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

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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Sunflowers facing the sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Knowing what matters and what doesn’t

Do you ever wonder what happened to our joy as a culture? Americans used to be pretty happy folks, and anymore I just don’t think that’s the case. But you can leave the U.S. and go to another country, like a third-world country, and you would be shocked because the people living there are happy. And they have nothing. But here in the U.S.? We have everything. We have more than everything. We have every toy imaginable, every tool you could ever need, and more food than we could ever eat–but we still try.

So why aren’t we happy? Why aren’t we content? And what has to happen for us to change?

Sunflowers facing the sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunflowers facing the sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:9-11.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

I’ve posted many times on the difference between joy and happiness, and I recently learned that in the actual language of scripture the words actually mean the same thing. What’s different is where the concepts put their roots. In other words, happiness derived from circumstances can change, so if you are happy because your circumstances are happy, it won’t last. But happiness derived from knowing Christ is solid and strong and unchanging, and even if your circumstances change, God doesn’t. And that’s why, as believers, we can be happy even if our situation isn’t.

But how do we get there?

According to the text, the Church at Philippi was in a pretty good place, but they still had growing they could do. Paul wanted them to keep growing. They had love, but he wanted them to have more love. He wanted them to keep studying so that they could learn more about God and know Him more. He wanted them to understand what really mattered.

So what really matters? Apparently the Church at Philippi needed to grow in love and knowledge and understanding of God before they could grasp it. And the result, once they did grasp it, would be a pure and blameless life. And I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty good to me. A pure and blameless life full of love, understanding and knowledge sounds like something I could be happy about.

So here’s the deal. If we want that kind of life, we have to understand what matters. And once we understand what matters, I think it will make a huge difference in our level of happiness too. Because we’re all so caught up in things that don’t matter we’ve forgotten how to be happy.

Look at your schedule today. Identify something you plan to accomplish that will produce results beyond right now. I’m willing to bet that the majority of our schedules aren’t filled with events that will change eternity. I mean, look at my list: work, laundry, dishes, housecleaning. I know what I plan to do today. And none of it will produce something eternally significant.

Or will it?

I’m going to work today. I have a job, and that’s what I’m supposed to do. But at the end of the day, it’s just a job. It’s something God has given me that allows me to provide for myself and others financially. But in the grand scheme, the job itself doesn’t matter. What matters is the people there. What matters are the relationships I’ve built. So what if I don’t get a raise? So what if I don’t get the position I wanted? So what if I have to skip lunch once in a while in order to get my projects done? It’s just a job, but the way I react to it will allow me to have an impact for Christ on the people around me. And that does matter. Because when the day is over, the job will still be there; but the people around me might not be.

And if we take that perspective with everything in our lives, I think our attitudes might change a little. Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or a vacation to one of the coasts, we all have stuff going on, but in those events you have to identify the aspects that matter. And how do we do that?

Well, the things in our lives that matter are the things that matter to God. The little unimportant things are necessary sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we have to dwell on them. And that doesn’t mean they have to take up more time than their level of importance deserves.

You want to be happy? I believe this is the first step. Understand what’s important to God and make that a priority in your life. Stop spending so much time and energy on the details that don’t matter. Stop fretting over pieces of your life that won’t make a difference in eternity. Identify what really matters and what really doesn’t. And let the other stuff go.