God’s undivided attention
ANN ARBOR – One of the core memories that I have of my dad was a phone call. I have no memory of what the phone call was about, but what has stuck in my mind is the way that the phone call ended. I was in college and must have been between some classes and had called just to kill some time. Around five to ten minutes into the conversation he apologetically asked if we might continue a little bit later because he needed to get back into a meeting he had stepped out of.
What became clear to me was that my dad was in the middle of a fairly important board meeting where he was presenting. He had paused the meeting to answer a call from his son, and upon finding out it was just a casual invitation to talk, he proceeded to step out of the meeting and talk with me for almost 10 minutes while everyone else waited for him to come back and continue. The reason I often think back to this moment is because it is representative of almost all my interactions with my dad. No matter what he was leading, involved in or busy with… I had his whole attention.
Over the past twelve years as God has called us into different ministry roles, I have had the opportunity to help lead thousands of college students. Not many have stories like this. What each did have was a view of themselves, their world and their God that had been profoundly shaped by their view of their father.
Five years ago, was the first time that I held my son Silas in my arms. I know now that he couldn’t really see much, but for about 15-20 minutes he just quietly stared up into my eyes. It was a powerful moment that I doubt I will ever forget. I was a father. This was my son. As his little eyes searched around for what was real and what was true of his world, in that moment he knew that he had the full attention of his father. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.
I wish that were still true today. As a father of two with a third on the way I often wonder how the mismanagement of my attention will affect the way that my children step out into life. I wonder if they too will find themselves enamored with their phones when they get them, or whether they will disdain technology as the mistress of their father’s attention. I wonder if they will see their father as a hard worker who built a home for his family, or whether they will see him as someone who preferred remodeling kitchens to playing with them on the floor. What I wonder most often is if they will believe that the heart and the eyes of their father are fixed on them, or whether they were somewhere else.
The greatest lie ever told was spoken to the very first children of our world, and this lie still haunts the caverns of our soul. It was a lie about the heart and the attention of their Father. Apparently, those who don’t believe that they have the attention and heart of their Father will journey all the way to hell looking for something to replace it. Tozer said that “What comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” What if the most important thing about our view of God is what we believe about his attention over us?
A few years ago, I read a passage in Deuteronomy that I haven't stopped thinking about since:
"Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day."
Of all that is in creation, God has uniquely set his heart in love… on you. That while he owns the heavens and while the pulsating energy of the stars scream across the dark corners of the universe, his gaze pierces past the light of ten trillion suns to look at you. While he holds the unexplored and unseen edges of the cosmos in the palm of his hands, God cares most about holding your hand. And despite all the noise in the universe, his ears are tuned to the sound of your voice.
As I think back to the gift that God gave me in my dad, there’s a profound and long list of things he gave me. Before I even became a Christian, my dad instilled in me a deep sense of the sovereignty of God. He gave me my doctrine and theology. He taught me how to think and how to love the outdoors. He taught me how to work on cars and fix things with my hands. He gave me wisdom and life advice. He showed me how to build a home, a marriage and a faith. Though more than anything, he gave me his attention. And somehow.. more than anything else in my life, this has helped me believe that I also have the attention of my Father in heaven.
What if the greatest gift that a father can give his children isn’t his provision, wisdom or inherited skills, but simply his attention? Sometimes it is the simplest things that change the world. Through the course of my life, I have found that it was simply the time and attention of my dad that has helped unwind the lies at the center of my soul. The clearest gospel he ever preached to me was simply the way his eyes and his heart were always on me. So, to all the fathers with little eyes looking up at them to see what is real and true about their world: Let’s give them a picture that might help lead them home.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Livingston is Church Planter/Pastor of Treeline Church in Ann Arbor Michigan. Treeline Church is less than one year old. It is their passion to reach the students in the surrounding universities with the message of Christ. Dave and his wife, Steffi, have three children, one of which will be born later this year.