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Paying Attention: A Missional Practice

I am reading David Benner’s new book, Opening to God. It’s well worth the time. Last night I finished the chapter on what he calls “Attending.” He plays off the four parts of Lectio Divina and uses the metaphor of paying attention to help us understand what it means to practice Part 1, which is traditionally called “Lectio.” He challenges us to expand our ability to practice Lectio, that is “reading,” by calling us to pay attention to what is going on in life around us. He invites us to read life, to read ourselves, and to read creation. He calls us to wake up to what is already present but we don’t often see.

In many ways, we could apply the four parts of Lectio Divina to the call to “being” missional. It provides us with a tool to see how life on mission is much more than doing some activities that look missional. (As I have stated before, I am not against “doing” missional things. Therefore, don’t hear me promoting some kind of false dichotomy.) However, this can help us develop a different point of view regarding what it means to be missional.

When we develop the practice of “paying attention” we learn to read God’s creation to see where he is already on mission. We learn to read not only what’s going on inside of us, but also to read what is going on in other people. We learn needs, yearnings, and hopes. We read the story of others, of neighborhoods, or family members. We read stories that lack good news. And we read their stories to see where they are hoping to find good news.

To develop the practice of paying attention to life and to our neighborhoods, we must heed Benner’s counsel: “Prayerful paying attention is not scrunching up our willpower and tightening our focus, but simply opening our self to what we encounter. This makes it much more an act of release than effort.” When we pay attention when we are reading a good novel, we let the story unfold. We don’t work to make it happen. We let it be and we learn to attend to what’s going on. This is what we do when we attend to the world around us. We observe. We listen. We ask questions. We give it time to sink in.

When we do this, we will find God there, the God of mission, the one who himself sends himself by the Spirit to turn our world around. I ask you, as I ask myself, “How are we paying attention today?”

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M. Scott Boren is a Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul, MN and consultant who partners with The Missional Network (www.themissionalnetwork.com). He has written and co-written eight books, including Introducing the Missional Church, Missional Small Groups and MissioRelate. He share life with his bride, Shawna, and their four children, all under the age of eight. He can be reached at his website: www.mscottboren.com.