Cell phones, jobs, relationships, and social media are among the many distractions we face daily. These things can be good when used appropriately but they are also convenient distractions. When allowing any of these or other distractions to grip us we lose focus and our priorities are misaligned. The Bible has a message for people like you and me who find ourselves perpetually distracted and need to regain our focus.
Before I discuss two passages that have recently helped me realign my priorities and focus more clearly I must tell you about a recent wake-up call I experienced. A wake-up call functions as an alarm. Wake-up calls or “aha moments” can be helpful in so far as they allow us to assess honestly where we are so we can begin to take steps in a healthier direction.
My distraction began early last semester. I allowed work to consume me as I transitioned from one job to another. Work is a good and necessary function of human existence but I allowed work to affect my performance both inside and outside the classroom. I have been distracted not only by work but also by the convenience of mindlessly scrolling through social media. These distractions set me up to fail in ways I never have before. I did not do well in any of my classes in seminary this semester. My whole life I have been a perfectionist. I am the oldest of four children and I was always the one that was supposed to make good grades. Well, this semester I did not make good grades at all. I should not be surprised given the many distractions I allowed to be a regular part of my life. I have been distracted yet I desire to live with a clarity of focus and direction.
I am a follower of Jesus before I am a student or an employee. I must set my eyes on Jesus and embark on the disciple’s path before me. (Hebrews 12:1-2) The one true God is inviting us to follow him in the direction of his kingdom of renewal. As followers, we can lose focus on the One we follow just like Simon Peter did in Matthew 14:22-33. As long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus he was able to walk on water. The moment he fixed his eyes on the tempestuous sea he began to sink. We too begin to lose our way when we allow distraction to blur our focus.
I want to share two passages that have helped me refocus this week. The first is an Old Testament passage from 1 Kings 19:19-21, CSB.
19 Elijah left there and found Elisha son of Shaphat as he was plowing. Twelve teams of oxen were in front of him, and he was with the twelfth team. Elijah walked by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 Elisha left the oxen, ran to follow Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and mother, and then I will follow you.”
“Go on back,” he replied, “for what have I done to you?”
21 So he turned back from following him, took the team of oxen, and slaughtered them. With the oxen’s wooden yoke and plow, he cooked the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he left, followed Elijah, and served him.
The context of this passage includes Elijah defeating the prophets of Baal and confronting Jezebel. We might be surprised to find Elijah depressed after such an astonishing encounter with Yahweh’s presence. Immediately after God encourages the prophet we pick up on the narrative wherein Elisha is mentioned.
Elisha was an ordinary man as indicated in his plowing of the ground. He was a farmer who made his living by farming. When Elijah passed by he decided to follow after and serve Elijah. Verse twenty-one is crucial for the reader to grasp. Elijah slaughtered his oxen and burned the plow so he might follow God.
Elijah had to eliminate the distraction of his old way of life so he could unreservedly follow God and his prophet.
57 As they were traveling on the road someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59 Then he said to another, “Follow me.”
“Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.”
60 But he told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”
61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.”
62 But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Jesus had just begun his journey to Jerusalem where he would be crucified on account of sin. He speaks in this context about the importance of following him. Disciples follow their teacher. Christians follow Jesus who is Lord and Master. Jesus invites us to follow him without looking back to the way things used to be.
One of my distractions recently has been looking back to the way life was before seminary. When I am discouraged my mind immediately wants to think of pastoral ministry in a small town. I have doubts about continuing my education. Somehow I have convinced myself that life would be easier (even though I am not sure what I mean by that) if I were not in seminary. This pattern of thinking is a distraction that hinders my effectiveness in the present. I am guilty of doing what Jesus advised against in verse sixty-two. I look behind me sometimes when I should look ahead.
Jesus calls his disciples to a higher and deeper communion with himself. We must not settle for what used to be.