Our enemy the Devil is busy striving to deceive and destroy as many souls as he can before time ends, and he has many devices at his disposal to achieve his goals. Again, as a reminder, Paul noted that we disciples should behave in a particular way so as to not give the Devil an opportunity to succeed, for “we are not ignorant of his devices” (2nd Cor. 2:11). The Devil has many ways he will try to tempt us and lead us astray or simply delay our interest and/or obedience to God’s will, and the more we know about how he operates, the better prepared we will be to ensure we are able to  recognize his work and  defeat his efforts.
- Another ways he finds success in hindering men from obedience to the gospel – or hindering those who have already obeyed – is by various distractions. It is painfully clear that the modern world is full of distractions, with new ones invented almost daily to draw our attention away from the important things, entertain us, and make us comfortable. We can be distracted from spiritual matters from the moment we wake up until we go to bed at night, and we often have to deal with things that distract us from our distractions! But, as we probably know, Distractions are dangerous. The National Highways Transportation Safety Administration [NHTSA] recommends a ban on the use of electronic devices while driving because their use is simply too distracting to a driver and there have been far too many crashes attributed to drivers trying to use these devices while driving. The recently-emphasized term “distracted driving” has come to light as a danger more widespread than impaired driving. Can you imagine the dangers of someone trying to live a spiritual life that is distracted?
- Today, I want to look at our spiritual enemy and adversary, the Devil, and one of his devices through which he prevents some from ever obeying the gospel and by which he also leads men astray who have already obeyed. In today’s lesson – and in all the following lessons in this series – we will consider the particular device of our enemy, what it is, how it is used and/or demonstrated, its effects on us and others, and how to defeat this particular device. Brethren, we need to know how our enemy operates and what he uses but, more than that, we need to know how to defeat him and frustrate his efforts! Let’s look…
- THE DEVIL’S DEVICE: DISTRACTIONS
- Defined. To properly understand this device, or weapon, of our enemy, we must properly understand just what it is and how it operates and what will result when he is successful in its use; but we must begin with how it is defined:
- Drawing Away or Diverting Our Attention. The common definition of distraction is a drawing away, or diverting attention away. Peter warned against false teachers who would come in among brethren and divert their attention by deception (2nd Pet. 2:1-3), distracting believers from the truth. Paul warned the brethren at Rome against some who would “by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:18) and lead them astray; he also warned the elders at Ephesus of some who would come from among them and “draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:30). In each of these cases, there is a distraction, or drawing away, of men from the truth and into error.
- Preventing Focus and Concentration; Division of Attention. A further definition of distraction is that of a division of attention; something that prevents concentration or focus. In simple terms, it is something that may not take away our attention fully, but causes us to divide our attention between two or more things and, thus, not able to concentrate on any one thing. This was a problem of God’s people under the Old Law, illustrated in the words of Elijah when he admonished the people, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1st Kings 18:21). It was seen, also, in God’s description of them, saying, “Their heart is divided” (Hos. 10:2). In each of these cases, the people were distracted by the idols of the surrounding nations and they were faithful to God, but dividing their affections between God and the false gods. One whose spiritual attention is divided is one who is not giving himself fully to God and, thus, not pleasing to Him (cf. Matt. 22:37).
- Demonstrated. Distractions can be demonstrated in many ways – too numerous to list and consider all of them in this lesson – but there are a few general ways it is demonstrated in a way that can be observed. Here are some ways we may affected by distractions that we may recognize:
- Entertainment/ Pleasures. Of all the devil’s distractions, this one has become the most successful tool as of late. We do not have the time or space to list all the various ways we may be entertained or find pleasures to enjoy, but we certainly recognize the more familiar avenues of the theater industry [movies, TV, plays, etc.], the music industry, organized professional and amateur sports, books and magazines, the Internet, pleasure cruises and vacations – and we could go on and on. None of these things is, in itself, wrong, but when and if it becomes a major distraction, we endanger our spiritual condition. Paul reminds us that once, outside of Christ, “we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures” (Titus 3:3). For those outside of Christ, the pursuit of those pleasures and the desire to be entertained is understandable, but what about those who profess to be followers of God?
Unfortunately, I could show you page after page of religious organizations who advertise entertainment and things that are physically pleasing, instead of emphasizing [for some, even mentioning] God or Christ or anything remotely tied to faith or religion. Far too many who claim to be followers of Christ are using the same physical pleasures the world seeks to draw people into their churches -and to keep them there. Meanwhile, our enemy is content to join with these supposedly religious organizations to encourage the use of pleasure and entertainment to draw people in and keep them there because as long as this is the focus, he knows that Christ, sin, and salvation will not be.
- Work/Career. Many a man – and now many a woman – has plunged headlong into his career with such zeal and dedication that his family and faith have been ignored and neglected. It begins with a desire to do well, but then it turns into an unjustified fear of getting fired or passed over for promotions, and then the work or career becomes the primary interest and everything else gets set aside or neglected. A little task here, a little extra there, working late becomes normal, working weekends is ‘expected,’ and then work and the career becomes the end-all and all else gets scheduled around the few hours or minutes not working. The sad part about this distraction is that so many men will spend so much time in their work and careers, to the detriment of even their spiritual life, and then run to 1st Tim. 5:8 and try to justify themselves with the argument that they are merely providing for their family – when they are actually working so much to pay for their material possessions. Jesus once told of those who would make all kinds of excuses why they could not come to the supper of a certain man, with one excusing himself by saying, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused” (Luke 14:19); his excuse was work-related, and he believed he was justified in what he was doing.
- Pursuit of Knowledge or Information. It isn’t news that we are in what some call ‘The Information Age.’ Information and knowledge has never been so accessible to so many and so easily as it is right now. Just on the Internet, it is said that there are about 50 million web sites, with about seven billion pages of information. Just do a quick Google search on just about any topic and you will likely come up with several thousand web pages on that subject. There is a lot of information out there to be discovered and learned. Unfortunately, the search for that knowledge and information, for many, has become a great distraction and not much else is getting done. It is said that about two hours of each eight-hour workday is wasted, and of that time, workers admit that the Internet is the primary cause about half the time [44%; AOL]. I don’t know if those hours wasted are in the search for information or just playing Angry Birds, but a good deal of time is lost in the search for information or knowledge. If it isn’t the Internet, it is the years we spend pursuing education, with more and more expected of us if we are to be recognized as ‘qualified’ for a particular job. It is nothing new, however, for the wise writer said many years ago, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh” (Eccl. 12:12). Apparently, even a few thousand years ago, it was believed there was a lot of information to be written and gained, also! It has only increased! How much time is spent in the pursuit of knowledge?
- Listening To Human Wisdom. Sometimes, men are distracted from spiritual endeavors and pursuits by the desire for human wisdom. The recognized field of philosophy and its pursuit is one of the most popular classes in the universities, and has existed for centuries and pursued by those who seek learning because they are convinced all knowledge resides within the human mind. A 2008 New York Times article revealed that available college-level philosophy classes have increased less than 10% nationwide in the last decade, but student enrollment is up almost 50% in that same period. Generally speaking, we have witnessed a shift change in the discussions and arguments among men in the last few decades, leaving behind the moral and ethical standards that have guided civilizations for centuries and chasing after theories and hypothetical scenarios based purely on human wisdom. Men no longer accept any absolutes, but are now constantly seeking something different for the sake of being different. We may remember the story of Paul in Athens and how he went to the public square where the Epicureans and stoic philosophers were; it was said that “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). Paul also warned the brethren in Colossæ against those who would cheat them out of their salvation “by philosophy and empty deceit” (Col. 1:8). Clearly, this pursuit and value of human wisdom is nothing new.
- Seeking Attention For Self. Another distraction that is one not likely to go away anytime soon is that of seeking attention for self; when individuals are more concerned about garnering attention than saving their souls. The reasons and the manner in which this is done varies widely, but it is one that, if pursued, takes time away from the things that are infinitely more important. But, let us realize this is an ongoing effort by many people – even those who profess faith in Christ. It is not just the teenager trying to fit in or be popular, but the adult who is trying to make an impression on another individual or make his name in the world; maybe it is someone trying to prove someone else wrong by far exceeding their expectations and doing more and better than anyone else. Whatever the reason and however it is done, there are some who spend their entire lives trying to get attention, rather than any pursuit of spiritual matters or service to God, and self is the biggest distraction.
- Persecutions/Trials/Error. Finally, when all else fails, our enemy will use persecutions and trials to distract us from the work that needs to be done. If he can harass us, intimidate us, and divert our attention to those trials and persecutions, then we will not be focused on the work that is left undone. Persecution has existed since the church’s founding, and our enemy will not soon give up using this tool as a means of distracting us from our work.
- The Spiritual Consequences. All these distractions are so dangerous and troublesome for what they do to us and to others when we demonstrate it. It is a favorite tool of the Devil if only for the fact of its spiritual consequences:
- Attention Diverted From the Spiritual Work. When we spend so much time seeking entertainment and being entertained, it is time that is not spent in spiritual pursuits; when we submerse ourselves in our work and careers, we take time away from spiritual pursuits and work; when we spend all our time in pursuit of knowledge and information that pertains only to this life, we have less time for learning what God wants us to know; when we focus on human wisdom, it takes away from appreciating and respecting the far superior wisdom of God; when we seek the attention of others, it takes away from God and He is not glorified through us; when false teachers infiltrate the church, time and effort is taken away from positive teaching and spiritual edification; and persecutions divert attention away from benevolence, spreading the gospel, and spiritual maturity. All of these things take time away from those who might otherwise be doing more in their service and work to God as they have to take the time to deal with the error, the trials, and the persecutions that must be confronted. All of these things – though not wrong or sinful in and of themselves – divert attention or divide the attention of those who might otherwise be focused on God and His ways, and less is accomplished.
We would do well to heed the admonition of God to His people when they had returned from captivity, but had gotten distracted with their own lives: “Consider your ways” (Hag. 1:5).
- Attention Diverted From Error or Sin. When we allow ourselves to get caught up in the entertainment this world offers, we end up becoming familiar with it and less likely to condemn it; I am constantly amazed at the filth and profanity believers will welcome into their minds and into their homes simply because it is “entertainment.” Disciples become less willing to confront error and sin if only for the fact they have become willing partners with it. But more than this, the time spent in being entertained takes away attention from the numerous errors and the sin which fills this world. Especially in churches nowadays, the emphasis is entertainment and, as a result, those who attend these gatherings wouldn’t know truth from error if their souls depended on it – and it does! When we are overly involved in learning how to succeed in earthly endeavors and learning worldly wisdom, we have less time to learn the truth or how to recognize and defend against error, and it will likely gain a foothold in our lives and in the church.
- Attention Diverted From Genuine Needs. When we are distracted by these earthly things such as entertainment and pleasures, our work and careers, human wisdom and knowledge, and even the persecutions and trials because of our faith, it diverts our attention away from the genuine needs of ourselves and of others. For example, when John asked, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need” (1st John 3:17), implied in this is seeing the need; if we are distracted by all these other things, we may not see the need and, thus, not meet the need! And on a much greater scale of importance, what if we are so distracted we do not see the lost souls searching for salvation?
- Divided, Confused Lives. Finally, distractions will, by definition, cause those affected to lead divided lives – at best, only living part of the time for the Lord and the rest of the time for these distractions. Let us not forget that God has always demanded our singular and complete attention to be pleasing to Him. Under the Old Law, God said, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Deut. 5:9), and Jesus reiterated that our affections for God were to be singular and with the whole heart when He answered that the greatest commandment was that one “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). When we try to divide our attention between God and these distractions, we will be confused and miserable! A man will not be able to enjoy the world’s entertainment because he knows it is taking away time from God; he won’t be able to fully commit himself to God because he has his heart set on the entertainment!
- DEFEATING THIS DEVICE
- Know What Is Important -And What Is Not. Before we can defeat this device, though, we must be able to identify what is a distraction and what is truly important! Confusing the two would only make things worse than they already are!
- First Things First! Jesus reminds us of what should be primary in the life of one seeking to please God: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33); there is simply nothing more important than this, and when we get our priorities straight, we will find that the kingdom of God and His righteousness is of the utmost importance. When we recognize this as the most important thing in our lives, we will strive to truly put first things first – God before everything else. Sometimes, that means putting even family behind Him, but if we are unwilling to do so, we cannot be His disciples (cf. Matt. 10:37). There is a time for emphasizing family – or work or learning or a number of other things – but these things should not be seen as the most important thing.
- Everything Else Is Less Important. If God and His ways are of the utmost importance, everything else, by default, is secondary. Jesus reminds us, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple… So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26, 33). Our spiritual enemy wants us to believe these distractions are not distractions, but what is most important and, at the same time, wants us to believe that spiritual matters are the distraction. Sadly, there are many who have believed the lie and have allowed the distractions to become their priority – even those who know and believe Jesus is the Christ!
- Eliminate the Distractions. But recognition of what is most important is not enough; just as the NHTSA wants distractions eliminated to make our roads safer, we must eliminate the distractions.
- Most of These Things Are Our Own Doing. A great majority of the things that distract drivers is of their own doing – radios, cell phones, passengers – and eliminating the distractions goes a long way in making a safer driver. In the same sense, when we recognize what it is in our own lives that is distracting us from our spiritual work and purpose, we will improve our spiritual influence and work. If it is entertainment and the pleasures of this world, we must make a change in our hearts as to what we value most; seeking the pleasures of this world can no longer be our pursuit. If it is work that distracts us, you cannot simply quit working, so you must find a healthy balance. If it is the quest for knowledge, make God’s word your priority because the knowledge of this world will not help you spiritually. Whatever it is, be honest with yourself and if the distractions are of your own doing, only you can change that.
- Cut It Off. When Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount about the truth that adultery can be in the heart (Matt. 5:27, 28), He went on to say, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matt. 5:29, 30). The point is, if there is anything in our lives standing in the way of us getting to heaven, we must be willing to eliminate it for the sake of eternity! Friends and brethren, as hard as some of these distractions may be to eliminate, if it means your soul’s salvation, it will be worth it and it must be done.
- Focus. Finally, realize that recognition of what is most important and the elimination of what is not is only part of the success in defeating this device of our enemy; now, we must focus on what will get us to heaven.
- Keep Your Eyes On Jesus. The whole purpose of our enemy trying to get us distracted is that we take our eyes off the ultimate goal of eternal life in heaven. He wants us to think only of the here and now and nothing of eternity and where our choices may lead; he wants us distracted from spiritual matters and thinking only of the physical, material things and this world. To defeat his efforts, we must keep our eyes on Jesus! As the writer to the Hebrews said, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1, 2). When we focus on Jesus, we won’t allow the things of this world divert our attention away, and we will ensure our minds are set on the ultimate goal and not the temporary things.
- Keep Your Eyes On Heaven. Instead of thinking about the things of this life and allowing ourselves to become distracted by these things and more, let us think about where we are going! As Paul wrote, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1, 2). When we focus on heaven, we won’t be distracted by even the persecutions and trials of this earth.
As we consider this device of our adversary, let us conclude by being admonished that distractions are just that: distractions – not our primary goal. Seek God first and seek Him always, and the distractions will disappear and fade behind us as we move ever closer to our ultimate goal of eternal life in heaven.
Don’t let our enemy deceive us into thinking these things are important, or that spiritual matters are insignificant; recognize that your soul and the souls of others are of the utmost importance – and then so live to demonstrate you truly believe that. Don’t believe these distractions are minor issues, either, for distraction leads to destruction.