Written By Julian Panga
Julian grew up in India and then lived in Australia for 12 years. While working in the banking and finance Industry in Melbourne, he also served as a church elder, missions trainer, and Bible teacher. In 2014, he returned to India in response to God’s calling and is currently involved in pastoral ministry and theological training. He is passionate about teaching and training as well as engaging the youth and those in the marketplace with the Gospel.
Life and all that it entails has become extremely complex today. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as the real-time availability of entertainment on mobile devices are just a few examples of technological advances that—if not handled correctly—can consume our time and energy and become major distractions in our lives today.
Technology has to a large extent replaced the humanistic element in face-to-face, interpersonal communication with superficial, emotionless jibber-jabber. We have given up more demanding, but relationship-building methods of communication for the ease of video calls, phone calls, and instant messaging.
The incessant demands of the workplace and the tremendous pressure this puts on the workers to perform consistently have further opened up a plethora of stress-relieving distractions such as online gaming, recreational sports, expensive hobbies, and extracurricular activities. These have drawn many away from meaningful relationships.
With the many distractions around us, we also struggle to find a deep, satisfying relationship with God. We lose Him in the myriad of things that cloud our minds. Spiritual disciplines like Bible-reading, prayer and fasting take a back seat in our lives. Our treasure is no longer God, but those things that gather dust and rust and corrode (Matthew 6:19–20).
We are also constantly in danger of becoming superficial in our relationship with God. We are often content with skimming the surface, rather than putting in the time and effort necessary for a more satisfying and intimate relationship with Him. Oftentimes, we use God as a cosmic genie by calling on Him when we need something or when we are in trouble, and otherwise prefer to keep Him at a distance.
As a result we become isolated from God as well as from each other thereby becoming disillusioned with life overall. We do so much more, but find less meaning in our pursuits. In our rush to keep pace with all that is flying at us, we have neglected three fundamental areas of our lives. These three things anchor and orient our soul. If all is well, they quiet us before God and provide room for peace. There is no way we can enthrone Jesus in our lives if these three aspects are off-kilter. We have to closely guard our heart, devotion and our desires.
Guard Your Heart
Jeremiah 17:9–10 tells us that the human heart is deceitful and desperately sick. Yet everything we do flows from it. Whatever occupies our hearts governs our lives. Therefore, above all else, we have to guard our hearts for from it flows the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23).
In Matthew 6:21, Jesus pointed out that we set our hearts on whatever we value most. So if we consider God our greatest treasure, we would set our hearts on Him and guard that relationship zealously. We would saturate our hearts with His Word on a regular basis, so that the Word infuses life into us and brings about holistic transformation on the inside as well as on the outside.
Knowing His Word means more than just reading the Bible. The four soils in the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) represent the condition and receptiveness of our hearts and the seed represents the Word of God. Some of us reject God’s Word outright, some stay in the faith for a while but eventually give up, and some go a bit further but are unfruitful because of other cares in their life. Then there are others who receive the Word and strive to understand it. The Word remains in them, and they gain a bountiful harvest.
In Matthew 4:1–11, the devil offered Jesus an easy, alternative way to the pleasure that would be His through submission to His Father’s plan. The devil even quoted Scripture, hoping to sway Jesus from His determination to do things God’s way. Jesus had no problem rebutting him. He was familiar with God’s will through a thorough understanding of God’s Word, and knew that Satan had quoted the scripture out of context.
The constant barrage of temptations on our senses and our minds might take root in our hearts and distract us from loving and serving God. However, if we have hidden God’s Word in our hearts, we would know what is pleasing to Him and what is not. We would be better equipped to decide whether it is beneficial to continue with certain activities or relationships, or to change our perspective on certain situations. Our hearts would have become shaped by God’s Word, and not by the world. When we stand firm in God’s Word, we can overcome distractions by its power instead of succumbing to temptations. This gives us confidence, boldness, and motivation to live life counter-culturally.
Guard Your Devotion
I live in India, where, like in many other places around the world, devotion to a deity is shown through one’s actions—fulfilling a vow or a penance or offerings or gifts to charity. The way of gaining favor or appeasement from that deity is merely shown by one’s actions on the outside—regardless of whether that impacts or transforms that person on the inside. The One True and Living God that we worship however, doesn’t delight in sacrifices or offerings or any external facade of devotion (Psalm 51:16, Isaiah 1:11). What He desires is a true worshipper who worships Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
What does true devotion and commitment to God look like? It means deciding to do whatever it takes to please God—not because we need to earn His favor, but because we love Him. It means full allegiance to the Master. Such unwavering devotion and commitment can only come from a grasp of God’s love and commitment to us first, shown supremely on the cross, and this will help us to pursue God in spite of distractions.
Devotion may start with pure discipline—waking up earlier to pray, setting aside time to read the Word, cutting off activities we know are harmful to our testimony of God’s truth. But, beyond that, when we remain committed to God, we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, and we begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control grow as evidence of and fuel our ongoing commitment to God. The more we are changed, the more we desire change.
Jesus said in Luke 14:26–27 that only if we elevate our relationship with God above earthly relationships then are we fit to be His disciples. But it is easy for us to have competing loyalties, robbing God of His rightful place in our lives.
Personally, I always thought that advancing my career prospects, achieving financial goals, and enjoying a luxurious lifestyle were of utmost importance and as a result those things clamoured for my devotion. Eventually I realized that none of them could bring about the true fulfilment which can only come from a personal relationship with God. When we make anything other than God of primary importance, it becomes our idol, demanding our worship and loyalty. God won’t tolerate such divided allegiance (Exodus 20:2,3).
Guard Your Desires
A desire is a deep longing that sets the direction for our hearts. Our world fell into sin when Adam and Eve reached for the forbidden fruit in their desire for the knowledge that only God can have (Genesis 3:6). In Deuteronomy 5, the Lord forbids us to covet what is not rightfully ours. James warned that “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15).
There are good desires too. We who have been renewed and freed from the slavery to sin now live by the Spirit and gratify the Spirit’s desires for us (Galatians 5:16–24). The psalms are filled with the longing for God and His ways. Our heavenly Father knows what His children need. When we seek His Kingdom first, we will see his provision according to His will and prerogative (Matthew 6:33; 1 John 5:14).
Our desires, like our appetites, can be trained. We have to first wean ourselves off what is not beneficial, and develop a yearning for the things of God. When we begin to taste and see that He is good (Psalm 34), that His plan for us is indeed sweeter than honey (Psalm 19), and experience our sustenance through Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6), we learn to hunger for God.
Guard Your Time with God
Spending time with God is necessary if we want to guard our hearts, devotion, and desires. An intimate relationship with God is foundational for every Christian. Without an ongoing connectedness with God, we die in our spirit. All meaningful relationships require time. We will never know the majesty, love, discipline, fellowship, and wisdom of the person of God if we do not spend time with Him. But if we do guard our time with God closely, we discover a deep sense of identity, belonging, and union with our Maker, and then life becomes fruitful, joyful and much more fulfilling.
My prayer and desire is that we earnestly seek God’s kingdom here on earth, identifying worldly distractions, and putting them in their rightful place—under the lordship of our King. A life that abides in God rises above all distractions. This doesn’t mean that we live an ascetic life, but rather even in the midst of distractions, we can live a life deeply rooted in God’s word, satisfied by His Spirit and graced by His presence.