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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Distracted by Work

Someone I knew in college once remarked, "I wish we didn't have to get jobs and work all day. Jobs take away from Bible study time and prayer." It was meant as a joke, but it had a kernel of truth in it.  I am not saying it is bad to work and earn our keep--laziness is not described as a virtue in the Bible--but I am saying that work can sometimes be distracting.

Sometimes our present stressful circumstances, including projects and problems at work, school, or home, can so consume us and take up our focus that we have great difficulty pulling ourselves away from them when it is time to do other things, like reading the Bible or praying.  I don't know about you, but it seems that if I am going to be distracted by work-related thoughts, they will most-likely come right in the middle of my devotional time, or when I've set aside time to write a devotional.

It seems that the moment I try to shut out the world and my worries, I'm suddenly besieged with thoughts like, "oh, I just remembered," or "I meant to go check on that," or "I need to make a note about that project before I forget."  Pretty soon, an hour has passed, and nothing but more work has taken place.  I still feel stressed.  In fact, I probably feel more stressed, because I've added a feeling of personal failure on top of my list of problems to deal with.

Today, I was feeling this same kind of harried distraction when I sat down to pray and write this post.  Perhaps guided by my frustration, I decided to look up the word "distracted" in my NIV concordance.  Guess what I found?  It apparently only occurs once in this translation of the Bible, to describe Martha, when she was busily working while Mary just sat in the presence of Jesus (see Luke 10: 38-42).  The Bible says, "She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. 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!'”(Luke 10: 39, 40 NIV).

Frequently, we look at Martha and click our tongues disapprovingly, forgetting that she was like us, doing the kind of work most of us have to do at least a couple of times a day.  She was cooking dinner and making beds!  However, when Jesus rebuked Martha, I don't see a word against housekeeping. I just see a word against working at the wrong time.  It was time to pull up a chair and spend time with Him, letting all other things rot if necessary.  They could all be done later, or not at all, because the most important thing at that moment was receiving the gift Jesus had brought to the house--Himself.

When it's time to work, we should work.  However, when it's time to focus on God, we should not be doing other things.  Food rots, and a meal, even a large banquet, can only satisfy us for a few hours at the most. We all know we can fall asleep in our seats, so beds are great, but not necessary for our survival.  The point I'm making is this: daily work is transient; it forever has to be updated or repeated.  It is good, for a time and a purpose, but it isn't eternal.  The greater work is the development of our faith in Jesus Christ.

I'm sure that later, all the guests got food and a place to wash their feet and sleep while they stayed at that house.  It might have not been the well-choreographed event Martha had envisioned, but everyone went away satisfied. Why?  Because everyone received something eternal from Christ that night.  The rest of the work faded in importance.  I'm sure it got done, but the point is that it should not distract, or detract, from the more important work of knowing God.

This is a hard lesson I don't think I've learned quite yet, but awareness of the problem may be my first step toward a solution. Obsessing about work can become an addictive habit, but it doesn't have to stay that way.  Here's some solutions I think will help us focus during devotional time, and I've tried to find scriptures to back them up:
  • Shut out anything that could remind you of work while you are trying to focus on prayer and Bible reading. Turn off your computer.  If you are reading an online Bible, close all other tabs on your browser.  If you are sitting in a crowded room, move to a quiet one and shut the door. Take your example from Christ Himself, who got away from the crowds to pray. "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: 'Everyone is looking for you!' Jesus replied, 'Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.' (Mark 1: 35-38 NIV).
  • If your mind is filled with worries or fears about work during your devotional time, confess these thoughts to God. Don't try to "handle it" before you go to God, because chances are, the worries and fears will be endless if you try to defeat them yourself. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4: 6 NIV).
  •  Set aside time that is your devotional time, and keep this habit, even on busy days.  There will always be work, and there will always be time to worry about work and think about work. However, there will never be enough time to spend with God if you don't make the time. This is what Mary was doing, and what Daniel did, perhaps on his lunch hour. "Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before" (Daniel 6: 10 NIV).