What Good Things Are Keeping You From Essential Things?
Though the concept is used in multiple places, there is only one passage in the Bible where the word “distraction” is actually used:
While they were traveling, he [Jesus] entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So, tell her to give me a hand.” The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42 CSB)
What Martha was doing—serving and taking care of people—was not bad. She was even using her spiritual gifts. Jesus’s gentle rebuke of her was that she had let many good things keep her from the one essential thing.
In Martha’s case, it was a foolish trade. Imagine if you asked Martha a year from then, “What was your time with Jesus like?” What would she say? “Well, I don’t remember much. I was in the back room cooking and cleaning …” But if you asked Mary, she’d say, “Oh, let me tell you. Jesus said this … then he explained that … And I saw this about myself …”
Mary took advantage of something she only had access to once—something that could never be taken away from her.
That’s almost always how distraction works. Like Martha, you trade something that you only get one shot at for a bunch of things that, in the scheme of life, aren’t that important.
Life is short. Tweets and Insta stories and Facebook posts are always there, blathering on. But this moment you are in—that person in front of you—you only get one shot at it.
I love how John Maxwell says it: “It’s hard to overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” Everyone’s got an agenda for you. It is a tragedy when you let the unimportant agendas of social media or professional marketers keep you from the few things you can’t ever get back.
Missionary and martyr Jim Elliot once wrote in his journal, “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” Be all there. That’s the opposite motto of distraction. But it’s the key to making your moments count.
So, when you’re working, be all there. In Colossians 3:23, the Apostle Paul explains, “Work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (ESV). Make every moment an offering to God. Don’t try to distract away the day.
When you’re worshipping, be all there. Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 14 that when you gather with the people of God, everybody should come expecting to hear from God and ready to share.
When you are with a group of friends, be all there. Isn’t it disheartening (and dishearteningly common) to see a group of people sitting with all their friends, and every one of them is looking at their phone? Your friends are right in front of you. Just be there with them!
When you are in a meeting, be all there. Don’t sit there with your email open and your phone out. Author Tony Reinke says, “If I come into an appointment and I take my phone out and put it on the table, I am saying that I am engaged for the moment, but ready to disengage if something more interesting comes along. And if my phone is in my hand, and I am responding to texts and scrolling social media, I project open dismissiveness, because dividing attention is a typical expression of disdain.”
In times of rest and solitude, be all there as well. God has a purpose in solitude and silence; they are times we are supposed to unplug and rest and trust God to guard the city.
Whatever situation God has you in, be all there. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (NIV). You can only give it your all when you keep the good things from distracting you from the most important things.
J.D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Pastor J.D. is currently serving as the 62nd president of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article is shared with direct permission from the author.