Paying Attention

Paying Attention

July 02, 2023 • Rev. Dr. Jevon Caldwell-Gross

Parched is a condition where we are depleted or deprived of something we need (slide).

Let me show you what this looks like practically.

We recently just got back from an amazing vacation. We did an 8 day cruise to the DR, Bahamas, and Grand Turk. The best was the excursions. One of the most memorable was the zip lining. I was a bit worried because we have a 6 year old that had never been zip lining. And I didn’t know how to explain to a 6 year older that she was going to be suspended hundreds of feet in the air and slide across on a rope. For the record, I was at the very end of the line not because I was nervous or afraid of heights but because I had to make sure everyone else was safe!…….

Everything was going fine until I looked up and this lady lady was at top of one of the landing laying down. She clearly wasn’t alright. The workers went into safety mode and what do you think was the first thing they got her? (Water) I asked one of the guys what happened and he says, O this happens all the time. People forget to hydrate all the time.”

I get it. It was a long day. We started early in the morning. We went horseback riding for over an hour. The sun was beating down on us. Then we had to climb several flights of stairs. Her body was depleted and deprived of what it needed to perform. She was parched. It’s not only a physical condition but also describes a spiritual condition where we are deprived and depleted of the things we desperately need.

And that is the reason why we are doing this series. Because so many people show up to really important places parched. It’s in our homes. Our jobs. Our relationships. Ourselves…….

The psalm that was read today sums up what this feels like as a spiritual condition. “O God, you are my God, earnestly I see you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is not water.”

 So over the next few weeks we are going to look at spiritual practices that we can add to our lives that will continually fill our spirits . Todays spiritual practice is something simple but so needed. “Paying attention.” Paying attention is the intentional practice of noticing the signs and signals (slide).

One writer puts it like this:

When things go unnoticed for too long, bad things begin to happen. A leaky roof turns into a major repair of a entire wall; unattended weeds eventually squelch the growth of the vegetables; a not that big a deal lump over time becomes cancerous; an undisciplined child later in life lacks a healthy sense of boundaries… Time has a way of forcing things to get the attention they need. Many in our culture have lived with a sense of unnoticedness for too long

Point 1

The people in our text had been living with a sense of “ unnoticedness.” Isaiah 44 is right in the middle of a difficult historical period for God’s people. Their elaborate temples have been destroyed. They have been taken away from their homeland. They are living in exile. When God promised them a land flowing with milk and honey, I don’t image they thought they would again be living as foreigners in strange lands. They wrestled with their future. They questioned if God was still with them. In some way, they were laying on the platform before the world exhausted and parched. In fact, God describes their spiritual condition as a thirst land and fry ground. God does not gloss over their reality. Their glass was not full!

And yet, the subtitle or heading I have in my Bible is entitled the blessings of Israel. It almost seems out of place. In these small versus God is reminding them of reasons to still hold on to hope and to expect better days. Their parched condition was a reality but it was the only reality.

The temptation for them and us to only see a small portion of reality through a very limited frame. Paying attention gives me a better perspective of what God is doing beyond what I can see in front me. (Slide). It invites me to widen my perspective so that I can see more than what’s in a limited frame.

It’s why I have a love/hate relationship with the camera feature in cell phones. I realized I didn’t take as many pictures as I wanted but I was ok with because at some points I decided I want to just pay attention. Here’s what I mean… At some points, I got so caught up in capturing a singular moment that I was missing the moments that were going on around us. We focus on what’s in one frame or one moment that we actually miss. Let’s test this out….

Too many people live their lives one frame at a time. We make life changing decisions based on what’s in one frame. We make assumptions about God, what God thinks about us, and how we feel about God based off one frame.

Paying attention is a spiritual discipline that regularly invites us to move beyond one frame, one moment, one feeling, one instance and be open to what God is doing around us. Ahead of us. Beyond us. The critically question I think we have to ask God is this, WHAT AM I MISSING?” What lessons am I missing? What perspectives am I missing? What I missing that you might be trying to show me? What are you doing around that I’m missing?

Point 2.

One frame can be deceiving. It doesn’t tell the whole picture. Remember they are in captivity. It’s tempting to look at their condition due to a singular event…They lost a battle…They lost to one nation. This was because they had a bad day. No, life doesn’t always work like that. The greatest threat to our mental, physical and spiritual health is not the occasional crisis, but the small daily leaks that go unnoticed and unattended (slide).

Their mistake was their inability to pay attention. They did not head the signs and signals that God graciously gave to them. God gave them several warnings but they didn’t pay attention. God sent several prophets but their warnings fell in death ears.

Their current condition was a result of years and decades of not properly managing the seemingly troubling areas in their community. Destruction doesn’t happen overnight. Exhaustion is not a one day event. Parched is not a spiritual condition that describes a moment. That’s why God gave us the blessing of thirst. It’s a natural warning signal in our bodies that lets us know we are running low. It’s the body’s gift to us. It’s a built in mechanism to remind us to fill ourselves with something that we need. Thirst is the bodies compass of pointing you to something that you can’t live without. It’s only bad if we ignore it. And most us do! We ignore all of the signs that our souls and spirits are parched.

For example, for those of you who drove here through some means of transportation or those who have access to one, you benefit from this every time you get into a car. You car is designed to send you warnings and signals when something is out of alignment, when something is low, when something needs to be changed. The manufacturers have figured out that the average person doesn’t always know enough to catch all of the signs so they let you know when the oil is low. They let you know when something is wrong with the engine. And they especially let us know when we are low on gas. Even with all of that, there are some people, just a small percentage that will see a gas light, they will hear a signal and guess what they will do. Just keep going! Sooner or later it catches up to us. The lady who passed out on the zip lining platform didn’t just suddenly lose energy. There was probably a series of hungers and thirsts that she ignored all throughout the day and it finally caught up to her. Sooner or later it catches up to the best of us. We feel disconnected from God. We are short with people. Something is off and we can’t explain it.

Paying attention is an invitation to be mindful of the things that are not only fulfilling, but also those things that are draining. Where are the leaks? Where are the cracks? What zaps you? What’s no longer brining you joy? Are you paying attention to the signs?

 Are you paying attention to the things happening in our nation? Will we look back 10-15 years from now surprised at our our thirsty lands and dry moral grounds because we ignored a leak, a decision there, a sign here, or a warning there…Will it finally catch up to us? The greatest threat to our mental, physical and spiritual health is not the occasional crisis, but the small daily leaks that go unnoticed and unattended.

Last point

So how does God respond to their thirst? God says, I will pour “water” on the thirsty land. What will God pour? Water! What did the gentleman give the woman who was exhausted on the platform? Water! What is the one thing that quenches our thirst? Water! Remember thirst is the compass to direct us to what our bodies can’t live without.

It’s an important lesson. Everything doesn’t fill your cup equally. Everything doesn’t have the same value.

Here’s why this is important. (Bring out empty vase). When we get to a place where our spirits or our bodies are running low, we have an important decision to make. Our lives are greatly impacted by how we fill those longings in our lives. (Slides)

You see having needs isn’t bad. Thirst isn’t sinful. Longing for something isn’t evil. The problem is that we find unhealthy ways to quench the thirsts of very healthy desires. That’s How I quench our thirsts or respond to the conditions of being parched is one of the most important decisions we make on our faith journeys. What I pour into my emptiness or what I pour into the parched areas of my life impacts every single area of my life. Your home. Your job. Your relationship.

Most of us spend the majority of our lives trying to fill the empty and dry spaces. We throw jobs at it. We throw money at it. We power at it. We throw positions at it. We throw people at it. We throw anything that we think will be the answer being “parched.”

But in paying attention I realize what only fills temporarily. I recognize what fills my ego versus fills my soul. I recognize not just when I’m empty, but I notice what happens when I fill my life with the things I need, not just with the things I want. Everything doesn’t fill your cup equally. Everything doesn’t have the same value.

As we close let’s practice noticing. In a minute I’m going to invite you to close your eyes and we are going try this discipline together. You’ll find these prompts on the back of the insert in car you want to practice noticing on your own time.

Prayer Practice

Close your eyes. Notice what’s going on with your body today. Where is there tension? What feels good? What might your body want you to know?


Notice your spirit. What’s happening there? Is it troubled? At peace? Ready for action or ready for rest? Is there something that your spirit is longing for?


Notice this space. What do you hear, smell, feel? What is worth paying attention to in your present surroundings?


Notice the things on your mind. What people, thoughts, concerns, or distractions are taking up space right now? Do you want to hold on to those things? Would you like to release them?


Notice the still small voice of God. What would God say to you in this moment, exactly where you are and how you find yourself?