Listening to God in a Distracted Culture
We live in a distracted age. The American Marketing Association estimates the average person is exposed to up to 10,000 branded messages each day. It’s no wonder that your attention has become the most prized commodity in our world. For those of us who are striving to live as part of the kingdom of God, this presents a challenge because listening to God can seem difficult in a distracted culture.
Think of the messages your brain takes in most days. The moment you wake up your phone is only too happy to shout about your unread emails and social media notifications. The radio or TV presents rapidly-changing sounds and images carefully crafted to win the battle for your attention. The moment you open your computer you can’t escape ads tailored to your individual preferences and buying habits. And that’s before you even begin work.
Plenty has been written and said about the negative impact of our distracted hyper-connected culture on personal relationships. Screen time lessens kids’ development of person-to-person communication skills, and cellphone addiction invades family time and date nights. But we’ve paid less attention (pun intended) to the impact of our distracted culture on our relationship with God.
God rarely shouts above the cacophony of sound in our environment or in our heads. He’s capable of doing so; a flaming Mount Sinai or Solomon’s temple filled with a glory cloud would have been hard to miss. But most of the time He waits to be listened to. He wants to be wanted. He longs to be longed for.
So what does it take to hear God’s voice in our post-modern hyper-distracted culture? Here are some suggestions.
Giving in to the constant barrage of messages presented to your senses will ensure other people (and the enemy) have the greatest impact on your mind and attention. Instead, determine that you will intentionally choose what you give your attention to. As with money or time, it’s your role to tell your attention where it will focus rather than wondering where it went.
Some have found it helpful in choosing to spend the first five minutes of every day with God. Some have chosen to keep their phone perpetually on Do Not Disturb mode, or to leave their phone in one location instead of carrying it around, forcing them to go TO their phone if they need/wish to engage instead of giving in to every notification. Others choose specific times of the day and the week to go completely non-digital, forcing them to engage with each other, with nature, with books, with physical activities, with God, etc.
Choose one or several methods to help you be intentional in deciding what you will give your attention to.
Cultivate the Ability to Focus
Our distracted culture has decreased the average attention span to around 8 seconds. Think of your own experience; what do you do when nothing else is happening? How long can you go before uncomfortably reaching for your phone or some other screen? Or perhaps you have more than one screen going at a time.
God is not in the business of hijacking your television or phone to get you a message. A spiritually encouraging one-liner Tweet may feel good for a moment. But if you want to really hear from God, if you desire to grow spiritually, it’s going to take focus. Cultivate that ability. Turn off all screens and read a book. Take a walk without earbuds in. Keep your radio off while you drive and talk to God.
The ability of your mind to give attention in one direction for a longer period of time can be improved. Do it!
Remember that God rarely shouts over the noise in our heads or our environment. Get quiet. If you struggle here, set your timer for 10 or 15 minutes. No digital allowed during that time. Read a few verses of Scripture. Write a few sentences in your journal as a prayer opening a part of your soul to God. Sing a song. Go outside and really look at the clouds or the stars. Simply sit quietly and listen.
The life stage you’re in, your personality, your home situation, and other circumstances will impact how you get quiet. But remember that if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll remain as you are. If you want any spiritual growth, any spiritual transformation, you will have to intentionally get into God’s presence and give Him your attention. If any part of you desires to hear from God, you will need to learn to get quiet.
What captures your attention captures you. If you want to become more like Jesus and develop the kind of life He offers, cultivate giving Him your attention. Listening to God is a skill you can grow.
Your Turn: Are you able to remain quiet and focused on God for 15 minutes, without distraction? If not, what are you going to do to cultivate that ability? Leave a comment below.
Redacted from Dr. C