“We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place… –II Peter 1:19
If someone believes in God at all, it would be only logical for that person to wonder what it is God might expect of us, what God might want from us, what God desires us to do or to believe. Well, says Peter, what God wants from us is our attention— he wants us to pay attention to His word.
Every survey of the American people ever taken on the question of belief in God has resulted in the same findings. A vast majority, 90-95% of this nation’s people, believe there is a God. And God is, by definition, all powerful. He holds all the cards. You are here because he put you here. God can decide, if he wants to, how long you will stay on this earth; and, if there is to be anything else for you after this life has ended, it will be up to that God to provide it. One would think therefore, that nobody would have to be told by Peter that they better pay attention to God. One would think it would go without saying that fragile, frail, temporary human beings would pay attention to God. Your life can be ended any time by a something so small as a germ or so ordinary as a bad driver on the highway– and then what? Then it will be up to God– God, who says very clearly in the Bible that we should be paying attention to him.
The Bible, after all, says much about God’s love and grace and wonderful plans for us now and even after our deaths. It would only seem natural that we, in return, would want to pay some attention to God, not to mention also honoring, loving, serving, and obeying God. That all should be a part of such a relationship. But even out of self-interest alone, one would think everyone would be paying attention to God, and whatever he had to say and wherever he chose to say it.
However, it is a messy world, and God has been presented to people by other people in many false and negative ways. And it is a diverse world, and the vast differences among even those who share the same Christian faith can be confusing and even discouraging. So in some ways, it is no wonder that not everyone is in church on Sunday mornings, even though most do believe in God.
We travel such very different paths. Here is one who has suffered greatly and is filled with doubts about God’s goodness. Here is another who was raised without morals or discipline, has led a very immoral life, and still has a hard time resisting the many temptations around him. This one lives and tries to do her best in a most ambiguous situation– she is always being forced to choose the lesser of two evils and is always feeling guilty. Another one would like to know God better, but has many questions, and everyone he knows has only cynicism and no answers. This one is still angry at God for not even lifting a finger when her husband was dying of cancer. As a pastor I have been humbled time and again as I hear the stories of those I never see in church. We cannot be judgmental of other people’s relationship with God. It is impossible for us to evaluate or compare the faith and obedience of other people in such a wide variety of circumstances and experiences.
But in any and all situations we can ask are we, are they, paying attention to God in any way? Just as there are a variety of lives and experiences, there are a variety of ways of paying attention to God. You may be angry with God– many in the Bible were also angry. Are you expressing that anger to God? He can handle it. You may be filled with temptation and fail miserably in you attempts to do what you know is right. Do you keep turning to God in repentance and in prayer for help? Your church may be a disappointment to you and you may long for deeper Christian fellowship. Do you still go to church to worship God despite your disappointment and pray that God may sustain your faith without the fellowship you wish for? You may be eager to serve God in more meaningful ways, but are stuck with no opportunities to use your gifts. Do you still seek to serve God the best you can where you are? You may even, like hymn writer William Cowper, struggle with severe mental illness your entire life. Even so, you can, like Cowper, you can still hang on by a thread and keep crying out to God. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever faith background you come from, you have in your tradition or within your reach ways to pay attention to God. (continued…)
II Peter 1:19 — We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place…
Deuteronomy 7:12 — If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors.
Hebrews 2:1 — We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
Almighty and merciful Father, whose clemency I now presume to implore, after a long life of carelessness and wickedness, have mercy upon me. I have committed many trespasses; I have neglected many duties. I have done what thou hast forbidden, and left undone what Thou hast commanded. Forgive, merciful Lord, my sins, negligences, and ignorances, and enable me, by the Holy Spirit, to amend my life according to thy Holy Word, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
–Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)