One of the most important decisions you make every day is what to pay attention to. What should you focus on and what should you filter out? What deserves your attention and what does not? Answering this question is one of the primary purposes of the book of Proverbs. Wise people give their attention to the right things. Foolish people give their attention to the wrong things.
Pay attention to what you pay attention to. Win the battle for your mind. If it distracts you, it diminishes you. Proverbs 4.20-27 gives us guidance for managing our attention.
The key principle: Not everything that gets your attention deserves your attention.
The essential practice: discernment and discipline.
The four parts of managing your attention:
- Listen carefully to God’s word. Pay attention to what voice you listen to. (4.20-22)
- Guard your heart. Pay attention to what you allow into your heart. (4.23)
- Stay away from corrupt speech. Pay attention to what you say. (4.24)
- Look straight ahead. Pay attention to what you are doing and where you are going. (4.25-27)
Let’s consider each part.
First, listen carefully to God’s word. “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.” (Proverbs 4.20-22)
This is an admonition to pay careful attention to the truth of scripture. There are many voices in the world competing for our attention. Every day we are bombarded with messages claiming to be “the truth.” Traditional media and social media have combined to proliferate the voices and the messages to the point where we are nearly drowning in a flood of noise. Everyone seems to have an opinion.
The great question that faces every person is: In the midst of all the noise, where is the voice of truth? How do I distinguish truth from error? How do I determine what to believe and what to reject? What reference point to I use to navigate through the flood of messages and competing truth-claims?
Here is the answer: The word of God is the voice of truth that cuts through the noise. Scripture is the reference point for navigating the flood of messages. For this reason, Proverbs 4.20 says “be attentive to my words.”
To be “attentive” to the word of God means to listen to it, hear it, study it, think about it, meditate on it, absorb it, and apply it to every area of your life. To be “attentive” does not refer to a casual, occasional reading. It refers to a serious, disciplined study and application of the word of God.
Note that Solomon tells us to seek the Lord’s words our ears, eyes, and heart. In other words, with our whole self.
The word of God is written in the pages of scripture; it should also be written on our hearts. Verse 21 says, “Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.” Paul gave a similar admonition in Colossians 3.16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” David also echoes the message in Psalm 119: “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
Management of attention begins with who and what you listen to. It begins with the choice you make for the voice of truth in your life. Pay attention to what you pay attention to. Win the battle for your mind. If it distracts you, it diminishes you.
I am concerned that many Christians today lack a serious, disciplined study and application of scripture. As I interact with Christians around the country, I am shocked by the low level of biblical knowledge. We will not be strong in the Lord if we are not strong in his word. We must be diligent in our reading and study and knowledge of scripture. We must listen and pay attention to the word of God.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)