If there has ever been a group of people that are called upon to use their minds, it is the people of God who have chosen to live His way of life. When I say, “use our minds”, I don’t mean human reasoning or logic; there is to be an emphasis on teaching, thinking, and understanding. Many religious systems are devised by men, who very often downplay teaching in favor of rituals. To them, rituals and traditions are what is most important. But true faith requires that we use our God-given, God-renewed minds to know truth, reject falsehood and then practice the truth. It’s not about blind acceptance; we are to deeply consider our behavior, what we are doing.
There is a progression, starting with knowledge. We are to have minds that are to become filled with understanding, learning about who God really is. Starting down that path, we can begin to walk in a manner worthy of Him. First comes knowledge, then obedience that bears fruit and furthers knowledge yet again.
For much of society and by extension God’s people as well, we are increasingly having a challenging time thinking deeply anymore. Who has time for that? We exist in an ever-increasingly harried, multi-tasked, scattered-brained, fast-paced world. If you are middle aged or older, you’re probably finding that life moves quite a bit faster than it used to. If you’re younger you have been immersed in a fast-paced life from the very start and unfortunately you don’t even have a concept of what it’s like to spend time thinking deeply about much of anything. “The internet does my thinking for me.”
I believe that the primary cause of all this is due to a myriad of distractions. We live distracted lives. It is a major downside to the rapid rise in technology. This exponential rise in distractions has a powerful effect on us. Distractions are now everywhere. Our technologies, our gadgets, are continually beckoning to us with various types of noises, flashy screens, and advertisements. They are all saying the same thing: “Pay attention to me. Now!” Whatever beckons us demands a response, if only to silence the noise. We’ve got to stop what we’re doing to press a button, or answer a text, or read a news flash or move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. Whatever it is, we’re called upon to move continually from one thing over to do something else.
Technology is not the only thing that can distract a person, but I want to focus on it because I think it’s having a dramatic effect on us. A major concern is that distractions and deception are closely related. Deception is about not knowing truth; not seeing the truth because it’s been cleverly replaced with something else. Distraction is one of the crafts that leads someone into deception. Right now, society has been distracted by new, shiny digital devices that promise greater productivity and knowledge, but it’s an outright deception because it’s primarily doing exactly the opposite. How?
It’s often bantered around, even among the world’s scholars, about the detrimental effects that the fast paced, digital lifestyle has on personal relationships. People who were at one time close slowly begin to grow farther apart as they are drawn away by constant distractions. Also, we continually hear about the profound consequences of distracted driving. But there is a more sinister problem, after a while it begins to define our identity. We start to become distracted people in every aspect of our lives and the consequence is that we begin to lose the ability to think, to focus. We become transformed and shaped by a way of life.
Because of the ever-present distractions, we are quickly becoming a people with very shallow thought processes. A huge disadvantage to the current younger generation is that many only know how to think on a shallow level. They don’t know any other way. The problem with shallow thinking is that it invariably leads to shallow living. Shallow thinking, shallow living! Satan has inspired a lifestyle at this time in human history that works very hard to diminish the ability to engage in deep, contemplative thought.
One author was making this point by explaining how something seemingly innocuous as moving from analog timekeeping to digital timekeeping has radically changed how society thinks. We understand time completely differently. We have removed any sense of the past and future in favor of this precise moment. Someone wearing an analog watch, with hands that move, might announce the time as “half past eleven”. Someone wearing a digital timepiece would say “11:28 and 42 seconds.” An analog clock measures time but has a built-in sense of past and future. Anthropologist Edward Hall states that an analog understanding of time fosters the belief that we can only do one thing at a time. This sense of time that is gone and time that will soon come leads us to have a realistic view of what we can accomplish right now.
Conversely, the effect of digital measurement of time upon our minds is a nonlinear sense of time, disassociating whatever is happening at the moment with the past and the future. It teaches the mind to think in small time fragments with little connection to the broader scope. It also falsely trains us to believe that we can accomplish several things at once. We’re led down the path where we think that all we need is more speed, faster devices, better software, so that we can be seemingly more productive. We then end up scattered, overwhelmed with a million things to do, never really focusing on any one thing well. It teaches us to think differently than we ought, to think differently than we were designed to think. An interesting example of how little ways mess with our minds and we don’t even realize that it’s happened.
Another example is about everyone’s favorite search engine, Google. Google is in the business of making money through advertising. There are all kinds of psychologically inspired techniques at play to get you to view the advertising material. It’s not just about making the advertisement relevant to you; but equally, about making you see more of them. The more they can put in front of you, the greater the chances you will click on something.
In order to do that, their design strategy is to get you in and out quickly. It’s geared toward having a user move quickly from their site, and back again as quickly as possible. They need you to have a wide, shallow experience on the internet, so they purposely feed you snippets of information. But it’s not quite everything you were looking for, which brings you back to search again. It’s not about quality of information. Here’s a quote from Google’s user experience director Irene Au. She says, “The last thing the company wants is to encourage leisurely reading or slow concentrated thought. Google is, quite literally, in the business of distraction.”
We are not called to be a people to think this way. We are commanded to consider our ways, to consider God’s laws and their application in our lives, to think through the choices laid before us every day, the experiences we’ve been through and how we will tackle the coming experiences of the day by applying godly principles as we do so. This kind of thinking takes time. It’s not something that can be rushed. Where in our fast-paced, gadget-filled lifestyle does that fit? Our Bibles have become e-books that compete with our e-mail and social media sites.
It’s the effects of distraction we’re talking about. Does that same “e-bible” emphasize speed and efficiency, or does it emphasize quality and proper motivation behind whatever we’re doing? Whatever we are doing should be thought of as being done for God’s glory and the fulfillment of God’s purpose in our lives, not vast quantities of work being done quickly (I Corinthians 10:31).
It’s not necessarily about speed or efficiency; it’s a matter of what’s in our heart that counts. We’re not called to be efficient worshippers. We are expected to use our time wisely, to not be a sluggard; but that doesn’t necessarily equate to doing something quickly. Make no mistake, quality time is quantity time. We need to be people who take the time to focus on quality relationship-building with God. We are commanded to read His Word contemplatively, to think about what it says; and that takes time.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). This scripture takes meditative attention. It’s not something that just happens out of the blue or something you gain by skimming over your reading of the Word of God.
We need to recognize that we are engaged in an all-out war with distraction. We must discover what distracts us and learn how to conquer them. Then we need to rebuild the ability to concentrate or focus. We know that God calls us to live thoughtful lives, to use our God-given minds, our God transformed minds to think and live in a fashion that is healthy for us, healthy for our relationships and honors Him and His purposes.
We’ve got to get our focus back. How do we begin to do that? It’s not an easy battle to fight. We must see it in our own lives. It’s time to recognize our distractions, admit them, and be determined to do something to eliminate the habits. One of the primary ways that we can do that is to actively measure how much time we spend in various forms of media which is blatantly designed to distract. Discover all the things in your life that draw you from one place over to another, and then consider them. Are those things truly beneficial, or are they something else?
Once you’ve identified some of these areas and you’ve decided to eliminate them from your life, it’s important not to leave empty holes. A vacuum must be filled, so make sure it’s filled with activities and thoughts that cultivate godly character. To live thoughtful, meditative lives takes practice. Our culture of distraction that we live in gradually grew to take over people’s minds and hearts.
We all practiced being distracted, getting better and better at it, to the point where our minds literally crave distraction. Our minds fight against concentration. We’ve got to do the same thing to overcome distraction. Practice by studying without distractions nearby. Focus on fewer things. Take more time to do fewer things and remember to value quality above quantity. Take deliberate time away from constant digital distractions.
Have the faith to set them aside and realize that you won’t die if you don’t have your digital source of all knowledge at your fingertips, or next to our beds while we’re sleeping so that the first thing we do in the morning is grab that thing and start the distractions first thing. That’s probably not going to help you fight this battle.
We should not forget to ask God to show us the ways we are distracted; to help us to see them in our lives and have the strength to fight against this nefarious deception that is rapidly sweeping away the ability of people to think and to focus. Even when we talk to God in prayer, I believe it’s becoming harder to stay focused. If that’s you, well, here is another example of how distractions have affected our minds. It’s very easy to begin thinking about a million other things, isn’t it, instead of the things we should be thinking about while we’re praying? Distractions are one of the key weapons used against us that prevent us from coming to really know God.
Paul urged the Colossians to seek the knowledge of God and spiritual wisdom: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10).
Paul wants the Colossians to use their minds, to consider with understanding what is being taught. We primarily do that by studying the Word of God like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). They received the word with eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if the things were true. They used their minds, and deeply considered what they were being taught.
One more verse: “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (Psalm 119:148).
David knew the importance of spending quality time in contemplative thought before the distractions of the day would start. I’m sure being king of a country was filled with distractions. Importantly, he knew that a life of virtue required a life of thoughtful meditation. We are in training to be kings who think deeply and shun distractions. Using our God-given minds then results in meaningful lives that serve as a powerful example to others of what a focused, thoughtful life can bring.