God had me participate in street ministry two years in a row for Mardi Gras in my hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. The second time I went I got a late start and I decided to just get a room in Shreveport. I knew I would be blowing into town just in time to get online to teach a live Bible study I did weekly at the time. I was intent on both obeying the speed limit AND making haste!
Where the heck is “hither and yon”? I ask because that is where my brain was! Before I had gotten out of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex I had missed 3 turns! While doing my third exit-turnaround-backtrack I decided to ask the Lord what was happening to me.
Here is what I heard in reply: “This is how it is for My children. They are so distracted. They don’t pay attention to what is happening around them.” He had a good point! (He always does!)
As I drove I had a lot on my mind: I was praying to prepare myself for whatever I would run into in New Orleans, it looked like the Lord was going to bless Mike McInerney Ministries with a building or two back then (never happened) and I was preparing myself to teach online that night. The problem was that what I was supposed to be doing first and foremost was driving. My thoughts, even though they were valid and good, were distracting me from my primary task.
The Bible has a lot to say about distractions.
When Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 23:18-23) He uses a Greek word in verse 19 for “cares of this world” that is interesting: “merimna”. It literally means “distractions”. Note that they have the same effect that the “deceitfulness of riches” can have on us: they can “choke the word” (strangle it completely, crowd it out) and leave us “unfruitful” (barren).
Jesus uses the same word in Luke 21:33-36 (verse 34) “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.” The term “weighed down” = burdened (this is a bad burden as opposed to a burden for souls, etc.). This will cause us to lose track of what He is doing. But I’ve found that even good things can be “merimna” – distractions.
In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul is talking about the things he has suffered in the ministry and he makes what might just be a confession…in the word he uses in verse 28. He says, “besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:28). That English word “concern” = “merimna” or distractions.
I think we can agree that Paul was about the work of the kingdom. But, here he uses a word that is curious. I think he is saying that caring for the church is a good thing but that, for him, it is “merimna” – a distraction. In my life, some of the distractions are pure foolishness. However, on the road that day, some of the things were good things to be thinking about; yet, the way I was dealing with them was “merimna” for me.
I believe that Peter always remembered what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
This is why he said this: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
That word “care” = “merimna” – distractions….handling life in a way that distracts us. This is how we usually handle our lives. See, however, the alternative: we are told to cast all our care upon Him because He “cares” = “melo” = “is interested in you”. (God is NEVER distracted.)
How does this work out in our daily lives?
I believe, since all Christians are priests and that we minister to Him directly.
“For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:8-9).
In fact, I believe ALL ministry us “unto the Lord”.
Our first ministry (if married) is to Him regarding our spouses and then children (if any). There are many verses that speak of the importance of the marriage and parenting relationships.
Our second ministry is to minister to the Lord regarding brothers and sisters in Christ. Galatians 6:2 tells us to “bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” It is just one of many verses that urge us to encourage, support, love one another.
Finally, our third ministry is to Him regarding the lost.
“And He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.'” (Mark 16:15-16).
In order to live this way, we must be focused and this means that we have to deal with the “merimna” – distractions – in our lives.
So, where the heck is “hither and yon”? It was wherever my mind was when I was supposed to be concentrating on driving. How did I finally find my way back from “hither and yon” and on to Shreveport? Well, first I pulled over and talked to the Lord for a while and asked Him to set my focus. Then I set my sights on Shreveport.
Come to think of it…..how’s your focus? Do you know where you are headed? Is the goal in sight or have you fallen prey to “merimna’s” of your own? It isn’t coincidence that the main word used for “sin” in the New Testament is “harmartia” – a Greek word that literally means “missing the mark” – the natural consequence to being distracted from God’s focus for our lives.
The fix: pull over! Confess that you are adrift. Repent! Pray! Set your focus on Him again! Get moving again.