Giving God Attention

Yesterday I talked about the questions that most of us have about God in those days when our relationship with Him seems to be about as close as two sides of the Grand Canyon.  When we find ourselves having drifted from God we tend to feel that our response should be to try to get His attention.  The truth is that His eye never leaves us.  We have his attention but does he have ours?

I have found that in my  life I am a type-A, driven and passionate follower of Christ.  I can get so carried away working FOR God that I neglect resting IN Him.

I had a mentor ask me last year “Tally, if you just woke up, relaxed and went to sleep without ‘accomplishing’ something for God, would you feel that you’ve honored Him?”  I said “No”.  He told me “Tally, that’s a problem.  You should be able to rest in God just as much as work in Him.”  

I’ve found in my own life that I do not need to get God’s attention, I already have it.  The reality is that in my hurried way of living I mess up when I avoid giving him my attention.  Fasting is a practice that forces that issue and brings me to a heightened state of awareness for the things of God.  Like putting on a pair of glasses that help me see properly, the fuzziness goes away and clarity comes when I fast.

There are numerous books on fasting and this post is not exhaustive.  What I will say however is that I used to think “Only spiritual giants fast.”  In reality, anyone can fast and anyone can reconnect to God through Christ in this way.  Here are a few simple suggestions to help you get your feet wet.

1.  Start by fasting from something other than food.

The practice is to simply get you thinking about God more often.  I know many people who find that they have time leaches in their life that distract from the things of God.  You may want to fast from television or Facebook (gasp!) or maybe your favorite radio stations in favor of bible-on-CD.  Whatever you do, just fast.

2.  Give yourself attainable goals.

There is nothing like trying to jump that grand canyon when all you have to do is find the bridge.  To think you’re going to go from desperatelack of God in your life to being some super spiritual hero overnight… it’s spiritual suicide.  Instead of saying “I’ll fast for 40 days.”  Maybe you start with 4.  Find a time period that will stretch you but not kill you. Each time you fast in the future you can stretch it out.

3.  Fast for a purpose.

Why are you fasting?  Are you praying for something specific?  Do you need clarity?  Do you need passion for the things of God?  Make sure you know what the point of your fast will be.  When you’re frustrated from missing your favorite television show or candy bar, it’s important for you to know WHY you’re fasting.  Fasting blind is simply being blind.  Don’t do that.  Fast with a purpose and ask yourself from the beginning “How will I know that God answered?”

4.  Keep it private.

The bible is clear that we shouldn’t gloat about our spiritual practices.  The only thing worse than a Christian who’s drifted from God is the Christian who constantly trumpets their own holiness.

5.  Let others in.

I hear you now.  “Hey, did you just say to keep it private? You’re an idiot and a hypocrite.”  First I will say to you… “Calm down cowboy.”  Secondly, bringing in a few people to your fast is for a purpose… to support and encourage you, not to be arrogant in your fast.  When you’re first starting out you should grab a spiritual mentor and say “Hey, I’m going to try this.  It’s going to be tough.  Will you be willing to encourage me along?”  Let them know what you’re praying for so they can join you.  Let them know what you’re fasting from so they can encourage you and possibly help you out.  As you get more comfortable with fasting you may not need a group around you or friends to help you along… but if you’re starting out it’s always a good thing.  Last year our church did a ‘Daniel Fast’ and we fasted together.  It was both a personal blessing and a community-wide blessing.

So there you have it… there are a few ideas for you to get started.   God is good and He will be faithful to answer.  

Remember, you don’t need to get God’s attention but rather give Him your attention and I am certain that you will have the fulfilled spiritual life that you’ve always wanted.

Some Books For Further Reading:

http://www.prayerforallpeople.com/fb.shtml

 

 

Getting God’s Attention

As I talk to people about their relationship with God the conversation tends to drift toward whether God is ‘there’ or God is ‘listening’ or whether God is ‘speaking’.   In essence, people want to know that God is still paying attention.  The unspoken heart cry is ‘Is God there and does He care?’.  Often people believe that the problem is that somehow they don’t have God’s attention.

The truth of the matter is that this type of spiritual thinking puts us at the center of the master plan. Ultimately this type of thinking leads us to being the beginning and end of faith.  The reality is quite the opposite.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:1-4

As you can see in this passage, Jesus, not us, is the center of our faith.  We were created by Him, for Him and our life is through Him.  Jesus is the center of it all.

So that brings us back to our question.  Do I need to get God’s attention?  No.  He is never unaware of you or your condition.

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:29-31

God is aware.  He’s aware of the sparrow and he’s most certainly aware of you.  So if our goal is not to ‘get God’s attention’ how can we bridge the gap?

Flip the script.

When I’m feeling empty in my faith and I’m not ‘feeling’ Jesus like I once did it is not that God needs me to wave orange flashlights around like I’m directing a 747 on a runway.  I don’t need to ‘get God’s attention’, I need to GIVE GOD MY ATTENTION.

Tomorrow I will talk about a practice I have incorporated into my life that has been helping me refocus when I sense a mission-drift occuring in my heart.  For now though, I leave you with a passage that reminds me of the truth that God is incredibly aware and present in my life.  He’s there for you.  He’s near you today.  Read and meditate on this passage:

Psalm 139

English Standard Version (ESV)

 1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me!

2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.


 

I Object to Your Objection

Today is a guest follow up to a post entitled “What Makes The News”.

Matt Steen, who contributed over at ToddRhoades.com on the original subject of my post has been kind enough to stop by and respond to some of my concerns.  In the spirit of dialogue I invited Matt to post here and share more of his perspective on the local church.  I enjoy respectful discussion even (especially?) when people see things from different perspectives.  Matt and I have different perspectives on things but we share a common desire for the Christ to be lifted up.  

————————————————————————

The story of the church coming alongside the City of Portland is not a totally new one.

In fact, on a daily basis churches across the country are interacting and serving the communities in which they reside… and are doing it well. Tally is right, over the last 10-15 years the churches in this country HAVE done a great deal of shifting in the way that they approach ministry, service, and caring for their community. Churches like Captivate are constantly doing good works by feeding the poor, caring for the homeless, stabilizing neighborhoods, and loving the least of these.

While Tally is correct when he says that the reason that much of these works don’t make the news is because there is no conflict, my intention with my post was not to call the church to launching a better marketing campaign (though we can probably learn a thing or two from the Mormons). My hope was to remind the church that we have made a mess out of the name of Christ… and the time to clean up that mess is now.

Jess and Thom Rainer’s recent book The Millennials points out the heartbreaking truth that only 13% of the rising generation have any use for religion… any religion. The recent spoken word video that went viral, Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus, may have been flawed, but it touches at the heart of how many in this rising generation feel about the church.

Shortly after posting the original article, a former student of mine from Atlanta shared his feelings on why he stepped back from the church in order to save his faith:

Church became a place not to worship God, or to lead nonbelievers to him, but a place to celebrate sameness. A place to be around people that agree with you. That stagnation leads nowhere good. I see people unifying in church not for worship, but to speak out against those who are different: other religions, other cultures, the gays, and even democrats.

God says to love all, yet, this happens. I find it hard to justify speaking against these people instead of reaching out to them. Isn’t that the main point of a church? Saving? And preaching against democrats, of all things. I don’t exaggerate, either. There are people I once considered religious leaders of mine- people I personally looked up to that I’ve removed from social media sites because they constantly spew hatred and insults towards political parties, claiming the just position of God. I’d understand if it were about specific issues; abortion, the homeless, god in schools: these are all things any person certainly has a right to be angry and forward about.

I’ve seen individuals AND churches give rants on the evils of political parties because of differing views on taxes. How is this becoming of a circle of believers? How does this fit the title of Christian: “little Christ”?

Hate and isolation are not just present in churches; they run rampant… and it’s only a secret to the church.

I don’t go to church anymore because the most disgustingly angry and hateful people I meet are churchgoing Christians. I don’t go to church because I don’t need politics in my God. I don’t go to church because I don’t want to be told to hate a type of person.

I don’t go to church because I love God more than myself, and I can’t find a church that acts that way.

I wish this were the only person I have had this conversation with. I wish that this was just the story of one bad experience, with one church that is missing the mark.

But it isn’t.

The reason that journalists are allowed to get away with the laziness that Tally spoke of is because this is how the world views the church…

My motivation for writing the original post was not to beat up on the church, but to encourage the church to take responsibility for the reputation that we have developed… and embrace the effort it will take to change it.

How do we do this?

  • Humbly Own Our Mistakes. The church has made some missteps through the years. While your particular flavor of Christianity may not have taken the lead on protesting soldier’s funerals, fighting to maintain the status quo in regards to civil rights, or the crusades, the truth is that much has happened in the name of Jesus that I don’t know that Jesus is all that excited about. We have been made out to be stubborn neanderthal hate mongers… nothing would work to undermine that assumption more than apologizing for our bad behavior, and the bad behavior of our brothers and sisters.
  • Partner On The Common Ground. During my time at The Garden Community of Baltimore we embraced what we called “shoulder to shoulder” ministry. While we took part of our fair share of the more traditional “face to face” type ministries: meeting needs, spiritual conversations, and the like, the linchpin of our success was inviting those who were spiritually unresolved to serve the community alongside of us. Working with others afforded us the opportunity to develop some great relationships, meet the needs of the community, and be recognized as an asset to our community. This also allowed those that the “lazy journalists” would portray as our enemies to know who we really were, and what we were really about. These relationships allowed me to witness some amazing conversations on our behalf… and some unlikely defenders. Linking arms with others in the pursuit of common ground issues will go a long way towards ending the myth that we are all about hate and isolation… and give us some unlikely advocates.
  • Disagree In Love. The 24 hour news cycle and the advent of talk radio and all news television networks has greatly reduced the amount of civility in our culture. Whereas labels like heretic, outside orthodoxy, and unAmerican were once reserved as a last resort method used sparingly after much prayer, discussion, and contemplation, it would seem that these days we skip to the end and start with the labels. The church needs to lead the way in this, and needs to realize that there is a difference between loving those with whom we disagree and admitting defeat. In fact, it may be beneficial for us to stop approaching disagreements as contests that need to be won.
————————————————————————

Matt Steen loves seeing the church thrive.  Currently serving as a Church Concierge with Church Simple, Matt has served as an executive pastor, youth pastor, and planted a church in Baltimore.  Matt lives on Long Island with his wife Theresa where he secretly leads a resistance movement against the New York Yankees (this might be the Orioles year… or not).  You can follow Matt on twitter (@matt_steen) or at ChurchThought.