I’m OK at some multi-tasking activities (walking down the hallway at work while having a conversation with a colleague; or answering an e-mail on my computer at work while waiting for a long-running computational job to finish), but not so much at others (like browsing the news at work when my wife calls at lunchtime, while still giving her my full attention). As a quick eater, I will often read devotions at the dinner table while the rest of the family is still finishing their meal, so they can multi-task. (This was a carry-over from the days when the kids were fidgety when they had to sit still. That…actually hasn’t changed.)
At work, distractions like e-mail, instant messages, and notifications can make it difficult to focus on just one thing. A colleague of mine says, “The human brain can’t actually multi-task. It can only time-slice.” (referring to old methods of running multiple jobs on a single computer). However, I’ve found some relief and focus in “monotasking”: shutting down or hiding other windows on my computer (or doing the equivalent in the non-electronic world), and choosing to just get one thing done at a time.
Sometimes, other really important things in life deserve our full attention, as well. I occasionally need to take my wife out to dinner at a restaurant that doesn’t have the game on TV (above her head!). More often (yes, probably all of the time), I need to watch the road when driving, rather than glancing down to read the name of the music track that is currently playing over the car speakers.
For those who follow Jesus Christ, the cacophony of things asking for our attention (often “competing” opportunities to show love to others) is no different. While we can sometimes do more than one thing at a time, there is often a need for focus, instead. Let me offer three passages of Scripture to consider how we can be more focused when the situation calls for it.
Focus on the Goal
Paul, in the book of Philippians, described the goal that he was striving for:
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14 NASB
Many years ago, I remember training for a local run. I’d go out and run at the high school track. I was told to keep my head up, and not look down all of the time. Looking down left me watching a repetitive pattern of grass or cinders, but looking up would put the finish line (or at least the next milestone) in sight.
In the same way, if our goal is to be called “upward” by God, we can choose to watch the grass grow around us, or focus on the cinders of everyday trials. Or, we can focus on the greater goal, reminding ourselves that individual daily stumbles are just minor bumps in the road, and that distractions faced each day don’t disqualify us from reaching the intended finish line.
Focus on Who We Want to Follow
In what is sometimes called the “faith chapter”, the author of Hebrews also illustrates the Christian walk as a race:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB
Here’s the “secret” behind my training for that local run, so many years ago: I was doing it because I wanted to impress my girlfriend at the time (now my wife of 21 years, I’m happy to say). As altruistic as it might have been to get in shape for my health, or to support a cause, I was focused on a person.
While I hope that the Christian walk isn’t nearly as self-centered, the principle is still valuable. If we are “running the race” – living the Christian life – we can do so for a variety of reasons. Maybe we want to look good to others, or to fit in with a crowd. Maybe we just want to avoid eternal punishment. However, when we fully appreciate Jesus – who He is, and what He did for us – we may very well stop living a certain way for all of those other reasons, and start to just live to make Him happy. When He becomes the love of our life, following His outline for our journey is the natural result (see John 14:15).
Focus on Righteousness
Finally, Jesus Himself reminded us (through Matthew’s recording, below) that there are a lot of less-important things in this life:
Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:31-33 NASB
I understand that bills, physical pain, political chaos, crazy weather, and other things of this world clamor for our attention. They try to pull us away from God. Jesus said that focusing on God’s kingdom, and God’s righteousness (even though He knew that we still wouldn’t be perfect), would be enough. God would take care of the rest.
So, I encourage you (and myself) to set aside some distractions today, and take some time to intentionally point your focus at what will get you to a goal that you truly desire.