Attentiveness: Fully Present - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Fully Present

Sitting on the beach; walking on the beach; watching the sunrise and the birds; looking for shells and feeling the ocean water lap over my feet; feeling the gentle breeze in my face at sunrise; watching, listening, smelling, feeling, and praying and then listening more for God’s kind whisper—these moments enable me to intimately commune with God.

We all find places where we connect with the great Creator God. For some it is in the mountains, for others in the forests, walking along trails. For others it is gardens: flower and vegetable. For me it is the ocean, or more specifically beaches, especially the half hour before sunrise until the bright sun draws out the crowds. It means for me quiet; solitude; lapping waves or large crashing ones. Then there is the light show which is infinitely unique, mildly morphing minute by minute. How apropos that, this morning, my devotional reading (providentially) included Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge . . .
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat . . . (Psalm 19:1-6)

I learned in seminary that this psalm appropriates ancient Near Eastern motifs probably from sun god worship but instead turns them to honor the God of the heavens who speaks through words as well as the wonder of creation.

During these times of stillness and solitude, I have experienced most profoundly the clearest “words” from God. Not in my office, or in a committee meeting, but surrounded by God’s creation in stillness is when I hear God speak.

On my morning walks I observe a few themes. Every day people come out to watch the miracle of another sunrise. Some walk fast and others slowly. Some bring chairs and sit and watch the free show. Some do yoga. Others ride by on their beach bikes. Some fish; others surf.

But I have also observed something troubling. Many people are not fully present in the midst of the wonder. They are preoccupied talking on the phone, or listening to the news, or taking pictures of themselves: the sunrise in service of their personal image-making.

This is troubling to me because I believe it signals what ails humanity: an inability to be fully present with others, with creation, and with our God. To be fully human is to be fully present, fully alive, fully attentive. Singleness of mind or of intellect[1] is not possible if we are distracted.

I believe one of the major battles Christians need to fight today is the battle for singleness of mind. Distractions lead to a divided mind, and this draws us away from holiness and purity of heart.

What does it mean to raise children in such a world? What does it mean to disciple young Christians in such a world? What does it mean for you and me to be attentive to the temptations that lead to a divided mind and eventually a compromised will?

We can begin to answer these questions by exploring the beautiful concept of self-control. More to the point, we ought to aim to turn control of self over to Jesus who is our Good Shepherd. He not only empathizes perfectly, but he also has the power necessary for us to become fully present and alive.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace . . .” (Hebrews 4:15-16a)

Pray with me: Lord, help me, like Jesus, to be fully present in your creation and fully present with those who are lost, lonely, and unloved. Grant me the patience and self-control to show gratitude for you and your creation and love toward others. I pray this in the matchless name of the humble and powerful Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] The Ancients would talk about the intellect as that facility through which God communicates directly with us. We are inspired through the intellect, which must be still and attentive to receive God’s voice to us.

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.


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