Then Samuel said: ‘Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams.’” 1 Samuel 15:22 HCSB (emphasis mine)

            At the beginning of each year, I ask the Lord what He wants me to focus on throughout the year. In the last few months, the Lord has been teaching me about paying attention. Paying attention is somewhat of a lost art in the digital age. Even the makers of i-devices have realized we need perspective on how much time we spend on technology. In the latest update, weekly notices are given about how much time is spent on the device in that week. When I first saw the notice, I thought that if the makers of the device felt that users needed accountability, what does that say about us as a society? Do we pay more attention to our screens than to God’s work in our lives through the people right in front of us?

As a culture we pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task, although with multi-tasking something always gets less attention. If you think about it, let’s say you are trying to complete 3 tasks at one time. It is impossible to give 100% of your attention to all three tasks. Either you are giving 33% of your attention to each task or one is getting more attention than the others. When I am multi-tasking, the things I am working on do not get completed as well as they do when I am focusing on one thing at a time. Our society expects multi-tasking, but God does not. God expects us to pay attention to Him first and then to other people, for Jesus said these were the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-39).

1. Pay Attention to God – One of the beautiful conveniences of the digital age is the ability to have a copy of God’s word on your phone or tablet. Yet that convenience can also come with distraction if you switch to doing something else. I am not against Bible apps; I have one. However, we have to ask ourselves through whatever means we use to study God’s word, am I really listening and paying attention to what God wants to say to me? Am I slowing down long enough to hear from God through His word, or am I checking off boxes for a daily quiet time or studying for a class? Am I offering a sacrifice to God or giving Him my full attention? One of the temptations in seminary is to skip personal time with the Lord since so much study is involved for classes. That would be a tragic mistake. Nothing can replace your personal time with the Lord, being still, listening for His voice, and hearing Him through His word.

2. Pay Attention to people – When we put our devices down and pay attention to people, we gift them the gift of our presence. God can use us to minister to others when we are present and available. If we fail to pay attention to others, then we may miss out on what God wants to do in and through us. We miss opportunities that we cannot get back. If God is prompting you to give someone your attention, whether in person or through a phone call or yes even through text and social media, then what He is asking you to do in that moment is to pay attention, listen, and obey. 

As a new semester begins, I would encourage you to ask yourself this question at the beginning of each day:

Where does God want me to give my attention today?

*Dr. Emily Dean serves as Director of Women’s Academic Programs and Organizations at NOBTS.