1. Opening thoughts about how we are all distracted, especially as it relates to God
2. John 5.16-19 Context
3. Jesus operated totally within His Father’s Will, which means he was God-attentive
4. We need to be God-attentive, throughout the day
5. Examples of people who were God-attentive (Brother Lawrence, Frank Laubach)
6. We need to be intentional about living the God-attentive life
Good morning. Quick question. How many of you are easily distracted? Some of you are distracted right now. I imagine if we are honest with ourselves, everybody is easily distracted at times. Something as simple as you just are introduced to somebody and you hear their name, and two minutes later you forget the name and you have to introduce that person to another person and that is very embarrassing. Again, it is just because we didn’t pay attention. Or maybe you are driving down the road traveling on your family vacation. You happen to be on your phone or, God forbid, you are texting, and you miss the exit and are forced to drive another 30 miles to your trip. Anybody every do that? Been there, done that. Or let’s say it is late in the afternoon or early evening and you are watching the evening news, and you are really focusing on that. Your wife says I have to run out and get something from the grocery store. I will be right back. So you are sitting there watching the news and all of a sudden the phone rings. It is your wife, and she has a question for you. And you annoyingly ask ‘Where are you?’ She, in her sweetest voice, says pay attention. I just told you I was going to the grocery store. Anybody experience that? Not me but some of you have.
All kidding aside, we are all guilty of not paying attention at times. We are easily distracted. That is because we have the ability to carry many different things in our minds. Many different thoughts in our mind at one time. Although our failure to pay attention in this life generally has minimal consequences, as we will see today, if we fail to pay attention to God, it can eventually really impact our devotional life, our prayer life, and more than that it can hinder our growth and transformation into Christ-likeness.
Today, we are going to look at the importance of being God attentive, which simply means a life of ongoing attention to God. As we talked about last week, if anything, Jesus was very God attentive because he had a very rich prayer life. We also mentioned how, for Jesus, prayer wasn’t the end in itself. It wasn’t something he would check off his spiritual check list so to speak. It was a means to an end. The end being the greater attentiveness to God and really to continue to live within God’s will, within God’s desires. If anything, as we will see in today’s passage, Jesus was fully in tuned to the will of God. So much so that it seems he couldn’t have even operated outside of his will.
A little context before we touch on the passage in John 5:16-19. In the early part of chapter five, we see Jesus traveling around the countryside. He ends up in this town of Bethesda at what is called the pool of Bethesda which is really a man-made pool so to speak that was believed to have healing properties or powers when the water was stirred up. Apparently, people would gather from all across the country, the lame, the crippled, and the blind, hoping to be healed of their ailment. The story goes that Jesus saw a man that had been paralyzed for 38 years and had been coming for years to the pool of Bethesda. He walks up to him and asks him ‘Do you want to be well?’ At that point, the man begins to make all sorts of excuses. He says when the water is stirred there is nobody there to help me. Or when the water is stirred, I can never make it down there. Somebody always beats me into the pool. So he is making these excuses. Jesus just says ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ And immediately the man was healed. He began to walk. He picked up his mat and he walked. Although that was good news for the paralyzed man, in some sense it was bad news for Jesus because he immediately became a target of criticism from the Pharisees and the teachers of the law because he was performing this miracle on the Sabbath, similar to our Sunday. That was against Jewish law because it was considered work. Jesus comes back with a great response in John 5:17 when he hears their criticism. He says “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I too am working.” This really kind of enraged them a little bit. Not only was Jesus healing somebody on the Sabbath and working on the Sabbath, he was giving the impression that there was some sort of equality or family relationship with God. They begin grumbling and Jesus responds again in verse 19 when He says “I tell you the truth. The Son can do nothing by himself. He can do only what he sees his Father doing because whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” Again, these words get the Pharisees so upset that they want to kill him, but to us it reveals Jesus’ sole focus while on earth: to live within the Father’s will. To totally be his will conformed to the Father’s will. There are a lot of passages that speak about Jesus’s submission to God’s will or his desire to live out the will of God. One in particular is earlier in chapter four of John. The disciples are telling Jesus you haven’t eaten in a while so you are probably hungry and you need to eat some food. Jesus replies is classic. John 4.34 He says “‘My food,’ said Jesus ‘is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish his work.’” Another passage that just seems to really emphasize that Jesus operated totally within his Father’s will. These two passages, at a minimum, seem confusing to us, and at a maximum, seem very restricting, very confining. Almost on the borderline of being enslaved. As Americans, we don’t like this idea because we are generally independent people. We are independent thinkers. We are independent doers. We want to do our own thing. This just sounds very restrictive. Bordering on slavery. The question that can easily be asked at this point is whether or not Jesus even had the ability to act freely. In other words, did Jesus have free will? That is a question that a lot of people ask. I would say that he did have free will. We will talk about this more when we talk about the idea of being sin resistant, but I believe that Jesus had free will but that he chose to submit that will to God. He chose to submit his will to God’s will. A place that this is really clearly evident is in the scene in the garden the night before his crucifixion. He is in the garden praying with his disciples. He is feeling a lot of stress, heavy emotion, and sorrow. Kind of almost mentally in anguish. In Luke 22.42 Luke writes “He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” This passage seems to emphasize that Jesus had a will and a will of his own, but he chose to operate according to the Father’s will. All the way up to the crucifixion. He could have said I don’t want to do this crucifixion. He had the freedom to walk away from it in some sense, but he lived according to the very prayer that he taught the disciples. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He lived according to that.
My point in this opening section that I really just want you to grasp onto is that Jesus did have free will, but he chose to submit his desires to the Father’s will. You might say what does that have to do with being God attentive? My answer is really everything. If he is one who is going to submit his will totally to the Father that means that he is going to have to allow the Father to direct all his activities. His daily activities. His minute-by-minute activities, which basically means that he has to be God attentive. He has to be close enough to God where he can hear his voice and respond to it. He has to be intentional about being close to God, about being God attentive. Some people may say he had to be close, he had to be intentional about it, but since he was fully God, then maybe even though he had free will, maybe his mind was somehow meshed with God’s mind or they were on the same wavelength. So it wasn’t like he really had to go out of his way to hear his voice. I would say it is a possibility, but we also know that in addition to be being fully God, he was also fully man. The bottom line is he could be distracted. If he was living today, he was capable of possibly missing an exit sign or forgetting a name. He was capable of it, but I don’t think he would have. For the very reason that he was intentional about being God attentive. About paying attention to God. We already mentioned that one way he did this was through his robust prayer life. There are tons of passages in the gospels that speak about his prayer life. One I came to this week is from Luke 5:16 where it says “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Everybody say often. Often. It means a lot. You say Chuck what does that mean in the Greek? In Greek it means often. It means a lot. Those words let us know that Jesus was very intentional about his prayer life and often withdrew to lonely places, places of solitude where he could be alone with God and really hear God’s voice. That was important to him. Beyond that, Jesus didn’t limit his prayer time to the lonely places or what we would describe as a prayer closet or something like that. He brought prayer into his day-to-day life. Into his minute-by-minute existence. So much so that some suspect he had almost an ongoing inner conversation with God. Meaning that he was never farther than an earshot away from the Father’s voice no matter how it would reveal itself to him. He was always in his life. The Father was always there. Even in the middle of a discussion probably. I know we have all had discussions with three people and we are having this discussion with one person and the other person is feeling like a third wheel because we are not paying attention to that person. Something tells me that that didn’t happen for Jesus. When he was in a discussion with people, it was like the Father was the empty chair that was there. He was including him in the discussion.
As we talked about last week, he was always attentive to God especially through scripture. He would memorize and meditate on scripture and then be able to give it back to God and give it back to others on a regular basis. He was constantly sensitive to those around him, so he was probably shooting off all sorts of prayers to all the people that he came into contact with in any way he could. The bottom line is that Jesus didn’t just do prayer. His life was a life of prayer. Because of that, he was able to be God attentive, and he was able to conform his will to the will of the Father. As we think about our desire, which I believe we all desire to be at least more like Jesus, if that is our desire, then we have to learn to be God attentive. That means in the midst of the craziness and noise of life and the confusion and chaos of life, we have to be intentional about listening to his voice. We have to go through and pick up our ears and be able to hear his voice in any way we can. In any way it comes to us. Then, ideally, we would respond to what he is telling us to do. Over time, we begin to experience some form of transformation. If we are obedient to the voice we hear from him, we are going to experience some transformation. I say this is difficult, but it is not impossible. It is difficult in the sense that we all do have very bad attention spans, especially now with technology. People daydream. I suspect that a few here might have only heard 50% of the sermon because you are daydreaming. You are thinking about other things. I have been there. I know what it is like. It is difficult, but it is not impossible. Like anything, if you want to change, it is just basically forming a new habit. That is all it is. A habit that begins by making sure you have those quiet times, those lonely times, or those places you go off into prayer with solitude with God, but beyond that it is basically carrying on this ongoing dialogue with the Father throughout the day. Similar to walking with a friend or a spouse. You have this ongoing inner conversation going on. You have to dig a little bit into the Bible. You have to ideally memorize a few words. You go throughout the day, and you are speaking those words back to God whether it is three words: Lord have mercy. Or thirty words. Or even 300 words. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you are in constant conversation with God. You are giving him back his word. And that you are also being with people. You are shooting out prayers to people all through the day. Either silently or verbally. You are giving out prayers to people. You are in constant conversation with God. You might even do things like set an alarm on your phone so it goes off three times a day. When you are in the midst of your business at work or home, it is just a quick reminder to say step away from this work for a minute and focus in on God. Meditate on the scripture or just meditate on the glory of his presence. The beauty of his majesty that especially is seen in creation. If you do this, you will find that the habit will grow. You will begin to change from the inside out. You will find yourself growing in Christ-likeness. It is difficult, but it is not impossible. Especially when we consider that there have been people all throughout history who have practiced being very attentive to God.
One name that some of you may have heard of is monk named Brother Lawrence. In case you don’t know the name, he was born Nicholas Herman in 1666 to a poor family in France. At about the age of 18 he had this phenomenal religious experience. He went into the army and when he got out of the army, he ended up being a Carmelite monk where he spent the rest of his life in a monastery working basically as a cook. Although he was very low on the totem pole when it comes to status, the other monks were really drawn to him because of his deep spirituality. He had a goal in mind. His goal was to constantly live within the presence of God. All this is documented in the letters he wrote to his superior, his Abbot. Ultimately, they got compiled into a book called The Practice of the Presence of God. It is a very good book. It is one man’s journey trying to live in the presence of God 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Although the words are hard to read because they are 400 years old, it is very difficult, but we can glean some very good things from the book to help us in our desire to live within the presence of God. For example, he talks about his struggle and his ability to do his kitchen work and at the same time to pray. He writes “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer and in the noises and clatter of my kitchen while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in his great tranquility as if I were upon my knees.” That is Brother Lawrence. He was able to juggle those two things very well. But he knew it wasn’t easy. He knew it doesn’t come without practice. He writes later “By repeating these acts, they become habitual, and the presence of God becomes something that comes naturally to us.” Because Brother Lawrence was intentional about being attentive to God, he was known for his deep spirituality. A spirituality that really raised the bar on the monastery and really many religious orders to come.
I know some of you may be thinking, well, Brother Lawrence was a monk. That is what monks do. They have the luxury of hanging out with God all day. That is partially true. You are thinking I have all sorts of stuff going on in my life to juggle. I don’t just have to worry about dinner. I have to think about getting the kids to school. Getting them to the soccer games. Working my job. I just can’t do that. That would be true other than the fact that there are many Christians who accomplish more than most of us will ever accomplish in life who are still able to do this. They are still able to practice the presence of God.
A more contemporary example is a man named Frank Laubach. He was a guy that probably most of you haven’t heard of. He was actually born in Benton, PA in 1894. Basically, he ended up going off to the Philippines to work with a remote tribe of Muslims on an island. He went with the desire to share the gospel. While he was there, he developed a literacy program. A very successful literacy program that taught the people to read in their native language. It was called Each One Teach One. He was able to take that little pamphlet he developed and, statistically, it helped over 60 million people end up being able to read in their own native language. Then he would travel around. He would write books. He would talk about this experience. He would talk about world peace. He would talk about literacy. In fact, he was the first missionary to end up on a postage stamp. I think in 1984 they put him on a stamp. Aside from all the accomplishments that he had as someone writing reading material, he really became known for his deep, deep, deep devotional life and really his desire to learn how to practice the presence of God. Similar to Brother Lawrence. He began to experiment what it would be like to practice the presence of God 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Those experiments are chronicled in letters that he wrote to his father. They are summarized in a little book that is simply called Letters. Like Brother Lawrence, he was intent on trying to live out the presence of God 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This experiment was born out of a frustration with his own spiritual life. He was a pastor for 14 years. He writes “I am disgusted with the pettiness and the futility of my unled self. If the way out is not more perfect slavery to God, then what is the way out? I am trying to be free from everybody, free from myself, but completely enslaved to God every moment of the day.” This was the result really of what he would say are two great passions. The first to be like Jesus, which you should recognize that we have been talking a lot about. And second is to respond to God as a violin responds to the bow of the master. That is just a beautiful phrase. He was serious about this stuff. It was challenging. In his book you see that after a few weeks, things began to change. He talks about how his life began to feel a lot lighter. He began to feel a lot less pressure about life. About how he went through life with more of a cheery attitude. He writes “The concentration on God is strenuous, but everything else has ceased to be so. I think more clearly. I forget less frequently. Things which I did with strain before I now do easily and with no effort whatever. I worry about nothing. I lose no sleep. I walk on air a good part of the time.” Is that something anybody would want? I know most of you people. You want something like that. He goes on and basically says by the end of the year, I won’t say he dumped his old methods of study, but he realized how superior this approach to the devotional life was. He says “Every waking moment of the week I have been looking to him with the exception of an hour or two. How infinitely richer this first-hand grasping of God is than the method I used to use and recommended for years, the endless reading of devotional books.” Many of us spend quiet time after quiet time reading a devotional book over and over and over again. That becomes our whole spiritual life, yet we feel dry. We don’t feel like we have really connected to God. Like Brother Lawrence, Frank Laubach nailed it. He really nailed the secret to the spiritual life, which is constantly living in the presence of God moment by moment and really minute by minute. So much so that he wrote a little devotional book called The Game With Minutes. He made a game out of it. The sole aim of The Game With Minutes is to spend one second out of every minute of the day thinking about God. One second out of every minute of every day thinking about God. If you are like that just sounds a little bit overwhelming. He had success with it. He was able to find that other people had success with it. In fact, there are Christians today even in this church who have been involved with The Game With Minutes to some degree. They have experienced successes and also experienced failures. One person in particular is a man by the name of Josh. Josh has recently been exposed to The Game With Minutes within a few weeks or couple months. Ever since then, he has been anxious to tell people about this little game because he has found so much joy and so much pleasure in it. So I asked Josh if he would come up and share his experience with it and the joys and difficulties and whatever else he would like to give.
(Josh speaking here.) Thank you, Chuck. I am Josh. Austin introduced me to this game. It was a few weeks ago, maybe going on a month now or so that we have been playing together. It has drastically changed my life. Before I would read the Old Testament stories in Genesis of these people walking with God and talking with God. I envied that. I wanted that. Through playing this game, God revealed to me that his presence is all around us. We do walk with him every single day. We just don’t acknowledge him. Through playing this game, it just gives an acknowledgement to God every single moment and it changes your life. It changes the atmosphere around you. It changes how you interact with people, how people interact with you. It will go 15-20 minutes a day where I won’t think about God. It feels like hours. To me, that is a failure. The beautiful thing is you can just pick right back up and invite God back into the next moment. One of my favorite quotes from the book is “I shall just live in this hour until it is complete and then step into the next. Neither tomorrow matters nor yesterday. Every now is an eternity if it is full of God.” That has just been so true in my life. Just this moment right now spending it with God is more precious than anything else because God is with us. He just wants to be in your life fully and completely. You just have to take the time to acknowledge him. That is one thing that I pray all of us can do is just acknowledge God no matter where we are or what we are doing. Just give him a minute because he deserves so much more.
(Chuck speaking here.) I love that quote. Every now is an eternity if it is spent with God. We talk a lot about the kingdom of God. That describes it. Every now is an eternity if it is spent with God. Every now can be a moment that has been spent in the kingdom of God if you are with God. This is not rocket science. I know it sounds difficult, but it is doable. It is how bad do you want it. I thought I would have copies of The Game With Minutes. No. If you want it, you will get it. You will figure out how to get it. If you don’t that is fine too. Some people just simply aren’t at that place. I wasn’t at a place that I wanted it that badly.
In conclusion, we know that God loves us. We know that he created us. He created us with a purpose, but he created us to live within his realm, within his will. We stepped out of that will. He created us to live inside that will. Why? Not because he is trying to enslave us but because he knows that the safest place you can ever dwell is within the will of God. I just wish everybody would get that. The safest place you could ever dwell is in the will of God. But again, God didn’t force that on us. He gave us free will. He didn’t make us robots. He allows us to choose whether we want to continue to be enslaved to our lives, to our minds, to our emotions, to our addictions, or whether we choose to be enslaved to him. He gives us free choice. He gives us pathways to get there. As much as we want of it. He desires that his will be done and not our will be done. But he is also well aware that we are easily distracted. We are distracted people. We have to be intentional about living the God-attentive life. Like Brother Lawrence, like Frank Laubach, even like Josh, we begin to hear his voice in the midst of the chaos of the world. Ideally respond to it and then continue to experience that transformation in Christ-likeness into the kingdom of God that we can experience both now and forevermore. Let us pray.