I have made the drive to my job so many times in the past six years that now I make the journey on autopilot.
The first, second, third time I made the trip, I was alert: I had to remember to turn here, and not miss the road there. I paid so much attention to everything that I was hyper-aware of the smallest change in the world framed by my windshield.
Now I sometimes arrive at work without having ever consciously noticed the stoplights that I know by instinct to notice and abide by. The drive is so smooth and so peacefully that, while I certainly pay attention, I no longer consciously notice as much as I did before. I have settled into normalcy and into routine; I’ve lost some of the heightened perception that comes with new experiences.
My Christian walk – and most everyone’s – is about the same, I think. When we’re new to it, or when we’ve stumbled into a new experience or stage of growth, we’re so hyper-aware of God. We see Him everywhere. We hear Him all the time. We’re giant antenna waiting to pick up a signal. And then time goes by, and we become comfortable. We still notice God, but we’re not zeroed in on paying attention. Details are lost. We start coasting out of sheer habit.
A pastor speaking at my church recently pointed out that a lot of Christians walk around complaining that we can’t hear God speaking, as though we’re trying desperately to listen to His voice through a sea of static all the time. That’s a bit silly, he pointed out, since God wants us to hear Him; He’s never seemed interested in disguising His voice from His children, or in forcing them to pick it out from a bunch of noise. Perhaps the problem is that while we’re busy telling God how we need Him to communicate, He’s trying to show us the exact same thing!
In the end, it’s possible we’ve lost our hyper-focus: we’ve forgotten how to listen.
Focus in on the details, the pastor encouraged. Pay attention to the nudges you feel, to the ideas that seem to pop up “out of nowhere,” to the names and faces that enter your mind. The Spirit is moving in us and with us; it’s up to us to be mindful of where and how that presence makes itself felt in our lives.
When I did this, I was surprised how much I noticed. A few days ago I wondered – randomly, it seemed to me – over how a family friend of ours might be doing after a recent death in the family. Then later it occurred to me that perhaps God had placed her on my mind, and so I sent her a card. It was only several days after that when I discovered, talking to my mother, that she’d suffered another bereavement – and she’d been on my heart despite me not knowing what had happened!
More than that, though, I was simply more aware. Rather than letting my phone or glowing screens fill up my mental downtime, I let my thoughts wander and tried to be conscious of them – and I was surprised by how much the Holy Spirit moved. I remembered to ask people about events and circumstances I would have otherwise simply forgotten to catch up on. I thanked God in the moment for experiences that weren’t inherently significant and that I’m not sure I would have been grateful for otherwise. I prayed for whoever and whatever popped into my head.
We talk a lot about hearing God and paying attention to Him, but we have a habit of then immediately turning on every device and engaging in every activity within reach, often with mindless fervor. No wonder we can’t hear anything! On autopilot, we hop from work to leisure and back again, always filling up our brain with something. But if we really want to pay more attention to God’s voice, one of the best ways to do it is to give our own minds space and to pay attention to them.
Put the phone down. Get away from the computer. Disengage from the list of activities that’s had you bouncing around all day. Breathe. Pray, for sure. Let your mind wander a little. Start praying for God to reveal Himself in those quiet moments when you’re ready to listen. And when a name comes up, grab it. What do you need to do? When an event comes up, focus on it. What do you need to do? When feelings well up, note them. What do you need to do?
When we’re on autopilot, it’s hard for us to hear God or to even pay attention to His voice. So make sure that you make a frequent effort to disengage from your automatic routine, and give Him space to speak. He has a lot to say to you today.