Written by Paul J. Bucknell on October, 30, 2019
Godly Attentiveness: Godly attentiveness anticipates how to best respond to God and others around me.
“Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress…” (Psalm 123:2a)
We should all be attentive but attentive to the right thing. Some people are meticulous to the choice of their clothes or makeup while care little for one’s soul. Others pay much attention to the problems of others, but as Jesus says, they ignore the logs in their own eyes (Luke 6:41-42). People who worry pay too much attention to what they don’t know—the future—rather than being attentive to the trustworthiness of the Lord even in calamitous times (Psalm 125:1).
I propose that attentiveness is a godly character trait but requires a proper framework to work within. The world has its form of attentiveness that looks the very opposite of what God’s kingdom is known. The Bereans are, to this day, applauded for their attentiveness to the Scriptures (Acts 17:11).
We train our children by our attitudes toward God and the world. They often pick up the good and the bad. Sometimes, they make certain statements or take actions that surprise us due to its acquired importance—again, for good or bad.
What do we want our children to be like? How does a parent’s training shape one’s children? What are those key things that need to be instructed so that our children can reap the benefits from their home training? We suggest godly attentiveness is one of these important traits that we not only need to nurture within us but pass on to our children.
Characteristics of Godly Attentiveness
Attentiveness is a crucial character trait found in Jesus (John 5:17) and of all godly people.
Godly attentiveness anticipates how to best respond to God and others around me.
The psalmist captures the image of attentiveness in Psalm 123:2, where the servants discern every wish of their master. They carefully watch their master’s facial features for the slightest twist of hand to know how they might be of assistance.
Worldly attentiveness, however, fascinates itself on ways one is better than others. We can see it is rotted in pride. They compare what they have or who their person is with others with the intent to see themselves as better. Some are attentive to the problems of others, while others show how they are better. In the end, worldly attentiveness is not our chief goal but makes us much like the Pharisees.
We were made for God and must shape our lives around being attentive to pleasing God (Col 1:10) that we might live to our full potential.
A Biblical Description of Attentiveness
I have written extensively on the characteristics of a godly man (The Godly Man), but the word ‘attentiveness’ is not mentioned there or in the scriptures, yet it remains an important character trait.
‘Attentive’ is used eight times in the Bible but primarily when people plead with God to be attentive to their own needs (2 Chr 6:40, 7:15; Neh 1:6, 11; Ps 130:2). God’s people ask the Lord to be attentive to their needs.
“Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.” (Psalm 130:2)
This dependence upon God is fine, but our focus is not seeking God to be attentive to us but for us to be attentive to Him. We chiefly understand the trait’s importance from how Jesus remained attentive to God’s wants and the needs of those about Him. Jesus, as the faithful Son, anticipated what His Father wanted and completed those tasks, no matter how rigorous they were (John 5:17).
Jesus noted that someone in that crowd touched Him. He paused and sought out what God His Father was doing through this woman’s suffering. The woman, singled out, admitted her need and healing by her touching Jesus’ cloak (Mark 5:25-34).
We want to make sure attentiveness for us is not equivocated with paying close attention merely to those we want to listen to or when it is pleasing to us. Attentiveness requires us to pay attention to those in authority over us, such as when Jesus listened to the Father. It also asks us to take on disagreeable tasks as necessary. Jesus, for example, bore the cross to care out the Father’s grand redemption plan.
A key aspect of attentiveness comes from the anticipation that we need to regulate our lives around the needs or direction of others. This attentiveness does not mean we are people pleasers, but that we anticipate God using us through the day and night to care for the needs of others. Like a mother who keeps half-awake listening to any special coughing of her small child when ill.
Godly attentiveness bases itself on a belief that God uses His love through our lives, and so, we regularly anticipate God’s work to occur in our daily lives. We won’t be surprised if He brings someone along with special needs. Like Jesus in the case above, we will be busy and feel the urgency of our plans. And yet, we can pause and trust God for our circumstances. This attentiveness as to how God will use us is so different from being ‘put out’ because someone asks something from us.
Attentiveness also reveals itself in general anticipation or hope that God will be teaching us. In Nehemiah 8:3, people stood listening to God’s law for hours. They expected to learn things important for their lives from God’s Word.
He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. (Nehemiah 8:3)
In Proverbs, we are called to profit from the words of wisdom. Unless we hope to profit from such words, we will disregard them. “Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:2). Attentiveness, then, is an approach to life—where we expect to gain wisdom and strength from God’s very own words to prepare us to serve Him and others better.
Note how God cautioned His people about how, under the Old Covenant, they should carry out the sabbath by not laboring on that day.
“But it will come about, if you listen attentively to Me,” declares the Lord, “to bring no load in through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but to keep the sabbath day holy by doing no work on it.” (Jeremiah 17:24)
So although the word “attentiveness” is not used in the Bible, it underlies the faith that we need to properly respond to God through the day, whether when learning from His Word or to watching how He wants us to carry out His mercy and love to others.
Without a godly attentiveness, we will miss God’s cues and ignore the needs of those about us. Here are some symptoms of inattentiveness.
Underlying the trait of godly attentiveness is the conviction of God’s personal interaction with us through His Word and in the world that serves as a place that He uniquely carries out His good purposes no matter what obstacles we might face.
- I expect others to serve me rather than anticipating how God wants to use me to help them.
- I’m bored with people about me rather than living each day in full expectation.
- I’m bothered by those around me rather than thanking God for the opportunity to reflect His love in this needy world below.
- I am rather hopeless, not believing God will give me all I need each day from His Word and other means to feed and strengthen me.
Application of Attentiveness
We haven’t heard much about godly attentiveness and tend to live for other things than our divine calling. Below, identify what element of attentiveness is missing from your life.
When we identify the key components of attentiveness, we then can see the importance of various Biblical injunctions. When we see these essential components to godly attentiveness missing from our lives, we do not only repent in one-time repentance—though that is a good start—but seek Him how He wants to retrain us. Attitudes are patterns of responses that require consistency over time to retrain our lives in conjunction with God’s grace.
- Do you hope that God will give you what you need to help others in need?
- Do you kindly treat others seeing it as a divine appointment to shower God’s grace into this dark world?
- Do you believe that you should live for others?
- Do you always live under God’s authority or only when convenient to you?
The Advantage of Godly Attentiveness
Attentiveness enables us to live proactively, focused on the needs of others. Many people do not even care for those they talk to. They are but an audience. Attentiveness, however, requires a beneficial—even life-fulfilling—outward look. We pay attention to the faces and lives of those around us. We pay close attention to God but also are attentive to those around us in this world below. If people were made in God’s image, it demands that we love them.
Attentiveness also requires a deep hope. The expectations associated with attentiveness point to a spiritual world about us. We look behind the scenes at the real needs of others. As Ephesians 6:12 states, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” People are not the real enemy, but those who use people to hurt and bring pain. People are mere puppets in the hands of Satan, an evil tyrant. We don’t need to react to what people say and do but can abide in God’s peace during our journey through this chaotic world.
The world has a warped version of attentiveness and is built on pride and covetousness. They are looking for ways to manipulate others for their purposes. The salesmen, as an example, are trained to pay attention to every detail of their potential customers. God’s people, however, look deeper at the needs of others, discerning God’s grace to meet those needs.
Godly attentiveness, therefore, leads us forward into a fulfilling life, reaching closer to the purposes God has designed us for (Eph 2:10). We were made for good works to glorify God (Col 1:10).
Study Questions on Godly Attentiveness
- How is attentiveness highlighted in Psalm 123:2?
- Who has authority over your life? Consider whether you possess that attentive eye towards them (as in Psalm 123:2a).
- Explain how attentiveness displays itself in real life. Give at least three examples from the study above.
- Are you attentive? Ask those around you to see if your view of yourself is accurate.
- What is the difference between godly attentiveness and worldly attentiveness?
- What are one or two ways that you can grow in attentiveness?
- Do you find yourself demanding certain responses from others? What is your response to those who fail your expectations? What should they be?
- Do you read God’s Word with attentiveness like in Nehemiah 8:3? What characterizes this kind of attention?
- When you carry out conversations, are you mostly talking or paying attention to the person you are addressing? Explain.
- If a parent, should we expect attentiveness from our children? Explain.
- How can we teach our children attentiveness?
- Quote the definition of “attentiveness” from the top. What adjustments might you make to make it more applicable to your life?