As we continue our series on the disciplines that the Christian should incorporate into his character, we would like to take a look at The Discipline of Diversion. As we have pointed out in previous articles in this series, these are called “disciplines” because they are not acquired without deliberate effort. Discipline is “training that corrects molds or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360).
We have been using, as an anchor for this series, a book by V. Raymond Edman published in 1948 titled The Disciplines of Life. Although Mr. Edman was associated with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and I don’t agree with everything he wrote, many of the things he has written resonate with me.
As he begins the chapter on Diversion, Edman says, “Duty to be performed may be difficult, dreary, even dangerous; but it is delight when done. There are many dangers between detail of duty and ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’; and not least among the dangers to be defined and denied is that of diversion. We remember the old fable of the race between the tortoise and the hare; and while we admit we are not so patient as the plodder who won the encounter, we disagree that we are as stupid as the sleepy-head that lost. The danger of diversion from the plain path of duty is always with us; and at no time should we be over confident of our powers and progress toward the goal” (p. 211).
Please observe, as Edman points out, that Diversion from Duty may come from sheer carelessness on our part, or from dangers of the way, or from undue emphasis on the unnecessary details of the duty, or from preoccupation with the past. We shall now notice each of these in turn.
Diversion from Duty May Come by Sheer Carelessness on Our Part
An illustration from scripture can be found in 1Kings 20:39-40 where the prophet, who has been entrusted with a responsibility, proves unreliable, and thus endangers both himself and his country. “As the king passed by, the prophet called out to him, ‘Sir, I was in the thick of battle, and suddenly a man brought me a prisoner. He said, ‘Guard this man; if for any reason he gets away, you will either die or pay a fine of seventy-five pounds of silver!’ But while I was busy doing something else, the prisoner disappeared!’ ‘Well, it’s your own fault,’ the king replied. ‘You have brought the judgment on yourself.’
Young people are often guilty of this. A number of things compete for the youngster’s attention. “Diversion, however, lurks in the uphill climb to success, not necessarily wicked things, just carelessness, idleness, day-dreaming, the radio, a bull-session, a magazine article, even a long letter that has its place, but not first place when duty calls. There was every intention to do the work, to finish the assignment, to be faithful to one’s trust; but they were undisciplined in denying themselves leisure or luxury, just ‘busy here and there’ with trivialities until the hour-glass of opportunity had emptied itself and the task was unfinished. The better is often the enemy of the best; and we are busy with good things, important activities, helpful enterprises, but not the duty we are to do now. College students are tempted to substitute the extra-curricular for the curricular, the social for the academic, the easy for the difficult, the interesting for the essential, the recreational for the creative, the better for the best. Everything worthwhile has its time and place, but not the same time nor place. Beware lest by being ‘busy here and there’ we get nowhere” (pp. 212-213).
Diversion from Duty Can Come Through Dangers of the Way
Daniel of Scripture was faithful and effective in the execution of his duties, both secular and divine. This caused great envy with the court politicians and they caused the king to make illegal the worship of any kind for a period of 30 days, with a penalty attached for violation. This threat did not deter Daniel from maintaining consistently that the living God was his helper. He said “But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and he has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the future. Now I will tell you your dream and the visions you saw as you lay on your bed” (2:28). He told Nebuchadnezzar, “You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses” (4:25). And again, “Daniel answered the king, “Keep your gifts or give them to someone else, but I will tell you what the writing means. Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar… or you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven and have had these cups from his Temple brought before you. You and your nobles and your wives and concubines have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor know anything at all. But you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny! (5:17, 18, 23).
We know well the rest of the story, that Daniel faced the threat of the lion’s den but he maintained his faith and his integrity. We may not face anywhere near the threat that Daniel faced but we do face the possibility of diversion from our duty by danger to ourselves or those we love. “Happy is that heart that is faithful in his responsibilities to God and his fellowmen and that can say, ‘The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me’ (Heb. 13:6). Disciplined to do one’s duty despite any danger!” (p. 214).
Diversion from Duty Can Come from Undue Emphasis on the Unnecessary Details of the Duty
The story of our Lord in the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha illustrates this point. As you recall, Scripture describes, “As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.’ But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:38-42). The contrast is made in the passage between these two women. Martha is chastised by the Lord for being overly concerned about the physical details of serving. Edman offers this comment, “Many efforts have been made to discern deeply what our Lord meant in His word to Martha, but those I have read miss the point of His statement. He knew the woman’s heart, and her desire to do her very best for her Guest; but He preferred more fellowship and less food, more conversation on things everlasting and fewer courses, more listening and less luxury…. Diverted from duty and delight by details, interesting but necessary. Too occupied with the trees to see the forest, too fussy about food to have fellowship with our guests, too much serving to listen, too many good errands to run a straight course, too much Martha and too little Mary. We can do much, and yet miss ‘that good part’” (p. 215).
Diversion from Duty Can Also Come from Preoccupation with the Past
The Apostle Paul illustrates this point perfectly. He had both successes and failures from his past that he could have allowed hinder him from doing his duty. He says, “…though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law” (Phil. 3:4-5).
Edman says, “He could have dwelt in detail on the advantage of the Jew in knowledge of the Old Testament, in the promises, in the orthodoxy of the Pharisee… The opposite can also be the case: we can be so grieved by the mistakes and galled by the failures of the past that we have no heart for the present or the future” (p. 216). Paul announces his decision, as he looked at his past life, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Phil. 3:13-14).
“Disciplined not to be diverted from the pathway of duty by present carelessness or impending dangers, by multitude of daily details or the long shadows of the past; this is the discipline of diversion we need that we too can say, ‘This one thing I do!’” (p. 217).
The chapter closes with this poem by George Matheson.
“Make me a captive, Lord,
And then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword,
And I shall conquer be.
I sink in life’s alarm
When in myself I stand;
Imprison with Thy mighty arm,
Then strong shall be my hand.
My heart is weak and poor,
Until its Master finds;
It has no spring of action sure,
It varies with the winds.
It cannot freely move
Till Thou hast wrought its chain;
Enslave it with Thy mighty love,
Then deathless I shall reign.”
Thanks for reading.
(Source: The Disciplines of Life by V. Raymond Edman, pp. 211 – 218)