(notifications through this? Checking my phone through this?) Well, good morning. We are in week two of our sermon series called “travel light” and we’re talking about how sometimes the things we carry around with us.. things that are weighing us down… they’re not things that have to weigh us down anymore. Last week we talked about how for some of us, our stuff is weighing us down. We have felt like the stuff we accumulate will bring us joy or fulfillment or satisfaction, but the truth is, our stuff never does that for us. So we were invited to dump some stuff and do something better the space in our lives.
This week, we’re talking about something that is near and dear to my heart because this sermon is the message I need to hear for myself… something that I am bogged down by at differing levels in different seasons, but recently, if I’m being honest… I’ve been in a rut. Today, we’re talking about eliminating the mental clutter… letting go of distractions.
I hope this isn’t just me, but sometimes, it is just hard to focus. It’s hard to fix our minds on one thing because our minds tend to go on road trips of their own. Even sitting here on a Sunday morning, there are lots of other things to think about. What are we gonna eat for lunch? What’s the weather going to be like? Why is that person acting that way? When is this sermon gonna be over? Can I get an amen? DO NOT SAY AMEN.
It’s not just church. Anywhere we go we can be distracted. Work, the gym, doing our favorite hobbies, spending time with our family. We can be distracted anywhere.
What I’ve come to know about distraction is that ANYTHING CAN BE A DISTRACTION.
It’s a fight to focus and so today we’re gonna talk about letting go of the distractions that can destroy you… cleaning up some of the mental clutter that weighs us down… cause when we clean up our mental clutter, we can make room to hear God’s voice and experience abundant life with Christ.
Do you know that our enemy… every force in hell is trying to discourage you and get you disengaged from God and keep you from living the way that matters most. Nothing pleases the enemy more than spiritual apathy or disconnection from God or tension in a marriage or brokenness between parents and their children.
But the devil doesn’t need to destroy you if he can distract you. Because once you’re distracted, you’ll destroy yourself.
C.S. Lewis wrote a book called the Screwtape Letters, and it’s letters from a veteran demon (Screwtape) who is mentoring his younger nephew (Wormwood) to become a great demon. And here’s what Screwtape says about distraction:
“You will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. …You can make him do nothing at all for long periods.”
I’ll say it again: The devil doesn’t need to destroy you if he can distract you. Because once you’re distracted, you’ll destroy yourself.
There’s this great story of Jesus in the gospel of Luke that demonstrates Jesus’ response to a distracted person. It’s the story of Martha, who opened her home to host Jesus and his disciples while they were in town… and she had a sister named Mary. And here’s what it says:
Luke 10:38-42 – 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.
Let’s be honest… If Jesus came into my house… I’d want everything to be just right. I’d want the table to be set with the best china and silver we own… I’d want the casserole to be taken out of the oven at just the right time… I would never want his water to run out and I wouldn’t want him to have to get up… Maybe Martha wanted the shower curtain to match the towels… I don’t know what she was thinking about. But it’s Jesus… I don’t blame Martha one bit at all for being distracted… but that’s the story we’re reading… Marth was distracted by the preparations.
She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha, martha… you are worried and upset about many things… but few are needed… you know, it’s funny… martha’s portrayed in a bad light. If I’m being honest, most of the time when I’m distracted from the few things that are needed, it’s not by being a good host.
For many of us, being distracted starts with a ding or a buzz. Oh, who’s the message from. Did somebody like my post on facebook? Did someone DM me on Instagram? Oh shoot, we have swimming, dance, soccer… what’re we having for dinner? Gotta add that to the grocery list… funny cat video!
Or it starts with pushing power on a remote control and dialing in our favorite TV show. And then the next one just starts before we can turn it off so we go grab a bag of chips and buckle in for the rest of the night. Sometimes we’re distracted by things that really don’t matter, like SM and TV…
But in this encounter, Martha is doing something that seems good, right? If everyone at your family Christmas celebration was like mary, it’d be sad, wouldn’t it? The bills wouldn’t have been paid so there would be no heat… no preparations would’ve been made so there would be no food. And no Christmas tree would be up and there would certainly be no presents.
Sometimes we’re distracted by worry and concern and even worthless things… but sometimes we’re like Martha… what we see with Martha is that Martha wasn’t distracted by something BAD or WRONG, she was doing something good… but in doing the good, Martha was neglecting… the best. She was neglecting Jesus.
And so often that’s what it looks like in our distraction… The most difficult choices aren’t between good and bad, but between good and best.
See… the devil doesn’t need to destroy you if he can distract you. Cause if he can distract you, you’ll destroy yourself. Cause when we become distracted from engaging with our God… when we become distracted from building his kingdom here on earth by living the life he calls us to live and demonstrating love to a broken world… we’ve become neutralized. And nothing pleases the enemy more than to neutralize us.
God wants us to choose what is best… because when we choose God’s way, we experience the life we’ve always wanted. Choosing God’s way means choosing the things that matter and the things that last… Cause I don’t know about you, but I’ve never neglected my time in God’s Word to check my email and thought… man, I’m so glad I did that… I’ve never ignored my kids to scroll social media and thought, man… dad of the year.
The devil doesn’t need to destroy you, if he can distract you.
I’m gonna give you three thoughts today that we find in Scripture that will give us a path to choose the things that are best.
The first one is this… Diminish the Distractions. I want to keep myself away from the things that would cause me to be tempted to neglect what is best.
Solomon, in the book of Proverbs 5:8 (NLT) says this about an immoral woman that might distract us from choosing the best… Stay away from her! Don’t go near the door of her house!
Solomon is dropping some important wisdom on us about the things that distract us from the best things. Don’t even go near it! Don’t go to the woman’s house to deliver something… don’t go inside to have dinner with her… don’t take her any presents. Don’t play truth or dare on her front porch… STAY AWAY FROM HER! Don’t get close to her… cause when we stay away, we’re eliminating the distraction before it even has the opportunity to pull us under.
I was interested this week in what distracts different generations of people. I know what it is for me… my cell phone… social media… emails… texts… I don’t really get distracted by TV. It’s mostly my cell phone. Ding ding ding. It’s all vying for our attention. There’s email to check. Posts to see on social media. News stories happening every second… information to be learned.
I kind of assumed that video games, cell phones, and social media are the major distractions for millennials and gen z. But what about boomers? And then I found this in an article by the AARP, based on a study they did. Here’s what they found:
“Most boomers (55 percent) say they check any notification within a minute of receiving it”… that means texts, news alerts, emails, social media posts, cat videos. Anything and everything. 55% check within a minute.
“Nearly a third (31 percent) say that they often pick up their smartphones only to forget what they intended to do because they’re distracted by notifications. And 24 percent say they can’t fall asleep at night knowing that they have notifications still waiting unread.”
Cell phones are a huge distraction for us? Are they bad? No, they’re not inherently bad… But I hope we can all agree that they’re bad if they’re keeping us from the few things that matter most, right? Relationships… loving people… and spending time with God?
The average person picks up their phone every 12 minutes. The average person spends over 2 hours per day on social media. Click, scoll… scroll.. .watch cat video… scroll. That doesn’t even count the amount of time on News, emails, texts, games, and Netflix binging! Now don’t hear me wrong here. I’m not saying social media is bad. I love social media. It’s a place to connect with people we love… it’s a place we can bring laughter to one another… it’s a place we can share Christ with our friends… and it’s a place we can have healthy dialogue about politics… hahahaha!
but if you wonder why you’re not as productive as you should be… if you wonder why your relationships aren’t as intimate as they could be… if you wonder why your relationship with God isn’t where you want it to be… take a hard look at how much time you waste on things in your life that have very little value… like your cell phone, television, social media…
And heed to warning of Solomon… Stay away from her! Don’t go near the door of her house!
Do whatever it takes! If you’re addicted to TV, maybe you literally need to cancel Netflix or cable for a while. Maybe you need to turn off all your notifications on your phone or turn your phone off when you spend time with people or your family. Maybe you need to delete distracting apps. Maybe people you work with love to talk… and maybe you need a good pair of noise cancelling headphones to help you focus. Maybe… I don’t want to sound all crazy… but maybe you need to leave the phone behind *gasp*
Why resist a temptation tomorrow that you have the power to eliminate today.
I don’t know what distraction you need to do to diminish. But my guess is, you do. And you can figure out how to diminish them, cause here’s the thing… you are too valuable and God is too good to waste your life on bad distractions like your phone and social media and television. “Martha Martha… You’re distracted by many things, but only few things are needed…”
Anything that consistently distracts us, we need to diminish. And by doing so we can choose the best things in life.
The second thing we need to do to choose the best things is to ask God to give us the strength to Focus on the Important.
Again, in Proverbs, Solomon says it like this: Proverbs 4:25 – “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.” The Passion Translation says it like this: “With fixed purpose, looking straight ahead, ignore life’s distractions.”
That language reminds me of when Jesus was walking on water and Peter asked if he could come out, too. Matthew 14:25-30 it says this: “Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!””
Peter is walking on water! He knows there is no way he’s doing it on his own. The only way he’s doing it is because of the power of God in the person of Jesus, and yet he gets distracted by the wind. And when he gets distracted, he starts to sink.
But had he kept his eyes on Jesus… on the one thing that mattered… I think he would’ve been fine. But he didn’t focus on Jesus, he got distracted.
If we want to choose the best things and live into the mission of God and be connected to God, we’ve got to focus on the important.
Focusing on the important is a classic leadership skill, too. Go to any conference or read any book and they’ll tell you the same thing: If you want to be accomplish your goals.. if you want to become who you desire to become… do more of what matters and less of what doesn’t.
For many of us this means learning to say… no. Family, friends, coworkers, coaches, community organizations, and if we’re honest, the church… ask us to do more and more and more… and all of the things are good things, right!
Let’s practice saying no: 1, 2, 3 – NO!
Can you come over to my house and clean up my 15 litter boxes for my 75 cats, please?
Can you please leave your car windows open in the next torrential down pour for me?
Can I please burn down your house?
Feels good to say no, right?
I remember when my wife and I first got married and we thought it was important to make everyone in our families happy… so when we got invited to two Christmases and two Thanksgivings… we did 2! And each one of them were good… but by saying yes to those things, we said no to time together… we said no to quality time with either family… we said no to being refreshed because we were running around from place to place and we didn’t do anything the right way. We were focused on the wrong thing.
What’s important to us isn’t making everyone happy. It’s important that we have a strong relationship with each other, with our kids, and with our families. So now, we don’t say yes to every holiday invitation… we say no. And by doing so, we’re focusing on what’s important.
Some of you have said yes to so many things that you’re not enjoying any of them… and you’re not becoming the man or woman of God you want to become… and you don’t have time grow closer to the people around you… and you’re tired… And you’re miserable.
Maybe it’s time to say no to some good things to say yes to the best things. And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… if you quit your job tomorrow… or quit your volunteer role tomorrow… they will replace you in a day. But no one else can be your kids dad. Or mom. No one else can have a relationship with God FOR you.
If you want grow closer to your spouse or your kids… turn your phone off when you get home and look at them and talk to them.
If you want to grow closer to God, turn off the TV and look at him.
In October, we talked about how as Christians we should be deepening and developing our relationship with God, the Church, and the World.
Jesus had a personal relationship with God, a relationship with the people of God, and a relationship with people who don’t know God yet. And we broke down each relationship into 5 rhythms, or patterns of living… and about 250 of you did a self-assessment and went through a small groups where we dove deeper into those rhythms. And my guess is that you found one rhythm you wanted to grow in.
But unless you did something to intentionally focus on that thing, you may find yourself in the same place you did a month ago.
One that I wanted to grow in was generosity. I’ve always been a scheduled giver, but I haven’t been a spontaneous giver. So my wife, Bethany and I added into our budget a set amount of money that we would give away when an opportunity presented itself. And by doing that, it helped us focus on what’s important to become the people we wanted to become.
If you want to grow in your connection with God, set a time of the day and say no to everything else so that you prioritize spending time with God in praying or reading the Bible.
If you want to grow in the rhythm of engaging with unchurched people about Jesus… then every single day you start your day by praying that God gives you the eyes to see the people in front of you.
If you want to grow in Christian community, you need to diminish the distraction and join a small group.
Cause in order to focus on the important, we need to diminish the distraction and say no to something else. Those other things might be good, but by saying no, we’re saying yes to what’s best..
Diminish the Distractions. Focus on the Important.
And finally, if we want to choose the best things God has for us, we need to listen to the voice of God.
We’re not doing this on our own, friends. We’re walking in this with our, heavenly Father. We don’t say yes to God’s best so that God will love us, we say yes to God’s best BECAUSE God loves us. The distractions we face don’t keep us from doing good things… they keep us from being with the One who is good.
While we diminish the distractions and focus on the important, we can never lose sight of the invitation we have to listen to the voice of God.
The Bible tells us that God wants to speak to us… refresh us… lead us… restore our souls… care for us… prompt us… correct us… nudge us… guide us…
One of the things we have to prioritize in our life as followers of Jesus is listening to God’s voice.
When my son Nathanael was very young, God whispered to me in a way that changed my perspective as a father and as a man, too. Nathanael just finished filling up his diaper and I was changing him, and he was all wiggly and I was getting frustrated and upset that he wouldn’t cooperate… if he just knew that what I wanted him to do was best for him… if he just knew how gross it was to be sitting in a dirty diaper… I just want to love him… and I heard this, David… sometimes you’re all wiggly… and you won’t cooperate… and you don’t do the things that are best for you… but I haven’t given up on you… And in that moment with my son and that quiet whisper from God, I understood his grace and patience for me in a new way… and my patience as a father grew…
My friends, we can’t hear God’s voice and we can’t focus on the best things when our minds are filled with clutter… we’re invited by our God to diminish the distractions in our lives to experience all that God has for us. Your life is too valuable… and your calling by God is too great… and God is too good to waste your life being distracted.
Travel Light – Letting Go Of Distractions
As you light a candle at your home or see the candles in your windows at night, reflect on these questions:
- What distractions do I need to diminish that keep me from the best things?
- What important things do I need to focus on in my life that often get neglected?
- What can I do this week to listen to God’s voice?
Steps we can take to travel light:
1. Diminish the Distraction: Think through your past week and discern what is a distraction for you. Does the distraction need to be diminished or eliminated? Figure out a way to diminish it, even if only for a season to reset yourself.
2.Focus on the Important:Think about what you do during the day that helps you feel more connected to people, the mission of God, and God himself. Figure out what you need to say no to in order to say yes to more of those things.
3. Listen to God: Create space to listen to God.
- Read Scripture
- Listen to a song that talks of the goodness of God
- Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and listen for God in silence.
- Go to contemplative.org and learn about and practice a new contemplative practice.
- Carve out your Sunday mornings to worship God with the church community.