I started seminary last week. Back to school, except this time 'round, I had no pre-conceived idea of what it would be like. For the past few years during my time at college, I could generally know what to expect when I walked into a new class at the beginning of a semester. This kind of knowledge lulled me into a state of ease and contentment. I knew for the most part that my classes would have their time of difficulty (usually two or three times a year, depending on tests and papers), but that in general they wouldn't require too much of my time or effort.
Not so in my new classes. I need every ounce of attention and focus inside of me in order to retain what I'm learning. I'm learning what Brother Lawrence termed "simple attention". He explains "simple attention" as the pathway He took to resting in the presence of God, allowing himself to be fully present in his current situation, not distracted by the events of the last few moments or the tyranny of the future.
This is a concept that is very difficult for me, especially with all the technology and other tools of distraction around me. Being fully present before the Lord is so essential in experiencing the joy of fellowship with Him, but it requires intentional self-sacrifice, a decision to shut off all other avenues that seek entrance into the mind. It's something that looks different for each of us as disciples of Christ. As a student, my distractions are different than those of someone juggling a job, marriage, or other commitment. But we are all the same in that we need the fellowship of the Lord.
Learning to "practice the presence of God" and to give Him my "simple attention" is proving to be a difficult journey, but one that has its rewards as well. With all the theology, hermeneutics, language, and Bible knowledge I'm learning in seminary, the garden of my heart can easily become crowded and choked with weeds if I am not attentive to keep the simple concept of "practicing the presence of God" before me continually. For what does it matter if I believe in Biblical authority yet never open the Bible to drink deeply from it? What does it matter if I know the ins and outs of Old and New Testament theology if it is not changing the way I treat other people?
Knowledge is good, but it puffs up. True wisdom is knowing Christ, and it starts with the fear of the Lord, being humble before Him. Only when I start with humility can I reach the higher plains of academia without becoming inflated by my own desperate ego. Simple attention. Practicing the presence of God.