting a time limit helps create laser like focus and it holds you accountable.
6. Monitor your monkey mind. We all know how hard it can be to simply focus on reading one chapter from the bible, even the short ones. BBC News research and Harvard studies have shown that we can spend up to 50% of our time thinking about something other than the task or objective at hand. The idea of monkey mind comes from Buddhism and describes a mind that jumps from one idea, concept, or thought to the next just like a monkey jumps from tree to tree. Reality is, I have a monkey mind and you have a monkey mind. Therefore, we need to think about our thinking. The fancy term for this is metacognition. It is the awareness and understanding of one's own thought processes.
Start paying attention to when your mind wanders: Have you been working on a task too long and need a break? Or does you mind wander more when you are sad, mad, or glad? Or is your mind just wandering to wander? If something is directly causing your mind to wander you need to deal with that issue. No matter what causes your mind to wander, as soon as you start to notice the drift, choose to re-focus. Train yourself to shift back to what is in front of you. The more you work at it the, the longer the monkey will stay in one tree.
6. Take a sabbath day. Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word "shabbath." It means “cease,” “rest,” “complete rest,” or “desist.” I purposefully did not say remember the sabbath. Lots of people remember it but do not do it. Really people. Cease. Rest. Desist. One full day a week. Every week. By giving ourselves time to rest and recoup, it actually frees up our mind for periods of intense work and focus. I promise you that by taking one day off, you will get more work done the other six days, you will be able to focus and put your attention where it needs to be. And, you will be more in-sync with God.
I understand, as I write this, that the secular world does not care about taking a sabbath. I get it. Your job may require you to work seven days a week sometimes or on Sundays. Maybe you have a family, work, and go to school. In these situations, if you can manage a half-day sabbath, it is better than no sabbath at all. All of us need to unplug and unfocus. Remember, in the scriptures, both God and Jesus rested.
In closing, my prayer for you: "May you be blessed with ears that hear the pulse of the divine whisperer and give no heed to the many whisperings of the world." (Adapted from Thomas à Kempis)
Thanks for reading this three-part series on Attention. Come back next week as I start the month of August with a new series on: The Power of Our Voice.