paying attention to life

God speaks. Primarily through the words of the Bible, and actually that is a word meant for everyone, pointing us to the Word himself, Jesus. God also speaks through life, if we will only listen.

Life itself needs interpretation, actually scripture does as well. We have to depend on God for both, sometimes directly, but most often through others, through the church. In the end it has to be mediated to us. We are recipients of it. Certainly scripture itself interprets life.

And so this is an ongoing project.

What are we learning, not only from the pages of scripture, but also in our every day lives? About ourselves, and others, and the world around us.

Stay in scripture, in God’s word, but also pay attention to what we can learn from others, from experience, and what God might be saying to us through it all. In and through Jesus.

 

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pay close attention (and don’t let up)

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

Hebrews 2

I’m not sure exactly what it is, although surely it’s a combination of things. The message of scripture and the gospel is fascinating, powerful, and frankly spellbinding, in human terms, but it’s much more than that, since it’s nothing less than a word from God. I find once in a while something like an undertow which might carry a swimmer in the water through what are called rip currents, so that they are pulled out deep into the lake to drown, something which reminds me of that, seems to be not only at work in my spiritual life, but prevailing.

Certain factors can be involved, like being tired. Two Sundays in a row at church I’ve fallen asleep during a good part of the sermon, so that I didn’t get much out of it. But thankfully for me, I’m able to catch it online later, and was much blessed last night with hearing (and seeing as best I can on this tablet) it again, including the large chunk (maybe half of it, more or less) I missed. I want to catch this past Sunday’s message soon. But it seemed like more was at work then simply being tired, which itself should be addressed with more disciplined, regular sleep.

Surely at work in all of this is something diabolical, yes from the devil itself, the demonic. The words of scripture seemed empty, remote, and God seemed distant as well. I just didn’t seem to be connecting well.

Let me suggest that this is not just something which can happen, but is always present with us, which the Spirit through Jesus helps us overcome. Which is in large part why we need to pay the most careful attention to God’s word and the gospel which is at the heart of it, to avoid the dangers the book of Hebrews warns us about (read the entire book; one could start with the link above). That pull is always present, something we must resist, so that we can feed on God’s words and Word, and come close to God.

Paying the most careful attention is the hearing which in scripture is linked to a response by faith, a doing. This ends up being a trust and obey kind of practice, otherwise, we’re not really paying the kind of close attention called for in this text.

So if you sense you’re adrift, then cry out to God, and see this as a part of spiritual warfare. And let’s work to maintain a life that is disciplined in hearing and in faith obeying the word of God in and through Jesus.

looking beyond the problem

I am one who can easily become fixated on a problem. In today’s information age, in which we can get quite a lot of data at our fingertips, that is a habit which can end up draining one of time and energy. Draining spiritually, as well.

Such times are good times for me to practice the discipline of looking beyond the problem, to the Lord, the Creator and Redeemer and Sovereign over all. That doesn’t mean I can’t consider the issue at all, but I must learn at the same time to approach it, not in my own efforts in trying to resolve it. But looking to the Lord for his answer, whatever that may be. With the desire to radically rest in that, in all my weakness.

A big part of my problem is that somehow I think I can solve a problem. Some problems we can solve rather easily. And sometimes we receive information which helps. Nevertheless, it is good, and actually a blessing to be put in a place in which we can look only up, beyond the problem, to God himself.

Job is a good case in point of this. Much of that great wisdom book is taken up with Job and his three “friends” focusing on the great problem at hand: the misfortune and suffering of Job. In the end God appears and with that comes a resolution, but not of the sort either Job or his friends were looking for, or could have imagined.

I too need to practice this by not thinking that the solution to a hard problem lies with me. And there are so many problems which arise not only in our lives, but in the lives of our loved ones, in the lives of those around us, yes, in this world, to be sure.

And so I turn my eyes away, or look beyond the problem to the one who is our help, our hope and our salvation. Together with others in Jesus and for the world.

pay closer attention

When life seems to be slipping away, and almost everything seems lost, it is probably easier for us to be attentive to what is going on as well as what has happened. Though that is important, it is just as important to tune in to hear what God may be saying to us through his word, by his Spirit.

We need indeed to pay closer attention. Especially to the sayings of our Lord in the gospels. I look back on my life, and often I knew such and such, but did not take that seriously enough. Again and again scripture points to human responsibility. God doesn’t just pick us up and put us where we need to be, although God is far more at work than we can imagine. The problem lies with us, with our deafness in not hearing his voice, not even listening for it in the first place due to our hardness of heart.

We need to set our hearts into a posture of listening, and we need to be attentive to all details. God speaks through his word, through life, through dreams and visions (as we find in scripture), through others in what they may say to us.

Of course we may miss this and that, but the point here is that we need to become those who are paying attention. With the intent to obey. Those who as a habit of life are acclimated this way. An important part of our life in God through Jesus, together in this for the world.

François Fénelon on “an inward attentiveness” to God*

Be silent, and listen to God. Let your heart be in such a state of preparation that his Spirit may impress upon you such virtues as will please him. Let all within you listen to him. This silence of all outward and earthly affection and of human thoughts within us is essential if we are to hear his voice.

François Fénelon quoted by Richard J. Foster in Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, 78.

*”An Inward Attentiveness,” the title of this chapter in Foster’s book, which is headed with this quote.

distraction

One of the most troubling problems followers of Jesus encounter is the problem of distraction from attentiveness to the Lord. Of course the story of Mary and Martha is a prime example in scripture. Martha was burdened over the many preparations that had to be made, while Mary was content simply to sit at the Lord’s feet to hear his teaching. Martha let Jesus know about it, and he gently- I’m sure rebuked her, telling her that she was worried and upset over many things. That only a few things, actually one is needed. That Mary had chosen what is better, which would not be taken from her.

Distraction can be acute as in falling head over heels into some problem. In which we need prayer and help from God just to get through it, and out of it on the other side, back into the light of day. Oftentimes distraction is low grade and chronic, spanning our lives over lesser matters which keep us from the one thing that does matter.

Ironically distractions can help us by awakening us to our need to give our full attention to the Lord. We may feel up against it, so that it is hard to focus, which can help bring that awareness. Or we might realize that our lives are taken up with what doesn’t matter, in other words we’ve given our full attention to lesser matters, perhaps asking for the Lord’s help along the way, but not attentive to him.

No matter what our distraction we need to keep Jesus front and center. We need to give him our full attention. In fact if we’re facing an awareness of either acute or chronic distraction, that is an occasion for us to turn to the Lord, and endeavor to listen to him. We need to bring what distracts us to him. When we do, he can help us by giving us discernment so that what we do, the many things we need to do, can be done out of love for God, and for our neighbor. And he can give us needed wisdom for an especially acute distraction, or temptation toward such. As well as wisdom for the long haul.

I hate the sense of distraction away from God and his work in Jesus. And yet I often can be distracted in ways which seem innocent or even important, even when I may know that the distraction isn’t the best. Often this involves weakness and even struggling over sin such as in our attitudes.

We can be thankful to God that we long for something better. In Jesus is the way to learn to listen and give our full attention to God. Like Mary we want to choose what is best, sitting at the Lord’s feet, with others of his followers. Together in the way of Jesus for the world.

 

study as in attentiveness

I have to give a talk on study, in between talks on piety and action. Many other talks lined up as well.

I value the intellect, and agree with Mark Noll that we evangelicals have been all too either anti-intellectual, or more like apathetic in, or downplayed matters of the mind. We need to learn to think well, if we’re truly to love God with all our minds.

But study is not just an intellectual endeavor. Along with that it involves all that makes up our humanity. We were made for relationship, and we were made for community. As well as the mandate from God for humanity, and mission in this world in following Jesus.

The question becomes: How does God get our attention? How does God keep our attention? How do we remain attentive to God, and to God’s word and will for us in this world, in and through Jesus?

I can tell my story how God captured my attention years ago. My response to that, and what has followed after. Too often I’ve seen life mostly in terms of knowledge, which is essential, but by itself not enough.

Yes, we need to be in God’s word, all of it. For me listening to something like The Bible Experience facilitates that well. And reading scripture also. Hearing it read in our church gatherings.

But God’s word is meant to lead us to God himself in Jesus by the Spirit. And in that, God’s will for us individually and in community in Jesus for the world.

I want to learn to be more attentive, really honed in on that even in the midst of all life’s demands and responsibilities.

There is much that could be said about attentiveness. It will look as different as each of us are, in its outworking in our lives. And yet it will have something of the same characteristics. Some people more on the intellectual side, others the mystical, etc. So that we benefit from each other. But no part of human life that is to be neglected in any of our lives.

What is God saying to us? How is he moving in our lives? What should be our response? And how do we know any of this to be so, in the first place? All good questions. An element of mystery to be sure in God’s working, but we need to give ourselves fully, by God’s grace in Jesus, so that we can begin to attend more and more fully to God himself, and to God’s good will for us in Jesus, together in community with others, in mission for the world.