Distraction is everywhere. Living busy lives, constantly connected to the sound and fury of the world at large, we often get distracted from God and who He wants us to be. It even happens mid-prayer! Where do these distracting thoughts come from, and how can we learn to better focus our attention?

When we recognize a distracting thought, Jon Bloom says the first step is to examine our emotions in that moment. What we feel reveals something very important.

“What specifically are we feeling — fear, anxiety, anger, discouragement, sadness, hope, desire? Our emotions always point to what’s feeding our thoughts, our underlying beliefs, and what really matters to us.”

“We all have official beliefs and functional beliefs. Official beliefs are like a company’s formal mission statement, their core values; functional beliefs are like how they actually operate.  If we want to know what we really believe at any given moment, look at our functional beliefs, underneath our emotions.”

As we learn to take every thought captive, it’s key to compare our thoughts and the underlying functional beliefs to what is true in God’s word.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

This passage provides specific types of thoughts that feed our faith and strengthen our spirit, but Jon explains that it’s up to us to apply those values, our official beliefs, to our thoughts in real time.

“As long as it remains in these vague categories — truth, justice, purity — those are nice, abstract concepts, but they don’t help us in the moment.”

“We need to ask: what specifically is true, right now, about what I’m feeling? What is pure? If this thought is not pure, what is pure in relation to it? If this is not just, what is just? If this is ugly and depraved, what is beautiful? Press it into specifics.”

All this requires some retraining of our minds. We’re learning new spiritual habits, which isn’t an easy endeavor. However, it is not meant to be easy.

“There is great spiritual value as we learn to endure, we learn to overcome; we learn to not give in to the desires, moods, or ways that we just want to indulge ourselves, but we press through that.  It does mean that we need some very concrete promises of God. What does He promise if we do this?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“Take that passage and apply it, even when you don’t feel like you want to do it. You will find that it actually works, if you press through–the same way that when you don’t want to go on the treadmill, but you do and you press through. There is joy waiting if you will, not believe your perceptions, but you will believe God’s promises.”

Jon Bloom serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, , , and . For more on this topic, read Jon’s article, Whatever is Lovely: How to Overcome Pressing Distractions.

The secret to overcoming distraction