The Occupation of Our Attention
The following writing was published to the students of Master’s Divinity during America’s financial crisis. It was written to remind them that Satan’s only weapon is not crisis itself, but diverting their attention to the crisis, rather than to the Lord. It serves as a reminder to us all during any troubling times. Although we suffer many things (even good things) we must not allow these things to occupy our attention lest we cease being mindful of God and His Scriptures.
The only weapon Satan has to use against true Christians is the occupation of the attention of the mind. This might sound strange or even new to many believers; but it is a primary, New Testament teaching; and one that reveals the purpose of Satan’s attacks. There are two Greek words used in this teaching, the noun merimna and its verb form merimnao. Merimna means “to occupy the attention of the mind.” Notice that it does not mean to occupy the mind, but to occupy the attention of the mind. This concept was first taught by Jesus as recorded in Matthew. The length of His teaching, ten verses, emphasizes the importance of this concept.
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (Matthew 6:24-25)
Jesus first establishes that human beings are created with the capacity to serve only one master. In the phrase “Ye cannot serve God and mammon,” the Greek word translated “cannot” is the word meaning “capacity” or “ability.” He is literally saying, “You are not able (do not have the capacity) to serve God and the physical things of life.”
Jesus then begins His teaching on the occupation of the attention of the mind (vs. 25). He first commands us to “take no thought for your life.” The Greek word translated “thought” is the noun merimna. He is saying that we are not to let anything about this earthly life occupy the attention of our minds, whether it be food, drink or clothing, because even the bare necessities of life can distract us from the things of the Lord and occupy the attention of our minds.
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? (Matthew 6:26-30)
In verses 26 and 28-30, Jesus uses examples from creation to illustrate that our heavenly Father will supply us with the things we need; and, in verse 27, Jesus asks a question about taking thought to add height to our stature. The Greek word for “taking thought” is the verb form merimnao (to have the attention of one’s mind occupied). With an understanding of merimnao’s definition, it is easy to perceive what the Lord is saying— that having our minds occupied with worldly things, in an attempt to add to our stature, is not going to help us; we will be occupied over our stature; yet we will not be able to add to it.
Therefore take no thought saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek;) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:31-34)
Jesus returns, in verse 31, to the basic principle with which He began. Using the verb form of merimnao, He once again commands that we take no thought for (that we not be occupied with) the necessities of life. He emphasizes that the Gentiles (or heathen) seek after these things, but our heavenly Father already knows that we need them. He tells us, His people, to seek the kingdom of God first and affirms that then all the things we need will be provided to us by God. Jesus is teaching in verse 33 what He introduced in verse 24; a human being is created with the capacity to serve only one master; consequently, we are commanded to direct our attention to the kingdom of God, and be occupied with it, while allowing God to provide the things we physically need. Jesus then instructs us to take no thought for tomorrow (again using the verbmerimnao), because the evil in it is sufficient to tempt our attention away from the kingdom of God. These teachings are reiterated in the letters of both Peter and Paul.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care (merimna) upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (I Peter 5:6-9)
Peter’s message to believers is to submit to God’s humbling process by casting all of our care upon the Lord. The Greek word used for “care” is merimna. He is teaching that we are to cast upon the Lord all those things that would normally occupy the attention of our minds, trusting that our needs will be provided for, because God cares for us.
Peter also commands believers to think soberly and to be watchful, because our adversary is walking around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. We know, from the Book of Job, that Satan scouts believers. Since he cannot devour us spiritually, he is looking to find the earthly things that will capture the occupation of our minds.
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)
The teaching of trusting the Lord in lieu of allowing the distractions of this physical life to occupy the attention of our minds is presented and applied by Paul in Philippians 4. He does so as he ministers to two ladies who cannot agree on things in the church at Philippi. Having written, in verse two of this chapter, that the basic truth to be applied to this situation is for them “to be of the same mind in the Lord,” Paul then gives, in verses 4-7, several commands that must be followed in order to be of the same mind in the Lord.
First, in verse 4, Paul commands that our joy be in the Lord always rather than in getting our own way. His next command fits closely with the first: our moderation should be known to all men, because the Lord is near. Any Christian who is demanding his or her own way in the church is one who is not moderate regarding the things of the world. A moderate person is not attached to the things of the world, so as to be able to let go of anything that might interfere with the unity of fellowship. When it comes to differences of opinion, believers are to be prepared to give up what we want in order for the Lord’s will to be done.
Paul’s next command is found in verse 6. He says, “Be careful for nothing.”The word “careful” is the verb merimnao. The word translated “nothing” more literally means, “not one thing.” Therefore, we believers are not to allow any one thing to occupy the attention of our minds. When he writes the last command of this series, “…but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God,” Paul is presenting the same principle that Peter did in I Peter 5:7—we are not to allow anything to occupy the attention of our minds; instead, we are to pray and request that God take care of each thing. The result of doing this, Paul reveals, is that the peace of God guards our hearts and minds.
This teaching regarding Satan’s only weapon against believers is important for all true Christians and students of the Word of God to understand. We must comprehend the methods of Satan, so that we recognize them and understand the reason for them. Only then will we be able to make the decisions necessary to keep our lives on the path of the Lord’s calling.
Many Master’s Divinity students are experiencing financial hardship because of the present economic crisis. The Lord’s teaching in Matthew 6, as well as subsequent teachings by Peter and Paul, address the very times in which we live. Jesus teaches that Satan will use even the necessities of life as a means to occupy the minds of believers, attempting to keep us from focusing on the Lord and His Word. Be prepared, therefore, you who are drawn by the Lord to the intense study of God’s Word. Expect Satan to make an all-out effort to occupy the attention of your minds in an attempt to deter you from continuing the study of God’s Word; but remain steadfast in God’s calling, while submitting your requests to Him in prayer. Jesus has revealed that your heavenly Father will supply what you need.