I will never forget a story Mom told me about her challenge in raising me. My problem: I would never be still. I was the busiest, most distracted kid she ever encountered. But there was one exception: When she was cooking dinner I would sit with rapt attention, not moving until the food was ready. Then I would eat heartily and return to busily tearing up the house.
I mentally argued with her stories thinking, I'm not that unfocused. She must be exaggerating. Then I got married and one day my wife settled it for me. She said, "Kyle, you don't have ADD" (Attention Deficit Disorder). My ensuing smile disappeared when she said, "You have ADD-EFGHIJKLMNOP!" Yes, I am still happily married, in case you were wondering.
God finally helped me settle this issue. When I was called to preach the gospel, I wanted my first sermon to be meaningful. I somehow felt it would have ramifications for the rest of my life and ministry, so I dared not just choose any subject. I wanted to hear directly from God. I fasted and prayed many days to hear properly. Finally I heard clearly my topic from Psalm 46:10—"Be Still and Know That I Am God."
For many years, my distracted nature caused me to avoid a truth we all must embrace—the Christian walk is simple, and it requires us to focus on one main thing. Christianity at its core is not about many of the things we pursue—dare I say even idolize. Christianity in its purest genetic form is about sincere, pure devotion to Jesus.
Paul makes this crystal clear by exclaiming, "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy; for I espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear that somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve through his trickery, so your minds might be led astray from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2-3).
In these verses, Paul likens:
- Salvation to betrothal
- Christ to a bridegroom
- Our mandate as simple pure devotion to Jesus
- Our warfare as Satan trying to distract us from such devotion
What Paul says is profound, but yet quite simple! When we embrace this as our mantra, when the only idol in our heart is Jesus and living for His glory, the end result is an undistracted heart that uses every ounce of its energy to please Jesus. This should describe our life's pursuit.
Christianity is simple and Satan's main strategy against us is also simple. Our goal as believers is to live in sincere, pure, unbridled devotion to Jesus as a pure virgin would to her new bridegroom. He alone is to be our idol. Satan's goal for us is to be distracted by secondary or tertiary tasks and make them our chief pursuit. After all, the first and greatest commandment that fulfils every other commandment is: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). When we don't keep the main thing the main thing, we can easily, and oftentimes unknowingly, become distracted and idolize other things, good as they may be.
Ministry is not for the fainthearted. It is a serious commitment and calling. There are so many pressures pastors and leaders bear. But how many of our pressures are self-induced because we are measuring progress by an inaccurate standard?
The tension we often face in ministry is evident in Mary and Martha's life. Luke 10:38-42 records Jesus entering into Mary and Martha's house, and we see Mary, "who also sat at Jesus' feet and listening to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she came to him and asked, 'Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Then tell her to help me.' " How many of us have asked the same question when we have had to perform some ministry task that a committee or leader should have done?
"But the Lord answered to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed. And Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken from her.' " So many things in ministry can begin to squeeze into our devotional life. We don't really want them to interfere; we don't cognitively say, "Should I be Mary or Martha today?"
We shouldn't be too hard on Martha. She was not wrong for serving; someone had to do it. They both couldn't sit there and let everyone starve. But why do we have choose to be either servers or lovers? Can't we be loving servers or serving lovers? Can't we serve with intensity while delighting in God intimately? Can we ever strike a perfect balance of Mary and Martha in our lives? Can we stay at His feet while serving Him? Of course, we can, but only by grace can we do it.
Doing things for God without a heart full of love toward Him leads to a heart that seeks other means of fulfillment. I believe this is one of the reasons we chase so many idols. We allow our hearts to grow dull and unfulfilled. We then resort to rules and fleshly prohibitions to form the basis of our obedience. But these are sub-standard. Our heart was made to be wholehearted. We were all made to pursue—when Jesus is not that pursuit, other things occupy that space.
I once heard James Dobson say on his radio show that the average pastor can do some 200-plus different activities when God really only expects us to do a few. I have narrowed these few down to three for my life: feed (preach the Word), lead (provide vision and direction) and intercede (spend a great quantity of time with God in prayer and the Word).
1) Feed. Good food isn't good enough. Serving leftovers is even worse. We must seek the heart of God as to what He wants His children to eat. The "go-to" sermons must go! They are a poor substitute for a current word straight from the heart of God!
2) Lead. Get clarity on what God expects of us, not what people expect of us. There is nothing worse than expending lots of energy on someone else's mission thinking it is our own. God's yoke is easy and His burden is light. The pressure we often encounter may be self-inflicted by not erecting enough boundaries.
3) Intercede. It should be no surprise to you by now that I often get distracted from the main thing. Recently I felt impressed to go away and spend a week alone with the Lord in prayer, meditation and study. I had an incredible time. I came back so refreshed and refilled. I didn't realize how rusty I had gotten by being so busy. There is no way around it. If we are to have a healthy spiritual life, we must prioritize our first love. At my strongest times in the Lord, I commit two or three hours a day to be before Him. I find that adequate to quench my thirst.
If we narrow our focus, leaving maximum time and energy for our primary pursuit, our hearts will stay full—and he that is full is no longer hungry. We won't hunger for or lust after lesser things, be it sin or some secondary pursuit that knocks on the door of our heart, deceptively promising more fulfillment than our primary pursuit.
I pray for God to constantly give grace so that you can keep the first things first. If we ask, it shall be given.
Kyle Searcy serves as senior pastor of Fresh Anointing House of Worship in Montgomery, Alabama, and Norcross, Georgia.
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