Brueghel the Elder- Dutch Proverbs
Attention shapes everything
- What are you paying attention to?
- Who are you talking and listening to in your mind?
- Ask your soul questions- why do you feel this way, my soul?
- Practice being grateful to God
- The hidden danger- appearances can be deceiving
By paying a certain kind of attention, you can humanise or dehumanise, cherish or strip of all value.
Attention is a moral act: it creates, brings aspects of things into being, but in doing so makes others recede.
Attention changes the world. How you attend to it changes what it is you find there.
-Psychiatrist, Dr. Iain McGilchrist, from The Master and his Emissary and The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World
What are the first few thoughts you have in the morning when you wake up? Where does your mind wander during the day? Or when you have a quiet moment to yourself during the day?
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We all spend countless hours blaming others in our minds and ruminating on situations we can’t change.
Attention. It shapes how we view the world. Yet, we pay little attention to it (pardon the pun). In the past, we have written about porn and video game addictions, sins people are unable to stop and myths concerning gratitude. Attention helps explain part of all these topics. Links below:
Peder Mosted Sunset over a forest lake
We don’t even pay.. attention.
It shapes everything
Christian philosopher, JP Moreland, notes in Immortality: The Other Side of Death, that we have a centre of consciousness, “an irreducible I”, a “unified self”, a continuous centre of subjectivity. It is as if we transcend mere chemical reactions in our bodies through the gift of conscious personhood God gifts us. You might have countless cells in your body, coming and going over the years and neural pathways in your brain, yet, you see things as your unified, singular consciousness sees them. With your attention.
William Hemsley Divided Attention
Here are 5 key tips on how to better manage your attention
1. What are you paying attention to?
Where is your mind wandering? What is on your mind most of the day? What has recently been the “anchor” or reference point to which your mind wanders naturally?
Is it related to your career? Spouse or absence of? Tragedy? Betrayal? What someone else is thinking? A song? A creative idea?
The list goes on. Pause. Ask yourself where your attention is going.
Paul exhorts the Philippians to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise”, yet to assess if we are doing this we need to watch what we are paying attention to in the first place. Consider your ways (Hag. 1:5).
Does this mean we simply ignore or suppress difficult feelings, pretending they don’t exist? No. Avoidance will only make things worse. What is denied does not disappear.
As David Reynolds highlights in Constructive Living, “The goal is not to ignore or suppress (distressing thoughts or) feelings, but to accept them as they happen to be at the moment..and then get on with doing what is sensible and mature anyway.”
Yet Christians have a resource that David Reynolds can’t give. That is where the next step comes in.
Sunset in Harz Mountains
2. Who are you talking and listening to in your mind?
Who are you “talking” to a lot in your mind? Are you talking to yourself? Are you imagining yourself talking to or planning to talk to your spouse or someone you respect in your life about a current situation? Are you imagining how you would respond to an enemy or a difficult colleague after what just happened? Are you talking to God at all?
Which program is playing in your mind?
Who are you listening to? What program is playing in your mind? Expectations from family, friends, society and colleagues? A narrative you repeatedly play to yourself about yourself? Plans to please people you dislike or think are unwise, rather than God?
To refocus our attention, it helps to talk to God.. a lot.
Sounds tough? Well start talking to God now and admit it is tough and you need his help to shape your heart and habits. Ask him to shape your heart to want to pray more.
Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). Pour out your heart to God (Psalm 62:8). Cast your cares on him for he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6). In all things by prayers and supplication let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:6).
Keep it real
Many of the Psalms are full on anger and disappointment. David vented raw frustration before God, even pleading for his enemies to be hit in the face (Psalm 3:7)! Job time and time again, overstepped the mark and commented beyond what was his to comment on. Yet, he honoured God with his ways (Job 42:8). How are Psalms of frustration in the Bible and how did Job still honour God? The right place to bring raw frustrations, dark feelings, hurt, overwhelming pain and dark disappointment is before God. First and foremost.
Darkness. Anger. Disappointment. Pain. Fear. Feel it. Identify it. Pray it. Bring it to the King.
Are you giving the other people you are talking to in your mind priority instead of God?
Art of Painting Jan Vermeer
3. Ask your soul questions- why do you feel this way, my soul?
Have you ever asked your soul why it is down? Why does it feel the way it does?
A Psalmist enquired of his soul, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me (Psalm 42:5)?”
Martyn Lloyd Jones reflected on this passage in Spiritual Depression, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning… Who’s talking? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment in Psalm 42 was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you.”
Trauernder alter Mann Van Gogh
4. Practice being grateful to God
We aren’t just commanded to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) but to “rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16) and “in every situation give thanks for this is the will of God for you” (1 Thess. 5:18), in the very same passage! Furthermore, to “rejoice in the Lord always” and think of things worthy of praise (Phil. 4:4,8). Paul wrote this while imprisoned and being betrayed and beaten up many times!
We aren’t asked to rejoice if we feel like it, just as we aren’t asked to forgive if we feel like it. It is a conscious choice. Feelings follow choices. You decide to, even when you don’t feel like it. It is like building muscle. Day in, day out. You do it. Start where you’re at, 5 seconds at a time.
David sought to tell of all God’s “wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1). Many wonderful deeds. Broad and varied.
Sunrise Frederic Edwin Church
Tapestry of life
What events have taken place in your life which show the hand of God? What events felt crushing, grueling, disappointing yet somehow in hindsight seem like a little thread in a beautiful piece of tapestry? How has your character and perspective been shaped over time? What in your life feels not so complete or even painful and ugly which you need to ask God to help trust him with?
A finely tuned existence- zoom out
Have you ever considered your blood is pumping through around 100,000 kilometres worth of blood vessels (that’s twice the distance around the world) on a planet moving around the sun at 107,000 kilometres per hour on just the right angle of its axis, stabilised by the pull of earth’s moon, with a gravitational force constant on earth just right to enable you to live, a distance from the sun almost impossibly precise, on a planet which happens to have food, water and people to help you live and flourish?
Auguste Renior River Landscape
This same food, water and people, are held together by a nuclear force with the right ratio of masses from protons and electrons, which if slightly tampered with would end life on Earth. For more read about the List of Fine-tuning Parameters by Jay Richards.
How often do you zoom out like this?
Or think about the fact Christ paid attention to you before you paid any attention to him?
In light of all this, what right do we have to live entitled? We have no gift which we did not receive (1 Cor. 4:7).
5. The hidden danger- appearances can be deceiving
Who can discern his errors? — David, Psalm 19:12
We all have hidden agendas without knowing it. We can easily be motivated by greed, pride and lust while thinking we are driven by diligence, humility and love. We can seek human approval while thinking we are trying to please God. We readily succumb to the lies of social conformity and the herd.
Otto Marseus van Schrieck
We get into dangerous or unwise financial and relational situations, yet take no responsibility for the outcomes. We all do it.
Thus, while paying attention to our attention can reveal much to us and being grateful to God can shape our hearts, we have to be careful how well we think we can understand ourselves. We need God and his Word to search us for our hidden faults. Seeking wise input from those around us can also help us in this regard.
The sort of faults even 5 hours of journalling, a 10-day fast or a hike in the Himalayas wearing shorts won’t reveal! The heart is deceitful above all (Jer. 17:9) and David pleaded with God to search his heart for hidden faults (Ps. 139:23–24).
True wonder of attention
Roman Campagna from Tivoli, Claude Lorrain
A true wonder of Christianity is that Christ knew and understood our dark, foolish, wicked and embarrassing faults better than we ever could, yet paid attention to us before we could pay attention to him. How often does your attention go to this thought compared to everything else in your life? Attention to this shapes everything.
What are you paying attention to? Who are you listening and talking to in your mind? Are you asking your soul why it feels the way it does? Are you practising rejoicing in God? Are you asking God to search your hidden faults while thanking him for his forgiveness in Christ?
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In today’s post: 1. Love and work 2. The counterfeit 3. The Coolidge Effect- why porn turns violent 4. Your brain out of shape- your perceptions are warped 5. Your unique gifting 6. CS Lewis’ example 7. Offensive and defensive strategies More regular updates? We’re new to Twitter, help grow our network
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