By Joe LaGuardia
God is still in the business of miracles, but we are so busy with work, school, and raising families, we forget to stop and pay attention to the many ways that God provides for us.
When unemployment figures were high and jobs scarce, many people turned to God for help–seeking him with passion. Now, with an improving economy, many people have gotten back to work; but they haven’t gotten back on their knees to pray. We forget God in times of feast and fat.
Some of us just have dry spells. Those are times when God’s presence seems dim, our hearts hardened, and conviction of sin dulled. Even we pastors can go through the motions of life without taking a few minutes to affirm God’s presence in the moment.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when conviction visited me one day when I was leafing through a book to find a sermon illustration for church.
The book was Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World. The chapter was, “The Practice of Paying Attention.”
One minute, I was reading it to find an illustration. The next minute, I was on my knees in prayer, drawn in humble repose by the very Holy Ghost of God.
There, I realized that I do not do a good job of paying attention to God and others. I overlook far too many blessings He has placed in my life.
But I also know I am not alone: Many of us are guilty of that.
There has to be some time in our day to stop and pay attention to God. Our prayers do not have to be long or lofty; nor does our time with Him need to be explicitly religious. We just have to learn how to pay attention again.
When God’s Spirit convicted me of this, I thought of my family. I take them for granted. My children are always doing something I fail to cherish. Time flies. My wife and I are aging quickly, but we don’t sit and look into each other’s eyes like we did earlier in our marriage.
If we don’t pay attention, we lose a sense of reverence and awe of our place in God’s creation and God’s care for us. We think ourselves bigger and more important than we really are, and fail to see ourselves as a part of a larger human family in which the details and the small things in life–like kisses and smiles–matter.
Barbara Brown Taylor encourages us to start small and see God in everyday life:
“Reverence may take all kinds of forms, depending on what it is that awakens awe in you by reminding you of your true size . . . Nature is full of things bigger and more powerful than human beings, including but not limited to night skies, oceans, thunderstorms, deserts, grizzly bears, earthquakes, and rain-swollen rivers.
“But size is not everything. Properly attended to, even a saltmarsh mosquito is capable of evoking reverence. See those white and black striped stockings on legs thinner than a needle? Where in those legs is there room for knees? And yet see how they bend, as the bug lowers herself to your flesh.
“Soon you and she will be blood kin. Your itch is the price of her life. Swat her if you must, but not without telling her she is beautiful first.
“The easiest practice of reverence is simply to sit down somewhere outside, preferably near a body of water, and pay attention for at least twenty minutes” (p. 22).
It’s good advice from a sage of a priest, and we should consider our own need to repent of our lack of reverence.
Psalm 139 is a prayer that acknowledges God’s close intimacy with us: “You have searched me, O God, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise…my going out and my coming in; you are familiar with all of my ways” (vv. 1-3).
Its time for us to know God like that too, to pay attention and stop letting life fly by unnoticed.
Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church. His book of articles and homilies, Awe and Trembling: Reflections for the Christian Journey, is now available online.