Reggie Shaw was 19 years old when he caused a car wreck that killed two men, James Furfaro and Keith O’Dell. The two men were scientists and they built rocket boosters for for NASA. They were driving to work. They were also husbands and fathers so that wreck produced two widows and left three little girls without their dads. Reggie however was unharmed by the accident. And this tragedy formed the story behind the New York Times best selling book A Deadly Wandering by Pulitzer Prize winning author Matt Richtel.
Initiall,y Reggie denied texting, said that his vehicle hydroplaned. Eventually he was forced by the evidence to admit that he was distracted while texting his girlfriend. His vehicle just a little bit went to cross the center line but clipped the mens’ vehicle which spun that car into another vehicle and killed the two men. Richtel’s book weaves together three things – the mystery of what actually happened, the investigation that revealed the truth and thirdly what Richtel calls the astonishing science of attention in the digital age. Another researcher Dr. Paul Atchley has devoted his career to understanding the science of distraction. Listen to what he calls the grand illusion. I’m Paul Atchley, associate professor. I’m also assistant chair for undergraduate studies in the Department of Psychology.
One of the things that has been discovered I would say over the last 30 years is what we call the grand illusion and that is this idea that when we have our eyes open we sort of see everything. But what the eye can see and what the brain actually detects are two very different things because we have a limited amount of information that we can process and that’s where attention comes in. The problem is we have to use what we call our attentional resources to do everything that we do. So if you’re engaging in one task like listening and talking, i.e. talking on a cell phone while trying to do another task like driving where you’re actually controlling a steering wheel and trying to look out in the environment and spot potential problems, you’re trying to divide your attention between multiple tasks and that leaves less attention for each individual task. We know that talking on a cell phone handsfree is about a 500 percent increase in accident risk and texting and driving is about a 2400 percent increase in accident risk. Drunk driving is only a 400 percent increase in accident risk, so both of those behaviors are worse than driving drunk and yet people continue to do it.
So what he’s arguing is that distraction is literally killing us. Every year roughly ten thousand people are killed in an accident caused by someone who is distracted by their phone. Now that’s pretty significant. You think of the fact that mass shootings this year so far have killed 48 people.That’s 48 too many, but 48 people. Homicides by gun average this year will be about 10,000. So you’re talking about as many people killed with a phone as with a weapon. So what’s happening there? Dr. Atchley calls this the grand illusion because he is arguing that our brain’s best ability is self-deception. And that’s not very positive. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how non smart you might be, you’re really good at self-deception.
We all have masters degrees in self-deception. So you can’t tell anybody I’m not good at anything because you’re good at something. You’re really good at telling yourself and believing things about yourself in the world that are not
true and we all are. Solomon in Ecclesiastes is imploring us to stop pretending. That’s the theme. Let’s stop pretending. And he is coming at it from so many different angles. But exposing things that need to be talked about and stripping away facades in order to actually see and get to what is so. We are far more easily distracted than we would like to think. And in chapter 5 he turns to a posture of wisdom that is extremely dense, extremely compressed. Lots here for us in verses 1 through 7. Let me first of all just kind of survey it to look at a couple evidences of distraction. Are there evidences of distraction in this passage? First of all verse 1. Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Number one evidence of distraction in this passage is we intend to do good but end up doing evil.
So understand this person that he’s describing warning us is not waking up in the morning, hey I want to go to the house of God and do something bad.
I want to go break some window. That happened a couple of weeks ago at our other campus. No this this person is waking up saying I want to worship today. But somehow in the process of intending to worship he is arguing that they were not listening. We do not know that we’re actually doing evil. We’re actually going as worshipers and acting as fools. And verse 4 says God has no pleasure in fools. So we intend to do one thing, we end up doing another. We have deviated. We are in one sense distracted. Secondly we intend to say good but end up speaking sin.
So again you’re going to notice this is not somebody who wakes up in the morning wanting to say bad things. But verse 2 do not be rash with your mouth nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on Earth. Therefore let your words be few.
Verse 6, let not your mouth lead you into sin and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? So we’re not talking about someone who is intentionally speaking evil but someone who is unbridled in his or her tongue and therefore may intend to speak good but is really speaking sin. And he uses a dream illustration and this can be super confusing because dreams are super confusing. But look at verse 3, for a dream comes with much business. The fool’s voice with many words. Notice there’s lots going on in a dream. Just like there’s lots going on in a fool’s mouth. Verse 7, when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity.
So the fact that there’s a quantity of thought, a quantity of words does not mean that the thoughts and the words are consistent with reality. Just like a dream. Right? Think stream of consciousness dream. You have those where you’re just like a Houston flood sweeping everything in its wake. If you’re watching a dog go by and a person flow by on a kayak and trash and a shrub. That’s like our dreams sometimes right? You’re driving to work on a cow, singing, playing the violin. You notice out of the corner of your eye a bird is carrying your luggage. See you’re not, there’s a lot going on and he seems to be correlating that to our minds and our mouths.
There’s lots coming out, lots going on but there are fragments, distractions seemingly disconnected like a dream. You’re like whoa. All over the place. A cluttered mind, a cluttered mouth. Jesus warned us of this specifically in regard to following him in Luke 9:57. They were going along the road, someone said to him hey I will follow you wherever you go. And Jesus said to him, well foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. You could just picture the guy going, on second thought…
To another he said follow me, but he said Lord let me first go bury my father. Now for him to be out and about talking to people, his dad probably hasn’t died yet so it just seems like one day when my dad dies I want to be available so. And Jesus said to him leave the dead to bury their own dead but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. And another said I will follow you Lord but let me first say farewell to those at my home. Jesus said to him no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
Now what is he getting at? Jesus is not anti house, anti funeral, anti family that’s not his point he’s using hyperbole to address our spiritual ADD. I will follow you. Oh look. I’ve shared with you I was diagnosed with ADD as a kid, and probably the only reason it wasn’t ADHD is because they didn’t have that then. They didn’t have all the letters, but they had it. I had it. Every one of my report cards… needs to develop some self-control. Every one. But what is fascinating to me about distraction is it always seems reasonable to me. It makes sense how I got from here to here even though I’m way off course.
You know how that is, every parent understands this. Johnny. Please go to your room, pick up your room, clean it up and then come back and tell me how it went. Johnny in a moment of unusual obedience says, yes mom and goes to his room. And he’s picking up piles of clothes and all the sudden notices there’s an unfinished Lego airplane that needs to be addressed and so he’s putting that together and then, I wonder if this will fly? I wonder if I could fly? And pretty soon he’s out on the roof with a sheet that he’s ripped off his bed and his mom comes in. You’re supposed to be cleaning. But see that makes perfect sense to him, how he got from cleaning his room to jumping off the roof, breaking his legs, going to the emergency room.
It all fits together and that’s what’s so significant and I think that’s what’s significant about the examples Jesus gives. I will follow you. He doesn’t use examples. But let me go murder somebody. Let me go smoke some crack. Let me do something bad. No it’s things that seem really reasonable to us. But before we know it we’ve gone from here to here, one reasonable step at a time but totally distracted. Totally diverted.
A series of small distractions can lead to big diversions. A series of small distractions can lead us to big diversions and that seems to be a sub theme through this passage. Not only does it affect our productivity, and we could go off and give the data of how that affects the workplace, employees’ distractions. But even more fundamentally it sucks the joy out of our lives. The joy God has for us. So this passage gives us at least four very practical suggestions to help us fight this attention deficiency. Number one. And they produce joy and that’s why acrostic is glad. Number one, guard. Verse 1, guard your steps when you go to the house of God. So pay attention to what you’re doing. And again it’s each step. You know he’s not just saying guard your voyage. But it’s guard your steps. Because it implies vulnerability. Small missteps lead us astray when you go to the house of God. We need to think about what we’re doing. Now let’s get back to the context. In the immediate context what were they talking about? He was talking about going to Solomon’s Temple.
Solomon’s Temple was a massive majestic place. The first time a Jewish worshipper went to this temple I’m sure it was breathtaking. And you stood in awe because it all pointed up to God gave access through sacrifice to a right relationship with him. It was all breathtaking. But you can imagine month after month, year after year, you grow up in a family, you’ve heard it all, you’ve done it all, and after a while it’s just another box to check. You just go because that’s what you do. Solomon is warning us. Think about what you’re doing.
Today we are God’s temple. Not just individually which the Bible describes but collectively. We who were afar off, Ephesians 2, are no longer strangers, no longer aliens. We’ve been brought near through the sacrifice of Christ, the blood of Christ. We are brought near. We are brought together. We are now fellow citizens of the household of God.
We are being formed, not just individual temples, that’s 1Corinthians, but Ephesians 2, we are collectively being formed into the temple of God. And so when we gather on the Lord’s Day the day of resurrection on Sunday we get glimpses of the way God is bringing us together, joining us together in this beautiful temple of Ephesians 2:21. In whom that is Christ the chief cornerstone, the whole structure (all of us who are believers) being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. So think about it.
Whatever reason you came to church today, that’s God’s reason. One of several. He is joining us together into a dwelling place. His holy temple.
This is the biggest construction project in all of history. I love to imagine it happening in different time zones all around the world. As Christians are gathering, God is joining together, building this dwelling place through the sacrifice of Christ by the Spirit. Now we have many contractors in our church and you know the frustration when you have blueprints and you’re building something and you hire a subcontractor or one of their workers who comes onto your site and decides that they don’t really like the blueprints, and they kind of want to build it a different way, and so they start building it their own way.
And you say no no no. I didn’t hire you to build it your way. I want you to build it according to the plan. We had that happen here as we were just doing our recent renovations. People have a better ideas in their minds than what the actual plans say. Oh you wanted it according to the blueprints? Yeah.
Well some of us come to church with that mind, right? We have all sorts of reasons why we say, oh I want to go worship. And we end up recording this passage doing a host of different things besides worship some of them good, some of them bad. But the point in our gathering is not about you or me and what we want to build, what we want to do.
That’s deeply offensive to the one who has a very clear purpose as to why he is calling his people to gather. And this isn’t an argument for a particular style. Because like in Amos, God goes after the people and says take away the noise of your songs. And he mentions the harp. You can’t get a more conservative instrument than the harp. When God trashes on the harp, you know it’s because of the heart not the instrument.And then he goes on to describe what he’s really looking for. Let justice roll.
Extremes. If our gathering to worship makes no difference in the way we walk out and actually live, it is a massive diversion. We’ve been totally distracted from the point of what we’ve come to do and what God is actually up to. We are a distracted people. And again according to this passage that that may not be our intention.
Anie Dillard has written, Why do people in churches seem like cheerful brainless tourists on a package tour of the absolute? On the whole I do not find Christians outside the catacombs sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or as I suspect does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church (This is a few years ago). We should be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares. They should latch us to our pews. So first just pause. think about what we’re doing. And I think that’s especially important for those of you who grew up in church.
It’s super easy to go through the motions. Secondly, listen. Guard your steps and then the second sentence in verse 1, to drawn near, to listen is better to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. It is better to hear what he has to say and what he has done than it is to offer up what we have to say and what we’ve done.
That’s why we come to worship in the name of Jesus. We are saying we’re coming to worship based on everything you are and have done. That’s why we have a cross. That’s saying we’re here to listen to your work, your coming to us, not to try to climb a ladder or earn or impress. That’s not what we’ve come for. We’ve come to hear.
Last week in Chapter 4, verse 13 Ryan ended with the discussion of the foolish king who would no longer take advice. I wonder if some of us are similar to him. He did take advice. He isn’t taking advice any more. We did listen. We are former listeners. Because some of us we’re distracted because we think we already know. We’ve heard it. We can finish the preacher’s sentences. You can’t tell me anything I don’t already know.
And that is a serious distraction because we end up inoculating ourselves to what we really need to know by the things we think we need to know. We are ex-listeners. Some of us are distracted by suffering. This week I got a great text from a friend who has been through deep, deep loss. And he just said, hey please pray for me. I can’t even pray right now. You know what that’s like when you start to pray and your mind just goes all over the place.
And because of the trauma, the loss, the suffering you’re in, your mind is just racing in so many directions and there’s so many things to think about. And no matter what you pray it shoots you off into different things. And so as I was praying for him I just suggested, try praying just pray God’s word, just latch your mind to God’s word. It was very interesting he texted right back. That is exactly what so and so, another guy in our church, had just said the same thing. Because it’s true. When we go through intense suffering, trauma, loss, and our minds are frazzled and vulnerable and weak and just easily lead into into a variety of different distractions, and some again are really legitimate and reasonable but unhelpful. We lock our ears and eyes to the promises of God and we just pray pray pray those over and over again.
Some of us are distracted by what we could call pseudo or superficial obedience. Let me give you a scenario. Like this morning for example. You’re sitting in here, and you’ve come to church. You know, your mind going in different places, but you hope to worship. You want to hear from God. And during the message the Spirit speaks to you. You can tell. There’s a nudge in your soul. There’s a specific thing he puts his finger on. He says, this is for you. And you’re not wanting to do the wrong thing. You say okay. I hear you. Yes. Yes. But then you move on. And then by tomorrow you can’t remember what God said at all, right?
And all the original intentions of, Yes! This week is going to be different. Yes! I’m going to stop doing that. I know that’s wrong. I know. God convicted me of that two Sundays ago, and then he convicted me here, and I know I’m going to do better but then nothing ever changes. What’s going on there? Well sometimes it’s because it’s almost like we throw got a bone. Yes I know it’s bad. I promise I’ll do better. This one’s going to be different. But there’s no
traction, and there’s no sustained movement in a direction that’s actually going to lead to change. It’s interesting when you study the science of attention, and I spent a year a couple of years ago reading a bunch of books on focus some of which I did not finish. You feel super dumb when you don’t even get through a book on focus. But but there’s a ton of interesting stuff on distraction and attention and focus. And one of the things many researchers are finding is that for those of us who think we can multitask, and we and we give ourselves to one task and yet our phone is right there, our e-mail is right there. You know, we’re constantly checking and responding. And we think we’re accomplishing a lot because we’re able to answer that e-mail real quick and then get back to work. But what they find is what’s called attention residue.
And that is even though, and I’m talking primarily about when you when when you need to do what is called deep work, when you need to really focus in and write or research or create, develop. You’re into this project, and then you give your attention to this for a bit and then you’re back and you think you haven’t lost anything. But you have. All the research shows that even that small diversion when you come back, you leave a residue of attention to the thing you were just giving attention to, and when you’re back you have less to work with. And for those of us who have very little to work with in the first place, thats deadly. Because if we’re constantly answering, doing, responding, we end up accomplishing very little of what really matters because we are so fragmented and that attention residue, meaning even though we’re not conscious of it, part of our attention is still on the thing we were just focused on and it takes time to get full attention back on track.
Some of us are so used to living our lives that way that spiritually this characterizes us. And so when the Spirit speaks to us in a service we are completely sincere. Yes or YES I promise this week I will. And we end up doing what Colossians 2 describes as self made religion. I’, not going to do this, I’m going to do this, I will try harder. But it’s a powerless thing. Look at how Colossians 2 ends. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism (severity of the body, that is you’re denying yourself of things) but they have no value in stopping the indulgence of flesh. No ongoing, sustaining, transforming power, these mini resolutions. Because they lack the power of a new identity which he goes on to describe in chapter Chapter 3. And they end up being empty promises.
So what is the difference? If I’m going to guard the way I approach worship and then I’m truly in a place of listening, and the Spirit does speak to me, like he’s doing right now as he’s joining together and convicting and healing and building his people. What is the proper response? Well first I hear. But then, and this is where I think the attention residue is helpful to think about, because you’ve got to remember even though you heard, there’s still a part of you that’s latched on. And in some cases decades of deep ruts of ways of thinking and doing. And if you think that just by saying yes it’s going to be different that that’s actually going to do anything,
You’re self deceived. So yes, it begins with I hear you Lord. I hear you. But what it might mean next is to say okay God. I want to devote some time this afternoon for your Spirit in your word to show me my patterns of thinking that led me into those ruts. My ways, what I’m really loving that would lead me and deceive me into actually believing the stuff I’ve been believing and doing. Slow down. Listening is not just hearing. It’s actually listening.
The verse that I think summarizes this so well Ryan quoted last week I’ve been living in for years now is Psalm 143:8. Because notice the flow here. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love. That’s my greatest need every morning. Let me hear your love Lord.
Lots of voices, lots of distractions. Renew my heart in your steadfast love through Christ for in you I trust. My whole confidence is in you. And then notice from that, make me know the way that I should go. So the actions follow the listening, not the other way around. And that is a daily thing. Not just, I did it on Sunday, I’ve checked that box. I’m good to go. And for me it’s not just a daily thing, it’s an hourly thing, a minutely thing. Is that a word? Thirdly act. Notice the action follows.
Verse 4, Do not delay paying it. Pay what you vow. When the Spirit speaks and you respond yes Lord,I’m going to do that. I know we don’t use vow language as much now which is a good thing, but we still are constantly saying, God it’s going to be different, I’ll do that. We respond yes, yes. But our words don’t mean anything many times. False worship is quick to speak and slow to act on what God actually says. I mean it acts, but on what God actually says. True worship is slow to speak but quick to act when we truly hear.
Zacchaeus is a great example of that inLuke 19. Remember the wee little guy in the tree? Verse 5. When Jesus came to the place he looked up and he said to him Zacchaeus, hurry and come down for I must stay at your house today. What’s Zacchaeus’ response? He hurried and came down, received him joyfully. You could just picture, this is a very wealthy businessman with a lot to lose. He hears Jesus. He responds. Goes to the house, hears Jesus, responds, more than paying back all the people he has defrauded. Hears, responds. Grace may start small and slow like a mustard seed, but it builds momentum, and it lasts. It acts. Psalm 119:59, When I think on my ways,
I turn my feet to your testimonies. Remember? Guard your step. Not just I turn my ears, but I turn my feet. Do our feet turn to his testimonies?
I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments. So there is a momentum. And then finally verse 7. We guard, we listen, we act, we depend. And really this is the whole thing. He ends in verse seven with really summarizing everything he’s said. God is the one you must fear. And by fear he’s not talking about terrorize. He is talking about, we stand in awe of someone or something all of the time. God is the one.
Not your neighbor, not yourself, not your culture, not your cravings. God is the one. So I look I look at all of life through God. He is the one. He is the one described here in verse 2 at the end. God is in heaven. You are on earth. Think about that in light of the whole message of Ecclesiastes. The message of Ecclesiastes is warning us of the danger of merely looking at life under the sun.
God is the one who is not under the sun. Why wouldn’t you listen to him? He can see things that you can’t see. He knows things you don’t know. He is in heaven. You are on earth. So our entire way of looking at the world is from his perspective because he sees it all. He made it all. He is making all things beautiful in its time. So what?
What do we do with all this? Let me just tell you what God was doing in my heart this week regarding this, because I had one of those weeks where every minute was scheduled. And you know from early in the morning to late, late at night, just from one thing to the next thing to the next thing. And so inside I’m wanting to complain to God about that. How do you expect me not to be distracted when I’m running like a mad dog from thing to thing to thing? And this describes many of our days. I’m not at all minimizing the need to do better at building margins in that. But what the Spirit really convicted me of is, if he, if God is in heaven, and he is making all things beautiful in their time, then what about the moment I’m in right now? Will I receive that from him and will I be fully present in that moment, or am I constantly going to think about, oh I’ve got this coming up in a minute.
And I didn’t do great at this, and I wish I had done better there and what about this and oh I didn’t plan this and this. And so I’m in the moment but I’m fragmented, distracted by all the other things. And the Spirit was saying, no, I’m working, bringing all things to beauty. You be present, fully present right now. It ended up being a super busy week but a super amazing week.
Just practice it right now. Imagine this moment right now as a gift from God, and you have nothing better right now than to do what you’re doing right now. What does that feel like? I mean for some of you that feels sinful because you don’t feel happy if you’re not doing 20 things at once. And even when you’re not doing anything, you’re thinking about all the things you need to be doing.
But what about being fully present in this moment and receiving it from God, like he actually has something to say to you now. But if our minds are all over the place, we miss what he has for us right now. He’s speaking to us. What are we going to do?
Will we guard the way we approach these times, truly listening, setting aside what I think I know that causes me to not want to listen? Ready to act? Lord I’m ready to take action, whatever you speak to me of, not some kind of legalistic, make you happy action, but flowing out of your love through Christ, totally dependent on You.
So in a moment Sarah is going to sing over us a song that just reminds us who’s in charge. God is in heaven. And I want us all just to kind of breathe. And if your faith isn’t in Jesus, then right now would be a great time to turn from who you’re depending on to the king of the world. If you feel very fragmented, then maybe maybe it would be a great time to just repent of that.
Turn from that and say God, unite my heart to fear your name. Remind me that my job isn’t to try to do your job, God. You’re doing a great job. My job is to listen, to hear you speak and to respond. Lord give us ears to hear. Please.
Help us. Lord it is sobering for me to think that there are some maybe in this room that are going to do things this year, wrong things that they a year ago or two years ago would never have imagined themselves doing.
We are all fully capable of that. How do we get there, Lord? It comes from a series of small diversions, missteps, lies we believe. And so we pray not for a terror mindset but a true awe. God, you know what you’re doing. And when you convict us, we say yes. And then we’re ready to follow it up with those we live in community with, asking for help, prayer, wisdom to map out a path forward so that are steps are not flippant, foolish.
Spirit, thank you for speaking to us. Now as we respond, being sung over and then prayed over, eyes fixed on you. We just know you’re doing your work.
Let us not miss you. Thank you Jesus. Amen.