Distractions and Idols

One of my favorite professors once told my class on the first day that he didn’t want us to have our phones out in class because distractions make people stupid.

Five years later, I still agree with him.

Dr. Hoyt’s whole point was that we weren’t stupid, but that all the texts, links, and apps that our phones offered us could steal our attention and make us stupid as a result. Which is true because the act of me paying attention to my phone instead of the instructor of a class I’m paying for is stupid as well as remaining ignorant on information I know I’ll be tested on.

I believe spiritual distractions make us spiritually stupid.

This week’s bumper sticker – “Don’t let the car fool you. My treasure is in heaven.” – alludes to idolatry, specifically money. It’s by far and away the weirdest form of materialism I’ve ever heard. It speaks of pride in an eternal possession which somehow cheapens it. I think it’s funny when used sarcastically, but without any context, it sounds a little bratty.

Suddenly, what we have in heaven is compared to what we have here. Heaven feels like it comes with a price tag or like it’s been sealed tightly under dirt waiting for someone to come along with a shovel and some patience. It feels less like a celebration of God and His loving grace. It becomes more like a trend or collector’s item than a paradise for our weary souls.

The bumper sticker takes a gift from God and turns it into the focus of our attention. It distracts us. Jesus said in John 10:10 that the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and I do believe he does all of those things to our focus as well as to us.

At the bottom of my tithe checks, on the memo line, I always write my favorite scripture about money, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, which reads, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life” (NLT).

The NRSV states that last part as “so that they make take hold of the life that really is life.”

All of this goes hand-in-hand with the rest of John 10:10, where Jesus says that He came to give us life more abundantly.

Paul warns us in 1 Timothy 6 about making money an idol, how it can distract us from doing good or looking to God first. And he speaks of how a life of looking to God does store up eternal treasure, but he says that this is done when we turn our attention away from the blessing or the distraction of money and turn it towards God.

The bumper sticker is a Catch 22. It speaks of treasure stored in eternity, but in making that the focus, it becomes the idol.

The truth is, it’s easy to talk about money this way. As long as currency has existed, it’s easily been made an idol. Power, greed, etc. But the issues of spiritual distraction and idolatry can apply to pretty much anything. Success can be a distraction if it’s causing you to neglect your relationship with God, if it’s all you want or think about, if a fear of failure drives you. Marriage can become an idol if you’re too focused on your spouse or fighting and bickering without seeking God’s help. It can also be an idol if you’re pursuing marriage more than you’re pursuing God. Even striving for happiness can distract us if what we’re doing doesn’t align with what God wants us to do. Anything, regardless of how seemingly innocent or helpful, can be an idol or distraction if we allow it to come between us and God.

Enjoy the blessings and gifts of God. More than that, spend them on others. If you have a lot of money, enjoy it, but give to others. If you’re successful, celebrate, but help others succeed. If you have an abundance of joy, don’t hide it, but try to bring others joy as well. God gives to us abundantly so that we may give to others from the overflow, and we can only have that abundance if we keep our focus on God.

By Carrie Prevette

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