A few summers ago, my wife and I took a camping trip to the Grand Tetons — perhaps the West’s most captivating, and captured, peaks. Each morning held a new forest hike or a view of thundering waterfalls. We relished the refreshment we found outside the city.
Some reluctant trail travelers didn’t share our perspective. One afternoon when we hiked up to a point overlooking Jenny Lake, we noticed a teenager sitting on a rock engrossed in his Game Boy. Surrounded by unrivaled grandeur, he could find nothing better to do than play a video game.
I thought it sad that he should miss the breathtaking scenery on what might be his only trip to Wyoming’s playground. Perhaps he found the hiking demanding, nature’s silence deafening, or his parents’ summer vacation plan boring. Whatever it was, he was missing out on a place well named, a place that was truly grand.
Ironically, the teenager’s gaming had distracted me from the scenery. That’s when I began to identify with him, not because I suddenly itched for a Game Boy, but because I realized how easily distractions capture my attention. I saw in him a picture of my own Christian walk, that when it comes to loving the Triune God — gazing at and being transformed by the most beautiful One — I tend to pull out my Game Boy too.
When I first moved to Dallas, Texas to attend seminary, I dove into a world filled with talk of God. Books, papers, Bible readings, lectures, chapels — all helped me get a better grasp of His character and activity.
Yet even in seminary distractions vied for my attention. I worried about paying for education and giving enough time to my family. Academic pressure to master the Greek verb system and write stimulating papers on topics such as soteriology weighed on my mind. I spent hours studying the details of the Abrahamic Covenant, but forgot the point of my investigation — the God who guided Abraham and now guides me.
It’s not that work, family, Greek, and God’s covenant with Abraham are worthless. God uses all of these to accomplish His purpose in us. The problem arises when I put these everyday realities on center stage, blocking my view of the great I AM.
Entertaining distractions can result in spiritual disaster. They take my central focus off God and put it on something else that distorts my view of reality and threatens my stability in Christ. When I don’t have a right view of God, I’m at risk of committing frivolous sin, rejecting vital Christian beliefs, or living a frustrated existence without God’s peace.
And losing focus doesn’t happen only to mediocre Christians. It happened even to the prophet Elijah.
Elijah stood like stone before the servants of Baal on Mount Carmel, mocking their wood-carven god as they cut themselves with swords and lances “until the blood gushed out upon them” — their attempt at convincing Baal to accept their sacrifice (1 Kings 18:28). Baal never answered. Elijah then drenched his altar and prayed to the God of Israel. Immediately God consumed the sacrifice and made a fool out of the fake Baal.
But shortly after this monumental victory, Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life, and Elijah, being the bold man of God that he was — well, yes, he fled for his life. He journeyed into the wilderness and became so distressed, he “asked that he might die” (1 Kings 19:4). Even in the wake of great success, fear distracted the prophet from the Lord’s power and purpose.
Elijah had stopped seeing God at the center of his dilemma. He focused instead on the danger threatening his life. The apostle Peter did the same thing (Matt. 14:22-33). After walking out of the boat toward Jesus on the water, he looked away from Christ and focused instead on the surrounding storm. That’s when he started sinking.
Fear is one of many distractions that take our focus off God. The pursuit of success can also divert our attention. How often does climbing the proverbial corporate ladder replace love of Christ with love of money? And “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils,” a devastating distraction (1 Tim. 6:10).
Another distraction — and I hate to admit this one! — is entertainment. Often a relaxed evening watching a good film gives me just the downtime I need. But can movies and music subvert silence in God’s presence? An addiction to 24 may distract us from loving Christ. I don’t mean to disparage story and song because these artistic forms can help us see God’s grace and activity more sharply, but we must discern when entertainment stops nurturing us and starts dulling our sensitivity to the Lord.
With all the distractions knocking at our door — fears, greenback addictions, online pop-ups, highway billboards, commercials, phone calls, relationship yearnings — we need to discipline ourselves to center our perspective on the Triune God. We need to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” and instead “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
One thing God did in response to Elijah’s distraction was reveal Himself to Elijah through a whisper in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:9-18, esp. 12-13). He refocused Elijah’s mind on God as his Master and his hope. Likewise, after Jesus rescued Peter, He questioned his faith, his focus on God (Matt. 14:31). He challenged him to believe not his fears, but the power of God. And getting steady doses of a God-centered view like what God gave Elijah and Peter is really central to living out the Christian life. Filling our eyes with the Lord and being enraptured by His beauty gives perspective when distractions flash.
Every moment spent enduring the media barrage of political bashing, stock options, and slinky Hollywood heroines needs to be combated with reminders of who we are in Christ and why we walk this earth. If you want to weather distractions, learn to daily drink at Christ’s well of living water. Spiritual disciplines, such as Bible study and prayer, are an ordained way to keep the Game Boy out of our hands when we need to gaze at Christ. (For more on spiritual disciplines, check out Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines.)
Here are some additional ideas for keeping our eyes on Christ. Physical activity not only keeps us healthy, it also refreshes the mind and spirit. Taking a quiet walk or a brisk jog in a park removes us from the pressures of life and gives us moments to reflect alone with the Lord.
Also, reading Scripture in chunks saturates our minds with God’s perspective. Detailed Bible study is essential, but reading long segments also helps us grasp the large picture of God’s character and work. Consider reading through the book of John in one sitting to renew your mind with the words of Christ.
Practicing sacrifice is another great way to shift our view from the distractions of life to the beauty of Christ. Have you considered visiting a nearby orphanage or nursing home — just sitting and talking with those who are lonely? Or teaching children about Christ’s love? Or serving meals at your local rescue mission? Such activities can center our minds on imitating the excellent grace Jesus showed us.
Distractions surround us, inviting us to bum around on boulders playing video games, blind to the towering peaks. But there’s a God who permeates this distraction-filled world. He’s manifesting Himself and His goodness, justice, love, and mercy every day, though sometimes as subtly as a whisper. It takes discipline to stay focused. Don’t miss the view.
Copyright 2007 David Barshinger. All rights reserved.