On Learning to Pay Attention

Ministry is service in the name of the Lord.  It is bringing the good news to the poor,
proclaiming liberty to captives and new sight to the blind, setting the
downtrodden free and announcing the Lord’s year of favor (Luke 4:18).  Spirituality is paying attention to the life
of the spirit in us; it is going out to the desert or up to the mountain to
pray; it is standing before the Lord with open heart and open mind; it is
crying out, “Abba, Father”; it is contemplating the unspeakable beauty of our
loving God.

J. M. Nouwen


There is an incredible story in Mark 1.  Jesus went to Simon and Andrew’s home.  Simon’s mother-in-law is sick in bed.  Jesus heals her.  That evening after sunset, people were coming from everywhere, bringing the sick and demon possessed to Jesus.  In fact, "the whole town gathered at the door" (1:33).  Cars were lined up and down both sides of the street!  


I suspect that in the eyes of these early followers, this was the place to be.  This ministry was working.  Then, the next morning Jesus got up early, while it was still dark, in order to pray.  He then tells these followers.  "It is time to go somewhere else."


What?  It looks like this ministry is going well.  Go somewhere else?  It is interesting that he says this after spending some time in prayer.   


of us lead cluttered lives.  The cell phone
rings.  We make appointments.  We keep checking our e-mail.  We have assignments with deadlines.  On top of this, perhaps you are married and have
children.  The clutter continues. 


come to church.  Far too often the
emphasis is on activity.


  • The committee
    will meet at 1:00. 
  • Can you help me with
    this project? 
  • Would you mind serving
    with the group that is planning our function?


This activity may be centered around some very important projects that will eventually bless people. 
However, the question is not, “Do we have enough activity going on for
God?”  The question is, “Is this a place
where you could meet God?”  If we are not careful, endless activity (regardless of how good and noble the projects are) can completely drain men and women.


This morning, I am thinking about the importance of being attentive to God both in public and in private.  I am in "public" much of the time.  That is, I am with someone.  Whether at home or at work, I am with people.  I am with people at church and in the community.  Yet, it is so important that I am attentive to God in the midst of this.


Those opportunities are often both expected (deliberately slipping away to pray) and unexpected.


The unexpected?


  • Reading a book and talking with God just after you read a meaningful paragraph.
  • Listening to music and reflecting on an aspect of your life for which you are grateful to God.
  • Working on a message for the church and seeing that it is really a message for me.
  • Exercising and thanking God for a healthy body.
  • Eating lunch — perhaps alone — and remembering before God how blessed you are to have plenty to eat.


Maybe, this is about learning to be attentive to God no matter what.  What do you think? 


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10 thoughts on “On Learning to Pay Attention

  1. Taking time out is really an act of trust. If we think we are the one who is so important that nothing can happen without our being there, we just don’t trust God like we should. Sabbath is very similar. It shows God that we trust him enough that we will not spend every moment trying to provide for ourselves and others but that we take time to let him provide for us.

  2. This post brought to mind a quote from Cicero. He said that gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.Thanks, Jim, for the good work you do here. I often find that this is a place where I can meet God. For this I am grateful.Bill @ Spiritual Oasis

  3. I think God gets our attention in certain ways. So as to help us learn to pay closer attention to him. Especially when situations hit close to home. But in all difficulties we encounter.
    Hopefully though, we can learn to cultivate this heart attitude into a habit of life, as you well speak of it here. Thanks Jim.

  4. “Working on a message for the church and seeing that it is really a message for me.”
    Thats a great thought… I guess I’d never really considered that before. Ministers seem to have a way of coming across (sometimes) as if they have it sorted… it is good to be reminded your messages challenged you too.

  5. Emma,Unfortunately, I am afraid that happens all too often.  Some of us (ministers) do at times communicate that we’ve got it all sorted out.I sure don’t.  And–I hope to never leave that impression.  Thanks, Emma.