Prayer: Attending to God
I pull the phone from my ear, look at it, and wonder why I was cut off. Someone dear to me was talking on the other end—my son. The phone rings a minute later and he confesses that he walked right into his dorm elevator, knowing the connection would be lost.
Often, I cannot get my son’s full attention. He multi-tasks, and sometimes I feel like one of the “tasks.” While nursing my hurt one day, I stopped short and realized that I am guilty of the same thing—when I talk to my Father God.
I admit I try to concentrate on praying, yet it’s so easy to find excuses not to. I get up, check the thermostat, put on socks, get a pencil, eat, dust the furniture I pass, whatever. In my heart, I do want to give God my full attention in prayer. Why is it so hard to concentrate on that communication I desire?
Attention has been defined as “the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one thing while ignoring other things.” It is easy for me to pay close attention—and ignore everything else—when I want something badly enough.
A stunning picture of paying close attention occurred at the 2005 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show broadcast on TV. A German shorthaired pointer nicknamed Carlee was asked to stand stock-still and look intently at her woman trainer until given the sign to relax. In the midst of an enormous hall filled with spectators, with other dogs sitting nearby and judges standing over her, the dog froze still as a statue for what seemed like a very long time. All who saw it were astounded. She wanted that treat badly. Not surprisingly, Carlee earned the Best-in-Show trophy.
We humans also know how to concentrate on someone when we so choose. The beggar in Acts 3:5, hoping for alms from Peter and John, was told, “Look at us!” and he gave them his full attention. My needs—answers to problems; calming of fears; healing from illness and other crises—force me to focus keenly on God. I also pay attention when I face significant changes in my career or life. And at times I seek Him for wisdom to pass on to others. Needs and problems tie me to God—not by a ball and chain—but with cords of love (Hosea 11:4).
Wanting to earn approval or escape punishment can also force me to pay attention. In school when the teacher said, “Pay attention!” I did. I also pay attention to laws in the Bible because I am intent on living right. But many times, paying attention for such reasons lacks heart and emotion—except fear.
As a teen, I attended Wednesday night prayer meetings at church. After the service, we were, ahem … strongly urged to come forward and pray at the altar. I knew it was a good thing, yet I dragged my feet getting there. No wonder prayer is sometimes described as a “discipline”; it is not easy to do.
Caring for and/or loving a person also demands attention. Flight attendants take care of us on our journey. Bridal attendants surround the bride with support. A mother attends to her sick child. A lover has no trouble focusing his entire being on his beloved! It’s what Vinita Hampton Wright calls “extreme attentiveness.” That’s the kind I want to show God—out of love for Him.
Eugene H. Peterson in his book, Reversed Thunder, defines prayer in a way that helps me see clearly what I am longing to do as an act of love toward God. He says, “Praying is that act in the life of faith which consciously and deliberately enters into a speaking-listening attentiveness before God—his relationship with his creation and creatures and their relationship with him. Whenever we concentrate, focus, and attend, we pray. Prayer is the coming into awareness, the practicing of attention, the nurturing and development of personal intensity before God (chapter 7).”
I am glad that God does not accept or reject me according to how long or how intensely I pray. Realizing how much I desire to hear from my own son, to receive and give even a few minutes of undivided love and attention, I can imagine how the Father yearns to hear from me.
Father, forgive me for “walking into too many elevators,” abruptly cutting off our communication. Help me to be still, stop multi-tasking, and realize how much you anticipate my receiving my loving attention.