While speaking in Newark, Ohio recently, the brother who led our thoughts at the Lord's Table on Sunday morning made some points that have stuck with me. He talked about the need for us, while observing the Lord's Supper, to "shut out the noise." In an increasingly "noisy" world, this is an important bit of advice.
The most obvious noise comes from our digital devices and their incessant barrage. The mass of "things to know" and "things to do" is beyond comprehension. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Just life itself, whether digital or not, is complicated. No aspect of it is simple these days. And the cumulative effect of the whole thing is that our minds are rarely free from the demands placed upon us by information, activities, and relationships. To repeat, it's a very "noisy" world that we live in.
There is no changing the way the world is, of course. The clock can't be turned back, and it is foolish to try. So what are we to do?
One thing we can do, as the brother indicated at the Lord's Table, is consciously "shut out the noise" when we need to. We can deliberately reject every thought except the one we wish to be thinking about, focusing our complete (and restful) attention on that single truth or principle. I don't say this is easy, but I say it can be done. At least it can be learned. Even if our minds are not used to being disciplined, we can start training them today. Little by little, we can acquire the ability to meditate on just one thing -- and really let that one thing sink in.
Learning to "shut out the noise" takes practice and training, especially if we've not been making any effort to do this lately. As with any skill, we learn it gradually, starting small and then learning to take bigger steps. The growth is not immediate; it is incremental. If we can quiet our minds today for only a few seconds, the day will come -- if we keep working at it -- when we can do it for a few seconds longer.
But here is my point: we won't be able to "shut out the noise" at special times (like the Lord's Supper) if we haven't been practicing the discipline at other times. So I recommend having a "quiet time" each day, if nothing else just for the "training" effect of it. It's an old idea, but it's valuable.
Granted, there is nothing specifically "Christian" about mental focus. Buddhists and Hindus have long known the value of "mindfulness" and "meditation." Nobody owns the exclusive rights to this discipline; it is the common property of the human race. But if it has been a tool that people in general have found helpful in their various pursuits, how much more valuable would it be for a Christian to use in pursuit of the highest of all goals. If tools take their character from those who use them and from the use to which they are put, the practice of "shutting out the noise" can be an honorable tool when used to bring us quietly before God's throne for a few moments of rest and reflection each day.