A screenshot and a little photo-editing program confirm that the e-mail notification icon on my tablet is about 26 pixels wide by 21 pixels high. That’s 541 pixels, which is less than 0.057% of my screen.
I can tell you, though, that if the e-mail notification icon shows up (on any of my various devices – whether at work or at home), I’m pretty much a slave to it.
If I’m reading my devotions in the morning*, and an e-mail pops up, I’m pulled away from my train of thought. I may press on and finish reading what the writer has to say, along with some Scripture; however, in the back (or front) of my mind, I’m wondering what the e-mail is about. (Of course, it’s probably someone wanting me to buy something, but I’m still drawn to check…just in case.)
At church, I may be reading along with the pastor for a passage from the sermon, or reading some more context around it (I’m pretty sure that’s ok – if the Holy Spirit pulls you to read more from His Word, or look up a related verse, go with it). But, as soon as the e-mail icon pops up, the pastor may as well be preaching in Greek, until I check to confirm that it’s nothing urgent (oooh…sale on pizza!).
This isn’t confined to reading the Bible. If I’m talking with someone at work, and the e-mail icon pops up, I typically continue the conversation, but try to sneak in some side glances at my laptop screen, to see if I can read who the note is from or what it is about (if my eyes can make out the font from that far away).
For you, it might not be e-mail. Maybe it’s another blinking light or a buzz. Maybe it’s a crying baby or a tardy bell. Regardless, distractions are all around us.
First, don’t feel guilty for having some distractions in your life. God hears our heart, and I think that He welcomes us talking with Him whenever we can, even when we’re busy or having to multi-task.
If you are puttering around the house when you feel led to pray a quick prayer for a friend who’s going through a tough time, and the phone rings, go ahead and check the caller ID. Maybe God put this friend on your heart as someone to pray for, and it’s that same friend calling. Similarly, I have received time-sensitive e-mail on Sunday morning, related to service opportunities with the church that I needed to know about before the end of the service. Technology that enables communication isn’t inherently evil – it’s just something we need to manage, rather than letting it manage us.
On the other hand, I strongly suggest that you also make some focused time to spend with God. Just as person-to-person relationships benefits from one-on-one time (“Are you listening to me or paying attention to the TV?”), experience and history shows that our relationship with God grows with the same kind of interaction.
Consider two ways that this can help:
- First, it lets us commit our entire selves to God. He doesn’t have to share us with other things for this time.
- Secondly, direct one-on-one time spent with God gives us a chance to listen.
- In 1 Kings 19:11-13, God did not appear to Elijah in a wind, or in an earthquake, or in a fire. But, when Elijah heard “a gentle whisper” (the exact term varies, depending on the translation), he went out to talk with God.
So, how do we decrease the distractions? Your specific solution may be different from what works for me, and I would rather you find the right answer for yourself, instead of trying to be prescriptive. But, to get the ideas started, here are some suggestions:
- Spend time with God in a reasonably distraction-free environment. Coffee shops, the dinner table, and the church lobby on Sunday morning are great places to live out our commitment to being Christians. However, they aren’t a great place for focus.
- Eliminate distractions, where you can. Switch off the TV and the radio. If you read the Bible electronically (and you’re not on-call for anyone), put your phone in airplane mode. If you are reading your Bible in print, put your phone into silent mode for a little while.
- Prioritize distractions, where you must. Set specific apps to not trigger notifications, if they aren’t critical (like that game that used to buzz my phone at 2:30am and wake me up). Some devices have a “blocking mode”, to disable non-essential alerts during a specific time. If you’re not using that feature, consider delaying alerts (for anything you don’t need to be interrupted with) during your scheduled time with God each day.
- Talk with God about it. Ask Him about the next steps in your journey. He may point out a solution that is unique to your situation and temperament.
- Intentionally listen. I am pretty sure that you – like me – have had someone start to talk with you about something you weren’t interested in. Out of sheer force of will, we can still be polite and listen when it is appropriate to do so. If we can do that for other people, we should be able to seek out God’s leading, even when part of us wants to move on and do something else.
May your relationship with God grow, and may you enjoy the rewards of distraction-free time with Him.
- There are various opinions on whether or not it is ok to read the Bible electronically in specific situations, although most of those who I’ve read or heard (on this topic) appreciate the benefits that electronic searches and accessibility provide when one is studying or preparing a lesson, regardless of whether or not they use a printed Bible for devotions or in church. For me, my aging eyes see a lit screen better in the morning (compared to a printed page), and I don’t have to wake up others by turning on the light. Or, at least, those are my excuses!