Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How to Have an Undistracted Heart

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I was struck by something the pastor prayed at the church I had the privilege of attending last Sunday.

Leslie Basham: This is Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy: In his pastoral prayer he said, “May we worship You with our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection.” I just stopped and jotted that down. I thought, “Yes! May we worship You, may we seek You with our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection.”

Song:

I will delight in the law of the Lord;
I will meditate day and night.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, January 6.

I will dream that I’ll be grounded in your Word.1

Leslie: Nancy is continuing in a series called, Revive Me According to Your Word.

Nancy: We’re looking at Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, this week and next and we’re not going verse by verse through it but just looking at some themes, meditations on Psalm 119 as we start out this New Year. We want to start in God’s Word and want to continue to be in God’s Word everyday through the year.

One of the things that strikes me about this psalm is that it is not just an intellectual or theological treatment of God’s Word, but rather it throbs with intense, white-hot passion. When I’m studying God’s Word or meditating on it, I look for recurring themes or thoughts or ideas, and that is one that you can’t miss in this psalm.

There is this intense passion for God. It’s like every part of his being is engaged. You can’t miss the sense of deep love and longing and delight that the psalmist has for God and His Word. In fact, love and longing and delight are three recurring words in this psalm. He says:

My heart stands in awe of your words. I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. (v. 161-163)

So I want us today to just survey some of the phrases and verbs that describe the psalmist’s passion and his intense love and heart for God’s Word. I will just tell you as we start into this as I’ve been meditating in this psalm for the past several weeks, I think this is a topic where I’ve been caught short a number of times because as I read these I’m thinking, “I don’t have that kind of passion.” I wish I did and there have been times when I have. But to think of that as a sustained passion and heartbeat of my life, it just makes me realize how much I need God to give me that passion. I need to take steps to cultivate the love and that passion for God’s Word. We'll talk about how we do that at the end of today’s session.

Just look at some of the phrases that describe that passion. Five times he talks in the psalm about having a whole heart—the totality of a person’s being, emotions, thoughts, and will. He says:

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments. (v. 10)

Give me understanding that I might keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. (v. 34)

Notice the emphasis on the heart. It’s not enough to just obey God’s Word, he wants to do it whole-heartedly. And then listen to words like these:

I cling to your testimonies O LORD, let me not be put to shame. (v. 31)

There is nothing half-hearted about that. I am holding on to your testimonies Lord. I’m clinging to them, holding on to them. Verse 32, “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart.” Or as one translation says, “I will pursue the way of your commandments.”  

There is nothing half-hearted about this guy. There is nothing lackadaisical about his approach to the Word. There is nothing ho-hum about his view of Scripture. I cling to it; I run in the way of your commandments. Then he talks six times about longing.

My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. (v. 20)

I stop every time I get to that verse 20; I think, “Is this guy for real?” “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.” Can you imagine one of your teenagers saying that to you? “Mom! My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.” (laughter)

Is this real? But it is real because he sees in God’s law and in God’s rules an expression of God’s heart and God’s character. He says,

God, I love you. I long for you at all times.” (see v. 20)

I long for your precepts. (v. 40)

My eyes long for your promise. (v. 82)

I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments. (v. 131)

There is passion here and of course the longing is for the One who is revealed in His Word.

And then we see that passion with also the concept of fear and reverence.

My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgements. (v. 120)

There is passion there, fear, there is reverence. Then there is intense grief and anguish when he realizes that God’s law is being broken or ignored. Listen to these verses:

Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law. (v. 53)

My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law. (v. 136)

I was thinking again about that this morning, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people don’t keep your law.” I mean, when is the last time you cried when somebody broke the speed limit? Does that break your heart?

Well, we don’t feel that way about human laws and the problem is most of us don’t feel that way about God’s laws either. But it is not just the law he loves, it is the One whose law it is and His holy character it reflects. So he says, “My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words” (v. 139).  Passion, passion, intensity.

Here is another passion that comes out—hatred for everything that is contrary to God’s law. Now, hatred isn’t a word that we want to use lightly or easily, but he does use it several times in the psalm.

Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” (v. 104)

The word hate there means "to hate violently." It is an intense hatred. This is not something he feels half-hearted about. He feels very strongly about it.

I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way. (v. 128)

I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. (v. 163)

This is a guy who feels very strongly about the Word of God, and he hates everything that is contrary to it.

On the other side of that he has this fierce, fiery love for God and His Word. Listen to these verses:

I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands towards your commandments, which I love. (v. 47-48).

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. (v. 97)

My soul keeps your testimonies. I love them exceedingly. (v. 167)

I love your Word.

So in this psalm we see the beauty and the loveliness of God’s law. The writer loves it; he delights in it, he clings to it. It is a reminder that the Israelites did not see the law of God as being restrictive. They saw it as being liberating. Now some of you are starting a new journey reading through the Bible this year. You’d like to do that in January and you’re in Genesis right now, but you’re going to get to Exodus and Leviticus before very long, and you’re going to get bogged down. You’re going to think, “How did they tolerate reading all this stuff?” That is all they had to read. When the psalm was written, it was the first five books of the Bible. You know, this is so heavy, so hard. But the Jews loved God’s law. They saw it as liberating. They saw that this was the way to experience God’s blessing.

Now, they had to realize that they couldn’t keep God’s law; that they were desperately in need of a Savior. Only Christ ever fulfilled perfectly the law of God. But they saw that the law was a good and gracious gift from the heart of a loving God, in spite of the fact that it cannot save because of our inability to keep it. That is important when we have people today, so many people in Christianity who love the New Testament but have no heart for the Old Testament.

Listen, you can’t really enjoy the new covenant, the New Testament, until you’ve experienced the Old Testament. Experience the beauty of God’s law but then the depravity of our own hearts and our bent away from God’s law. That is when your heart is broken and you say, as Paul did in Romans 7, “Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this bondage?” (v. 24). And then comes the gospel. The good news that Christ fulfilled the law of God and can fulfill it in us.

Well, I’m getting ahead to a next session. But I want you to see the passion that the psalmist had, the love for the law of God. Now, when you talk about hating sin and loving God’s laws and loving holiness, it is just a reminder as you read this psalm and you find yourself saying as I do, “I don’t have that kind of passion,” and you realize we have become dull.

We’ve become desensitized. We don’t hate sin and love righteousness, most of us, the way the psalmist did, the way that Jesus did. Hebrews 1:

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God . . . has anointed you [Jesus] with the oil of gladness beyond your companions. (v. 9)

So the world tells us if you enjoy evil and are reserved about holiness, then you’re going to be happy. No. The greatest joy comes to those who love righteousness and hate evil. But so many times we don’t have that kind of passion. 

Here’s more of that passion. He talks about delighting throughout this psalm—ten times.

To delight [or some of your translations say to rejoice in the law of God] in the way of your commandments. I delight as much as in all riches. (v. 14)

I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (v.16)

Your testimonies are my delight. (v. 24)

Lead me in the path of your commandments for I delight in it. (v.35)

Or as one translation says, “I take pleasure in your commandments.” That word there means "to have one’s heart set on something." It is the delight, the longing of one’s heart. The psalmist says, “That is the way I feel about your commandments, O GOD.”

Think about the things that delight your soul and ask yourself, “Are the world’s delights drowning out my delight in God’s Word? Or is my love for and my delight in God’s Word drowning out all those other earthly delights?” This kind of delight in the law of God is a reflection of the heart of Christ. We read that messianic psalm, Psalm 40, speaking of Christ:

Then I said, "Behold I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. (vv. 7-8)

Jesus delighted to do the will of His Father. When His Spirit lives in us, we will delight to do the will of our Father. So we see in the heart of the psalmist, we see in the heart of Christ, not an attitude of compulsion about obeying God but an attitude of delight, delight in the Word of God, a delight to do His will.

Now as we talk about these different words that describe the passion the psalmist had, his intense love and delight for God’s Word, the hatred for everything that is contrary to God’s Word, his longing, his grief, and his anguish when God’s law is broken or ignored . . . I find I want to do a heart check myself and let the Lord search my heart about my attitude toward the Word. How does your attitude toward the Word compare with that of the psalmist? Do you treat it lightly? Casually? Or do you tremble at the Word of God and give it the weight it deserves?

It really saddens me and sometimes even sickens me to see how easily in our culture and in our churches and in my own heart at times, we have this really casual view of the Scriptures. The psalmist had an attitude of reverence for God’s Word. Trembling at the Word of God, giving it weight.

  • Do you have an intense hunger for the Word of God as the psalmist did, or do you have very little appetite for more of God’s Word?
  • When you read it is it shallow, cursory reading that you just skim through, or do you meditate on it and fix your eyes on it? 
  • When you read God’s Word or hear it read, do you get distracted? 
  • Does your mind wander or do you focus on the Word? 
  • Do you get bored when you hear the Word of God or you read it? Or do you love to read the Word and hear it read?

So I found myself, as I’ve been pondering Psalm 119, asking, “How do we lose that delight? How do we grow numb to the beauties of God’s Word? And how can we cultivate greater delight?”

I want to spend the last few minutes just pondering that question with you as I’ve been pondering it myself. Let me just suggest we will not have the kind of delight for God’s Word that we read about in Psalm 119 if we fill every free minute of our lives with things other than the Word of God. And here are some of the things that I find are examples of what eclipses delight for God’s Word in many of our lives: Facebook, Twitter, television, radio, movies, iPod, computer games, video games, friends, technology, social media, people . . . if we’re turning to those things reflexively.

I’ve found that my iPhone is a mixed blessing. A lot of things it helps me do faster and more conveniently than I could otherwise. It is amazing what you can look at out in the middle of nowhere and get answers to. So there are a lot of benefits if you use it well. But I have found at times that it becomes a tool to distract me from my love for Christ and His Word.

Now it is not the piece itself that is sinful or wrong, but the ways we use some of these things if we’re reflexively turning to those thing. If you get in the car and turn on the radio; you walk in your house you turn on the television; you go to your laptop and check emails every waking moment, every chance you have. Some people do it day and night, and I’ve been one of those "some people" sometimes.

If we’re turning reflexively to things of this earth, we’re going to lose our hunger in our heart for God’s Word. We’re not going to cultivate that delight. And in this psalm I want you to look at verses 36 and 37. I see two things that keep us and often keep me from having a growing delight for God and His Word. The first I see in verse 36. It is a divided heart, and the second in verse 37 is a distracted heart. Let’s look at these two things.

Verse 36 of Psalm 119: “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain.” The psalmist prays about having a divided heart. He wants his heart to be turned to God’s testimonies and not to selfish gain. The King James Version says covetousness. It’s stuff! Things that steal our affection for God, misplaced affections, misplaced priorities. It reminds me of Luke chapter 8 where Jesus said that “cares and riches and pleasures of this life can choke out the Word of God like thorns can choke out the Word of God in our lives and we become unfruitful” (see vv. 4-8).

And it is not always bad stuff; it’s just stuff we’re focusing on more than on God. I had an example of this last Sunday. I was getting ready for church. I’m messing with my hair and my wardrobe and it was taking way too long on both. I couldn’t get my hair to look the way I wanted it to look. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to wear that I felt good in, and I just spent way too long on both of those things. I'm saying, “Who am I trying to please? Right?” And I found myself late for church, my heart was not prepared. I mean it was just a moment in time. Okay, it’s not devastating. It’s not like I fell into some great big sin. But I realized because I was pondering this passage that I was pursuing selfish gain rather than my heart being inclined towards God’s testimonies at that moment.

Now if you do that often enough you’re going to find a heart that is bent toward that which is temporal rather than that which is eternal. A divided heart. My heart was divided. I cared more about how I looked than I cared about the condition of my heart and my affection for Christ. A divided heart.

In verse 37, a distracted heart. “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things and give me life in your ways.” Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things. I have been taken back to that phrase over and over and over again in recent weeks, and I still need to. Worthless things. That word in the King James is translated "vanity, emptiness."

Here’s one definition I read of that word: “Anything which disappoints the hope which rests upon it.” Something which is insubstantial, unreal, or worthless whether materially or morally; anything that is temporal versus eternal. The world has these tawdry, temporary pleasures that it thrusts at us all the time, but God’s Word has timeless treasures that it wants us to enjoy for time in eternity. So the psalmist says, “Am I being distracted by looking at worthless things? Then I pray God to turn my eyes away from looking at worthless things and give me life in Your ways.”

Again, I am just going to illustrate this out of my own life. I don’t share this as an example to follow. I share it as a caution for me and for you. On a recent weekend, again while I was studying Psalm 119, I had my laptop up. I had my books surrounding me studying Psalm 119. At the same time I was watching a political debate on my laptop. I was watching a football game on my iPhone. I was in email with my sister—all while I was trying to study Psalm 119. Now, would call that a distracted heart? (laughter) You might call it something else . . . like sick! And multitasking. Am I the only one who ever does that?

Here’s what happens. Now is it alright to be watching the football game, watching the political debate, whatever? What I’m saying is if that becomes a pattern of our lives what you find when you go to the Word of God your mind is going to be going in a million different directions. You’re going to be distracted, scattered, adult ADD. I mean it is what so many of us have become where we have this high tech age where everything is instant and we have access to everything. I’m thinking, “What does it take to get an undistracted heart? To get an undivided heart, a delighted heart?”

Somebody prayed in a prayer meeting I was in the other day. “Distractions can be as effective as sin in keeping us from God.” I said, “Yes, that is true isn’t it?” So we need to be asking of those "worthless things that distract us from Christ," what price will it bring a year from now? What price will it bring in eternity? This thing that is taking so much of my focus.

Then the psalmist prays not only, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, but give me life in your ways” (v. 37). You see, the reason why we look at all those worthless things, not necessarily sinful things but just vanity, emptiness, insubstantial things, the reason we look at those things is because we think they will give us life. We think they’ll make us happy. That is why we pursue them, but not so! Those things can actually keep us from experiencing real life in Christ.

I think in many of our lives Satan doesn’t really have to try to get us to deny Christ. I don’t think that is what he’s trying to get most of us to do. I think he can accomplish his objectives just as well by causing us to have a fragmented heart, divided loyalties and affections. He gets us to stay so busy, so distracted, so enamored with stuff, with entertainment, et cetera, that we just don’t have the time, the interest, or the heart to steadfastly, earnestly pursue Christ.

And then the Word becomes ho-hum to us because how can the Word compete with video games? Or computer games or movies or music? It’s boring. Well, it’s not boring! The problem is that like your kids who stuff themselves with sweets ten minutes before dinner, we’ve stuffed ourselves with the world’s delights, and they’ve spoiled our appetite for the meat of God’s Word. They are strangling out our heart for God.

The devil knows that if we find our delight in trivial pursuits, in the paltry pleasures of this world, that we will never taste of the delights and the pleasures found in Christ. And for sure, our lives will not inspire others to pursue Christ.

So as you’re reading the Bible this year, and I hope you’re taking the Daily Bible Reading Challenge, challenging our listeners—every listener—to commit to reading God’s Word every day in 2012. I can’t beg you strongly enough to do that. But as you do, ask Him to give you a devoted heart, a delighted heart. Pray for revived affection for Christ, for delight in Him and in His Word.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing you how to approach God’s Word with an undistracted heart. That message is part of a series called Revive Me According to Your Word based on Psalm 119.

We’ve chosen this series on the value of God’s Word to air at the beginning of 2012 for a specific reason. Nancy wants you to consider an important challenge. Will you commit to reading God’s Word every day in 2012? If you’re ready to take on this worthwhile goal, we want to help you. If you sign up at ReviveOurHearts.com, we’ll send you email reminders twice a month to encourage you to keep with it. At ReviveOurHearts.com you’ll also find Bible reading plans and other resources that show you how to get going in this challenge.

Revive Our Hearts is able to bring you God’s Word each week day thanks to listeners who recognize what God is doing through this ministry and want to support it financially. When you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size, we’ll show our thanks by sending a resource called "My Personal Bible Reading Journal." You’ll have a place in this journal to write down whatever you’re reading each week. You’ll find a place to note the things you’re learning in the Bible.

If you keep up with this journal all this year, you’ll have a record of new insights as you approach 2013. We’ll also include a CD called Psalms from the Heart. On that CD you’ll hear Nancy reading some of her favorite psalms set to music. Ask  for Psalms from the Heart and “My Personal Bible Reading Journal” when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Just call 1-800-569-5959, or you can donate at ReviveOurHearts.com. [For a two-week page of the journal to get you started, click here.)

Well, do you ever feel like you’re coasting through life? God’s Word will give you the insight you need to live your life with purpose. Nancy will explain more on Monday. I hope you’ll be back with us for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

1 I Will Delight. The Maranatha Singer, Praise 15. "He Has Made Me Glad."

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