“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1)
I still remember hearing a gentleman at a political meeting tell the gathered group that he had thought of the idea he was currently sharing while “not paying attention at church.” As he was speaking, because of varied distracted conversations between people not listening to him, this man ended up repeating that statement three times. I found that significant.
“Why,” I asked to myself, “would this man even bother going to church if he wasn’t even going to try to pay attention?”
I confess that sometimes it’s difficult to pay attention to what my pastor is saying when the challenges of this world are so present and real. I have to remember Hebrews 12:1.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
But I find that many times – and especially during a message I feel would be extremely beneficial for those listening – I notice that people aren’t. Week after week, I’ll hear people muttering to each other under their breath during a sermon. In the same way that the gathered group made the gentleman at the political meeting repeat his statement declaring that he himself hadn’t been paying attention at church, we seem to be habitually bound to not noticing or – worse – ignoring the message God has for us.
So why does it matter? As long as we’re at church, isn’t that enough?
I believe the answer is “no.”
Proximity gains us nothing. You can stand next to a Christian and you’re not going to catch “what they have.” You can stand in the lobby of a church, or in the sanctuary, or even up on stage, and it’s not going to make you any more or less righteous. The same people who stood right next to Jesus himself, and even had their feet washed by his hands in the case of Judas Iscariot, were the people who sold him out and betrayed him. Proximity gains us nothing.
The verse at the beginning from Hebrews tells us that if we don’t pay attention to the word of God, we will drift away from it. If our only interaction with a friend is liking a status on Facebook every once in a while, our relationship is not going to grow. It’s the same way with God. Listing “The Bible” as our top favorite book on our social media profile is not a substitute for actually reading it.
I am guilty of this.
To put it colloquially, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Abiding in God isn’t like riding a bike. We do forget – a lot. Because of this, it’s important to continue to dwell in Him and continue to read His Word and continue to speak with Him in prayer and meditate on Him in silence.
Thankfully, we have the opportunity and gift to interact and grow closer to God by reading His word and speaking to Him in prayer. He listens! Sometimes it feels as if He isn’t listening, but that is only because we can’t physically see Him. Have you ever been speaking on the phone to someone and you stop and ask “are you still there?” and they respond, “of course, I was just listening to what you were saying.” I believe it’s the same way with God.
With the statement in Hebrews, the converse is true. If we do pay attention to what God is saying, we will move closer to Him. 1 Timothy 3:1 says that we should “practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”
I want to encourage you to pray and mediate on this. Remember that God desires us to be close to Him – that’s why he created us – and when we struggle to be close to Him, it isn’t Him that’s keeping us at an arm’s distance until we’re “in the right frame of mind” or until we’ve cleaned up our act, but instead it’s us, believing that He doesn’t want to hear from us or that having a relationship with God will not benefit us.
I can testify to the benefits and peace I experience when I am close to God. He is the Prince of Peace, and while physical proximity changes nothing, spiritual proximity changes everything.
- “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)