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


Back when Israel was ruled by judges, there was a famine, and a man named Elimelech moved from Bethlehem in Judah to Moab with his wife, Naomi, and his two sons. After settling into Moab, Elimelech died. Both sons married, and both wives were Moabite women. Roughly a decade later, the sons died.

At this point, Naomi was pretty much alone,  not having a husband or kids around, and she heard that life in Judah was good again. So she and her daughter-in-laws packed up and headed to Judah. But on the way, Naomi told them to return to their mothers, speaking blessings over them for their kindness. They said they didn’t want to, but Naomi told them to return as she was out of sons for them to marry. One kissed her goodbye, but the other did not.

“But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi…. [She] replied, ‘Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!’ When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more” (Ruth 1:14, 16-18, NLT).

I kept thinking about a scripture for the New Year blog post, and I kept coming back to two scriptures, one being this one from Ruth.

The devotion Ruth demonstrated towards Naomi is one that we as humans often reserve for other humans.

And trust me, I am the last person who needs to be talking about this and the first who needs to hear it. I pre-order albums by bands I like without having heard a single note or lyric because I just really like the band. I’ll watch a movie or a show just because I adore an actor who plays in it. And I’d rather not even think of how much money I’ve spent on shirts and jerseys of certain teams or players. I understand – probably better than anyone – this weird sense of an almost sacred devotion to other people.

Unlike my devotion, which is probably more pathetic than anything else, Ruth’s devotion was hopeful and encouraging. I don’t know what Ruth’s relationship with her own mother was like, but we have no reason to believe it wasn’t good. Given how loving and kind Ruth was, I’m inclined to think her mother was the same way. So Ruth’s devotion to Naomi was strong because she chose her over someone else she loved.

What’s really remarkable about Ruth staying with Naomi was that she was a Moabite leaving Moab. Everyone regarded Moabites with disdain. They were seen as barbaric and dirty and awful. Their lineage is traced back to when Lot left Sodom and his daughters conceived with him. They had a history of being oppressive enemies of the Israelites for a very long time. Ruth was taking a big step in leaving both a place that was familiar and free of prejudice towards her. She was really leaving her comfort zone.

In this new year, whether you’re glad it’s here or are starting it with a feeling of hopelessness, we can all aspire to have Ruth’s devotion, but instead of directing it towards another person, we should demonstrate it towards God.

I know it’s hard to choose God over something else. I’m not going to act like it’s not. It’s a product of the fall of man. We naturally want to put people and things that we can see and touch and immediately and definitely behold the greatness of above a God we sometimes have to look for and who doesn’t always lead us to such seemingly great places.

But we can step out of that fondness and familiarity, that sense of happiness and safety, and step into a deeper understanding and a deeper relationship with God. Not because the year is new, but because it’s a time when there’s a big sense of starting over and betterment. It’s a good thing to start at any time.

The other scripture I kept coming back to was John 10:10, where Jesus says, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (NLT).

But I’m a big fan of the NRSV translation of this verse, which says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”

This is where your love and devotion to God lead you – rich, satisfying, life abundant. Oh, it’s challenging, but anything worth having is. Life abundant never comes easy, but it’s certainly a reward worth fighting for. And with God, it’s a guarantee.

By Carrie Prevette

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