Singleness of Heart and Action

I was in Kona, Hawaii, teaching in a Youth With A Mission discipleship school.

Somebody has to do it.

That week they hosted a pastor from China.  It was his first visit to the United States, and they asked him to speak to our students.

“I have only been in America a short time,” he began, “and I see that it is very difficult to be a Christian here.”

He paused long enough from me to think, “What?!  In America? Where freedom rings from shore to shore–and halfway across the Pacific to the shimmering beaches of Hawaii?  And it’s not hard to be a Christian in repressive, Communist China?”

“I think it would be hard to be a Christian here,” he continued, “because you have so many distractions.”

In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells us that the “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).

Sounds like American distractions to me.

It’s still dark.  My bleepin’ alarm awakens me harshly to the abuse of a new day.

Bleep.  Bleep.  Bleep.  Bleep.  Bleep. Bleep.  Bleep.

Before I speak a word to God in prayer, I check my computer for emails.  My phone for texts.  Facebook for messages.  I step outside to grab the newspaper and hear the morning traffic roaring on the main streets around our neighborhood.

On the way to my breakfast meeting, I inch forward on congested streets and freeways.  The traffic signals aren’t synchronized, so I have to stop at every red light.

Monster video billboards flash at me.  A barrage of loud advertising streaming from my car radio promises me a better, happier life if I buy this, or use that.

Between commercials everyone is yelling.  Sport talk guys are yelling.  Rush is yelling.  People calling in are yelling.

So I surf to the more mellow NPR, National Public Radio news and information.  Ahhh, no one is screaming.  No commercials.  Instead, soft, calm, rich voices tell me the economy is collapsing.  An earthquake just hit the East Coast.  A hurricane is flooding Manhattan.  Children by the thousands are dying of hunger in the Sudan.  Revolution bleeds Libya.

My brain is  buzzing before my first cup of coffee.  Strong, black Starbucks coffee.  Yeah, that should calm me down.

Without thinking about it, because my world doesn’t give me chance to think, the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things are making my life insanely unfruitful.

You know, we tell people it’s not hard to give your life to Jesus, to get saved.  Yet sometimes it’s impossible to stay close to God. To experience God-life fully in this life.  To be fully fruitful.  There are just so many distractions.

On one particularly crazy day, God spoke deeply to me as I read his word, “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them” (Jeremiah 32:39).

What an amazing gift from God in a bleeping, whirling world: I will give them singleness of heart and action.

Our lives need focus.  Our souls need less, not more.  The good life is knowing what really matters and pursuing that at all costs.  It means slowing down and saying no to a lot of good things that aren’t God’s best.

This has even been proven scientifically!  Laset November, Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert “developed a smartphone technology to sample people’s ongoing thoughts, feelings, and actions and found (i) that people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and (ii) found that doing so typically makes them unhappy”  (

An article in Scientific American adds, “According to the data from the Harvard group’s study, the particular way you spend your day doesn’t tell much about how happy you are. Mental presence–the matching of thought to action [singleness of heart and action!] –is a much better predictor of happiness” (

Try this simple exercise.  Make a list of the five or six things in your life that are or should be the most important to you.  Now make a list of the five or six things that take up most of your time, or that you think about most of the time.  My guess is that your lists will look very different.

What’s the outcome of “singleness of heart and action”?  God promises us this: “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them.”

I believe this is what Jesus mean when he promised us abundant life, and Isaiah writes, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3).

Or while you are praying about all this, you can keep your iPhone handy in case you get a really important text.

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