Can God Get Your Attention?
In Genesis 28:10-16 is the story of Jacob's dream at Bethel. Jacob had left Beersheba and set out for Harran. Jacob stopped at a certain place to sleep for the evening and had a dream about angels ascending and descending between heaven and earth. God spoke to Jacob and told him his descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth. When Jacob awoke, he said, "Surely, the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it."
"I was not aware." Those are powerful words Jacob spoke and a bit scary too. If truth be told, we are unaware far too often or most of the time, especially where the presence of God is in our midst. Our lack of unawareness may explain why we have so many troubles in life: difficult relationships, misunderstandings, and missed opportunities. We plod through our marriages, friendships, and opportunities and miss the gifts and blessings God has put right in front of us. This story is calling us to use our attention.
In English, our focus is usually on paying attention. However, when we turn to the Hebrew word for attention, the focus is on placing our heart on something. Placing our heart on something evokes a deeper commitment not just to listen to or look at but to take in and truly consider something and if it is worthy, make it a part of our lives. Therefore, to pay attention or to be aware is an act of spiritual discipline.
Often times we think the only way to draw closer to God, to connect, is by Bible study, going to church, Christian fellowship, tithing, and serving those in need. All of those things are important and necessary, however, if that does not prompt us to live in the moment and place our hearts to where God is acting, moving, healing, blessing, and walking beside us in sorrow and in our everyday moments, then we have missed what God teaches through the scriptures and what Jesus instructed us to do. To be a people, a person truly connected to God and living in an abundant life with God, then we must translate what the Bible is saying to us, what we learn in church, and in Christian fellowship….we must translate all of that into a purposeful use in our particular moments.
Daily devotionals, reading scripture, praying, tithing, serving those in need, and going to church are all life transforming and changing. All of that needs to come first, but truth be told, when we are to that point and living into that lifestyle or what I would call living into that “Godstyle,” there is a deeper connection yet to be had. There is even a more wonderful and beautiful God to behold. There is more life transformation that can occur. However, it requires one little thing: attention to creation, attention to the moment we are in whether it be pain, joy, sorrow, sadness, a time of doubt, disbelief, or questioning. Attention matters.
Attention is an act of connection. However, Christians often tend to block their own spiritual growth and thereby their possible deep connection with God due to lack of attention. Rather than living or working in the present moment, we spin our wheels in task after task, running from one chaotic moment to the next, or while away our time in fantasy…either through daydreaming, books, Instagram, or games on our phone. Have you noticed how many apps on your phone are available for fantasy worlds?You can literally create your own village, town, city, or deserted island from scratch. You can build restaurants where you serve food or your own ice cream shop with all the flavors you can image. You can do home makeovers and personal makeovers or pretend makeovers on avatars or pretend homes.
If you had to be honest with yourself, where do you tend to waste your attention? Is it in running from task to task never fully focusing on one or living in a fantasy world? Or both, think for a moment. Write down your answer in your devotional journal if you have one.
Illusion or fantasy is a beautiful friend. Never ending tasks are beautiful friends. One we often hide behind. It is so tempting to live with illusion or never-ending tasks rather than face reality. Often, we do not like the reality around us and we do not know how to fix it or even want to fix the situation – to do so would be to recognize our part of the story and our responsibility in perpetuating the false narrative. So, if we are trying to be more attentive, we have to be honest about how we spend our time and how we waste our time.
Another thing we have to do to be a people of attention is deal with a major misconception. One of the great misconceptions about a vibrant spiritual life and connection with God is there should be great amounts of just faith. Just believe. Just trust. With the emphasis on, our only action needs to be to have faith, God will do rest of the work. With this idea of faith, there is a sense that we have given up our responsibilities and our need for action.
While there are times we do just need to have faith (where we have done all that we can do or we have two paths to go down and we just have to have faith that we are choosing the road God wants for us) too often we just say, have faith and we put the burden of the responsibility on God and what God should do, instead of being willing to take risks, take responsibility, and take action out of a fear of failure or not getting it quite right. So, while we may think a vibrant spiritual life and connection with God are about great amounts of faith, that is just not true.
The truth is that a vibrant spiritual life and connection with God requires great amounts of attention. Attention is a way to connect with God, come alive in Christ, and grow spiritually beyond anything that we can measure. So, how do we get better focus, attention, or placing our hearts where they need to be?
There are a myriad of ways to learn how to pay attention and live in the moment. The only way any of these techniques work long term is if they are infused with a focus on God. God as the creator, sustainer, and the giver of attention in the first place.
Journaling, creativity (art, music, writing, dancing) are ways to pay attention. Walking through nature and observing all that is around us is a way to focus. Intentional breathing is a way to still minds. Truly focusing on a singular question, you have or focusing on how to solve a problem in your life is a way to pay attention. And the list of ways to pay attention goes on. Reality is, to pay attention you have to connect with the creation around you. You have to spend time alone with God, you have to spend time with God while you are journaling, drawing, painting, writing, dancing, walking in nature, or focusing on a singular question or problem. God needs to infuse into your every moment of every day.
It goes back to the verse Ephesians. 6:18, "Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. (ESV) Or, in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing." (ESV)
So how do you pray all the time and on every occasion? How do you pray without ceasing? You are going to love this; you pay attention. They are synchronous, they need/require each other. You have to pay attention all the time, pray and seek God all the time -- look through a God lens all the time.
You may be thinking, this is hard. No, it is not. It just takes effort and setting intentions. Jesus made it very clear in scripture that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. In other words, this stuff is simple, not difficult. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Jesus, on more than one occasion, talks about the simplicity of faith and finding rest in Him. Again, it is easy, it is light. It is a simple way of intentional living that transforms you into a brilliant beacon of light for God. If we read the entirety of Ephesians 6, Jesus brings: joy, relief, peace, and freedom….even when we face troubles, they will not break us down. In Matthew 11:28-30, it states, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV)
It is simple, we just need to realize our need to pay attention and pray at all times and on every occasion. Then, we have to set the intention to pay attention and the intention to pray at all times and on every occasion. Intention is key. Intention means to be done on purpose; deliberate. We have to make up our mind this is what we are going to do.
Lastly, just we just have to do it. We may forget at times (I know I do), but through our set intentions of purposively paying attention in our everyday moments, focusing on God, and by trying our best to do it, I promise God will prompt us to remember Him. God will prompt us to pay attention. By acting on these two things and being intentional, it becomes self-fulling, self-sustaining, and life giving.