There was a blurb on the bottom of today's front page of the paper, telling how people tend to be distracted about a third of the time. Alas! (and yet, whew! I'm not alone. Misery indeed loves company.) It doesn't matter what the scene is, whether prayer, Bible reading, Sunday school, sermon time, corporate worship, conversations with friends, book reading...the problem is the same. I think of the many things I have to do, whether my clothes are on straight, how the other person's left eye is a tad higher than their right, that there's a loose hair on their shoulder...it doesn't matter how stupid the thought, how downright useless the observation, the distraction is almost always useless, if not absolutely damaging. If this is the case in church, where my focus would seem most likely to be directed toward God, the struggle is all the greater at home where my thoughts would seem to be my own. I must take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).
I remember as a new believer hearing that a friend was not able to attend church--I don't remember why, whether her husband didn't allow it or whatever--but because of my newfound passion for focusing on Christ, I was able to readily tell her maybe 7 or 10 ways to keep getting to know Him better. It wasn't even a struggle, it was stuff at the time that I was doing in my own life. And now I don't seem to do most of those things nearly as much as I did then...why not? I would say I am too busy. There are too many distractions. Whatever. I honestly used to spend absolute hours every day in God's word, reading it, typing it into the computer, doing hundreds of word studies to find out all the different nuances of how a word was used throughout the Scriptures. My house was a mess then. But now I'm too busy doing housekeeping to do that any more. And my house is a mess now. How great it would be to get back to that "first love"! "Nothing will separate me from the love of Christ"...but many things will separate me from showing Him my love.
Now to recall those seven or ten things I recommended in addition to (or--not recommended, not Scriptural--apart from), church will probably be something of a struggle:
1. Read God's Word. Use whatever resources you can get your hands on, first and foremost a good translation of the Bible, maybe with trustworthy study notes; a good Bible dictionary; a Concordance; trusted, recommended internet sites...and find new ways to study God's Word that make it interesting--such as finding the prophecies of the Old Testament that have been fulfilled in the New Testament, in Christ's birth, in His death, in His resurrection; study His miracles. Maybe study the women of the Bible, or the men, or the children. Learn all about Paul. Look for verses that apply to a particular aspect of life, such as marriage, or parenting, or work. Try to read the whole Bible in a year--or if you can't do that, make it two years. Do a word study on a word that interests you. Follow the references to related texts. There are endless ways to bring new life to your studies! Read through Psalm 119 and see just how passionate a person can be about reading the Scriptures. Of all the psalms, it's the longest, with 176 verses--I think that says something about the writer's passion in this regard!
2. Pray. Pray before you open your eyes in the morning. Pray before you read your Bible (Psalm 119:18). Pray to thank Him before a meal, and/or afterward! Pray at every opportunity. Follow Jesus' pattern for prayer in the Lord's prayer--it's not one to recite so much as an example to believers on the priorities: Addressing who God is, and His holiness; seeking first His kingdom and His will; His provision for our needs, and protection; His forgiveness of our too-daily sins and help in our forgiving others; worship of Him. Pray of course for others, for their salvation, guidance, health and help; for ability to help them. For self-control, lack of anxiety. That we might love Him more and others more every day!
3. Speak of His goodness in your life to anyone who will listen, especially your children. It will encourage and direct them, maybe bringing them to know Him too; it will glorify and please Him. Psalm 78:5-8: For He established a testimony to Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments, and not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not prepare its heart and whose spirit was not faithful to God. You might consider putting together your own blog site so that you can do this for anyone who will come and read it! (I recommend this, personally!)
4. Find good Bible teachers, and don't listen to bad ones (1 Tim 1:3-7; 2 Tim 1:13-14). The good teachers focus on God and His Word, and how to love and please Him, how to live righteously in Him, how to take thoughts captive...not on the human self except its wretchedness and need for Him. You can find a bunch of Bible teachers (some greater than others) at oneplace.com on the internet--and listen to them any time of the day or night! If you need to stop you can pause it, if you need to listen again you can back it up and start over. You can look at their archives of broadcasts and articles. My favorite is John MacArthur. In fact his broadcast today impacted my writing of this, in how to pick out good Bible teachers--he talked about how to choose a good church. There are so many that are worthless, we all need to pay attention and be careful!
5. Read good books: classic books on faith, on prayer, on holiness, on God. Read books about missionaries and heroes of the Christian faith. Read them to your kids to get double duty for your time! Get lists of writers, names of books from Christians you know and whose judgment you trust. Christians who have gone before us provide a great example and also an appreciation of what suffering and effort others have gone through to help us to have access to the Scriptures in our own languages, and of God's power in their lives. There is no adventure, no meaningful story, like that of what God has done through believers throughout history! Learn about the stories behind what inspired composers of hymns, what initiated the Reformation, what the Pilgrims endured to have freedom of worship. Find out why Nate Saint was not afraid of the tribe who speared him and his friends, and how that tribe was reached after all with the gospel. (Phil 3:17)
6. Memorize Scripture. Get your family, or friends, all memorizing Scripture so that you can all keep one another accountable and it will go much faster. Fill your house with Scripture verses if you can, so that when you do dishes there's a verse in front of you to memorize; when your children walk down the hall there's one on a placque that will become very familiar. Use Scripture in your correction and training of your children. There's nothing like a Scripture verse to clarify what's wrong with a behavior! "How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word." Psalm 119:9; and, "Is not My Word like a fire, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?" Jeremiah 23:29. I have seen this in my own family--I can talk until my face turns blue; I can spank until I'm spent; but use some Scripture, and it finds its mark like nothing else can do. (Heb 4:12)
7. Play and sing Scripture songs. There are songs for adults and for children, invaluable for helping with memorization. Mark in your Bible any verse that has been made into a song that you know, by putting a little music note next to that verse. You can then leaf through Psalms and as you see a note, stop there and sing the song in your heart or out loud, and have your own time of musical worship. In fact, when you're in the car, you can adjust the buttons on your radio so that they will access mainly or only Christian stations. Go to a Christian book store and buy Scriptures on tape or CD and play them as you drive. "...be filled with the Spirit, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." Ephesians 5:18b-19.
8. Take one Scripture verse that particularly grabs you and meditate on it during the day. See all the different ways that you can find that it applies in your daily life. Pick a new one the next day. "O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day." Psalm 119:97.
9. Clean out the worst things from your life, anything that you realize is unholy and evil; anything that distracts and draws you from God and displeases Him--whether it's an item, a hobby, a form of entertainment, an attitude, a habit. "but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am Holy.'" 1 Peter 1:15-16; "Fear the Lord and turn away from evil; it will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones." (Prov 3:7b-8).
10. Increase your love for others. All these previous pretty much focus on increasing your love for God, which is the greatest commandment (Mt 22:38). A reflection or element of that is the next commandment, to love others as you love yourself (Mt 22:39). We are to honor all people and be careful in our speech (1 Peter 2:1, 17). This is impacting me lately, realizing how easily bad habits and attitudes slip in. I need to avoid criticizing others in my heart, in family conversation, in public--whether they're believers or not; whether they're celebrities or legislators who we'll never meet; however they dress; however they lack wisdom--they're people Jesus loves, and part of His creation. He wants them to know Him, wants us to pray for them (Mt 5:44, James 4:11-12, 5:9). Who are we to judge or criticize?
11. (This is hardly least, though I put it near the end--it is actually one of the most important.) Go to church regularly. Find a good church and attend. If you don't like something about the leadership, address it to them in love; if they don't fix it, if it's serious, consider finding another church; if you can't, then stay, pray for them, and focus on the best things otherwise: God and His greatness (Psalm 118:8-9); the godly people who attend, the Scriptures as they're presented, the ways to serve, teach, lead, exhort. Exercise your spiritual gifts in the best way possible. Don't use the issues that bother you as grounds to complain to everyone. Don't be worse yourself by gossiping (Psalm 141:3-4). Don't withdraw from attending church--all the more as you see the Day approaching. We need fellowship of believers all the more as we move more toward end times! (Hebrews 10:25)
12. Get together with other believers at various times; that is, fellowship. We are to exhort one another and build one another up. Sometimes that is hard to do in the busy and time-constrained church services. If you can't get together with others face to face, at least e-mail; telephone; read their blogs! Otherwise, have each other over for dinner, go for walks together, study the Scriptures together.
Well, I came up with a good start. I can't say that I've continually done all of these--my latest focus is on increasing my love for others; otherwise, I can also improve in listening to music or teachers when I have the opportunity, and against letting my thoughts wander too much. And how much more I need to pray! I hope that the reason my doing these seems less might in part be because they come more naturally as I've been a Christian so long, and because they've become more an incorporated part of my life; but I know that's not always the case. I need improvement! So, this list is as good a reminder for me as for anyone else.