In the film Sister Act 2, Whoopi Goldberg gets her wayward, unmotivated class to say and (because it is a musical!) subsequently to sing the following:
“If you want to be somebody and you want to go somewhere you’ve got to wake up and pay attention.”
While I’m not sure that I want to take that too fully on board as my motto for life, she has a point. A point made by the writer to the Hebrews at the beginning of chapter 2.
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
Obviously the idea starts in chapter 1 where we have just been shown how vastly superior God’s final word to us in Jesus is to all that went before.
Pay attention to Jesus! This was the heading that the speaker I heard recently on these chapters gave us and that is what set me off on Sister Act 2!
How good are you at paying attention? We are quite good, aren’t we, at spotting when other people aren’t paying attention to us? I know I am at any rate.
The All or Nothing is not good at paying attention. You are trying to give him a set of instructions, or to explain something or talk to him about his behaviour and it is as though he is literally unable to stand still. He is leaning, lying down, sticking limbs in the air, fiddling with his clothes or his toy, his eyes are all over the place – anywhere other than on us – and the more you ask him to be still the less capable he seems! Some people seem to be able to fiddle and still listen – it can even help them – but not the All or Nothing. You ask him to repeat what you have said and he draws a complete blank – normally prompting him to throw out random key words that come up a lot: listening, obeying, grace, mercy, Jesus, the Holy Spirit he lists in ever increasing desperation! When actually you were hoping for: you want me to go and wash hands! This drives me mad! I notice when someone isn’t paying attention to me!
But do I notice my own inattentiveness to Jesus? When I thought about it I realised that often when it comes to giving my attention to the Lord Jesus I have the capacity of a 6 year old boy with the wiggles. So just like the All or Nothing will keep his eyes on me while leaning away and reaching for a pencil I can have all the appearance of praying and yet be leaning towards the to do list or the supper plans. Instead of delighting in gazing at the face of God I am looking over his shoulder to see who else I can see. I am mentally fiddling away rather than paying close attention.
I realise that there is a wider context here, a more complicated argument. The issue for the Hebrews was clearly more fundamental than a case of mental drift. They needed to see what they heard from Jesus and about Jesus as more important than, superior to, the message of the Old Testament. They were in danger of taking their eyes off of him, content to coast along with what they already knew. But, when we put it that way – isn’t that a danger we see in ourselves? If we tend to drift towards what we are looking at – we must pay attention to Jesus!
Perhaps for the Hebrews the old kept grabbing their attention.
[ Although the line that the speaker I recently listened to took was that it seems to be more of a case of weary, sluggish drifting, preferring milk to meat than a relentless march back to Judaism]
For us I think we are more likely to be grabbed by the new. (I’m thinking dogs and squirrels from Up!) Something moves in our peripheral vision and our attention is lost. We’re not good at paying attention to what we feel we already know. But the more we know of Jesus the more we should want to pay much closer attention! Read Hebrews 1 and then try and give yourself a good reason NOT to pay much closer attention to Jesus. Immerse yourself (as I was recently challenged) in the greatness of Christ.
What is taking your careful attention? Can we look back on what we have attended to today and say that Jesus has had our careful attention?
Speaking to the All of Nothing’s teachers yesterday at Parents Evening they informed me that his attention in class was good. Phew! So the All or Nothing has (subconsciously I am sure) a basic understanding that at school you pay attention to the teacher. It is the correct thing to do, it is how school works, it is where your attention is meant to be. Not paying attention therefore has bad consequences.
I guess that is like me when I’m at a church gathering, or at a seminar on a conference. I pay close attention (- particularly if I take notes!). I’m there for that purpose and I’m going to take part as expected.
At home, when the All or Nothing wants to and expects to be able to pay careful attention to his game or his mood it is much harder to capture his attention. The choice he has to make then about paying close attention to us is not the same choice that he makes at school.
Similarly, it is in my so called ‘free time’ when my attention wants to roam free that I need to be intentional in paying much closer attention to Jesus. Of course, that’s not to say I can’t pay attention to anything else! For one thing it would be very dangerous (!) and for another God has given us all amazing minds and interests and things that spark us, responsibilities to carry out, and skills to learn. He give us great pleasures to enjoy and delight in and also terrible sadnesses that threaten to take all the attention we have…
….But what if all these things were part of us paying closer attention to Jesus? What would that look like?
Well it would never look like neglect. The writer to the Hebrews warns us against neglecting such a great salvation (2:3). This makes me think of a guest that perhaps we welcomed well at first, but have basically left sitting in the corner while we mingle with the important people or get on with the important tasks. Again, while I am aware that the argument here is so much more than the simple picture language I am grabbing from the text – but I don’t think it is less than it. Have I left Jesus in the corner of my life today and pointed him in the direction of the kettle as I rush out the room, or is he the King to whom I am to attend in everything I do and think and say?
Dear Father, I praise you for the great salvation I have in Jesus. May I not neglect it, but pay ever closer attention to Jesus every minute of my day. I praise you that Jesus is greater than the angels, than every power we know of and every power we are unaware of, greater than death, than the universe, than all things, than our sin, than time… I praise you that Jesus is worthy of every ounce of attention I have and for your grace in allowing me to wake up and pay attention to him. In his precious name, Amen.