One of the greatest hindrances to meaningful Bible study and communion with God is distraction. Subtle distractions inhibit communion with God so much so that one would think they are Satan’s favorite devices to use against the soul.
We all know how this works. We have it all planned out. We sit down to read and study the Bible or pray with music playing in the background. We go into our study or sit up in bed just as the sun rises. Picture perfect. Then, somewhere in the middle of our Bible study or prayer, we start thinking about other things, both important and trivial. We start reading Romans 3 and then think about that phone call we need to make later in the day. We begin, “Father, may you make your name great in all the earth…” only to start thinking about what’s for dinner. By the time we finish reading or praying, we have resolved to do more in our day than we have resolved to respond to God’s Word. Our minds and hearts are battlefields with distractions on one side fighting against holy desires and affections on the other.
While distractions definitely present major problems for our personal communion with God, I believe it is the way we respond to them that dictate their effect on us. Distractions become destructive when we give up. Living as a Christian in a fallen world with a flesh still tainted by our first parents’ sin automatically places the redeemed in a hostile war. So, we must fight sin, temptation, and all distractions with all of our grace-empowered might.
So, when you sit down at your study or in your favorite chair to seek joy in communion with God in his Word and in prayer, and thoughts from work creep in your mind; or the baby starts crying; or tempting and sinful thoughts enter your mind, what are you to do? Cry out to the God with whom you have sat down to commune with. Cry out in sheer honesty and desperation. Trusting God for his sufficiency to trump your deficiencies is both glorifying to God and delightful for you. Trust God to still your mind. You will be communing with God in your fight to better commune with God! Oh, how God-centered one must be to commune with the God of the universe! You must rely on God’s grace to fight for the disciplined practice the Christian duties of Bible study and prayer.
I know I have been on a John Flavel kick recently, but I have been slowly meditating on every page of his incredibly rich and pastoral work Keeping the Heart. It has been a timely grace to my soul and Flavel has been like personal pastor walking with me day by day to urge me to greater Christlikeness. Heed these gracious and sobering words from Flavel.
When you are disturbed by vain thoughts, humble yourself before God, and call in assistance from heaven. When the messenger of Satan buffeted St. Paul by wicked suggestions, he mourned before God on account of it. Never slight wandering thoughts in duty as small matters; follow every such thought with a deep regret. Turn to God with such words as these: ‘Lord, I came hither to commune with thee, and here a busy adversary and a vain heart, conspiring together, have opposed me. Oh my God! What a heart have I! Shall I never wait upon thee without distraction? When shall I enjoy an hour of free communion with thee? Grant me thine assistance at this time; discover thy glory to me, and my heart will quickly be recovered. I came hither to enjoy thee, and shall I go away without thee? Behold my distress, and help me!’ Could you but sufficiently bewail your distractions, and repair to God for deliverance from them, you would gain relief (Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Your Love for God, 79-80).