There is a difference between spiritual distractions and the simple distractions of life. But both can have the same result if we allow them to distract us from the work God has called us to do. The indwelling Spirit will guide us and provide revelation if we stay close in obedience. The kingdom of darkness seeks to thwart the purposes of God, but we can avoid the subtle deceptions that are so deadly and stand firm and protected in Him.
So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3)
Life is filled with an endless flurry of distractions that can divert us from the simplest routine things. We can all identify with ‘those days’ where we start out with good intentions and a careful plan. But then, ‘life happens’ and any number of irritating and unnecessary problems pop up, demanding immediate attention. We get to the end of the day and find our original list almost untouched. It’s as if we spent the entire day running around putting out fires. Nehemiah teaches us that spiritual distractions are just as real. Unfortunately, they are far more dangerous because they often masquerade as ‘must do’ things. Their sole purpose is to derail the work of God in and through us. The moment we find ourselves turning aside from our God-given purpose or time with Him, we can be sure we’re dealing with a spiritual distraction of one kind or another.
Spiritual distractions usually hide as ordinary things.
By ordinary, I mean of the natural world. In other words, spiritual distractions usually take the form of something that appears entirely natural. It’s something we have to deal with here and now – or at least, that’s how it seems. This is not to say that every distraction is rooted in the spiritual. Many we face come about as simply the manifestation of the fallen world we live in. But even those non-spiritual in origin can have spiritual implications if we allow the forced ‘busyness’ to turn us from His work and purposes. Having said this, however, it’s an inarguable truth that the powers of darkness will engineer or work in different situations to deliberately derail our relationship with God and His plans. This is our first ‘clue’ of what we’re dealing with. If the distraction is aimed directly at preventing God’s purposes, it’s most likely spiritual.
The problem is that we cannot make assumptions and go around looking for rabbits under rocks when they aren’t there. It’s easy to give the devil the glory when it’s not about him or his plans. What is needed to identify real spiritual distractions is to have real spiritual discernment. But this is where the problem comes in. We’re too often distracted by the daily issues and sacrifice time with God in order to deal with things that could be delayed long enough for us to get His take on the situation. The result is that we draw back from God, and that separation limits our spiritual discernment. The Holy Spirit cannot whisper wisdom if our ears are shut off. We cannot hear from God if we aren’t near to Him or listening. It’s the natural, ordinary distractions that interfere with our daily relationship that must first be addressed.
Nehemiah’s example and spiritual distractions.
Today’s verse is Nehemiah’s response to spiritual distractions which were, at first, deceptive. He received five of these ‘invitations’ in all, but was able, by grace, to discern exactly what they were, hence his unequivocal reply. It was only after he refused each attempt that the distraction kicked up into actual attack. A valuable lesson is that if the enemy seeks to derail God’s work, he’ll start out subtly. Why expend unnecessary energy when a little subtle deception will work as well? That’s how he reached Adam and Eve and how he gets us to do most of the work for him. Nehemiah recognised the truth, then refused to be pulled into the deception. He received wisdom from God and acted on it. He chose obedience to God’s purposes rather than following the temptation to give into fear of resistance to the work.
Four times, his reply was the same: he would not leave the Lord’s work to waste time on unimportant interruptions. The messengers returned, at which point he wrote his refusal down. The lesson here is that spiritual distractions don’t simply vanish at first refusal. They find a way to return and dangle various temptations and pressures to try to make us give in. The biggest danger here is that we can be deceived, sometimes, by imagining that the persistence is a sign that this is really something from God. It wears us down and we start second-guessing our discernment and wisdom. We begin to wonder if we heard wrong, or whether we’ve missed something important. The moment we make the decision to ‘look into it’ is the moment the trap closes. Valuable time is lost. We put His work aside and investigate what proves only to be a distraction.
Spiritual distractions and God’s work.
The reason why we can be so easily deceived is that we actually desire to do God’s work. That’s our greatest strength but can also be our greatest weakness. Spiritual distractions will often appear in the guise of doing the work, but unless they are exactly where He has placed us, they’re not for us. Unless He specifically commands us to get involved, we should continue where we are working. Nehemiah uses the expression ‘go down,’ which powerfully portrays the importance of the work we have been given rather than the work we think we should do. God’s work is paramount. Stepping out of that is ‘going down’ to something that is not of Him. Even though the work may be valid, unless He has given us the command we must remain where we are. God’s purposes are perfect and holy.
Just as often, the apparent ‘importance’ of the work is purely counterfeit. It’s a trap, nothing more. Once we ‘go down’ we step into the place where going back up to what is anointed and pure is a long, hard climb and a lot more wasted time. We can even, sadly, continue to be deceived into believing that what we’re busy with is what we should be doing and so prolong the problem. Nehemiah teaches that God is sovereign, His work is sacred and should not be taken lightly, and that we need to remain in Christ and open to the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit. Only He can lead us into all truth – the kind that sets us free from deception and leads us into perfect liberty in God’s perfect plan. If we fix our eyes on Him, deception will have no power over us.
The real nature of spiritual distraction.
We can be absolutely certain that if we resist the subtle deceptions and continue to do so, real spiritual distractions will show their true nature. In Nehemiah’s story, his resistance brought the ugly purpose into the open. It forced the hand of those against the work into the open and the plot against him was uncovered. Subtle deception is preferred because it’s usually easily accomplished with our help. But spiritual distractions have a single purpose – to delay, derail, or destroy the work of God in us and through us. It’s not personal. It’s the kingdom of darkness working to undermine the kingdom of light. We’re merely soldiers in the army and must inevitably face conflict. What the devil fails to do through deception and manipulation, he will then attempt with outright attack.
The saint who resists the spiritual distractions with the obedient spirit of Nehemiah will always see the overt attack once the covert has failed. But, like Nehemiah, if the work is ordained by God and anointed by Him, we will see His protection, wisdom, discernment, and success. When we work in surrender to God’s will and resist the wiles of the devil, he must flee from the power of God at work in and through us.
Thank You, Father, for so graciously revealing the truth of spiritual distractions. Keep us close to Your heart so that we can hear Your warnings and obey. Help us to fix our eyes on You and what You want us to do rather than what we think we should do. We are human and fallible, Lord, and need Your presence to keep us focused so we can strong in Your truth and protection so Your work will be completed.