Distractions often disguise themselves as opportunities

Life is full of distractions. Have you noticed that? I’m easily distracted anyway, so when life is full of little things that destroy your focus, it’s incredibly difficult to accomplish anything of significance.

Some distractions look like great opportunities, and because we’re so desperate for those opportunities or because we want a break from “normal” life so badly, we jump at the chance to do something different. Some distractions look like actual danger, and because we don’t want to jeopardize what we’ve already accomplished we take the necessary steps to minimize the damage. The point is that most distractions don’t look like distractions, but every distraction has one thing in common: they will pull you away from what you’re supposed to be doing.

Scottish flag flying at the top of the walls of Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Scottish flag flying at the top of the walls of Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verse is Nehemiah 6:1-3.

Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies found out that I had finished rebuilding the wall and that no gaps remained—though we had not yet set up the doors in the gates. So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?”

I really love the Book of Nehemiah. It’s so different from many other books in Bible, mainly because it’s written in first person (which is probably something only a writer would care about). But the story of Nehemiah in a nutshell is that God told Him to go rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and God put him in a specific place in his life to be able to request the personnel and supplies he needed. But there were people who didn’t want to see the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt, so Nehemiah and his builders faced extreme opposition throughout the process. One group that seemed to be a perpetual thorn in Nehemiah’s side was this trio of troublemakers, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.

Today’s verse wasn’t the first time they had tried to get Nehemiah’s attention. If you just read these verses, though, you might be tempted to think that Nehemiah’s being rude, but I encourage you to read the whole book of Nehemiah. It’s not long, only 13 chapters. And you’ll see exactly what this guy went through in order to do what God had called him to do.

Each of us has an appointed task in our lives right now. Some tasks are “bigger” than others. Some tasks may not feel like tasks because you’re enjoying it so much. Others may feel like a constant test every day, challenging you with every breath to give up. But it’s most likely you know what that task is no matter what it is. For some, your task may be to go to work and do the best you can for your employer. For others, your task may be to take care of your family. And then there’s others whose task may be planting a church or ministering to the lost or encouraging others. Whatever the calling in your life, if you know it’s from God, you can be sure you will encounter distractions along the way.

We have an enemy who wants nothing more than to see us fail, and he will stop at nothing to halt us in our tracks. And if he can’t make us fall, he’ll load us down with too many things and keep us so distracted we’ll miss God’s instructions.

So how do you identify a distraction? That can be difficult. Distractions oftentimes look like something good. Obviously distractions will change from person to person, but they’ll have a few things in common. They’ll take you away from what you’re doing and push you to invest your focus somewhere else. They’ll wear you down with emotional garbage. They’ll fill up your calendar with things that don’t matter, that don’t help others, that waste time and money you don’t have to begin with. Distractions are selfish things; they take and take and take and give nothing in return.

And I’m not talking about taking a day of rest or even a week of rest. Don’t misunderstand. I’m the kind of person who will drive myself into the ground and won’t stop to rest because I’m afraid it will hinder my productivity–but the opposite is true. We weren’t created to run 24/7. We all need a break, a time to rest, a time to refocus, a time to just chill. And if you take a week to let yourself breathe and come out feeling refreshed, that isn’t wasted time. That’s not a distraction.

But if you take a week and fill it full of useless things that don’t benefit you or anyone else, a week that doesn’t improve your relationship with God, a week that turns into two weeks or three weeks or even a month–that’s a distraction.

Don’t be afraid to say no. I’m talking to myself here because I struggle with that word. Ask God. Take it up with Him and make sure what you’re turning down really is a distraction, but if it’s going to pull you away from things you’re supposed to be doing, you’re probably safe in assuming that it’s not what He wants you to do.

Avoid distraction. It’s not helpful, and it’s not healthy. God has designed you for a specific purpose, and letting the enemy guilt you into doing something you aren’t meant to do will only increase your stress level and make you ineffective. Saying no to something you weren’t supposed to do in the first place isn’t selfish; it’s wise.

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