Do You Pay Attention To Those Around You?

by Mark Slaughter

It was an amazing moment… and I almost missed it!

About 30 minutes before I was to speak at an evangelistic outreach at a major university several years ago, I walked down the hallway toward our venue and noticed a student nearby standing alone, gazing out the 2nd floor window. I knew that I needed to head toward our outreach event for final sound check and to pray, but she seemed troubled. It was nothing overtly obvious, but something seemed wrong. I felt the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit saying, “Go talk with her.”

So, I breathed a quick prayer and gently walked toward her. After we made eye contact and each said hello, I simply said, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I saw you standing here and just wondered, are you ok?” She replied, “Oh, thanks for asking. It’s just been a hard day.”

“Why was it so hard?” I asked. Then, she began telling me how her boyfriend traumatically broke up with her, and how that made her re-examine her life and what is really important. I discovered she had some Christian background, but drifted away from God. She was so open as I explained that I was there to speak to a group about the hope and healing God offers to us through following Jesus Christ, and that it seemed like God was reaching out to her by having her there at that specific time. It was more than a coincidence! She agreed that she needed to recommit herself to following Jesus.

I offered to pray for her, and when I prayed for her by name, she began to cry. Afterwards, she said, “I have never before heard my name in prayer.” Her heart had been touched by the love of God and I connected her with a campus ministry. It was a powerful moment, and then I went to the ‘scheduled’ outreach event!

How well do we pay attention to God’s work in us and around us?

Later, I thought about how easily I could have missed that amazing moment to share the love of Jesus with her. Too often, I have been too preoccupied or inattentive to notice God’s stirrings in people around me. It’s easy to “see, but not perceive.”

In his book The Attentive Life, Leighton Ford says, “Much of the time I have to confess I am only half-looking and half-seeing, too preoccupied with my thoughts, running from what has been to what will be next.”

Why is it so hard for us to pay attention to God and others? 

To me, our biggest obstacle is what James Bryan Smith (author of The Good & Beautiful God) calls “hurry sickness.” We fill our lives with so much noise that demands our attention, and we live over-committed lives, so we must do everything faster, leaving little or no margins. Hurry sickness is an inner condition, not merely an outward one, which keeps us from noticing what God is doing in me and around me. Instead of being the Good Samaritan who noticed the injured man and sacrificially cared for him against cultural norms of his day, too often we are like the busy priest or Levite in a big hurry, sometimes hurrying to ‘do God’s work.’ Consequently, we miss God’s work right in front of us!

John Ortberg once said, “You can’t do anything important in the spiritual life in a hurry!” You can’t love in a hurry, or serve in a hurry. John recalled Dallas Willard’s wise counsel to him, “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry.”

If I am too busy to pay attention to people around me, then I’m too busy!

If I’m too hurried or pre-occupied, I can’t optimally collaborate with the Holy Spirit in listening to God’s promptings or listening deeply to people.

We will be better light-bearers of Jesus in our dark and broken world if we slow down, and ruthlessly eliminate hurry. We will notice the stirrings of God in us and in others, and stop to make time to listen, show God’s love, and speak of the Lord Jesus Christ who alone offers lasting hope and healing for our broken world.

Oh God, help me slow down today and pay attention to you and whoever you bring across my path—the barista at the coffee shop, a long-time friend, my neighbor, a server at a restaurant.  Help me pay attention.

 

Mark Slaughter (@MarkASlaughter) is an InterVarsity evangelist and national facilitator of Emerging Generations for the Mission America Coalition. He is a former pastor who is passionate about empowering the next generation of evangelism leaders and raising the evangelism temperature. Learn more: markslaughter.org.