By the time you finish this paragraph, I will have already lost your attention. One recent neurological study found that since each of us started carrying a phone in our back pockets (circa 2000) the average attention span has dropped to eight seconds.
This reality has implications in many parts of our lives: the depth of our relationships . . . our ability to produce valuable work . . . the development of discipline to help our bodies thrive . . . but what concerns me most is that we are collectively (and individually) losing our capacity to dwell in the presence and Word of God.We’ve shackled ourselves to life in the spiritual shallows, far from faith that is deep and wide.
Deep Calls Out to Deep
It was Job’s friend Zophar who asked, “Can you fathom the depths of God?” (Job 11:7). The psalmist said that in God’s creation “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7). He also declared, “How great are your words, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!” (Psalm 92:5 ESV, emphasis mine). In a moment of new discovery of God’s ways, Daniel proclaimed,
He reveals the deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him. (Dan. 2:22)
There is a depth to God’s character that cannot be assessed with quick glances and fleeting thoughts. We will never become the kind of women who face the lion’s den without a deep understanding of God’s character. We will never know that depth if we cannot find ways to circumnavigate our brain’s wiring and study God’s Word for longer than eight second bursts.
As I write these words, I am a newly enrolled seminary student. So far, I am earning a degree in humility and constantly learning that there’s so much I don’t know about God and His Word. In one sense, that’s the point. I want to know Him more. But, I’m also learning how much I need (how much we all need) to grow in the area of focus.
In an assignment early this semester, the professor asked us to make twenty-five observations about a single verse. We weren’t allowed to apply what we already knew or pull in the surrounding verses, just the text as it was. It was hard, I thought. Until the next week, when we were instructed to make twenty-five more observations about the same verse. I did it, but I breathed a sigh of relief too soon because the next week, you guessed it, we were tasked with making twenty-five more observations about the same verse! It was a verse we were all familiar with, so before the exercise, we looked at it through a shallow lens, giving it eight seconds (or less) of our attention before moving on. But all Scripture contains strata, layers and layers of wisdom and truth and meaning. The more I dug, the more treasures I found.
Let me show you what I mean. Read John 1 for eight seconds and you’ll get:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. (vv. 1–3)
Beautiful truth, no doubt. Inspired by the Holy Spirit for sure, but really those few sentences are just a glint of gold in the mountain stream. If we stretch our minds beyond our frayed attention spans, we quickly get to the Mother Lode.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it. (v. 4–5)
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (v. 14)
In a lecture my professor told us, “the harder you work at observation, the less mistakes you will make at interpretation and application.” He’s right, of course. Like a naturalist so fascinated by the world around her that she sits and observes butterfly wings and bird migration patterns,if we’re going to know God through His Word, we must learn to pay attention and to manually override brains that have been rewired to settle for what’s on the surface.
Searching for Unsearchable Riches
It’s time for us to ask: what does The Scrolling Life give us? Less time? Shorter attention spans? More cravings? In contrast, what will we find in the deep? According to Scripture, “the incalculable riches of Christ.” (Eph. 3:8)
When we consider the treasures that are ours in Christ, we will keep digging and digging instead of letting our attention spans drive us, and we will always discover more of Him along the way.
There may be a million different ways for us to course correct.
- The next time you open your Bible, set a thirty-minute timer. Force yourself to stay focused until the bell dings.
- Pick a passage and make twenty-five observations, then twenty-five more, and twenty-five more. There’s gold in them thar’ hills!
- Block time on your calendar that is untouchable to email and texting. Start with once a week and then expand.
The method isn’t as important as the goal: to wade past a shallow spiritual walk into the deep heart of God.
Let’s Keep Digging
Several years ago we took a family trip to Crater of Diamonds State Park, a volcanic crater where the public can dig for diamonds. Though we had a blast, we didn’t find any gemstones. Most people don’t. But the park had a display featuring a man who found hundreds of diamonds in the same dirt where we dug. What was the difference? Effort. Day after day, year after year, he came to the diamond mine. Unlike us, he didn’t move on quickly after a diamond-free day. There was treasure in that dirt, and because he focused, he found it.
That’s what I want for you, for me. I want us to short-circuit our eight second timer and dwell in the Word of God so we can find the depth of God. I long for us to discover life beyond the shallows and to answer Zophar’s question with a “Yes!” because we have searched and sat and dug; we have found the deep things of God.