I find that it's pretty easy to get into a routine of streamlined days. What I mean by that is, it can get really simple to wake up, go through the motions of the day, and then find myself back at my bed, wondering what in the world I actually accomplished in the day. Having held jobs using opposite sides of my brain in the years since I graduated from college, I can find myself at odds with myself in settling into a groove. The analytical and structured side of me wants order and form while the artsy/creative side of me wants to rebel against the very idea. If I'm not careful, I can find myself standing still.
I heard a great sermon this morning from Acts 8:26-40 about Philip and his encounter of an Ethiopian official who was on the side of the road reading the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit had spoken to Philip and told him to go along the very road where he met this Ethiopian. The general idea of the message was that in order to maximize our presence and have an impact on the people around us, we need to be faithful, attentive, focused, and ready..
At my best, I sometimes feel that I have half of those things covered, but hardly all four. Ironically, I received a gift within the past six months from someone who claims that the fruit of the spirit that I readily exercise is faithfulness. So, I feel like I've got that part covered. I would also say that 85% of the time I feel ready and expectant of what might be coming my way. I have learned to anticipate things in my life and while I still encounter surprises, I am still ready for them, if that makes any sense.
So, the remaining two things are attentiveness and focus. I would love to meet someone who never struggles with these. As our culture gets more saturated with "stuff" and as we become increasingly more visual, I think that it gets harder and harder to maintain focus. I have often found myself multi-tasking to such a degree that I wonder what is being accomplished: reading a book while watching TV with the sound muted and listening to music, all the while keeping a window open on the computer to check in on Facebook or CNN. Attentiveness and focus are difficult for me.
There are two things that I have been doing to make strides in these areas. The first thing is a consistent morning time block spent in God's Word and other devotional material. If there is anything that can help us focus better than God's Word, I'm not sure what it is. The psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." While we will rarely get specifics, God will give us direction through His word that can give us clear insight to be attentive and focused.
The other thing that is helping me to make strides in this area is accountability with trusted people. It seems like it becomes increasingly more difficult to hear truth from people. Everyone's trying to candycoat reality rather than give a clear picture of what's going on. I was amused this past week when American Idol fans were posting on Facebook their approval of the new judges and the absence of Simon. The thing is though, Simon spoke truth into people's lives who desperately needed to hear it. While I would hardly hold him up as the accountability partner that I am looking for, he hit the nail on the head so often with people whose own family and friends had been feeding them a line of crap that they could actually sing. But I digress.
It's easy to stay inattentive and focused when no one's asking me which direction I'm headed. When I know that I will have to answer certain questions though, it keeps me aligned and focused.
Back to Philip. He followed what the Spirit was telling him and ended up engaged in conversation with a powerful man who he was not only able to answer some deep spiritual questions for, but was also able to baptize and help get started in his journey of faith. How awesome is that? What would have happened if Philip hadn't paid attention and if he had said, find someone else other than me? Someone else would have gotten the blessing that he did.
I'm convinced that we miss opportunities all the time. Fear ends up driving our decision-making process and I think that we chicken out a lot. Our pastor used the "carpe diem" clip from "Dead Poets Society" this morning to illustrate his point. Are we taking advantage of what comes our way or are we remaining unfocused and inattentive? I would hate to stand before God while looking at a large pile of missed opportunities that I might have taken advantage of if I had only been focused and attentive.
Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. Mary Oliver's simple words are words to live by. May we hold them close to our hearts that we might not miss opportunities that come our way.