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“Are you paying attention? Then I’ll begin…”

This paraphrase of the start to ‘Listen With Mother’ (a radio programme for children which ran from 1950 until 1982 which started “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…”) reminds us that paying attention is crucially important if we want to learn. The Samaritans to whom Philip preached after the scattering of believers through persecution (Acts 8:1-8) paid close attention to what he said and as a result, many of them were saved.

All of us know what it is like to talk to someone who is not paying attention to us; it’s frustrating and infuriating. As a teacher, I would find it very annoying if pupils did not pay attention to the instructions they were being given; as a mother, it was equally exasperating to talk to my son only to find his attention was elsewhere! But I have also been guilty of not paying attention myself, of finding my thoughts elsewhere when someone is trying to share something important to me, of ‘tuning out’ my son or grandchildren because I have other things on my mind.

Paying attention is a vital ingredient in building good relationships and the Bible has much to say about the need for us to pay attention to God. It’s a wise son, Proverbs tells us, who pays attention to what is said (see Prov 4:20), and a failure to pay attention to God’s commands will always lead us into trouble! (see Ex 15:26) The writer to the Hebrews urges us to ‘pay the most careful attention’ to what God says (Heb 2:1) and Peter reminds us that we are privileged to have the prophetic message and therefore need to pay careful attention to it. (2 Pet 1:19)

To pay attention, we have to be present in the moment, not running ahead to the next task, but willing to wait quietly before God with a heart emptied of all our cares and worries. Paying attention requires time and patience; we have to learn to be still and know that He is God. (Ps 46:10) As we pay attention to what people say and to what God reveals in His word, we will find our attitudes transformed and our lives enriched, but first, we have to learn to listen without jumping in with an answer, to wait without running ahead.