Pastorally Speaking: Nathan Knight on “Depth vs. Distraction”

[Editor’s Note: This blogpost continues the “Pastorally Speaking” series. Nathan Knight is Pastor of Restoration Church in Washington, D.C. He writes on the topic of the temptation of distraction and the importance for prayer, rest, and devotion in the life of the pastor.]

In his classic Screwtape Letters, C.S Lewis’ demonic character Screwtape instructs his demonic friend Wormwood on the useful tool of distraction in defeating the enemy (Spirit of God):

“I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind begin to go the wrong way…if I had lost my head & begun to attempt a defense by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch…once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up along with his books, a healthy dose of ‘real life’ [distraction by the ordinary] was enough to show him that ‘sort of thing’ just couldn’t be true.”[1]

Screwtape instructed Wormwood to simply distract his “patient” by the ordinary in order to keep him from the extraordinary. He continues:

“[Many] find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes. Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things.”[2]

Could it be, pastor, that you are no different than the atheist in the British museum? Surely, you read good books and blogs, listen to podcasts, and even follow faithful men on twitter that feed you deep thoughts, but have all these scattered thoughts been so faintly rooted in the ordinary that they have yet to take root in the extraordinary.

In other words, have you failed to cultivate a single minded devotion to God that is so captivated by a single verse of the Bible that you are left to consider only that thought for an entire day? Have you found yourself so moved in prayer that it seemed you were in the very throne room of God, or, have you known a time in sermon preparation where the extended thought of a single truth left you with eyes so full of tears you could hardly see the screen you were typing on?

Depth in prayer and devotion is often quenched by the distraction of the ordinary. From the perceived boredom of sitting in a room alone with a book and a blank screen to the throngs of gadgets and technological applications that often excite us more than communion with God, we are men to be most pitied.

Men of depth likely are not cultivated upon the completion of another book, but more likely from a single passage meditated upon for hours, weeks even: pastors who know the value of “no” and the importance of solitude along with the wisdom of simplicity in living, indeed, pastors who know more about less instead of less about more; pastors who linger in prayer and speak of the glories of Christ as naturally as they do the wife they love; these are the men who can lead the church away from puddles and into oceans.

Oh, pastors, what might we offer to our people, to those who don’t yet believe, yes even to God Himself, if we were to set aside the waves of distractions and gaze into the face of Christ but for an undistracted hour? No phones, no podcasts, yes, even no blogs … just the unveiled face of the knowledge of the glory of God found in the face of Christ … what kind of pastors might we be?

May we be the kind of pastors that lead people to believe the unfamiliar because we ourselves have lingered there long enough … past the flood of ordinariness and into the still, deep waters of the extraordinary.



[1] C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1942), 2-3.

[2] Ibid, 4.

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