On discipline and distractions
Freedom is the final reward of discipline.
Tick, tock, tick, sigh.
TICK, TOCK, TICK, SIGH.
Stand up, roam around, get a drink of water.
Sit back down, stare at pages.
Watercolor words become leaping frogs in a pond.
Tick, tock, tick, sigh.
Go clean the kitchen.
I’ll try later.
A few years after giving my life to Jesus, the Lord called me to a deeper level of growth. After attending my first Bible study, I knew I had much to learn about God, the Bible, and the Christian life. Since I had always enjoyed books, I did not anticipate a struggle with reading the Bible. It seemed obvious to me that to learn about God, you needed to read His book. I never anticipated that, as a Christian, my love of reading would be something I would have to guard and even fight for.
My trouble with reading and studying started with a heightened sense of hearing. During the quietness of the kids’ naptime, I could hear every little household noise and was easily irritated and distracted by them. The tick, tick, tick of the battery-operated wall clock bounced off the walls and ricocheted into my ears. At other times the words seemed to jump around on the page and my eyes would quake from side to side. I wondered what was going wrong in my body, and a repetitive cycle began which included distraction, physical symptoms, anxiety, and finally panic.
A journey began in which the Lord had to deliver me of mental habits and strongholds that stood in the way of my growth, including lies I believed, anxiety, and perfectionism. My sinful coping mechanisms needed to be confessed and repented of because they stole from God.
Over time I have learned a few simple ideas to combat things that interfere with spiritual disciplines:
- Pray and ask God for help. Our battles will be fought mainly in the heavenly realms through prayer. Ephesians 6:12 states, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." In your times of prayer make sure to confess to God any known sins that may be hindering you. In James 5:16 we are also instructed also to confess to another.
- Protect your mind. The saying “trash in, trash out” is applicable here. What thoughts are going through your mind? What are you looking at or listening to? Are you feeding fleshly desires? The more that you give in to your carnal thoughts, the less you will desire the godly disciplines. As Paul teaches, "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
- Plan for the distractions. They will come in all shapes and sizes. Think about what normally distracts you and create a counter-attack. For example, if tasks keep coming to your mind, keep a notepad next to you. When you remember something that you need to do, write it down and go right back to your reading. If you get lots of texts, turn off the phone. Develop a routine for your reading and study time. If you have little ones, you might need to get creative. Why not include them in your time with God? My children always seemed to enjoy Bible time with games and a snack. It won’t be perfect, but it will be rewarding, as God reminds us, “[My word] shall not return to me empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
It would be a lie to say that I do not ever struggle with reading my Bible. Even when I really want to, things happen to get in the way. If I let my guard down and get slack in my disciplines, my desire for them will decline. The more that I read and pray, the more that I want to read and pray. It is that simple. God must have a purpose in this. Maybe we learn to appreciate Jesus more this way.
One of my all-time favorite verses says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). My prayer is that you and I will seek hard after God, that we will enjoy the freedom that the spiritual disciplines give, but most of all that we will desire Him more than anything else.