The lost practice of mental discipline

chess - francesca special k - flickr ccOne of the biggest obstacles for seriously following Jesus in our hyper-connected world is a simple lack of mental discipline, otherwise known as focus and attention span.

Culturally, we’ve succumbed to the temptations of constant distraction and whimsy. If we are not “engaged” (by which we too often actually mean “entertained”) by whatever “content” we are “consuming” we simply move on.

In other words, when it comes to thinking, we tend to give up when the going gets tough.

This makes sustained, deep reflection rare for lots of us. It makes singularly focused worship even more rare, because we’ve abandoned any idea of worship as “the work of the people.” Instead, worship must seem to be (for the “audience,” anyways) effortless.

The result is that we settle for shallow worship, surface-level teaching, and stunt our own spiritual growth.

Yet the Bible teaches us that we must train and discipline our minds (2 Cor. 10:5; Rom. 12:2), and that we know God when we take the time to ponder him and his word (Psalm 1, Phil. 4:8, etc). We are to wrestle with our faith, which necessarily takes time and effort.

How can you get better at sustained mental engagement?

You have to practice.

Take a Bible verse or passage, set a timer on your phone for five minutes, and think about that verse, and nothing else. Consider its meaning, application, context, etc. Memorize it. When your thoughts wander return to your passage. Do this every day for a week. Then up your time to 10 minutes. Do this until you can meditate on a single short verse or idea for 20 minutes.

You can also apply this to your corporate worship time. Make the effort to focus on the sermon and the words you are singing. Take note when your mind begins to wander and do not let it! Bring it back to the idea or topic at hand. Do not allow yourself to become distracted by friends, your phone, shiny graphics on the screens.

The important thing to is to be self-aware enough to realize when you are becoming distracted, and then exercise discipline to bring your mind back into focus.

When you have this kind of self-control, you’ll find that you’re able to think more clearly, resist temptation more effectively, and follow Jesus more wholly.