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The discipline that pays dividends

Stay tuned.

Do you remember that phrase? You don’t hear it much anymore. Stay tuned was a succinct way of telling the radio listener or television watcher that something important was about to happen and they needed to make sure they didn’t miss it. These two words were dripping with expectation and promise. And more times than not, if you liked what went before, you weren’t going to be disappointed by what followed.

The Urban Dictionary entry for stay tuned reminds me of another element inherent in the message: listener responsibility. Before digital channels and pre-sets, staying tuned meant keeping the station (radio stations more so than television) tuned in by tweaking the dial every so often. There wasn’t anything hard about this, it just required constant monitoring. However, if you didn’t do this, your station would drift in and out with the result being that you only heard parts of the broadcast. So stay tuned functioned as a promise of what was to come as well as an encouragement to be attentive.

When the Hebrew writer says, We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (2:1), he’s saying something even stronger than “stay tuned.” Stay tuned suggests a continuation of what you’ve been doing but the writer is saying something more— that they must “pay the most careful attention” to what the things they’ve heard concerning Jesus.

When do we pay the most careful attention? One answer would be anytime we’re interested in something:  a telephone number or email address, directions, instructions on how to fix something, etc. We also pay attention when we’re enjoying something: a book or movie, conversation with a close friend, etc. We pay most careful attention when it’s important: the surgeon speaking of how the operation went on a loved one, a baby saying their first words, etc.

But it would also be profitable to think in the opposite direction—when don’t we pay most careful attention? When we’re not interested or enjoying but more to the point: when we’re distracted. Most of us can remember times when we were quite interested in what was being said and yet ended up not getting the message because something got us. We were attacked with weapons of mass distraction. Sometimes it’s self-inflicted: we have to see who sent that text or check Facebook. Other times, it’s external: it’s something or someone else. Either way, the damage is done and the message is missed. 

So how do we stay tuned, avoid distractions, and pay most careful attention? As I write this, it’s raining outside. Rain is something we have no control over but we can learn to adapt to it (umbrellas, windshield wipers, roofs on houses, etc.). I think listening well is like that. It’s appraising the environment and working through it. It’s taking notes, adjusting the dial, and ignoring the distractions. It’s a discipline that pays dividends.  

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