If you remember the classic movie "The Wizard of Oz," you might remember the scene where they had to cross over the field of poppies the Wicked Witch of the West had created to stop them. As they traveled through the field, Dorothy became very sleepy and had to rest, as did the Cowardly Lion — and that was exactly the intent! It was but one of the numerous hindrances the Wicked Witch invented or used to stop them from reaching the Emerald City. Anything she could find to distract the travelers or prevent them from reaching their destination was going to be used.
I hope each one of us understands this is a favored tactic of our spiritual enemy and adversary the devil, too! He is not just prowling around looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8); he is also sending out his minions into the world to distract, frustrate, and hinder all those traveling the road to heaven and eternal life. You see, he doesn't want anyone to reach the Eternal City! It is for this reason Peter warned the early Christians to “Be sober, be vigilant”; we need to be aware of his devices (cf. 2 Cor. 2:11) so he does not take advantage and distract, hinder, or prevent us altogether from reaching the goal.
Paul reminded Timothy to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” because “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:3, 4). It is certainly the “affairs of this life” that can entangle us, and it is those “affairs” we need to be aware of so we can avoid getting entangled in them. Let us consider just a few earthly affairs in which disciples do, indeed, allow themselves to be entangled, and let us do our utmost to avoid the same traps and distractions.
Materialism. Let's face it: Living in a material world makes it difficult to not be materially-minded. We have to eat physical food, drink material water, and breathe material air to live. We have physical bodies and live in physical, material houses, and we occasionally must rest our physical bodies in material beds or resting places and eat physical food to regain some of that energy needed to sustain our physical bodies. Despite all this, we who seek the Eternal City must not allow these physical, material things to distract us from the goal. While they are necessary for our physical survival, they must not become our focus, lest we become entangled.
Once, when people came to Jesus to see the great miracles He was doing, He ended up feeding over 5,000 people from five loaves and two fishes (John 6:1-13). But some were not there to hear what Jesus had to say; they were there for the food! They even crossed over the sea to Capernaum to find Him, and when they did find Him, He told them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:26, 27). But they persisted, saying, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert” (John 6:30, 31). It was as if they were saying to Jesus, "Give us more bread! Even Moses gave the Israelites bread in the wilderness so you need to give us more bread!"
They had allowed earthly, material things to distract them from the more important things — the teachings of Jesus! They could have had “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68), but they were too wrapped up in material offerings. Let us not kid ourselves: Many people are enticed by material offerings of churches and, like these men, never see or hear the words that could bring them eternal life simply because they are materially-minded.
And if it isn't the food, it's the big houses, fine clothing, nice new cars, and a million other material things that vie for our attention. Quite often, men are distracted from their journey toward the Eternal City by the sheer number of material offerings. Especially in this country, we have so many 'things' that are offered, it takes up a great deal of our time just listening to or watching all the offers! In situations like these, let us remember to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and on the heavenly things, “not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2).
Politics. I am constantly amazed at the time and effort expended, and how many words are spoken, regarding some political issue or some politician's merits or faults amongst Christians. For some, it is clearly their primary focus, because they never mention Christ, the Bible, heaven, sin, or anything else spiritually focused. Some are so wrapped up in politics, political parties, and politicians that they have no time for spiritual matters. Some are so wrapped up in their unbridled support for some political party that they think nothing of insulting or deriding anyone who disagrees with them, forgetting that some of those they offend are souls as yet unsaved and in need of forgiveness. By their fervent but careless words, they preclude any possibility of influencing them in some way to hear the truth because of insulting or mocking words spewed in the heat of political debate.
Let us remember that God is in control of governments and kingdoms (Rom. 13:1), and let us not allow ourselves to be entangled in these earthly affairs. I've been hearing for a long time now that "the next election is the most important one in the history of this country," but I know that it won't matter who is President when Christ comes again or if we suddenly pass from this life. It's more important we know who is our King!
The Approval of Men. There was a time when Jesus had so impacted the multitudes by the miracles they saw and the teaching they heard that it was said, “even among the rulers many believed in Him” (John 12:42). But…BUT! They believed, yes, “but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42, 43). Because these men sought the praise of men over God, they would not obtain forgiveness or eternal life; when men are unwilling to confess Christ, He will not confess to the Father that they are His (Matt. 10:32, 33).
Today, we can get so caught up in the desire for man's approval that we, too, will fail to confess Christ, confess our faith, and confess our desire for the things not seen, lest we be "put out of" certain circles whose approval we seek. Television and social media have contributed to this increased desire for peer approval [and even the approval of people we do not even know], and our collective mental and spiritual health is going down the tubes! As the old fable teaches us: "If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one."
Instead of allowing ourselves to be entangled in these earthly affairs, let us strive, as did the apostle Paul, “to be well pleasing to Him” — God (2 Cor. 5:9). Pleasing man is merely temporary and meaningless, while pleasing God will mean we are able to enter the Eternal City!
Let us make sure our focus is on the things that matter, and not allow the affairs of this world to entangle us. — Steven Harper