“He is off in Lala Land.” This phrase and others like it describe a distracted individual. Unfortunately the phrase applies to many who warm the pews in congregations of the Lord’s church throughout the world. He looks at his watch during the sermon more than he looks at his Bible. She fumes over the large hairdo blocking her view rather than scoot six inches in one direction in order to see better. He is so worried about getting home to watch the game that he forgets he is assigned to lead the closing prayer. She knows what every else does during a prayer because her eyes are cracked open in order to “people watch” each time the congregation bows to pray. He is able to recite a Saturday Night Live skit from the previous evening but cannot recall the topic of the sermon that he just heard. They wake themselves with their own snores, count grammatical errors but miss the scriptural truths, balance checkbooks, and take mental inventory of their pantries during the Lord’s Supper in order to plan Sunday lunch. These all have something in common: an “out of body experience.” Their bodies are present in the assembly while their hearts and minds are absent. They are distracted. Some deliberately distract themselves, others unintentionally allow distractions to consume their focus, but the end result is the same.
The board in the foyer records the attendance for Sunday Bible study, two Sunday worship services, and a Wednesday night Bible class. Imagine if the roll could indicate not only how many were attending, but also how many were attentive. Would such a statistic serve as a wake-up call to those who are spiritually (and physically) asleep? Of course, such is impossible since only God is able to know the hearts of all the children of men (I Kings 8:39; Acts 1:24). However, when song leaders look up to see a third of the congregation sitting with closed songbooks and closed mouths, it is not difficult to distinguish the sincere singer from the lax listener (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). When preachers repeatedly see people passing notes rather than taking notes, conversations instead of concentration, and heads being turned to look at the time instead of pages being turned to look at the text, it is easy to recognize who is dedicated and who is distracted. Extra-sensory perception is not needed for other worshippers sitting in close proximity to recognize when the head that has been slowly leaning evermore-leftward jerks upright as the dozing worshipper awakens with a start. Not only do these scenarios occur; they are frighteningly commonplace.
One might say, “At least I am there. What is wrong with being a little distracted?” Yes, that person’s physical presence indicates that his body is in the right place, but what about the heart? When distractions eclipse worship, the question asked should not be, “What is wrong with being distracted,” but instead, “Who is wronged by my distractions?”
First, God is wronged. God desires worship (Exodus 34:14). God deserves worship (1 Samuel 22:4). God defines worship (John 4:24). Worshipping God in spirit and in truth is a matter of the right attitude coupled with the right action. Distracted worship neglects the right attitude and is thus unacceptable to God. God is robbed of that which He desires and deserves.
Second, the distracted person is wronged. Consider some of the more obvious benefits that distractions prevent. Being distracted hinders the desire that is necessary for learning and growth (1 Peter 2:2). Being distracted hinders the diligence that is implicit in profitable study and being acceptable before God (2 Timothy 2:15 ASV). Being distracted hinders the deliberate nature of one’s giving, because such is to be done by “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart…” (2 Corinthians 9:7). It is the distracted worshipper who will say, “I did not get anything out of that service;” this statement is both true and telling.
Third, other Christians are wronged. As already mentioned, a distracted person is easily noticed. A person who is distracted can also become a distraction for others. Early Christians looked forward to being with each other, not only for worship, but also in order to encourage one another (Acts 2:41-42, 46; Hebrews 3:13). Immediately after exhorting Christians to “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24), the writer of Hebrews condemned the attitude that runs contrary to such exhortation: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another…” (Hebrews 10:25). How can a Christian claim to be exhorting others with his fellowship when his very presence detracts from the focus of others and shows that he would rather be somewhere else? Paul encouraged the Philippians, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Philippians 2:4). How does Paul’s exhortation reflect upon those today who allow their indifference to become an added challenge to the new convert who is learning the importance of fellowship? How selfless is the Christian who allows his apathy to become an added discouragement to those brethren who are facing challenges in life and desperately need the encouragement of other children of God? Christians are called out from the world (2 Corinthians 6:17), and the assembling of the saints should provide an edifying escape, not additional obstacles to faith and faithfulness.
Fourth, visitors and lost souls are wronged. It was her first time visiting the Lord’s church. She could not help but notice the disinterest of numerous members of the congregation. Some of those whom she recognized from the community dressed better for work than they dressed for worship. The Bible class was informative and thought provoking, but it was hard to focus with the steady stream of members arriving late, including her coworker who had so warmly invited her to the services. When the worship hour began the acts of worship were Biblical, but the attitudes of the worshippers were at best questionable based upon their attentiveness. After the service she wanted to ask the preacher a Bible question, but by the time that she had shaken his hand and introduced herself he was already looking at the next person coming through the doors. The entire ordeal was more ritual than spiritual. She never returned.
When Christians’ actions demonstrate how unimportant worship and fellowship is to them, why should non-Christians be convinced to visit again? Jesus told His followers, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16). Picture a city whose lights emit a radiance through the night that beckons the weary traveler, but as he draws nearer to the city the lights grow dimmer and dimmer until finally it is impossible to distinguish the city from the dark landscape around it. Unable to find the source of the once brilliant light, the traveler returns to the road he had been traveling. The next time he travels in the area he will be wary of seeking comfort in the city of fading lights. So it is when he who is heavy laden with sin’s burdens sees the light of Christians from afar, but as he draws nearer the light fades until finally those Christians cannot be distinguished from the world around them. The disappointed wanderer returns to wandering, not likely to approach again to the light that has already disappointed him before. Christians must shine as lights in the world every day, especially when assembled together. Otherwise God is not glorified and souls are lost.
What is wrong with being a little distracted? Everything. Who is wronged by being a little distracted? Everyone. How can a Christian overcome distraction? Realize that the assembly is an opportunity to exalt God, educate self, edify saints, and evangelize visitors.