The Key To Spiritual Growth

BaseballGlenn, you need to keep your mind in the game… Glenn, you need to focus… Glenn, keep your eye on the ball… Glenn, there’s a game going on right now… Glenn, PAY ATTENTION!!!” I can’t tell you how many times I heard those words during my less-than-illustrious baseball career. Repeatedly. Consistently. Unceasingly. In fact, not a game went by in which either the coach, my parents, my teammates, or someone in the stands didn’t holler such words at me. (To be entirely honest, all 4 separate groups usually joined together to form a chorale ensemble bent on awakening me to my athletic responsibilities.)

My problem, apart from my lack of actual skill or talent, was that I was easily distracted. Let me emphasize that point so you clearly understand me… EASILY DISTRACTED. It could be anything. A plane flying over head, a beetle crawling across the infield dirt, the ice cream truck out in the parking lot, the kids in the nearby playground, a loose thread on my ball glove, my own shadow… it didn’t matter. I could not stop my mind from wandering. And no amount of “encouragement” from my well-intentioned fan base was going to change that reality. I could not remain focused for any sustainable length of time. I would try. Really. But usually after the next pitch my mind had already moved on. I wanted to pay attention. I really did. But it just wasn’t happening.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy we encounter a very interesting word in the Greek. Translated into English it can be best understood as “pay attention.” For example, we first encounter it in 1:4, “…nor pay attention to myths and endless genealogies…” Now, before I jump into the explanation let me point out something of interest here. Paul uses this important word not once, not twice, not three times but he uses the word four times in this short, six chapter letter. (Hmmm, maybe I’m not the only one who gets easily distracted?) Repeatedly, Paul uses the word to draw Timothy’s focus to things that deserved his attention. It’s a word that refers to devotion of the mind. It quite literally means that I turn my mind, i.e., my thoughts, toward a specific object, goal, or end. In fact, the Greek word is used in some instances to refer to “bringing a ship to land.” The image is that the ship is no longer drifting, no longer at the mercy of the wind or waves, but has been brought to rest at a single point. That’s what Paul meant when he told Timothy to pay attention.

Drawing on the image of the ship we find this noteworthy verse in Hebrews 2, “…we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away (from it).” Same Greek word. Same image. Same emphasis. Pay attention!!! Whether it’s the game of baseball or driving down the road, action usually follows the path of our eyes. Start gazing over to the right and the car almost immediately begins to drift in that direction. Lift your head to quickly in golf and the ball pulls in that direction. Lose your focus in the batter’s box and you are almost guaranteed to strike out. OT sailing vessels didn’t have the high-tech gadgetry that we possess in these modern times. They depended on visual things like stars and the moon to set their course. The spiritual application is not hard to discern. We all tend to follow our focus.

Spiritual growth is one of those things that can certainly be a struggle. At times it is very seasonal. At times it seems almost completely nonexistent. But there are also those times when the spring of our soul is in full bloom and we are growing and maturing at a rapid pace. My experience in my brief 20+ years of Christian living is that a large part of spiritual growth is connected to emphasis. Growth happens when I stay devoted, when I keep my mind and heart focused, when I pay attention. When I let my focus stray to other things beyond and beside Him, His Word, and His ways… well, just like that ship, I can find myself drifting.

I have come to realize that the great need in my life has not really changed that much over the years. Sure, I hung up my glove and spikes a long, long time ago but the coach’s words still have just as much value. I still get too easily distracted by things that have no eternal value. The things of this world, the things that people say and do, the things that pull my focus away from Christ and so many, many other things still distract me and draw my attention away from the One who alone is life. I am praying that God will grant me the grace of renewed focus, that He will ignite within me a greater sense of devotion, that in my weakness He would give me the strength to pay attention.