“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him … But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” (Luke 10:38, 40)
I know I’m not alone when I confess that I have some serious issues when it comes to focus. For me, it can be one of two things. I’m either easily distracted by something that steers me away from what I’m doing for significant periods of time (start talking about Seattle sports or turn on a game and see what happens!), or I can focus too heavily on specific elements of a task at hand and not be as effective because I am missing important details by not seeing “the big picture.” It is a real struggle for me to consistently get between these two extremes, and be able to devote my full attention in the right places to be as fruitful as possible.
As followers of Jesus, this is what we need to be able to do amidst the constant bustle and pressures of our individual lives. Paul tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Romans 12:2) so that we can regularly sense God’s direction and call to us. Perhaps the most important revelation I received from reading Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved falls along these lines. If I allow myself to fall for temptations in the world that sway me into bad habits, then I find myself enslaved by them, and it is extremely difficult to become centered on Jesus again. I need to be able to say “NO” to those temptations, and “YES!” to Jesus and His love for me.
But this is much easier said than done. With all that we have going on around us, it is often hard to put Jesus first in our lives all the time, when we also have to deal with our job responsibilities, caring for family at home, and trying to have a little fun to unwind from all our stress. Casting all our other elements aside to be still and know that God is God, always there covering and loving us, and delighting in His presence, is not nearly as simple as it sounds and as it should be. Our human minds with their limited understanding make things harder.
Matthew 11 offers an insightful parallel. Here He both makes a promise to us and sets an example for spiritual connection. He calls us, saying, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). There are many instances where Jesus speaks in a way that tends to confuse us if we take it literally, and this is one of them. I cannot imagine many people voluntarily putting on a yoke, which would be tight to almost choking and allow their movement to be controlled by another. This simile would make following Jesus seem like becoming enslaved into a certain routine, and our human nature, valuing freedom of choice, would likely perceive that as a heavy burden, and anything but easy. But as Dutch Sheets explains in his book Roll Away Your Stone (a great guide to deeper connection with Jesus), the deeper meaning of the key word here, easy, is lost in translation. The actual meaning of the Hebrew root word, chraomai, is “to furnish what is needed”. If we see the yoke of Jesus in this way, as a needed tool providing the rest we long for, we can actually envision an easy burden and our focus changes drastically. Now we can see also how a gentle and humble approach to our lives, without putting unnecessary weight on our tasks and accomplishments, or lack thereof, can allow us to draw closer to Jesus and see our lives, and the world, as He does.
The approaching season of Lent is a great opportunity to regain or increase our focus on Jesus. Either through sacrificing something (I have given up following sports before – it was quite an adjustment!) or developing a new discipline during the season (I once tried devoting an hour each day exclusively for prayer and reading the Bible – that drastically changed my routine during the week!), we can reduce or eliminate distractions in our lives and be able to live more richly by abiding in His presence. Both practices can work. I encourage you to ask yourself: in what ways are you easily distracted from God? What areas of your life are you focused too heavily on and possibly overlooking His presence and influence? Take whatever action you feel called to out of the answers. I suspect it might actually be easier than you think.
Daniel can be reached via email here.