Fight the Poverty of Attention

Oh, that my people would listen to me. (Psalm 81:13)

“Attention is focused mental engagement on a particular item of information.”1 I’ll bet you’re finding that difficult to do, aren’t you — paying attention? As you read this are other flies of information buzzing around your head?

Ever since sin clouded the human mind with disparate impulses and voices, paying attention, particularly to the right things, has been hard. But it’s never been harder than it is now.

Humans “create as much information in two days now as we did from the dawn of man through 2003.”2 The average adult in the West wades through the equivalent of 174 newspapers worth of information per day.3

The sheer amount of competitors for our attention in the marketplace of information is forcing the size of consumable information to shrink. We’re increasingly consuming information in bites not meals. And this is conditioning us. Most of us feel like we need information constantly coming at us all the time in short, rapid-fire bullets. In order to process more bullets, most of us try to multitask, fragmenting our concentration even more. Ironically, research shows that all this does is make us up to 30% slower and doubles our mistakes.4

But here’s my point: “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”5 And a poverty of attention is spiritually dangerous. The writer of Hebrews warns us:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1)

Hear that: less attention may result in our drifting away. We Twenty-first Century western Christians should tremble.

There is no shortcut to paying closer attention. It requires prayerful, careful listening to every word that has come out of God’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3), especially, what his Son, the Word speaks (John 1:1). And such prayerful, careful listening and thinking requires time — undistracted, focused time.

And undistracted time will likely not come to us. We will need to carve it out and protect it. Paul tells us to “[make] the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). Make the time. It’s going to take some work because part of the evil of our day is the locust swarm of information that will eat up our time if we let it.

So let’s fight for faith today by paying less attention to the whirring words of the world so that we may pay more attention to the Word. Let’s choose wealth, not poverty. After all, our Father said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7). Let’s do what he said.



Previous posts from Jon Bloom:

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.