The scriptures invite us to pay attention to God. Paying attention to God is one of the mechanisms God ordains to bring about transformation. So what then are we hopelessly over stimulated, hyper scheduled, never quiet city folk to do?
Well I believe the answer is that we must train. We can't simply decide to pay attention to God – we will need to be honest enough to know that without training we will not be successful in acting upon our desire.
I am by no means an expert in this regard. I may only be a few days ahead of you on the training curve and I know I am miles behind others on the track. Still, I do have 3 training steps I've found helpful that may get you started in your training, and help us all in the practice of paying attention to God:
Step 1) Acknowledge that no matter how distracted you feel, you are in fact always paying attention to something.
The 20th century Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset, said “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” Those words can feel somewhat convicting, yet I believe they are true none the less. People's attention spans are not getting shorter – they are just getting harder to attract.
The first step in training ourselves to pay attention to God is to acknowledge that we are not too distracted to pay attention – rather we are simply not aware of the things that currently have garnered our attention. You are not distracted by Netflix. When you watch it, you are giving it your attention. You are not distracted by emails. When you choose to respond to your notifications, you are giving those your attention. You are not distracted by your children, young or old – rather when you engage with them you are choosing to give them your attention. I am not criticizing any of these things – I am just trying to illuminate that our problem is not one of focus. The issue we face is that we rarely act as good stewards of our attention.
The apostle Paul was aware of the wandering attentions of the early church in Corinth, and gave them this encouragement: “Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand.” (1 Cor 15:1, CEB).
Acknowledge that no matter how distracted you feel, you are in fact always paying attention to something. This is the beginning step of your training.
Step 2) Embrace the weird.
Hang with me for a minute. I want to tell you about this character in the gospels who has always stood out to me as particularly weird. He ate bugs. He wore uncomfortable and unfashionable clothing. He lived on the margins of society. He let his passion for God lead him in some unusual practices. And he was the one who was given the honour of directing the attention of all within earshot to the arrival of Jesus, the saviour of the world. John the Baptist was by all accounts weird. Still he had his attention fully devoted to God's arrival in the world.
If we want to respond to the invitation to be transformed as we pay attention to God, we will, perhaps, need to embrace some of the weirdness of John.
John regularly withdrew to wild places. We may not have many wild places nearby, but if nothing else, we can get outdoors. Spending time in nature allowed John to direct his attentions to the God of creation. Think of the surroundings you spend your day around. Are you mostly surrounded by the man-made or the Creator made?
John withdrew from the popular voices and practiced regular times of solitude. John was obviously well-schooled in the scriptures and the prophets. If he had wanted he would have surely found good favour among the religious leaders of his day. Yet, he strangely chose to withdraw from those sources that may have puffed him up, and headed instead to quiet places to hear the voice of the only One who could lift him up. Think of the voices you accept as influences in your life? Are you mostly surrounded by the popular, by the crowd-sourced influentials or are you listening for the still, quiet voice of One who calls in times of solitude?
John lived a simple, somewhat ascetic life. Even in his day, his choices would have been held as weird. Now I am not suggesting that we all sell our homes, cars, clothes and run off to live in Goldstream park. Short of selling all your belongings, perhaps instead consider adopting a practice of intentional simplicity, chosen inefficiency, radical generosity, and unparalleled hospitality. There is no doubt that all of those practices would endear you to our culture as weird, but nevertheless they would tune your heart to the frequency of the Divine.
It is weird to wake up an hour early for an hour in contemplative prayer.
It is weird to resist your next purchase so you may instead give generously to someone else.
It is weird to take a day each week to be completely unproductive.
It is weird to touch dirt, smell pine needles, and sink your toes into sand in January.
It is weird to prefer a quiet “well done” over the public acclaim offered by a crowd of adoring fans.
It is weird to offer your home as a sanctuary to all who seek respite there.
Still, lets embrace the weird for the sake of our training.
Weird is often the gateway into seeing God. John was weird. John saw God.
Step 3) Expect God to intersect with your life.
The mistake many of us are making is that we are living our lives as though it is a gentle path that allows for comfortable and predictable rhythms. Even if our lives are not comfortable or predictable, we strain and work and pursue a pathway life – because we believe that is what we were made for.
But I think we have been chasing a lie. From the beginning of all creation, God has been actively pursuing his beloved. You and me. He has been actively and relentlessly loving after us and intersecting His story with ours. When Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God is near, He was essentially announcing that God's Kingdom has forever intersected with humanity.
Our lives are not to be characterized by gentle and meandering pathways – rather our reality is that life is found in the intersection between God and man – and like all children know – you've gotta pay attention at intersections.
As we train to pay attention to God, we will need to expect God's intersection in our lives. Our God is not a distant and inactive deity, rather the Triune God is one we should expect to encounter as being continually active in this world.
Do you expect God to intersect with your life? On Monday morning as much as Sunday morning? The life centered on Christ and empowered by His Spirit will be characterized by the intersection of his activity in our lives and the lives of those around us.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Eph 3:20, NIV).
Lets take some steps together – and expect God's transformation to intersect with our lives!
This blogpost is an excerpt from Pastor Kyla's recent message, Sunday, January 20th, 2019. To listen to the full message visit our sermon page now.