As I walked past my desk I caught a glimpse of my 2019 word(s) of the year, willing spirit. In that moment I felt the Lord whisper, your new word is obedience. Obedience? That’s a loaded word. It implies clear direction, submission, and action. Still not fully convinced that I had heard from the Lord, I went on about my day. I ran that word through my mind and prayed for more confirmation.
Later that night as I was reading my devotional, Experiencing God Day by Day by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, one line in particular jumped off the page, “He is interested in how obedient you are (p. 336).” And suddenly He had my full attention, and I had my word. What does that mean, Lord? What are you going to ask me to do?
I began to pray a little bit about obedience and what it looks like in the life of a Christ follower. What needs to happen in my life so that I can ensure that I am living an obedient life?
Oh, easy. I can listen. But as I began to think about what it is in life that is keeping me from hearing God, I realized it’s distraction, and maybe I’m not so great at listening. We live in a culture of distraction. In his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, Pastor John Mark Comer says, “But could it be that, with a few said exceptions, we’re the ones who are absent, not God? We sit around sucked into our phones or TV or to-do lists, oblivious to the God who is around us, with us, in us, even more desirous than we are for relationship (p. 88).”
Ouch. I knew that to be true in my own life. In order to be obedient I would have to take an inventory of what is distracting me from hearing God’s voice and eliminate or restrict those things.
I have been experiencing some conviction about the amount of time I spend on my phone, so as I explore what needs to change for me to live a life of full obedience, I know I will have to silence those distractions in my life. I can’t obey God if I can’t hear Him, and I desperately want to hear from Him. God is calling me to my first act of obedience: to make space for Him. There’s a lot of truth to the saying that sometimes we have to give up something good to make space for something better.
In my life, my smartphone is stealing my ability to focus when I pray and read the Bible, so I know that I need to change my habits. It can also create a false sense of boredom, and spending time with the Lord in His living and active word should be anything but boring. But when you are used to getting a lot of information at one time (through scrolling), having to think and dig and seek God’s guidance can seem a lot like work. I’ve also noticed that silence and stillness have begun to feel uncomfortable, so I reach for my phone, check my email, reply to a text, give Instagram a quick scroll and the discomfort is gone. But lately, a new feeling of unease has been taking hold of me, and I believe that to be the gentle conviction of the Holy Spirit.
One of my favorite songs right now is called, I’m Listening by Chris McClarney. The chorus of the song says, “I don’t want to miss one word you speak, because everything you say is life to me. I don’t want to miss one word you speak, so quiet my heart I’m listening.” As I listen to that song, I wonder how many times I’ve missed an opportunity to be obedient because I didn’t notice it.
I am beginning to realize that my mind is weary from the constant barrage of noise coming through my phone. In the familiar passage of Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” I need rest from the noise and Jesus’ answer is, learn from Me. As I reflect a little more on what Jesus’ life looked liked, I am realizing that no matter how busy Jesus was, he always took the time to look people in the eye. He didn’t half listen to what they were saying because he was in conversation with others. He was always fully present. In Matthew 9, a woman who had been suffering for 12 long years intentionally took the time to seek Jesus out. It was a risk on her part because she was considered unclean due to her medical issues that likely forced her to live her life in solitude. Matthew 9:22 says that in return, “Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Have courage, daughter,’ he said. ‘Your faith has saved you” (emphasis added). This happened while Jesus was on his way to a leader’s house to heal his daughter who had just died. Everyone would have been in a hurry to get Jesus to the leader’s house, but Jesus turned and saw her. Her faith and effort was rewarded in the presence of Jesus.
So take an inventory with me of how you are spending your time. Are you spending time intentionally seeking Jesus? Or are you, like me, always trying to multitask? I constantly find myself asking Jesus for answers but my listening to him is coupled with scrolling social media, answering text messages, and sending emails. The Bible has promised that if we turn and seek him we will have his undivided attention. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all of your heart.” Perhaps you are like me and have been going through a season where your attention has been misplaced.
I encourage you to join me as we begin a new year, and do some self reflection of your mind and heart. What has your attention most of the time? Is it your job, Netflix, your phone, friends, or an unhealthy addiction? Pastor Comer also puts it this way, “… the mind is the portal to the soul, and what you fill your mind with will shape the trajectory of your character. In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to (p. 89).” I want my attention to be on Jesus and for everything else to be secondary. Psalms 119:37 says, “Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless; give me life in your ways.” If we turn our eyes from distractions, and turn towards Jesus, we will find that just as He did in Matthew 9, He will turn towards us and see us.
Changing behaviors is hard and humbling work. I fail at it over and over, but I won’t stop trying. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). So whatever it is that is stealing your attention, fix your eyes on Him and know that His grace is more than enough for us all.
Written by Christina Painter
Christina Painter is a wife, mom of two, and an elementary school librarian. She has a heart for women’s ministry and love to encourage others through writing. You can read more from Christina on her personal blog, The Byway.