Jesus’ Advice on Overcoming Distraction

Posted by on Apr 14, 2013 in Leadership, Resources Blog | Comments Off on Jesus’ Advice on Overcoming Distraction

Almost no one wishes they were busier—that we had more things on our to do list, more places to be, more people to catch up with, more errands to run, or more emails to respond to. No one wants that.

Instead, most of us wish life would actually SLOW down, OR that we had more hours in the day, and that we could focus more on the substantial and less on the superficial – not the other way around.


If we peel back a layer, I think what we really wish is that we were able to BE MORE PRESENT in our own lives, and less preoccupied. Anybody with me?

There’s that voice inside that tells us we aren’t designed to live in fast-forward, always wondering or worrying about what is next or what needs to be done. That line gets easily blurs between healthy busyness and unhealthy scattered-ness.

The real dilemma isn’t pointing towards us believing that busyness is inherently bad.

The real dilemma is pointing us towards a more centered way of living.

The issue here isn’t busyness. Rather, distraction.

Dallas Willard says that the greatest enemy to our spiritual life is – you guessed it – distraction.


Busyness does feed into our propensity to be distracted. This often causes us to miss what and who we want to be present with. It’s often just the thing we use to feed into our preoccupation, so we don’t HAVE to be still, because for some of us, that’s a very difficult thing to do.


Recently, I’ve wondered, what does God say about busyness, and more importantly, distraction?



There’s a passage of Scripture in the gospel of Luke that I’ve read many times before, but recently I gained a deeper insight from it that relates to my own challenge of busyness and distraction.


Jesus has this conversation with Martha (Luke 10:38-42). There are a few phrases that pop out to me. First, we read that Mary, “sat at the Lord’s feet.” This isn’t a description of her location in the room. And it doesn’t mean that Jesus wanted Mary to do nothing the rest of her life but sit around. It is an assertion that Mary has made a fundamental decision about her life.


Jesus is talking about the posture of Mary’s heart as she engages life. To us, He’s talking about opening our eyes to see God as we move through our lives…and then respond to him, whether that means go faster and do more, or whether that means pull back and do less.


To “sit in someone’s feet” was an expression in ancient times that indicated the relationship between a disciple and a rabbi. For example when Saul of Tarsus “sat at feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22.3). He was listening and learning, focusing on the teaching of his master and allowing his life and teachings to change who he was becoming and how he lived.


To “sit at someone’s feet” quite simply meant to be their student, protégé, or disciple.  A disciple was someone who had chosen to be with his rabbi as much as possible in order to learn everything he could from him so he could one day be like him. In ancient times, disciples tried to be around the rabbi everywhere not just during formal teaching times. They wanted to see how the rabbi would handle money, what he would do if a woman tried to engage him in conversation. They would compete with each other to be with the rabbi when he was fixing meals, when he was doing chores, even going to bathroom because they were convinced he might say a prayer they may have never heard. A little extreme I know.


Biblical scholar Ray van der Laan notes that the first century Jews had a blessing that beautifully expresses the commitment of the disciple to stay in the presence of the one he followed – “may you always be covered by the dust of your rabbi.” That is, “may you follow him so closely that the dust that his feet kicks is what covers your clothing and lines your face.”


Disciples never wanted to let the rabbi out of their sight. What mattered was not so much the particular activity they were doing. What mattered was being with their rabbi whatever he was doing. Every activity was an opportunity to learn from the rabbi how to be like the rabbi.


I can be “sitting at Jesus feet” when I’m kneeling in prayer or negotiating a contract, or fixing my kids lunch, doing my emails, or watching a movie. All it requires is asking Jesus to be our teacher and companion in that moment. Be with him in what we’re doing. It’s about becoming increasingly aware of what he is trying to teach us, or what he would actually do or say in a situation like the one we’re in.


The intent of a disciple is to live in the presence of his rabbi to learn from his rabbi and strive to become like his rabbi in every way.  This is what it meant to “sit at someone’s feet.”


In this story, Martha is working hard in the kitchen. Luke alerts us to a fundamental obstacle that keeps us from being with Jesus. Again, he doesn’t say she was too busy. He doesn’t say she was over-committed.  His word is “distracted” – a word that means “to be physically pulled or dragged away from something.”


Jesus enters the home of Mary and Martha, two sisters. Martha must have been certain that after exchanging a few words with Jesus, Mary would come help her with all the cooking and cleaning. But Mary doesn’t come. There must have been all kinds of stuff going on in Martha’s head wondering why Mary wasn’t helping out.  Martha gets to the point where she can’t take it anymore and says, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself? Tell her to help me.” Martha is not just criticizing Mary, she’s also unhappy with Jesus.  She’s bringing the pressure – “if you’re compassionate, you’ll make certain other people around here do what I think is important for them to do.”


Then Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.” When Jesus says your name twice, be on the lookout. He did this other times in the Scriptures when he was really trying to get someone’s attention. It’s kind of like when parents use their kids first and last name together, that’s when you know you’re in for it.   I knew my mom was serious when she busted out the two full names, “Stephen Saccone, you get over here right now!”


In this case, I think Jesus was very serious (but also very compassionate).  He goes on to diagnose her condition with precision. The fundamental obstacle that keeps someone from his presence is distraction.


Jesus uses another phrase and says to Martha: “’only one thing is needed,’ and that is the one thing that Mary has chosen, which would not be taken from her.”  The “one thing” was NOT that she would spend the rest of her life sitting in contemplation, letting Martha do all the work. The one thing was being with Jesus no matter what else is going on around her, no matter what she was doing, no matter how busy she was. The one thing was about Mary walking through life aware of God’s presence, ready to recognize him, trying to learn from Jesus, trying to listen for his voice, trying to act when he said act, do when he says do, and be when he says be.


Notice that Martha wasn’t doing bad things. She wasn’t violating the 10 Commandments or gossiping about her friends or spending hours lying on the couch in laziness, or using someone else’s credit card. She was doing constructive things, working hard. BUT, she wasn’t doing it in a way that involved being with Jesus. She was preoccupied with other things. The word that describes Martha is also a word that keeps many of us from experiencing God’s presence in our daily lives.


Martha is a follower of Jesus. She invited Jesus to be in her home. But Martha is distracted from noticing God’s presence right in front of her. She’s not defiant or revenge-seeking, or hate-filled. She’s not rebellious or cruel. Just distracted.


What is it that keeps us from sitting at Jesus’ feet? What keeps us from living in the presence of God?   It is US. It’s not even that we have deliberately chosen to keep him at arm’s length. It is often something much more subtle.


I suspect that many of us are like Martha. We have good intentions. We have invited Jesus into our homes, but we end up missing out on his presence – not b/c we’ve rejected him, but because we get distracted.


So, what is the path that leads us out of distraction?

We need to be ready for the Jesus moments that are right in front of us.


The tragedy of the story is that while Martha is striving tirelessly to serve Jesus, she misses seeing and knowing him. Sometimes we’re doing good things – serving others, working hard, etc. – but we can’t forget to open our spiritual eyes and move through life with an keen awareness of what Jesus wants to teach us in a moment or how he wants to speak to us, or what he wants us to say or do.


Mary had legitimate expectations upon her shoulders, but she was willing to put aside whatever agenda others had for her, or that she had for herself, and respond to Jesus invitation to be with her in deeply profound way.


There is a series of inner choices that brings us to the place of being able to truly “sit at Jesus’ feet” as Mary did. If you are like me, and want more of these kind of profound moments to happen with the God we are so desirous to know, these are the choices before us that we must be willing to make.


First, we have to look for moments where Jesus is revealing himself. Where is he trying to be present with us and speak to us?

Second, we have to learn to discern these moments when they come. We have to learn how to see our extraordinary God in the ordinary of life.

Third, we have to be able to slow down, be still and present in those moments with God.  We must be willing to throw away our own agenda or whatever tasks get in the way, and truly be there with him.

Look, Discern, and Receive. These are the 3 inner choices that no one else can see, but are some of the most important ones we will make.