As a Christian in my “toddler” stage, I am at a point where I know what I need to do, but I have a hard time keeping on task. REALLY "walking the walk" takes focus and commitment, and there are a LOT of distractions. Now more than ever, I KNOW that I need to put Jesus ahead of everything else. For me, this means reading the Bible daily. Being aware of how I spend my time, what I watch. Keeping my thoughts captive. Listening to Christian radio. Alone with God time. Wise Counsel.
But it's hard. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed at the sheer volume (amount AND loudness) of information, stimulation, and distractions in my life. I see something on Facebook, click a link, follow a rabbit trail, and then all of a sudden realize that an hour of my life is gone. Sometimes it’s interesting stuff, or valuable, but it’s still time engaged in an activity we call "burning weeds" at our house. "Burning weeds" is when you are engaged in an activity that "feels" productive, but maybe isn't the best use of time or highest priority. (Click the link for the origin if you're interested).
It’s certainly OK to "burn weeds" and/or do something mindless on occasion, but is it me, or is it getting harder to separate “mindless” from “mindful” in our daily “plugged-in” lives? Information is so accessible, whether it's good or bad or productive or otherwise. Everything is connected. The world is shrinking. And high-tech aside, even the more "traditional" media and messages (e.g. TV, billboards, radio programming) that we are exposed to can leave you reeling for the good ol’ days. The Brady Bunch days. The dial-up modem days. The “having-a-private-phone-conversation-meant-stretching-the-phone-cord-into-your-room” days.
There are SO many choices. So many things that we can spend our time on. Ephesians 5:15-17 says “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
Time. It’s limited. We need to make “the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” But Evil? That’s kind of harsh, isn’t it? I don’t think so.
I visualize myself (body, soul, emotions, thoughts) as a vessel that is filled with sand. The sand is either World Sand or God Sand. If I am not CONSTANTLY adding and replenishing God Sand, then World Sand fills the void. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of intentionally adding World Sand. It's there by default and uses up whatever room we don’t PROACTIVELY fill with God Sand.
Sometimes I feel like I can’t keep up. Can’t protect my kids. Can’t protect MYSELF. Can’t keep out the World Sand.
We are SURROUNDED by World Sand. World Sand comes in shades of gray (the God Sand is WHITE). Light gray World Sand is maybe just the inane distractions, like reading People magazine at the gym, or watching an episode of Dr. Who on Netflix. But dark gray World Sand threatens us too, and even some of the blackest grains can sneak their way in if we’re not vigilant.
How do we spend our "free" time? Reading? Thinking? Amusement? Consider the word “Amusement.” In a recent Bible study, the word was defined as “to NOT think.” I was taken aback by the simplistic, yet profound idea of this familiar word (Simple & Profound Thought #1). I don’t remember the subject of the lesson, but it stuck with me. A “muse” is a source of inspiration, to “muse” is to ponder, think, meditate. Amuse is not the opposite of muse, but its evil cousin. To amuse is to “entertain,” “gratify,” or “please.” Sounds innocent enough, right? Maybe the stuff of light gray sand. But amuse also means “divert,” “beguile,” “distract,” and “bewilder.” This is the sand that worries me. Dark gray sand. Black sand. Sneaky devil sand. Think about reality TV, the Kardashians, our "instant gratification" culture, the gigantic morality shift over the past 10-20 years, the decrease of actual personal interaction replaced by "device dependence." Sneaky black devil sand.
One example from my life of allowing the dark sand to enter was watching the series True Blood. It is a compelling show. But it is about as dark sand as you can get. I can’t remember how many episodes we watched, but I just had this icky, nagging feeling about it. Guilt. I told Kevin I didn’t want to watch it anymore because it just felt wrong. Now, this is kind of an extreme example – a vampire-based show with adult themes, uh, yeah, pretty clearly not walking the Jesus walk. But think about how TV programming has changed over the years. (We haven’t had cable since 1996, so we’re a little more insulated, but we stream a lot of TV shows on Netflix, so it’s a pretty good sampling of what’s popular these days). Normalizing sex and language and disrespect is definitely NOT keeping the focus on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Phil 4:8)
I just read Psalm 101 this morning:
I will sing of your love and justice, Lord.
I will praise you with songs.
I will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to help me?
I will lead a life of integrity in my own home.
I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar.
I hate all who deal crookedly; I will have nothing to do with them.
I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil.
I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors.
I will not endure conceit and pride.
I will search for faithful people to be my companions.
Only those who are above reproach will be allowed to serve me.
I will not allow deceivers to serve in my house, and liars will not stay in my presence.
My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked and free the city of the Lord from their grip.
What can we do? Simple & Profound Thought #2: RAISE OUR STANDARDS. Enter Isaiah. Wow… Have you READ Isaiah lately? I am currently reading the whole Bible using a concurrent OT/NT/Psalms & Proverbs system, but I found some amazing stuff in Isaiah so I may have to divert from my plan so that I can really grasp the context of some of these verses… Anyway, I digress.
Isaiah 59:19 says, “So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.” Before church a few weeks ago, I had not made the connection between the word “standard” as an emblem (or flag or banner) to indicate a rallying point in battle and the more common definition of a degree or level of excellence. (Since I’m an English major chick, I get sort of giddy when I can make a word connection.) Wow. Raise up a standard. That’s super-simple. Simple, but often not easy.
In Isaiah, it’s pretty clear that God is going to win against the enemy, even when the enemy comes in like a flood. Folks, we are living in a flood. A dark gray World Sand flood. The enemy is all around us. I think that just our AWARENESS of a standard, of “understanding the will of the Lord” will help thwart the infiltration of the enemy. But we HAVE TO RAISE up a STANDARD! I did NOT have my standard raised when I started watching True Blood, but finally “saw the light” so to speak. That “nagging feeling” is usually God telling us to step up and raise that standard. We MUST LISTEN. We MUST be mindful in everything we do, hear, say, watch. Just because we don't DO evil (technically), doesn't mean the evil isn't sneaking its way in.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but we can’t give up and we can’t GIVE IN. I was feeling guilty about not getting the kids more connected at church. Maya and I were out shopping at Target and she had been over in the music/electronics department. When we reconnected, she said she had seen the latest WOW Christian Music “Hits” CD on the shelf and “knew all of the 12 or so songs” from listening to Christian radio at home and in the car. Yay! White God Sand in, gray World Sand out. Little victories.
Raise a standard against evil. Keep reading. Keep praying. Trust. Be mindful. Add God Sand, replenish God Sand, repeat, repeat, repeat. Christian Radio, the Word, humility, prayers, worship. Repeat. Just say no to the amusements of the world.