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THE PROBLEM ISN'T OUR ATTENTION SPAN
by Philip Owen

          What is your attention span when listening to a sermon? Fifteen minutes? After half an hour does your mind wander to Sunday dinner, the game that will be televised that afternoon, some problem at work, or the next family outing. In an age that lives on sound bites, gets its information and entertainment from momentary flashes of motion and color on some sort of electronic screen, and has the attention span of a three-year-old in a toy store, we must train and discipline ourselves to give attention to the truths of God’s Word until we come to love them and hunger for them. For the Lord cannot be encompassed in a sound bite nor His doctrines sufficiently expounded in a five-minute devotional or a fifteen-minute sermonette. Imagine then, the fortuitous nature of my structured reading today, which combined the reading of Joshua, chapters seven and eight, with the second half of chapter two in Luke’s Gospel.

          The passage in Joshua recounts Israel’s presumption and defeat at Ai, Achan’s sin of keeping for himself items that God had banned, God’s judgment on him and his family, the subsequent conquest of Ai, and Joshua’s building of an altar to God to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then we read that Joshua “read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel with the women and the little ones and the strangers who were living among them” (8:34, 35). Joshua read “all the words of the law” before every man, woman, and child assembled there. It reminds us of the ministry of Ezra following the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem after Israel was restored from her Babylonian captivity. “And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding . . . . He read from it . . . 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” (Neh. 8:1-3). And it appears (v. 5) that they stood the entire time!

            The passage in Luke affords three vignettes. First, we meet Simeon, an old man, whose life was consumed with “looking for the consolation of Israel” (2:25b). For four hundred years, God had not spoken to Israel through a prophet. It might have appeared more profitable to a less devout man to be consumed with something other than a promise of God that seemed unlikely to be fulfilled after so many silent years. But Simeon believed what the Holy Spirit had revealed to him: that he would see the Messiah. And so he looked. Then we meet Anna, an eighty-four-year-old widow, whose devotion more than matched Simeon’s. “She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers” (v. 37b). Finally, we see the Lord Jesus as a boy of twelve, so consumed with learning the Word of God that Mary and Joseph, having gone a day’s journey from Jerusalem and discovering him missing, returned a day’s journey back to Jerusalem and then spent three days searching for him in the city, no doubt looking wherever they saw children assembled or likely to play. Finally, they found Him all that while (five days?) “in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions” (v. 46).

            So how long is your attention span? Is fifteen minutes of preaching all you care to hear? How much time can you spend watching a basketball game (or games!)? How much time can you spend pursuing your favorite hobby? How much time can you spend talking about your life with a group of friends? The problem isn’t our attention span, is it? The problem is that we are not hungering and thirsting after righteousness. The problem is that we do not love the law of the Lord. The truth is that we do not love the Lord as we ought. For we do not tire of hearing about the people and things we love—do we?       

 

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