Daddy! Pay Attention!
When my youngest son, Jonathan, was young, he would often have something really important he wanted to tell me. More often than I care to admit, he would come to me at a time when I was reading or writing or engrossed in something else. He’d say, “Daddy! Daddy!” or something like that to get my attention. I’d answer, “Yes, Jonathan?” But, again, too often I wouldn’t look at him or stop what I was doing.
If Jonathan wasn’t satisfied that I was truly paying attention, he would reach up with his small hand, grab my chin, and yank my head toward him so I was looking directly at him. If I looked away at any point during his telling me whatever it was that was on his mind, he would reach that little hand back up to my chin and spin my head back around. It’s a wonder I never had to be treated for serious whiplash!
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: “Earth is crammed with Heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes – The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” God is all around us. He is always speaking – through His Word; through His creation; through His Spirit; through His people. But I fear that, as with Jonathan, I’m too often too engrossed with other things to pay attention to God.
God invites us to pay attention to him through his words to the prophet Isaiah, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55:1-3).
I couldn’t truly hear Jonathan until I slowed down, looked him in the eyes, and paid attention to him. We won’t hear God unless we do the same. We need to slow down and pay attention.
The place to start is in our approach to God’s Word. It is easy to come to God’s Word and rush through it. It’s a box to check off. We’ve done our duty. We’ve read our Bibles…now on to real life. But we need to slow down and linger. We need to meditate on God’s Word. We need to let it sink in. Like a cow chewing its cud, we need to ruminate on the Word of God. Ponder it; pray it; journal it; memorize it…let it become a part of who we are. M. Robert Mulholland suggests our goal in meditating on God’s Word is not to master the text but to be mastered by it. “We come to the text with an openness to hear, to receive, to respond, to be a servant of the Word rather than a master of the text” (Shaped by the Word, p. 57).
A second way to pay attention to God is by sitting silently in his presence. In Psalm 46:10 the psalmist says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” In Psalm 62:1 we read, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” Though we only have a few examples from the life of Jesus, I have the sense that he often practiced what we read in Mark 1:35: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
Prayer is usually me talking to God. But I am learning that an important part of prayer is simply coming to God’s presence and waiting silently on him. I don’t empty my mind to a state of nothingness – as in eastern meditation – but rather seek to still my mind that the Holy Spirit might fill it. It is a time when I am centering myself on God. My normal practice is to do this for about twenty minutes in the morning while the house is still dark and quiet. Rarely does something come out of that time, but as I go through my day, my heart is centered on God. There is a peace and a much greater awareness of God’s presence.
I also find that taking time daily or at the least weekly for self-examination helps me to pay attention to God. When I take time to examine my day or week, I begin to see patterns emerge in my life. I see situations where God was present and I missed it. I see times where I was vividly aware of God’s blessing in a particular moment. I observe my responses (good and bad) to others in the normal course of life.
It’s a time for thankfulness and rejoicing; a time for confession and repentance; as the Holy Spirit shows me the things I need to see. Best of all, it is a practice that sharpens my heart to be more aware of what is going on in and around me as I move through my day. It helps me to pay attention to the “burning bushes” all around.
Jonathan used to grab my chin and make me pay attention to him. Not only was it stinking cute, it also worked! I gave him my full and undivided attention! God’s normal way of getting my attention is a bit more subtle. But…I hear him calling to me: Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I want to look him full in the face, give him my attention, and hear all He has to say. In times in his Word, in times of silence, in times of examining my life, I want to hear what God has to say. I want to give God my full and undivided attention…that my soul may truly live!