You Will Do Well to Pay Attention
In 1977, Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon warned that our increasingly information-rich world will gain information and lose attention. In other words, more data means more distraction. He said it this way.
“Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.
Now, I don’t think, looking back almost fifty years now … I don’t think he could have imagined what is contained in our pockets alone. Just a tiny little phone has more information, movies, social media, news, games, music than anyone could have imagined in the past, more than any encyclopedia could come close to holding. And when you add to the fact … Even if you just take social media, for example, the social media platforms have monetized your attention. They make their money off getting and keeping your attention. So, they constantly have to monitor what you personally are interested in and give you more and more of what they think you are interested in so that you will keep clicking, keep scrolling, so that you will keep paying attention. It’s a good way to describe it because your attention is an asset. It will cost you something. You pay attention, and they want to make sure you’re paying attention to them. A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.
Why is this? You would think the fact that you and I have way more access to information today would make us much smarter than people in the past. However, it’s not necessarily the case. One of the many reasons for that is the key link between information and attention. For example, when you meet someone new and then five minutes later you can’t remember her name. Or when you park in a garage, and then you come back and you have no clue what level your car is on. You just hope you have a car that you can click and it will beep. Or you get up in the morning, you get ready, you run out the door, and as you’re running out the door, you suddenly panic because you can’t remember putting on your deodorant. You’re trying to sniff through your shirt just to be safe. What’s going on there? Do you have Alzheimer’s? No. You most likely just didn’t pay attention.
Understanding the link between attention and memory is key. Dr. Lisa Genova explains.
“The number one reason for forgetting what you just said, a person’s name, where you put your phone, and whether you already drove over a really big bridge is a lack of attention. You can’t later remember what is right in front of you if you don’t pay attention to it.”
Now, that’s really big because what she’s saying is, you can’t forget what you never remember. Most of what we encounter throughout the day our brain automatically trashes; otherwise, you’d be absolutely overwhelmed every day. It discards it as clutter. And this is why a flood of information can lead to a drought of attention because your brain is being bombarded with so much information, so many images, so many impressions, it doesn’t know what to keep and what to throw away. Dr. Genova goes on.
“Paying attention requires conscious effort. Your default brain activity is not attentive. Your inattentive brain is zoned out, daydreaming, on autopilot, and full of constant background, repetitive thinking….”
Think about what you’ve been thinking about just as we’ve been thinking about this.
“You can’t create a new memory in this state. If you want to remember something, you have to turn your brain on, wake up, become consciously aware, and pay attention.”
This sounds strikingly similar to what we learned last week in 2 Peter 1:13 when Peter says,
“I think it right, as long as I’m in this body, to stir you up….”
That literally means “to wake you up, to awaken, to arouse”
“by way of reminder.”
Peter is discipling our memories in a world that is so information rich but can leave us super poor if we don’t know how to pay attention.
So, what should we be paying attention to? We need to pay the bills, need to work our job or go to school, clean the house, mow the lawn soon. We need to do these things throughout the day. So, how do we determine what should our primary focus of attention be? What Peter is doing is answering that on a macro level, this overarching story that captures our attention and shapes our memory. It seems to be the primary concern of verses 16-21 of 2 Peter 1. Look, for example, at verse 19.
“And we have the prophetic Word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Pay attention to the prophetic Word. This seems to be Peter’s main point in this whole paragraph.
Let me orient us in the book. This paragraph seems to play the role of a hinge, a hinge that reaches back to the beginning section in chapter 1, for example, reaching back to verse 4, 2 Peter 1:4.
“By which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises …”
“… so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.”
Precious and very great promises is another way of saying prophetic Word. So, he’s reaching back and saying that the way you become partakers of the divine nature is through his precious and very great promises. Therefore, pay attention to these promises, to this prophetic Word.
Let me see if I can summarize the two sides of the hinge. First side, looking back, we come to know and grow in Jesus as we pay attention to these precious and very great promises. Forgetting equals not growing. Remembering (“remember” isn’t just intellectual; it’s experiential) equals growing. Second — that’s the looking back; now, the looking forward — we identify and avoid false teaching as we pay attention to these precious and very great promises.
Remember, you can divide that little letter of 2 Peter into three sections — growing, discerning, waiting. Growing — how do we grow? We’re locked in to these precious and very great promises, this prophetic Word. How do we discern what is not true? We pay attention to this prophetic Word, these precious and very great promises, what is part of that false teaching that we’re discerning regarding his coming, where he’s going to teach us how to wait. The false teachers denied the coming of Jesus. So, in the rest of 2 Peter, he’s going to outline with vivid detail what these false teachers and teachings look like.
But in this paragraph for today, we’re going to focus right in on this case that Peter is making for paying attention to the prophetic Word. He gives us three strong arguments. Number 1, because we’ve seen the preview of his coming. Let’s read verses 16-18 again.
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”
In short, the antidote to myth is majesty, his majesty revealed in real history. Because Jesus first came in weakness and obscurity, you might be tempted not to pay attention to him. He’s just a Jewish carpenter, just a rabbi, a dime-a-dozen. But Peter is saying, “Whoa, whoa. I have personally experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration as eyewitnesses of his majesty.” What is he talking about here? If you were to go to Matthew 17, the passage Bryan read, or Luke 9 or Mark 9, they tell the story of Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up into a mountain, most likely one of the hills connected to the Mount Hermon mountain range. And while up there, Jesus was transfigured in their presence. What does that mean? His face shone like the sun. His clothes radiated with a brightness that was blinding. And a voice from heaven affirmed,
“This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”
Peter says, “I was there. I heard the voice.” And what Peter is saying is this event wasn’t just a momentary glimpse of the glory of Christ to be self-contained. He is saying this was a preview of what’s coming in the future. This was like watching a trailer on a really big movie and getting very excited to watch the real thing because you know this manifestation of the glory of Christ is but a micro glimpse of the manifestation of the glory of Christ that will come when he returns in glory, not in weakness, not coming as a Jewish carpenter or a baby in a cradle or … but as the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
And this is why in all three Synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke — the transfiguration immediately follows the promise that some here will not die till they see Jesus coming in his kingdom. Let me give you one example, Matthew 16:28.
“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his glory.”
This is said right before the transfiguration three times. Peter is saying, “I know what’s coming.” When you witness his majesty, you no longer pay attention to the distracting messages of myth as you wait for his return.
Now, don’t let that just float over you. You find a person who is always enamored with every new thing everyone’s saying, constantly taking off on this and that theory, perhaps it’s someone who’s never had a glimpse of what is in store for those who follow Jesus. And Peter is arguing when you get a glimpse of the glory that is to come, you’re far less prone to have an appetite for myth. Number 1, we pay attention to his Word because we’ve seen the preview of his coming.
Number 2, we pay attention to his Word because it provides light until he comes. It provides light until he comes. Verse 19,
“We have the prophetic Word more fully confirmed.”
Pause for a moment. What does that mean “more fully confirmed”? The Scriptures, promising Jesus’s return in glory, are more fully confirmed because Jesus has been revealed in his glory in real time, history. There will be a lot of people who will say, “No, no, Jesus isn’t coming physically. He’s not truly going to return and create a new heaven, new earth, all that. No, no, no, no. That’s myth.” Peter is saying “No, I’ve actually seen.” His manifestation of his glory in real history is but a preview of this ultimate manifestation of his glory in real history. So, we have the prophetic Word more fully confirmed in that Jesus is truly coming, and it’s not just going to be a spiritual return
“to which you will do well to pay attention” [as Scriptures promise] “as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
What is the prophetic Word? Typically it refers to the Old Testament Scriptures, but here it refers to the Old and New Testament Scriptures. How do we know that? Well, we know from passages like 2 Peter 3 (we’re going to see in a few weeks, maybe a month or two), chapter 3, verse 16 that Peter already viewed Paul’s writings as Scripture. And if this is an area of struggle for you, because there are many websites and videos and a lot of people online that say basically Christians really didn’t know which books, they didn’t have any idea of which books were inspired until 4th or 5th century, and a council determined which books were inspired. That is a myth. Very early, you see, even here, in the middle of the 1st century, Peter is already viewing Paul’s writings as holy Scripture, equivalent to the Old Covenant writings, the Old Testament, as our New Covenant writings. Peter is emphasizing that’s where we need to pay attention.
He gives two reasons. Number 1, because the Scriptures provide light in a dark place. Verse 19,
“as to a lamp shining in a dark place.”
“Dark place” can refer to the evil of this world in general. For example, John 1:5.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Or the domain of evil forces, Ephesians 6:12.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Or the darkness could refer to ignorance of God’s story. 1 Thessalonians 5:4, for example.
“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.”
So, darkness here is living as if God doesn’t care or Jesus isn’t coming. No.
“You are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”
How do we move from darkness to light? The gospel, by the Spirit, turns our lights on. 2 Corinthians 4:4,
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’”
That same light that shone in creation is the same light that radiates from the face of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration is the same light that is planted, turned on in our hearts by the Spirit when we trust in Jesus. Where do we find that light? He is saying this is why we pay attention to the prophetic Word. In the prophetic Word, we find that light.
Also, the Scriptures enable us to see until the day dawns. Verse 19,
“Until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
What does that mean? The morning star is usually referring to Venus, which is often seen right before sunrise. And the point is that when the day dawns, when Jesus returns, the light will rise in your hearts. What does that mean? I thought we already had light in our hearts. Peter here might be referring to the practice of some of the false teachers who claimed an inner illumination. They claimed to know things that you normal people don’t know, and so you need to follow them, and you need to learn from them. Not things taught in the Scriptures, but things coming from their own inner illumination. And Peter seems to be saying, “No, no, no.” Ultimately, that kind of illumination will come when the light fully shines in our hearts when we are with Jesus and we become like him, and that light shines, rises in our hearts. But until then, someone who claims to know more than the prophetic Word reveals, the Scriptures reveal, is lying. That illumination will come when Jesus returns.
Look at the way Paul says this. 1 Corinthians 13:12 … Until then … Paul says,
“For now we see in a mirror dimly …”
King James, “darkly.” The Greek word there is “ainigma.” What English word do we get from that? Yeah, enigma. It was actually the German encryption coder in World War II. It was called enigma. You could translate it “riddle” or “puzzle” or “obscurity.” Paul is saying, “For now we see in a mirror dimly.”
What does that mean? Christians have all the big questions answered but very few of the little ones. What do I mean? The big questions like Why am I here? Who made me? Where am I going? All those big questions we know, but the little questions like why am I going through this trial right now? And what is God going to bring around the next bend, the corner that I can’t see? And what is going to happen over here? There are so many questions we don’t always have the answers to. Many false teachers you will find always have all the answers. And Peter is saying, just like Paul is saying here in I Corinthians 13:12, “No, we see, right now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we’re going to see face to face. Now I know in part.”
How are you doing with that? “I know in part.” Are you perfectionists okay? Can you say that?
“I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
What Paul is saying, what Peter is saying is the Scriptures enable us to see what we need to see, to know what we need to know until the day dawns; therefore, we pay attention. Now, let that sink in. Especially for those of you who have been around Christianity for a long time, you can get a little bored, right, looking for something to spice things up? We dabble off, read off, explore this and that. We become enamored with all sorts of things. And what Peter is saying is “pay attention to the prophetic Word. Scriptures enable us to see until the day dawns.”
Third, we pay attention to the Word because it comes from God, not from man. 2 Peter 1:20,
“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.”
Now, that can mean one of two things. It can either mean people can’t interpret Scripture any way they want, or it can mean Scripture doesn’t come from the interpretation of the prophet. Both are true, but as Matthew Harmon points out, similar expressions are used in Jewish literature that point to the second interpretation as most likely here. Scripture does not come from the prophet’s own interpretation. In other words, Isaiah doesn’t wake up one morning and decide on his own what he wants to communicate. The Apostle Paul, the Apostle Peter, they didn’t wake up and say, “you know, I have a message the world needs to hear.” It comes, not from them. Look at verse 21.
“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Now, Peter here is not erasing the role of the authors in writing. You’ll see their personalities, their styles, their experiences all flowing through their writings. But he is emphasizing that the source of the message and the means of communication are from God, not man. They’re carried along by the Holy Spirit.
So, let’s review three reasons to pay attention to the Scripture.
Number 1, we’ve seen the preview. We’ve seen the preview, Peter says.
Number 2, we need the light. It’s the only way we can see while we wait for the dawn, the light to rise.
And number 3, they come from God, not man.
So, what does this mean for this week? What do we walk out of here thinking about? Well, first of all, can we at least pause for a moment and acknowledge that we are doing exactly what Peter tells us to do? Most of you, at least physically, are actually paying attention. How are you doing mentally? And let me say a word for those of you where church is new to you and you wonder why would hundreds of people want to get up in the morning and come and sing and then open their Bibles and listen to the unpacking of a very ancient book. Aren’t there fun things we could be doing on our phones? We’re missing scrolling! Why are we doing this? This is what Peter is calling us to. Pay attention to the prophetic Word that God has inspired by the Holy Spirit. And this message we need to hear today as much as Peter’s first readers needed to hear and the Spirit inspired and preserved so that the people of God anywhere in the world at any time can by his grace pay attention to his Word.
What about this week individually as we seek to continue to pay attention? Does this mean I need to read my Bible more? Maybe. But keep this in mind — neuroscientists suggest that when you first hear something or get new information, it’s automatically in your head for around 15-30 seconds. As we age, the numbers seem to lower, don’t they, to around 2-3 seconds? That means if you don’t even try to pay attention, if information bombards your head, it’s most likely going to be banging around for around 15 or 30 seconds, and then your brain is going to send it to declutter, trash, not important. The reason this is relevant to this is have you ever read your Bible in the morning and an hour later you can’t remember a thing you read? And after a while you start thinking why do I even do that? What does paying attention look like?
Let me throw out some suggestions. Let’s say tomorrow morning you get up a little earlier, you brew a good cup of coffee, and you read 2 Peter 1, and then immediately when you finish, or when you finish your cup of coffee, you finish the chapter. You feel the pull now. You enjoyed it. You feel a little warm. You’re not sure if it’s the coffee or the Scripture, but you feel nice after you’ve done that, but you feel this pull because you’ve got — if your brain is anything like mine, already being bombarded with all these things you’ve got going on — places you need to be, things you need to do, texts that are buzzing. I need to get on with it. I read my Bible. Check. Now it’s time to get moving.
And if we read our Bible that way, unless you’re highly unusual, around 15 or 30 seconds later, what you read is going to start disappearing from your mind. And that doesn’t mean you’re a pagan. It just may mean you’re normal. That’s how our brains work. And so, what does that mean? Does that mean I have to memorize everything I’ve learned? No. But what if we slowed down just a bit, and that magnetic pull to immediately jump on what we think we’ve got to do right away, we resist that, and we seek to stay right here in this moment acknowledging God’s presence with me in this moment? And you ask God in that “Lord, teach me to pay attention.”
And what does that mean? It’s going to look different for all of us because we all read, comprehend, remember differently. I have a routine I go through. I have certain things on cards and memory and things that I’m working on and other things I immediately forget. But you find something. For example, it may mean … for me, repeating is really important. Let’s say I go back over verses 16-21, and as I’m meditating on this, it begins to come alive like, “Whoa! What Peter’s talking about here is a story that started on a mountain when Jesus’s glory was manifested, and he’s going to finish on a mountain when Jesus’s glory is manifested!” And you begin to see I’m living in this massive story. Our brains remember stories much better than statements.
As you meditate on this story, “Okay, Lord. What is it like to be living in your story?” And I think as a part of that, take a few minutes to give thanks. “God, thank you that you manifested yourself in history, that this isn’t mythology.” And then “okay, Lord, how should I view my little micro story today in light of your big story? How might my day be viewed differently if I saw it in the midst of this grand narrative?” You spend a few minutes standing in awe of this story and Jesus’s majesty. You might even play the song that we sang a few minutes ago, “Hosanna!” And you’re spending time, you’re worshiping. What is paying attention? You’re finding ways to say this same message to your brain and heart several different ways.
Then you might ask yourself questions like “what does his majesty have to do with my mundane meetings?” This is extremely dangerous for those of us who are ADD. But in this moment, if you take out your phone … I’m talking about in your quiet time … take out your phone, and if you can not look at the text or anything else and you just go straight to your calendar and you look at your calendar for the day and you say, “Lord, what would it be like if I saw you, saw this mundane meeting in light of your majesty, seeing these activities that I do every day as from you, for you, an opportunity to reflect you in your majesty?” How does paying attention to his Word help me navigate the dark places in my life? Every day, every week there are things that we don’t understand. Dark places may be evil, or it may just be puzzling, uncertain. Some of us … God is calling us into a season of uncertainty. That does not mean we have to be uncertain because our circumstances are uncertain. We can be stable and in the peace of God in the middle of those.
So, I want to warn you that as you work this out in seeking to grow in paying attention, there is no quick fix. This is not something, “Well, if I would do this for a few days, I’m going to notice this massive change in my life.” No, do this for ten or fifteen years, and you will be stunned at the change. In other words, it’s like working out. You don’t notice the difference right away. But what you’re doing is the Spirit of God is working out your attention, discipling your memory so that your mind is seeing these events of life in the context of this massive story of God.
Lots more we’re going to learn about this as we move into chapter 2, but for today, email me your ideas, your stories, thoughts, questions — email@example.com — and tomorrow I’ll try to address some of the questions in the AfterWord.
But for today, I want us to end with kind of a different benediction. I just want to put Psalm 119:103-105. This is our benediction for today. If this is true for you, give thanks in your hearts or with someone near you, if you’d like. If this is not true, ask him to make it true. So, let’s pray, and I will send us out in a moment.
Father, I thank you that you are redeeming our memories, our attention, even our taste buds. Apart from you, I know my taste buds were so off. I despised your Word. And now, Lord, it is sweet to my taste. It’s through your precepts we get understanding, Lord. There’s no way we could even distinguish between false and true if we did not have this filter of your prophetic Word through which we look at all of life. And when we love your way, we hate every false way. And so, Lord, we give you thanks. Send us out with your Word as a lamp to our feet, a light to our path. We love you in Jesus’s name. Amen. Go in peace.