Whenever the idea of distractions is brought up in connection with engaging Scripture there is almost always a lively response from people. Most of us have a difficult time slowing down and spending time with the Bible. Distractions seem to pop out of nowhere, stemming from any number of things: external chaos, internal stress, tiredness, or simply an undisciplined mind. Whether these are a form of spiritual attack or just a battle with our own sinful nature, they stand between us and a meeting with God in his Word. However, there are a lot of things we can do to decrease their impact on our time in Scripture.
Find a time to engage when your mind is clear and you’re less prone to distraction. If you’re not a morning person, it’s probably going to be hard for you to pay attention right after you get up in the morning. Find what’s right for you, and know that what is right might change over time. Give the best time of your day that you can to your time engaging Scripture.
Designate a place that helps you focus. It’s good to use the same place repeatedly because your brain will begin to automatically set itself to the proper mode when you go to that place. For some, this may mean a silent room, for others it may mean a public place, for still others a spot in nature. Once again, you have to figure out what works for you.
Journaling before you enter the Word can also be a good idea. Take a minute to write out your troubles, disappointments, frustrations, joys, whatever’s going to take your mind off what you’re doing. Some people even do this in the form of a prayer and end by asking God to guide them through their study and help them stay focused on what Scripture has to say.
Some people find it most helpful to sit in quiet before they start and let their minds settle and calm down.
If your thoughts wander to things you need to do, you might consider having paper with you so you can jot those things down before you start. You can continue to do this throughout your study if more come to mind. Just get them out of your head as quickly as possible so you can refocus.
Sometimes we get distracted because what we are doing has become routine. Consider trying a new Scripture engagement practice when you have become too familiar with what you are used to doing.
If you are feeling distracted when reading the Bible to yourself, try reading it out loud.
Don’t feel guilty about distraction. It’s okay. It happens to all of us, and feeling guilty about being distracted only adds another distraction. When it happens, just pray and ask God to redirect your thoughts to the Word.
After you’re done with your study, think about what distractions you faced. If you can identify specifically what things caused you trouble, you can combat them more effectively.
Practice. Don’t give up. Scripture engagement, like all spiritual disciplines, gets easier with time. Disciplining the mind is hard work, but the chance to interact with God through His Word is definitely worth the focused effort.
Let this vivid analogy, passed on by Henri Nouwen, inspire you in your struggle against distractions:
“Time in solitude may at first seem little more than a time in which we are bombarded by thousands of thoughts and feelings that emerge from hidden areas of our minds. One of the early Christian writers describes the first stage of solitary prayer as the experience of a man who, after years of living with open doors, suddenly decides to shut them. The visitors who used to come and enter his home start pounding on the doors, wondering why they are not allowed to enter. Only when they realize that they are not welcome do they gradually stop coming. This is the experience of anyone who decides to enter into solitude after a life without much spiritual discipline. At first, the many distractions keep presenting themselves. Later, as they receive less and less attention, they slowly withdraw.”