The Spiritual Dangers of Unchecked DistractionsSeries: Technology and the Christian
The world would be an untamed, chaotic, unsafe place if humans did not work fruitfully, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. There is no doubt in my mind that technology-whether a shovel or a phone-gives us tools that can better our ability to do this. And yet, if we do not use tools with wisdom and awareness, these tools can actually become burdensome idols that manipulate and control us. If we do not use technology mindfully, we can face many unintended consequences.
One of the biggest unintended consequences being talked about by both believers and unbelievers is distraction. Constant inundation to constantly flashing, updating, and changing screens is harming our ability to focus and think about deeper things for extended periods of time. Considering what Isaiah says about people who find his message too challenging to read and understand, that should seriously catch our attention. we talked in depth about this problem in the spring. But consider what Paul says in Ephesians 5:15-16. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15–16)
This morning I want to leave behind the challenge of being distracted in particular moments so we can look at scriptures-that warn us of what can happen when our lives are distracted by things that aren't always inherently wrong. I want us to think about how to make the best use of our time. Though this will help us think more carefully about the time we spend looking at screens, my hope is that these passages will help us think about our whole lives: how we use of time and whether our lives are focused on the one necessary thing.
We will look at four passages that speak of the dangers of unchecked distractions, and then we will reflect on the challenge of living focused lives that make the best use of our time. Note, this sermon was inspired by Christian author Tony Reinke's book, “12 Ways Your Phone Is changing You."
1. Unchecked Distractions Make the Gospel Unfruitful in Us (Mt. 13:7, 22)
“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” (Matt. 13:7 ESV) “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matt. 13:22 ESV)
The good news about God's Kingdom was being proclaimed. For thousands of years, promises had been made about what God's Kingdom was going to do. Angels, kings, prophets, and faithful longed to understand and see the fulfillment of what was promised. And now the biggest news this world could ever hear was being preached, and only a few people were really listening and understanding and doing anything about it.
Why? Jesus says let me illustrate with a common picture from what you see every day in the agricultural world. You throw seed on the ground and your plant starts coming up, but so do weeds and thorns all around it. The plant remains, but the thorns choke it so that it cannot bear any fruit. For many, that's exactly what's happening with them and the gospel. They hear the biggest news this world has ever heard and they are given the opportunity to participate in it and in bearing the righteous fruit we were made to bear, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful.
Cares and concerns. That sounds like the American life in the digital age of information. We are constantly inundated with a barrage of information and updates and research. Here's how to eat better, sleep better, exercise better. Here's what's going on in the Middle East and Inner Mongolia and Russia and the White House. You might be ruining your child forever if you fail to do this one crucial thing. The economy is good, no it's bad, no it's good. Click here if you want to see the 20 cutest cats in the world. The roof is leaking, there is mold in the closet, the laundry needs to be done, the lawn mowed, and the kids taken to their activities. Homework needs to get done and you need to get to work earlier tomorrow. You need to enroll in better health insurance and you're not saving enough for retirement. And oh, if you only had more money, all these problems would go away. I need to work more, I need a newer car, I need a bigger house and better phone. So much that seems urgent and important. All the while Jesus proclaims a Kingdom and an age to come where none of those caves will matter. But these things are thorns that choke us. We have little energy to listen, and certainly not enough to do anything about what little we hear. Unchecked cares, distractions, and the deception that money will solve it all and make us happy-these make Jesus' death, resurrection, and the reality of the Kingdom mean little to nothing in our lives.
2. Unchecked Distractions Cause Us to Forget about Judgment (Lk. 21:34-36)
Luke 21:34–36 ESV, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
There is no doubt that sinful living and drunkenness can weigh us down and cause us to forget the coming judgment, but Jesus refers again to the cares of this life. They can weigh us down so that the final day comes upon us suddenly like a trap. In Luke 17 Jesus warned that his coming would be like the day of the flood and the day fire rained down on Sodom-a day like any other. People are marrying, eating, drinking, buying, and selling. They were weighed down with the mundane every day cares of this life, and that day came like a trap, and there was no escape. You might say, "But won't it be sudden like a thief in the night for everyone?" In the timing, sure. But the key will be whether the timing will end up being a welcome surprise we have been anticipating each day, or a terrible shock that catches us off-guard and makes us sick to our stomachs. That day won't feel like that for those weighed down by sin alone, but also to those who knew, but stopped anticipating the day eagerly, became weighed down with the concerns and canes of this age and this world. Unchecked distractions cause us to forget about judgment.’
3. Unchecked Distractions Cause Us to Divide Our Commitment (1 Cor. 7:32-35)
The first two texts should wake us up, but these next two texts should blind our eyes with light. “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:32-35 ESV)
At some point, I would like to give this text and its context fuller treatment, but I want you to notice a simple principle from this text: Paul is trying to ensure the Corinthians’ undivided devotion to the Lord. What could possibly cause the Corinthians to have divided interests? What could possibly distract them from being anxious about the Lord's cause? Their marriages. And Paul will urge later in this chapter that marriage should only be "in the Lord,” so he's not even saying that marriage to an unbeliever might distract us. He's just talking about marriage in general.
He's not saying someone can't get married, he's saying he doesn't recommend it and to only enter if you must with great caution. This must be confusing. God created marriage. Marriage is good, right? Yes and yes! In fact, one of the ways we show we trust and love the Lord is by how we love and respect and care for our spouse. And yet, though marriage is a gift of God that has spiritual responsibilities and implications, notice how Paul says concern about how to please our spouse is a worldly thing (vs. 33-34). Marriage is a wonderful gift of God that requires attention and care, but marriage doesn't outlast death and will not be restored in the resurrection. It is of this age and this world, not the age or world to come. Unchecked distractions - even our marriages-can cause us to lose our commitment.
4. Unchecked distractions close off communion with God (Luke 10:38-42).
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered 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.” (Luke 10:38–42 ESV)
Luke just finished telling us the parable of the Good Samaritan which emphasizes the need to show neighborly love and so fulfill the law of God. I believe this account shows us a dear woman anxiously toiling to fulfill this law in a way that distracts her from the first command- "You shall love the Lord your God..." Jesus has no home - he's traveling to Jerusalem. Martha graciously invites him into her home. Mary sits at his feet listening to his teaching while Martha is distracted with much serving. I imagine she may have been cooking for this crowd that came her way. Doesn't that blow your mind? Serving — a command of God — is spoken of as a distraction in this text.
"One thing is necessary. "that strikes me. So many things are urgent and even important and even commanded by God. we talk so much about what we need: what we need to do, to eat, places we need to be, people we need, things we need to buy, and even commands of God we need to obey. But, really, just one thing is necessary.
Don't misunderstand Jesus. If we say we love God and we do not love those made in his image, we are a liar and the love of God is not in us. But if we" love" and serve his people and are distracted from their God, we have missed the boat. One thing is necessary. Mary chose the better portion — she chose to sit at the Lord's feet to listen to his teaching-and that will not be taken from her. In all our busyness and even service, are we humbly sitting down to quietly receive and enjoy the better portion?
If things as noble as loving our spouse and showing hospitality can distract us from the one necessary thing, how might unchecked commitments like school, sports, and hobbies affect our focus? If obedience to God's commands can distract us from the most imp, how might unchecked digital distractions and "commitments" be affecting our focus? Sometimes I fear we are distracted from fellowship with God and blinded to the gospel by far less important things than pleasing our spouse or using our gifts and opportunities to serve others. And if our distractions are unchecked and far less noble, not only will we find ourselves leaving behind the one necessary thing, we may find we are even so distracted that we don't give our marriages or the serving of others proper time either.
Why is it so challenging to remain focused?
We live in a scientific age that seeks out uniform black and white answers. We do this with our health-and fortunately, that's pretty innocent. There is no specific provable study that says a lot of soda, energy drinks, processed food, and desserts will give us cancer or cause a heart attack, and so society at large says, “I’ll eat as much of that as I want - it's legal, what's stopping me?" This was the mindset of the Corinthians when it came to spiritual matters. When the Corinthians considered their lives, their default question was, “Is it lawful?" And for that reason they were fools and their church was a mess. Notice how Paul teaches them to think. “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.” “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.” (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23)
When it came to how they were taking one another to court, eating food, and thinking of sexual relations, they thought, "All things are lawful for me," but Paul thought, "Yeah, but all things aren't helpful."
In the same way, it is challenging for us to not become distracted from the gospel, from judgment, from commitment and communion with God because our modern world has a lot that flashes that is not inherently wrong and most of us have enough free time and money to enjoy a lot of it. It's hard because we are raised in a world and church that — when it comes to partaking in these things — rarely teaches us to ask anything more than, "Is it lawful?" And so we fill our lives with lawful things that aren't inherently wrong and we become distracted from what is truly necessary.
We need to ask," what is lawful?" But we also need to ask, "What is helpful? What builds up? Will this dominate me? What is wise? What is best?" When we buy a home, a car, a phone, choose a job, choose a spouse, choose where to live, we need to ask, "What should we do?" Not, "What can we do?" Biblical fools only ask, "Can I afford it?" But the wise ask, "Should I buy this?"
Note how Paul addresses how we think about time from the same perspective. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15–16 ESV) Biblical fools only ask, "Do we have enough time?" But the wise ask," Considering how evil the days are, considering what is most important, considering how easily we can be distracted, is this the best use of our time?"
God has recently forced us to ask ourselves, "Do we want to keep wasting so much of our lives in front of a screen?" Watching shows and movies or looking at our phones - these aren't inherently wrong things. In the right place they can be blessings. But let me be the first to admit that they haven't been in the right place for me. I keep spending hours upon hours and years upon years doing things that "aren't inherently wrong." I'm "not inherently wrong"-ing myself to distraction and death. And it keeps me from a meaningful prayer life, meaningful meditation, meaningful connections with you and unbelievers, and from our God.
I keep trying to hold onto as many of my LED loves that entertain me while at the same time trying to live a purposeful life, and I'm not finding both goals to be possible. I'm loving one master and hating the other.
I don't want to wake up at 60 or 70 or 80 years old continuing to feel out of balance and guilty and full of regret for how much of my life I have given to a screen. I'm tired of how my fingers continually twitch for a phone or remote. I'm tired of my eyes, mind, and body being hijacked by screens. I want Christ to live in me, not the energy of something else.
When Israel left their harsh slave master in Egypt, God told them to rest on the 7th day. But you know how they heard that command? God offered rest, but they only saw a burden. I used to — and still do at times — read Ephesians 5:15-16 as a burden. But every time I cut some distraction from my life to make better use of my time, I keep finding that-though it is hard-my joy in the Lord increases.
In our group meetings today, let's ask, "How can we practically remove distractions from our lives to focus on what is most important?" share Scripture, wisdom, and experience. Based on our experience, we have found a few things to be helpful.
1. Give friends and family clearance to call us out.
2. Be humble - perfection hasn't been attained yet. Keep course correcting.
3. Media fasts are very helpful.
4. Cut off your hand, pluck out your eye. Sell all.