Distressing Distractions

Distressing Distractions

Richard Hollerman

We’ve all known them. We’ve all faced them and tried to overcome them. Some of our attempts have been successful, others have been partially successful, and still others have largely failed to deal with them.  I refer to those common daily distractions that inevitably come as we pursue an understanding of God’s Word.

Every mature and serious student of the Scriptures wants to regularly read, study, and learn more and more.  This is precisely what God says in His Word.  The Lord Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We want His Word to be our food that nourishes us! The Bereans were noble-minded for “they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Paul writes to Timothy, “From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Not only did Timothy know the Scriptures—but he gleaned this knowledge as early as his childhood years.  We want that to be true of our own life as well.

The apostle continues by saying that the Scriptures are profitable “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  This kind of extensive knowledge of the Word will only come from careful and regular exposure to the Word of God. This should be a motivation to us as it was to Timothy. If God expected His people 2,000 years ago to know Scripture well—at a time when the Bible was not readily available—surely He will hold us a hundred times more responsible to know His Word through careful and extensive study.

I heard of an elderly Bible teacher who taught a group of people the Scriptures. He had devoted his life to a careful study and exposition of the Bible. After the meeting, another older man came up to him and exclaimed, “If only I knew the Bible as you do! How can I do it?” The older teacher replied, “It’s too late!” In other words, the kind of knowledge he had accumulated through his lifetime didn’t come easily or quickly. Likewise, we can know the Scriptures well, but it will take a disciplined study of God’s Word. Are we willing to do this?

Today, we have often heard admonitions about the need for us to study God’s Word and maintain a regular prayer life. We know that this is definitely true.  We must receive from God (from His Word) and we must speak to God (through prayer). These disciplines are utterly vital to our spiritual growth.

But this leads us to a very practical problem—one that all of us have known. We are continually pulled away from the study that we know should characterize our life. We have tried to be persistent in our careful study of God’s Word but, more often than not, we haven’t reached our goals.  I have faced the same challenges as you have and not always have I done what I earnestly wanted to do.

Behind it all surely we find Satan, the enemy of our soul.  He wants us to be distracted from God’s Word. You will remember that in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, he was defeated by the Lord Jesus in the wilderness when Jesus quoted Scripture to disarm the enemy.  Jesus used His Father’s Word as a sword to overcome the evil one (cf. Ephesians 6:17).  This is what we must do.  We must not allow the devil to rob us of the time and opportunity to learn God the Father’s will revealed in His Word.

But all of this is not theoretical but very practical. This problem speaks to our everyday life. It is something that most of us must wrestle with every day if we persist in the battle to find the time and location to study the Scriptures. 

What Distractions Do We Face?

Consider some of these distractions:

Problems with sleep.  Some of us get very little sleep and when we finally settle down to study the Scriptures, surely our eyes will begin to close and our mind will be dull. We may have shift work or we may have heavy physical work during the day and at night we just can’t seem to focus and remain alert with an open Bible before us. This is a battle that we must win if we are to study and learn Scripture well. (More thoughts on this will follow.)

Problems with employment. Sometimes we may need to work long hours (longer than the average of 8 hours a day), hours of overtime, and when we finally make it home we are exhausted and sleepy. We can’t seem to focus on the Scriptures before us. We are bothered by the stress and strain and weariness that comes from our employment.

Distractions with children. Some of this may not be legitimate. Our children may not be disciplined to work and play quietly and their surrounding noise may disturb our ability to concentrate. On the other hand, responsible fathers and mothers realize that they have a legitimate responsibility to oversee the children’s activities and this, in itself, can be a distraction from our desire to study Scripture. Focus on training your children to occupy themselves quietly. (We strongly urge responsible parents to not expose their children to TV or computer games—which is one tactic that some parents have tried. But these sorts of activities will destroy your children in the process. It is wrong to do something wrong in order to gain study time—Romans 3:8.)

Distractions with our spouse. Paul points out that marriage can bring distraction into our life and some of this can have a proper place.  The apostle says, “One who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:33). The same is true for the wife in regard to her husband (v. 34). While urging celibacy for those with the “gift” of celibacy, Paul says that the married person’s interests are “divided” and he wants “to promote what is seemly.” He seeks to “secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” (vv. 34-35). If you are single, you can avoid some of these distractions; if you are married or are convinced that you should be married, expect some distraction in life. Simply try to minimize them.

Babies bring distraction. Those of you who are fathers or mothers know that infants can bring a great amount of diversions and distractions in life. The constant feeding, changing of diapers, and other activities can occupy our minds and take up valuable time. Of course, this is part of God’s plan (Genesis 1:28), but still we must acknowledge that babies and young children do require much time and attention. We can only seek to minimize some of these time-consuming distractions.

Neighborhood distractions. If we have chosen the morning hours to study, the neighbor may start up his lawnmower and this can make it very difficult to concentrate. The evening may bring the same kinds of distractions. If you live in the city and are close to your neighbors, this can cause a great many competing distractions.

Household distractions. As you sit down to study Scripture, you may be reminded of the air conditioner or heater that needs repairs. Or you may need to wash and dry clothes in the same room or adjoining one.  You may be distracted by a cat or dog who wants some attention. You may need to feed the children or supervise their bathing. How can you concentrate on the journeys of Paul, the theme of Hebrews, or the structure of Revelation with these other concerns vying for your attention?

Homeschooling concerns. Some of you are rightly determined to keep your children from the worldly and humanistic state schools, thus you are in the process of home educating one, two, or even seven or nine little ones. This can take a great amount of direct teaching, planning, and supervision. It may be virtually impossible to study Scripture when all of this is going on. Later we’ll offer some suggestions for you.

Unbelieving family members. You may need to live in the midst of a divided household. Your husband or wife may not be saved. Your parents or children may be unbelievers. Or you may have one or more members of your household who were saved at one time but are now living in disobedience.  This kind of difficult situation can bring so much distress that study is made quite difficult. Maybe these family members are not only indifferent to spiritual things, but they may actively oppose your commitment to Christ and your desire to regularly study His Word. Christ also had to face the misunderstanding of His family as He pursued His spiritual purpose in life (cf. Mark 3:20-21, 31-35).

Phone calls. We’ve all been involved in a time-sensitive activity or tried to keep on a schedule, then someone called with a certain distraction. Obviously, phone calls can be important and this is an opportunity to serve someone’s needs. But often such calls do distract us from our Bible reading and prayer time. Let’s use caution with these time-consuming events. We can ask the person to call back at a more opportune time or, if necessary, we can simply stop what we are doing and bless the person.

Competing duties. Have you sometimes had a dozen or two dozen activities to fit into one day—a twelve hour period of time? Sometimes one activity will take two hours when we thought it would take one hour. We can’t do everything at the same time and often can’t do all we would want to do in one day. With these duties swirling in our mind, we can be distracted from our priority Bible study and prayer time.

Some Suggestions

Life isn’t perfect and we must admit this.  Distractions will come and we’ll need to do the best we can do under the circumstances.  But certain strategies may help somewhat.

Rise early. Many people want to sleep late in the morning and then wonder what happened to their day. They end up devoting a rushed 15-minutes to Bible reading when they probably could or should devote a half hour, an hour, or even two hours to this priority activity. One way to deal with the rush of time is to simply rise earlier. Interestingly, many times we read of Bible personalities rising early in the morning to accomplish certain important tasks. Jesus rose early to pray (Mark 1:35). Abraham rose early to offer his son, Isaac, on the altar in obedience to God (Genesis 22:3). Try getting up at 7 or 6 or even 5 AM and do your Bible reading. You might try getting up an hour before the rest of the family and this will keep you from being distracted by the children’s needs and activities.

Stay up later. The opposite of the former point, you may find it feasible to go to bed later and find quiet, uninterrupted time to study.. It all depends on your family’s schedule, of course, but many have found this to be a solution to the common problem of being distracted by the children and other activities. If you are like me, I begin to get sleepy at 9 PM, and this “solution” may not work very well. But some brothers and sisters do find this to be helpful.

Devote a separate room for Bible study. Depending on the layout of your house, you may have the space to use an empty room for your Bible reading and prayer. This will give you fewer distractions that would come in the busier portions of the house.  If the entire room isn’t devoted to these spiritual pursuits, you may be able to devote a section of a room and then simply close the door to other distractions.

Choose a large closet. I knew one man who had devoted a closet in his house for his Bible study and prayer. In this way, he had some degree of privacy. Apparently, the closet was large enough and he maybe he wasn’t crowded by clothes!

Teach and discipline the children. Ideally, if you are a mature brother or sister with children (of whatever age), you should be able to so train your children to obey you so that they will keep quiet when the need is there and when you have expressed your desire in this matter. As in other aspects of family life, children need to be taught strict discipline (Ephesians 6:1-4). Keeping quite when father or mother is studying Scripture or praying should be a basic family discipline. Further, you should consider training your children to read their own Bibles during part of the day. If they still have time, they could involve themselves in reading other worthy books or doing other quiet activities while mother or father study.

Discipline yourself. Paul writes, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7b). Timothy evidently was not married and we know that Paul wasn’t married, thus they didn’t have a spouse or children as distractions, but they surely must have had countless other distractions. Some men and women are better able to handle distractions than others. If you find yourself unable to “escape” the distractions of life, seek the Lord’s help to discipline yourself to endure them, with self-control and single-mindedness.

Eliminate common distractions in the house. Studies have demonstrated that when a student has background music playing, his concentration and memory skills dramatically fall along with his grades. Learn from this. Don’t try to listen to Christian music when you study. Personally, I am easily distracted by any noise or music in the background and I greatly prefer absolute quietness to facilitate personal study. Try not to do three or four things at the same time. This can be done, perhaps, when you are doing activities that don’t require deep concentration. But when you study Scripture, you do need to try to eliminate unnecessary competition from noise and people.

Priorities must be chosen. We know that we can’t do everything that we would like in any given day. We need to work on the priority items on our schedule. We all would agree that God must be uppermost in our commitments and part of this would be the study of His word and also prayer to Him. Other activities are also important but are of less value than that seeking God through Bible study and prayer. Therefore, we need to consciously devote quality time to these items and place other important matters lower in our schedule.

Devote Yourself to Bible Study

Paul urges Timothy to devote himself to reading (1 Timothy 4:13). Although this may be a reference to public reading of Scripture in the assemblies of the saints, surely this young “son” of Paul was also to involve himself in personal Bible reading and study. We are to do the same. 

Hopefully, you can take some of the points we have covered and find yourself learning Scripture more fully in the coming months and years. God is willing to teach us but this will come through your devotion to the hard work and arduous discipline of personal Bible study. Ask God for His help and power as you devote yourself to this priority task!



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