Posts Tagged ‘attention’

Get In The Flow

January 27, 2017

They call it The Flow.

Stories have been written about great (American) football quarterbacks. They must be great leaders as well as gifted athletes. A game is on the line in the final minutes. Execute properly and the team wins. Lose focus, and loss follows. 

They are focused only on the moment. Just the next play. The mechanics have been drilled into them through ceaseless practice. The team must move the ball 10 yards on this play. That is their focus.

After the game, they may not even remember all the plays. Just the success.

Computer programmers get that. You focus so intently on coding that problem that all sense of time is lost.

Writers get that, too. You’ve done the research. The problem is laid out. It’s just concentrate and execute.

Little kids. Billy out playing baseball with the friends (if they still are allowed outside to play anymore give how overprotective Americans have become). Doesn’t even hear Mom calling for dinner.

Spiritual masters. Look how long Moses stayed atop Mt. Sinai. Jesus in the wilderness.

But not just masters at that level.

When is the last time you lost yourself in something? Remember the feeling. Was it more than a month ago? A year? A decade?

Maybe it is time to find something to lose yourself in. 

Prayer. Service. Worship. Play. Music. Writing. Work.

Try it.

Pay Attention-I Guess Jesus Said Something Important

October 10, 2016

He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen!” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen.”  Mark 4:2, 9

Thus Jesus introduces and ends the parable of the sower–or rather the story of the different types of soil meaning the different types of people.

The trouble with listening is that so many people think they do it.

You can hear a lot just by listening.

When someone talks, listen. And listen completely.

These are some of the quotes I’ve compiled on listening. The people Jesus taught–they had to listen. There was no workbook. No DVD so that they could replay the story. I bet there were discussion groups.

Mark’s next story immediately following was about a lamp that is not meant to be hidden but that exposes everything. Then he says, “Pay attention to what you hear.”

The act does not end with hearing the words. It’s paying attention. Listening with your brain and your heart.

When you converse with someone, do you hear only words? Or do you hear the emotions and the meaning. Did you “hear” anxiousness? Joy?  Concern? Something that needs a response?  What was the whole message? Actually, can you even remember the words within 30 seconds of their birth?

And what about prayer? We are taught to pray with intention. But what good is intention if you don’t listen for God’s answer? Maybe you pray for God to bring someone into your life. You meet someone. You nod and pass by. Maybe that was the person God was bringing to you. He lobbed a softball at you and you whiffed.

“Pay attention.” Jesus told us something important either was just said or is about to be taught. Are we paying attention, or are we checking social media? Click, click, click…

Making A Difference In The World

September 8, 2016

There is a habit I can’t seem to break. I know how to break habits and establish new ones in their place. The chasm to leap between knowing and doing is huge. Don’t we all know that one!

I get up in the morning, and laying there on the front step, beckoning me most seductively, whispering my name–is the morning newspaper. Yes, me, Mr. Digital, gets news in paper form. Actually not one, but two papers.

Then I make a cup of coffee, settle in, and read the darn thing.

For the most part, the news is not happy. Or beneficial. I used to love NFL football. My team has had a season where it has won more than it lost just once in something like 20 years. Why do I read about it? Then I’ll start to scan a story about someone’s misfortune. But I ask, what good will this information serve? I can’t help them.

Then today. There it was. Above the fold with a large picture. A story about a church. A large church. With a large staff.

It won an award. Best place to work among Christian organizations. They interviewed some of the staff. They talked about how full of enthusiasm they were.

It’s a church of 7,000 people. 80 staff. They give away 25% of their budget to mission work. Just gave $500,000 to a hospital in Africa. They are in the midst of a 100,000-hours-of-service campaign. They are at 40,000 hours at the time the article was written.

Just goes to show, if you look you can find something worthwhile to spend your precious attention on.

There are challenges and difficulties in this world. The point is not to dwell on them, but to decide to do something to help.

If God Is Calling Us, Then We Must Listen

August 30, 2016

President of Company: Gary, no one listens to me.

Gary: Huh?

President: No one listens to me.

Gary: Huh?

President: I talk and no one listens.

Gary: Huh?

President: Oh….

Sometimes I just had to get ol’ Dave out of his usual funk.

But, we all have that feeling. It seems no one is listening.

We have something on our minds to share. We have a problem. Or a joy. We’d love to tell someone else. But no one listens.

Must be what God feels like.

The other leaders of our small group decided that four classes in Ephesians was more than enough. They skipped through chapters 5 and 6 in 40 minutes and proclaimed we had learned!

But I’m still stuck in the letter. I’ve never studied it in detail. It is a marvelous piece of writing.

Paul prays for us to be filled with God. Then he shows us a glimpse of spiritual formation in the life of the church and the family and the household. Then he goes  back to the part about filled with God and extends it with the metaphor of spiritual formation as personal body armor in our fight against the evil one who attacks us with insidious thoughts, emotions, and desires.

So, right after he prays for us, he begs us

Be worthy of the calling to which you have been called…

If we have been called by God, then we must listen so that we hear that voice calling us. Otherwise, how do we know about that calling?

At Willow Creek, they teach about the whisper. Sometimes God calls us and it’s not a thunderclap. Like Elijah when God called him to a mountain top to talk to him. He spoke not in the mighty wind or the loud thunder from the lightning. He spoke in a whisper.

To hear a whisper, we had best be still. And attentive. And prepared to respond. Maybe God just whispers, “Go say hi to that person over there.” Or sometimes, “It would be good for you to volunteer for that trip.” Or even, “Quit your job, simplify your life, and follow me.”

Listening is the foundation of spiritual formation.

Leader’s First Response To Decline

August 19, 2016

You’ve been appointed to head an organization. Could be a business, church, nonprofit. Wherever you are in life.

The organization is thriving. All indicators were up. People affiliated with the organization are enthused. Good things are happening all over. Leadership teams are planning expansions.

Then a change happens. Imperceptibly at first. Few, if anyone, notice. But growth stopped. No real decline, yet. But a couple of staff leaders left, leaving behind some leadership gaps. You, the overall leader didn’t move quickly to fill the gaps. They just slid by.

Eventually the decline is in progress. At first only key people in the organization notice. Then more people notice. A key top staff person notices and brings to your attention. Conflict erupts. Now there is another key gap in the leadership team.

This is a situation I’ve seen several times in my career. I did try to salvage a couple. In one I was actually “president” for a short time while my partners tried to raise money for a takeover. They didn’t, we failed, now I’m writing here.

But back to our fearless leader. The one who seems oblivious to the by now obvious to everyone decline. If you were in that position, would you

  1. Call an emergency staff meeting of the perhaps dozen top leaders to address the problem; or
  2. Gather together a larger group–say greater than 25–and begin a month’s long vision planning exercise, or
  3. Do nothing and either ignore the situation or hope it reverses?

I have never been in the situation (and I can think of at least four I’ve been in) where the leader chose number 1.

Mostly I have seen the non-choice choice of number 3. Either the leader is totally out of their league and just flounders, or their narcissism makes them ignore the situation. Perhaps even degenerating into blame.

Then, I’ve actually seen number 2. All attention is diverted from important and immediate tasks while the entire leadership team squanders its attention on dreaming of what might be.

What should you do? I’d suggest steps such as:

Gather the top leadership team and get them to acknowledge the problem

Gather facts and stories about the situation

Perform root cause analyses (5 why’s, as we say)

Tackle one main problem as quickly as it is identified

If one of the issues that pops up is that “no one understands what we stand for”, then the messaging both internal and external has become muddled. In that case, it is time to go back to the vision statement of the organization and sharpen it. Then make sure that all messaging is consistent.

Maybe the customer experience is not good. Then a team can tackle that problem.

Notice that by doing this, the leader focuses the leadership team and infuses new energy. The new energy should spread throughout the organization as teams form and more people are involved.

Leadership And The Discipline of Focus

July 22, 2016

What defines a leader?

Not a manager or someone with a title? No, a leader.

We always start with vision. A leader has a vision of where to go. A vision of what the goal of the organization or committee is.

I knew a leader once. I’ve worked in a number of organizations and businesses. I’ve known few leaders.

It was a larger organization. Several hundred people–maybe reaching toward 1,000 for a while. A church, for what that’s worth.

He knew where he was going and where he wanted to take the organization.

He selected close advisors–mostly wisely.

He encouraged teams to develop–as long as they moved the vision forward.

He could change teams as situations changed requiring new responses–but still moving the vision forward.

Researching yesterday’s post, I remembered Nehemiah.

He had a vision. He convinced the residents of Jerusalem, who had become adjusted to living in a city without walls, that it was essential they build a wall.

He organized teams, recruited leaders, but always focused on his goal.

He accomplished the goal in a remarkably short time. If any one of you has ever been part of a construction project or watched one, you know that they are almost never done on time and under budget. Nehemiah did it.

He was focused on the task. “I am doing a great work and cannot come down.”

What great work are we doing right now? What are our potential distractions that could prevent us from doing that great work.

Focus. Recognize distractions and discard them. Keep the vision in mind always.

Switching Your Focus Not Multitasking

May 5, 2016

Multitasking remains the badge of honor for many in this era of high technology gadgets.

More than half of the people in the front row during keynote presentations at the software conference had smart phones out. How do I know they were using them? Well, the screens were lighted.

There are things called “notifications” on your devices. Maybe little red bubbles with a number inside. The number of new messages or alerts for that app. And you have how many apps?

It’s so bad that as I write this I glanced at the top of my screen and saw a notification for Adobe Creative Cloud. There must be an update. I clicked. Then came the thought–what the heck are you doing?

When I’m at home in a routine, I find it easier to focus on one thing and then the next. When I find myself drifting into thoughts of other tasks or writing, I can blink, look around, do something to return to my task at hand.

Because the reality is that we can really only focus on one thing at a time. Otherwise we are really just existing in a fog of partial thoughts and plan. Accomplishing nothing but stressing ourselves and those around us.

Traveling makes routine difficult. How do set aside private time for spiritual reading and prayer? How to not eat too much, drink too much, or become too tired such that we lose mental edge and focus.

I have at least eight major tasks to work on: four for assigning referees to various soccer competitions, normal writing, write a white paper for a client, write a post for a client, organize details for a mission trip. And there are more lurking just behind these. If I think of the whole group, I just surrender.

But if I focus on one thing at a time–even if for only 25 minutes per task–then I get a lot done.

People ask how I can get so much done. That’s my technique and my struggle. Also I waste very little time on things like TV. (We did watch two episodes we had recorded of Elementary last night. Even I need a break 😉  )

Decide ahead of time what you need to do to become the person you want to be. Then focus on one thing at a time. That eliminates at least one source of stress.

Jesus Turned Everything Upside Down

April 11, 2016

Matthew had an interesting outline for how he wanted to present his friend Jesus to the world. He introduces Jesus and the scene. Then he skips to Jesus baptism and what we call temptation (actually a period of spiritual formation followed by facing temptations which always happen to us after a deep spiritual experience and we’re strong enough to deal with them).

Then he consolidates the core of Jesus’ teaching. Chapters 5-7. I have now decided to reread these annually along with my annual reading of the book of Proverbs.

If you can clear your mind, throw away footnoted, transport yourself back to the scene in your imagination, then read the teaching, perhaps the message will sink in.

Many of us need time to let things sink in and become part of our awareness.

Looking at the “blessed” statements with eyes open to the world of the Romans, you see how Jesus turned it all upside down. Instead of the powerful being blessed, it is the opposite.

Then Jesus proceeds to raise the bar on following the law. It was already hard for people,  especially common, ordinary working people, to follow every bit of the law. Then Jesus says, you have heard it said, but I say… He made it impossible.

Then you think about it. If you think you can follow the law to become right with God, you have set an impossible task. However, if you have the right relationship with God and people, then you will in fact be following the law. It’s all upside down–God’s way and our way.

So it’s sort of weird, our spiritual practices. They should help us maintain a right relationship with God and at the same time help us focus on being right with other people.

We don’t study just to be knowledgeable. That is useless. We study so that we know how to relate to others and how to help point them to a relationship. We also study (people have said in surveys) to achieve and maintain our own right relationship with God.

Same with prayer. Same with worship. Same with fasting.

Spiritual is not just what’s inside you. Spiritual is also how you manifest that which is inside to other people. Are you helpful or a hindrance? Generous or selfish? Thinking of others or all about you?

How We Can Pray Without Ceasing

January 18, 2016

Our friend, the apostle Paul, gave this advice to the disciples in Thessalonica, “Pray without ceasing.”

That sounds so simple.

But wait, how can you do that?

You wake up in the morning. Think of that first cup of coffee. Grab the newspaper or check news sites on the Web. Think of the commute to work. Get the kids ready for school.

We wake up and we’re already swamped with tasks, worries, planning.

Where is prayer?

Same with the day. We have things to do, people to see, places to go. Pray? You’ve got to be kidding me. Didn’t the first Century Christians have life a lot easier? A slower pace?  More time for contemplation?

The anonymous pilgrim in one of my favorite books, The Way of a Pilgrim, pondered that question as he traveled the Russian countryside. He discovered that realistically you cannot literally pray ever second of every day. But his continual praying brought a number of important people into his life just at the right time.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th Century Carmalite brother recorded in The Practice of the Presence of God, was another man who sought to pray without ceasing. He talked of praying while cooking, baking.

Paul linked praying with other commands (tips, suggestions?). 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 records, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

These do not describe separate commands. They describe a way of life. We can call it attitude–the way we approach living. It could be habit–our response to life. It becomes imprinted on our DNA.

The most important thing is to start the day well. Rise 15 minutes earlier. Go straight to your favorite chair. Open your Bible, read for a few minutes. Pause, pray for a few minutes. Now you are ready for the day. Pray as we tend the kids. Pray as we fix breakfast. Pray as we commute.

Prayer means more than talking aloud. It can be done on knees, lying in bed, walking, driving, whatever we’re doing.

Talking is good. Listening is better. Attitude toward God–priceless.

Become A New Creation

December 31, 2015

Decide first for the year not what you will do but who you will be.

I was led to study 2 Corinthians 5 this morning. While reading and contemplating, this phrase popped, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”

Devoting ourselves to spiritual practices, or disciplines, is simply a means of working on the maturity of that creation.

I may be a new creation, but there seems to be continual work on becoming the sort of person that I should be. I don’t think Paul thought we stopped at becoming the new creation or he wouldn’t have written the last few chapters of Romans. It’s on how you live.

The Bible as a whole is not a text book of science, or of philosophy, or of theology, or of history. The Bible is a manual. It is our guide on how to live, how to relate to God, how to relate to others, how to become the sort of person pleasing to God.

We get off the track when we get into petty arguments. We are on track when we ask at the end of one year and the beginning of the next:

What kind of person was I last year? What kind of person will I be next year?

Generous? Joy filled? Sober? Filled with gratitude? Peaceable? Helpful?

Or the opposite.

You can make your daily decisions about how to act in the situation by firmly being aware of what kind of person you wish to be.

Choose wisely!