Redeeming the Time: Eliminating Distractions

What is it about being forced to slow down that makes you want to run faster than you were before? I think it is because we realize we had been taking our abilities for granted. On top of that, we realize that though we were running fast, much of it was spent on directionless pursuits. It is amazing how we can feel pressured to check social media, or check a gaming app on our phone. There have been times I have felt like my evening was full because I needed to write a blog post, but no one is sitting at their computer waiting for me to post. Not even my mom does that. Still, something inside me says you better get something written soon.

These are small examples, but we fill our days with these types of anxieties. Many of the things that have us running so fast could be eliminated without a deficit to anyone involved. Often, the only real negative impact we feel is the effect it has on our pride. We tend to think, if I am busy, then I am important. People need me to fulfill all of my so-called responsibilities, because if I do not, things will fall apart, but it is not true. Much of what we feel pressured to do is noise.

We rarely realize this until something hits our life that forces us to start reevaluating. There comes a time when your body or emotional state says, it is time to change pace. At first, we usually think we can work through it, but, in the end, we find that providence is serious about making us slow down. It is at this point that we will hopefully start to gain perspective.

The process is painfully pleasant. About a year ago I found myself in a similar situation. First, I wanted to power through as if my will-power could right all the wrongs with my health. Once I resigned to the fact that I could not do it, I settled in to make some changes. The first thing that I needed to do was to get rid of all the needless distractions that had been adding stress but did nothing to help me be productive with things that were important.

I started by reevaluating what truly mattered. The key to this was making sure my mind was set on things above, or in other words, making sure I was seeking first the Kingdom of God. I will not talk about this much here because I do so in other posts (see links at the end of this post), but if we fail to get this right, everything else becomes meaningless, regardless of whether we are moving fast or slow. Upon reflection, I found I had filled my life with needless interruptions, and they were not benefiting me in any way. I came to realize that I did not know I was being distracted because I was not even aware of what I was being distracted from. I believe this is the case for many people.

Then began the process of slowing down and removing needless stress. This process involved deleting apps on my phone, limiting social media time to once a day, and I even began to schedule time on my calendar to check email only three times a day, instead of checking it continually. This reduction was the part that felt painful at first. I felt like I was going to miss out. If much of my productivity happens with email, how could I accomplish all that I needed to get done? I noticed myself repeatedly looking to my phone for notifications that were no longer available. I had to retrain my mind’s habitual response. The result of this was that I found I was not less productive, I was more productive. I had hours in the morning, afternoon and evening, which were email and social media free. These uninterrupted hours forced me to become more strategic with my time at work and home, instead of wasting it always checking to see if there was something new in my inbox, and diverting my train of thought. This also gave me more time to do something I enjoy, writing.

Regarding social media and time online, I realized I was not missing out on much. I also noticed that my executive attention, the ability to focus on something for an extended period of time, began to grow stronger. Before I was forced to slow down, I had already realized that the internet had started shrinking my thoughts. I began blogging 2005, that was eventually reduced to Facebook posts, and then I was down to 140 characters on Twitter. Though all of these can be powerful tools if used correctly, sustained thought is not something online platforms encourage. The big takeaway was that my mind was spending much less time flitting from one unimportant thing to another.

I also began to choose my television time much more carefully, and I would always keep my Kindle or a book with me. If I was going to spend time doing something during my free moments, I could at least make it something mindful. I could continue to talk about more of these little changes, such as reducing entertainment and letting my mind get bored to make myself desire more useful stimulation, but I think you are getting the picture. Let me conclude with few thoughts on the importance of slowing down.

Slowing down is not something we have to be forced to do. It is something we can do even when our health is strong, and life is good. Jonathan Edwards once said this about a man he honored deeply, David Brainerd.

“[One] imperfection in Mr. Brainerd, which may be observed in the following account of his life, was his being excessive in his labours; not taking due care to proportion his fatigues to his strength.”

Much of what I have written about is removing the unnecessary and unproductive activity from our lives, but sometimes we even need to slow down on that which is worthwhile and godly. Our Lord has put His treasure in jars of clay, and though the outward man is wasting away, the inward man is being renewed day by day. This truth should teach us two things. First, our bodies cannot do it all, and they will eventually fade. Second, when our bodies force us to slow down, even in our service to God, we are not necessarily reducing our pace in being renewed spiritually, which is the ultimate goal.

It seems our culture as come to believe that the two are inextricably bound. If you are not running fast, then you are not being renewed. Sometimes, the best path to being renewed is through slowing down. Maybe it is time to take due care to proportion our fatigues with our strength. It is by doing so that we find we are redeeming the time more effectively than when we were before. It is important to remember that doing less does not mean we stop doing difficult work. Much of our most important undertakings are challenging. This truth is why I think we sometimes prefer busyness over slowing down. If we are using it as a form of procrastination, that type of busyness can be a form of laziness. In the end, I found during my time of slowing down that I was actually accomplishing more.

A divided mind, one caught between heaven and earth, will never find peace because it is chasing things in two different directions. A heart that is united in the fear of the Lord will be able to slow down and cover more ground simultaneously. This need to slow down and regain focus, like all battles with the sinful nature, is a daily struggle. Part of what prompted me to write this post is the fact that I have allowed many of these things to begin crowding my life again. We must continually guard our hearts against being pulled away from the Lord and his service by things of no importance.

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. – Psalm 86:11

D. Eaton

Posts on Setting Our Minds on Things Above

Your Fears are Lying to You

Dear Christian, your fears are lying to you. Nothing they warn you about can ultimately hurt you. Fear shows its face daily and holds you back from doing things that may not be safe according to the world’s wisdom, but are life-giving in every respect. It tells you that you must save your life, or you will lose it, but the opposite is true. It is time to push fear aside and begin marching more boldly toward the Celestial City.

For those not in Christ, their fears are deceiving them because they are not fierce enough, and they are focused on earthly desires. Their sin and coming judgment are far worse than they can ever imagine. For the Christian, our anxieties are lying to us because our greatest problems, sin and judgment, have been taken care of on the cross, and every other anxiety is, therefore, unwarranted.

Samuel Davies once preached a sermon called “This Very Year You are Going to Die.” He worked from Jeremiah 28:16, a statement that was spoken to Hananiah, which says, “Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die.”  Davies went on to teach that this could be a statement that this true of every one of us, for tomorrow is promised to no one. We must redeem the time, for the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).

It is time to start living. There is nothing that can come into your life that can separate you from the love of Christ. Don’t worry about your reputation, don’t worry about how dark it could get, and don’t even worry about the fallout of your past sins. Walk through them all with your Lord, and walk through them with boldness, because they cannot touch your life in Jesus.

Your time is coming. If not this year, soon. However far away, it is nothing compared to eternity. What are you doing with this time? As mentioned earlier, most of our time and attention are focused on saving our lives instead of losing them, but losing it for his sake is where it will be found (Matthew 16:25). This self-focus is what produces most of our anxiety. We know that God will take care of our needs, but our fears tell us that we need to be concerned about our wants. It is time to let them go and put our focus where it needs to be. You might spend your whole life trying to lay up treasures on earth, but in the end, moth and rust will destroy, or they will be handed to someone else when you are gone. Store your treasures in heaven where there is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept for you (1 Peter 1:4).

We have one primary goal in this life, and all other goals are subservient to it. We desire to finish our course and ministry and testify to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24). It does not matter what has happened in the past; it is time to forget what is behind and press forward to what is ahead (Philippians 3:13). All things are working together for the good of those who love Him. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “Without God, man is anxious either trying to anticipate chance or escape fatalism.” With him, however, we are always secure within his providential care, even when it does not seem safe. Lloyd-Jones continues, “We are never in any position or situation outside of God’s knowledge or care. He knows much better than we do ourselves.”

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added (Matt. 6:33). Our fears point to the kingdom of this world, but in pursuing Christ with all our heart, there can be no failure or reason to fear. It is time to pour our lives into pursuing his glory.

Someday soon you will have a tombstone with your name on it, and all the fears that tried to hold you back from living for Jesus will be exposed as the lies they really are. Samuel Davies himself died the same year he preached that sermon at the age of 38. He spent his time living for the Lord, and he is with Jesus where all of his anxieties and troubles are now long gone, as yours will be. Set your focus and live for Jesus, and in that, you will find life. Even if everything in this life falls apart, one day you will stand in the presence of Jesus where every fear must bow.

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. – Acts 20:24

D. Eaton

 

3 Reflections on Sickness and the Christian Life

Being laid up for three days gives you some time to think about your frailty. Day one was enough in itself, but when you expect to get better on day two, and it gets worse, it starts to lower your spirits.  Today, the third day, is the first day I have had enough strength to sit up and write, and I am even finding this exhausting. I only have a flu virus. I’m sure if anyone reading this has battled, or is battling, cancer or some other serious disease, they are shaking their head saying, “you have no idea.” I’m sure you could teach me more than I could you, but I will put my thoughts here regardless, in case someone finds them edifying. Here are three thoughts that have been going through my mind as I have been laid up.

1. Sin is Serious  

There would be no sickness if it were not for sin. The reason we have to deal with any of it is because we live in a fallen world. Let me be clear, I am not saying that anytime someone gets sick it is a result of some sin they have committed. What I am saying is that because sin has entered our world, there is sickness in general. I’ve seen sickness ravage the lives of some of my friends. I saw it once in a friend whose life was taken by a virus, that, for the last several weeks of his life, he lost all control of his body. Up until a couple of months earlier, he was physically fit and running every day.  I saw it in another friend who lost his life to cancer. These two examples are enough to show us that sickness is serious, and though I do not believe these two friends were suffering because of any particular sin in their lives, they were suffering because sin has ravaged our world.

What does this say to me? It says sin is dangerous in any form. We often play around with it like it is a tame pet, but in reality, it is a deceptive brutal killer. Every time I play around with sin, I am playing with the very thing that brought not only sickness but death into the world. We must stop taking it lightly.

2. We Are Not Our Own

This life is not our own. This is true for everyone, but for the Christian, it is true in two senses. First, it is true for everyone in the sense that life is a gift, and tomorrow is promised to no one. We should never take our health for granted. None of us know when our last day of feeling good may be. It can happen overnight, all of the things we take for granted can be taken away. We live in a culture that hates to be reminded of this. We often try to hide sickness and death-keeping it as far away from us as possible. Being mindful of our frailty, however, is a valuable thing. Even David cried out, “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! ( Psalm 39:4)” He wanted to be reminded that his life is a vapor: here today and gone tomorrow. There is a grace in knowing this, as it keeps our vision clear.  We must redeem the time. Our sinful hearts are pulling us in so many directions it is easy to get lost: to lose our center. So many things are vying for our attention, and much of it is vanity.

Once you are laid out on your back, you quickly realize just how unimportant many of the things you are pursuing are. Even if you know that your life is in no real danger, the questions still come. “What if this were it? What if my days of health were behind me? Was I spending it on what mattered?” The interesting thing about these questions is you would think the answers would make you speed up. Instead, they challenge you to slow down. So much of what we are chasing is vanity, and we don’t need to work so hard to have other people be impressed with us. We do not need to put on so many masks to make people believe we are something that we are not. In the end, none of that will matter. Our lives are not our own, and as much as we think we are, we are not in control of when or how it will end.

For the believer, there is a second sense in which our lives are not our own. We have been bought with at price: the cross of Jesus. Let that cost sink in for a moment. Remember what your Savior suffered to save you. Even knowing this, we rarely sacrifice our time for Him. As Thomas Watson put it, “Christ went more willingly to the cross than we do to the throne of grace.” We are so busy chasing the things that we think will bring us glory and pleasure that we have little time for the One who really can. We have hardly any time for the Word of God and even less time for prayer. The pursuit of holiness is rarely as enticing as chasing status in this world, and they are often opposed to one another, so it is impossible to go after both. The fact that we have little time for God tends to show us where our treasure is.

3. Suffering is Crucial to our Spiritual Health

The first two reflections leave me with one final thought on the role of Suffering in the Christian life. Suffering is essential to our spiritual health. If our Savior, who had no sin, had to suffer in this fallen world, how do we, who have sinful hearts think we will escape it. We should neither seek affliction nor run from it. As one theologian once said, “It will find us,” but when it does, it wakes us from our slumber. We are naturally drowsy and need to be frequently awakened. Not only do we begin to see the power of sin in these times, but we are also awakened to the suffering of others. It is not until we are comforted by the Lord in our times of suffering that we will be truly able to comfort others.

It is all coming to an end one day, and our health has not been promised to us. What are we doing with the time we have? I for one do not want to find myself on my deathbed saying, “I wish I would have spent more time living for my Savior, in His word, in prayer, and showing a suffering world that Jesus is the answer.” Sin, in general, and, in particular, is our greatest problem, and He bore it on the cross. He has even defeated death by rising again, and though we are sown perishable, we will be raised imperishable. I will live for Him. Everything else will be vanity on the last day, for the things of this world are passing away.

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. – Philippians 3:8

D. Eaton