As I sat in the auditorium, I faced the pastor with my eyes fixed on him. My posture suggested I was absorbing everything he was saying. Suddenly I heard everybody laughing and clapping. Surprised, I looked about. The preacher had apparently said something humorous, but I had no clue what it might have been. From all appearances I had been listening carefully, but in reality my mind was far away.
It’s possible to hear what is being said but not listen, to watch but not see, to be present and yet absent. In such a condition, we may miss important messages meant for us.
As Ezra read God’s instructions to the people of Judah, “All the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law” (Neh. 8:3). Their attention to the explanation produced understanding (v. 8), which resulted in their repentance and revival. In another situation in Samaria, Philip, after persecution of the believers broke out in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), reached out to the Samaritan people. The crowd not only observed the miraculous signs he did, but they also “paid close attention to what he said” (v. 6). “So there was great joy in that city” (v. 8).
The mind can be like a wandering adventurer that misses a lot of excitement close by. Nothing deserves more attention than words that help us discover the joy and wonder of our Father in heaven.
In recent years, my daughter has become fascinated with the history of the indigenous people in northern Michigan where she lives. One summer afternoon when I was visiting, she showed me a road that had a sign designating “Trail Trees.” She explained to me that it’s believed that long ago the Native Americans bent young trees to point the way to specific destinations and that they continued to grow in an unusual shape.
In the Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, author Luo Guanzhong describes the “Empty Fort Strategy,” a use of reverse psychology to deceive the enemy. When 150,000 troops from the Wei Kingdom reached Xicheng, which had less than 2,500 soldiers, they found the city gate wide open and the famous military tactician Zhuge Liang calmly playing the zither with two children beside him. The Wei general, baffled by the scene and believing it was an ambush, ordered a full retreat.
Reading the book of Judges, with its battles and mighty warriors, can sometimes feel like reading about comic book superheroes. We have Deborah, Barak, Gideon, and Samson. However, in the line of judges (or deliverers), we also find Othniel.
As a Jewish kid growing up in New York, Michael Brown had no interest in spiritual things. His life revolved around being a drummer for a band, and he got mixed up with drugs. But then some friends invited him to church, where he found the love and prayers of the people to be irresistible. After a short spiritual struggle, Michael trusted Jesus as Savior.
In a fast-paced culture of “eat and run,” few people make time to enjoy a leisurely meal in the company of friends. Someone has even remarked that the only way to enjoy a seven-course meal today is to get it all between two pieces of bread!
I once resolved to read all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays in one year. To my surprise, fulfilling the task seemed far more like entertainment than work. I expected to learn about Shakespeare’s world and the people who inhabited it, but I found that Shakespeare mainly taught me about my world.