The Cure for Distraction
Martha’s rebuke of her sister Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet to listen to him instead of helping Martha serve their guests, revealed that Jesus was not the in right place in Martha’s heart. And so, her soul craved the significance that came from serving.
Like Mary, when our soul is out of fellowship with Jesus, we are always craving more—which is why our radar is always on and searching for the next enticement.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the way we use our phones. Scientists say the reason many of us are so attached to our phones is that when we look at social media, a chemical is released called dopamine, the same substance that causes people to get addicted to drugs and porn and other vices.
Interestingly, dopamine pushes are actually heightened when the “hits” are smaller; thus 140-character messages seem almost designed to create a dopamine-addiction loop. (We have not confirmed whether the Twitter overlords were malicious in this regard or just lucky.) As with other addictions, we feel like we need increasingly more of it for the same “high.” This might explain why studies show that 33 percent of people regularly check their phones in the middle of the night, or why 12 percent of people check their phones while in the shower. It explains why, when you are bored and don’t know what to do, you instinctively reach for your phone. Apple now has a feature that tracks this, and most people I know who are using this have been shocked at how much time they are spending staring at their screens.
John Piper wrote a great article that gives six reasons why we are so drawn to technology first thing in the morning and at the first sign of a lull:
Novelty candy. We have FOMO (fear of missing out). We’re afraid that our friends are going to know something we don’t know. (In fact, sociologists have classified a condition where you experience a legitimate anxiety of being too separated from your phone, called “nomophobia”—i.e. “no mobile phobia.” Not kidding. Without Jesus your FOMO will lead to nomophobia. But with Jesus you’ll have NoMoFoMo.)
Ego candy. We want to know what people are saying about us, so we get on social media looking for likes and positive comments.
Entertainment candy. We want to feed on what is fascinating, weird, strange, wonderful, or shocking.
Boredom avoidance. We want to put off the day ahead, especially when it looks routine to us.
Responsibility avoidance. We want to put off the responsibilities God has given us as bosses, employees, fathers, mothers, and students.
Hardship avoidance. We want to put off dealing with relationship conflicts or the pain, disease, and disabilities in our bodies.
These are signs of an unhealthy soul that needs a hit of an entertainment or distraction drug to find satisfaction and enjoyment.
But as Christ followers, we are supposed to have such a satisfaction in knowing and doing the will of God that we are not susceptible to other cravings.
In John 4, Jesus was so focused on God’s will that he could go without food, because doing God’s will was more fulfilling to him than even eating. Can you imagine being so satisfied by doing God’s will that you weren’t even distracted by hunger, much less your phone?
Martha should have been so full of intimacy with Jesus and doing his will that she didn’t feel the need to prove herself, so she could sit when he wanted her to sit and get up and serve if and when he wanted her to do that.
The answer to Martha’s problem with distraction—no matter how seemingly good intentioned—is to get close enough to Jesus to sense the warmth of his love and know what he wants. In the Bible, getting down at someone’s feet meant you were under their authority. That means Mary is both focused and submissive.
In Mary we see the antidote to distraction. It’s not just about better phone habits. It’s about getting focused and submissive.
Don’t just sit through an occasional sermon and equate that with sitting at Jesus’ feet. That’s not close enough! Sitting at Jesus’ feet means devoted, personal time where you pay attention to him and his Word.
And when you do that, the problem of busyness will start to dissolve. First, you’ll feel the warmth of Jesus’ love and won’t feel the burden of always trying to prove yourself or trying to carry the weight all by yourself. Second, because you’ll be more in touch with his Spirit, you’ll be more aware when something is not a distraction but a divine interruption.
Martin Luther used to say that on his busiest days, he had to get up even earlier to spend more time with God. The busier the day, the more he knew he needed to walk with God through that busyness, lest it destroy him.
Don’t let the distractions of today destroy the peace and satisfaction that come from sitting and learning and resting at the feet of Jesus.
J.D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Pastor J.D. Greear has authored several books, including Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems, Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send (2015), Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011), Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013), and Jesus, Continued … Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better Than Jesus Beside You (2014).
Pastor J.D. completed his Ph.D. in Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, writing on the correlations between early church presentations of the gospel and Islamic theology. Seeing Muslims come to faith in Christ has long been a burden of his, a burden that led him to serve in Southeast Asia with the International Mission Board.
Pastor J.D. is currently serving as the 62nd president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Pastor J.D. and his wife Veronica live in Raleigh. Together they are raising four ridiculously cute kids: Kharis, Alethia, Ryah, and Adon.