I was driving on a primary north-south route before dawn. A half-mile away I could see a car coming toward me with his bright lights on. When he went down a hill and disappeared from sight, I turned my bright lights on hoping that, when we got closer, he would see me turn mine off and would get the message to turn his off, too.
As we approached each other, I turned off my brights, but the other driver didn’t get the message. So I flashed my lights at him. He still didn’t turn off his bright lights. I didn’t know if he was being stubborn or if he just didn’t notice.
I frequently drive the country roads after dark or before dawn and I have notice that approaching drivers frequently forget to switch off their brights. I flash my lights at them as a reminder, but some – maybe a third – still don’t turn theirs off. Are they being stubborn? I doubt it. I think they simply don’t notice.
But how can you not notice a car approaching you at fifty-five miles per hour, flashing its lights? What could the other driver possibly be doing? Is he talking on his cell phone, or changing CDs or adjusting the heat? Is he dozing? Or is he just lost in his own thoughts? (It is a little disquieting to think that three out of ten drivers are so distracted that they do not notice when someone flashes lights at them.)
When it comes to driving a vehicle, paying attention could mean the difference between a safe arrival and an accident. When it comes to one’s spiritual journey, the same holds true. I think many of us crash in our spiritual journey simply because we are not paying attention. God is flashing his lights at us, so to speak, but we don’t notice.
As there are rules in driving, so there are rules in the spiritual life. As there are skills in driving, there are skills in the life of faith. But knowing the rules or mastering the skills is not enough to guarantee success, whether one is on the road or following the spiritual path. We must also pay attention.
As a pastor, I have met people who know all the rules. They can quote them at length. Ask them a question – for example, “What does the Bible say about forgiveness?” – and they will give you three rules, all with biblical support.
Other people have the skills down pat. They read the Bible every day and understand what they read. They pray. They meet with others weekly to worship. They know how to use the Bible as a map to lead someone to faith in Christ.
Some people know the rules and have developed the skills, but miss a satisfying life with God, nonetheless. Why? Because they aren’t paying attention to him. They are lost in their own thoughts, pursuing their own agendas, or playing with their newest toys. And, because they are not paying attention, they keep having “accidents.” Their words damage others, they miss God’s will, and they drive their life through various barricades, right into temptation.
What is the difference between the person who pays attention and the one who does not? One decides that paying attention is important, intends to do so, then acts on his intention. The other does not. Most people who don’t pay attention to God never intended to. They think of this life as their own, and God as an option to which they can attend or not.
Paying attention – to the road or to God – is a habit and, like any habit, can be formed. We can get into the habit of paying attention to God by devoting time daily to listen to what God has to say, especially through the Bible. We can talk – and listen – to God at specified times during the day. We can adopt a posture like this: “Lord, I am listening. Speak to me today through the Bible, through other Christians, and even through chance meetings. Speak to me through what I read and the circumstances around me.”
The difference between failure and success is sometimes a simple matter of paying attention.
First published by Gatehouse Media