School-aged boys in Jesus’s day (back in the old days) were known and even expected to memorize the entire Jewish Bible (the Tanakh or the Old Testament). If they wanted to be chosen to follow any of the leading Rabbis, they would have to demonstrate this incredible ability. I – on the other hand – often have trouble remembering how old I am and the last four digits of my social security number. Apparently, I need to work on my attention span.
According to a recent study by Microsoft, most humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. Where a goldfish is thought to be able to hold its focus for about 9 seconds, the typical human internet junkie now has an attention span of 8 seconds (down a whopping 33% from 12 seconds in the year 2000).
If you have actually read every word of this article to this point, you are no average human. You are currently displaying a radical, superhuman ability to concentrate and stay focused on one squirrel at a time…for more than 8 seconds. (Then again, if you don’t remember the last couple of sentences, maybe your abilities aren’t so super.)
Here’s the point. It’s hard for us to stay engaged around one singular subject. Even though we know the benefits of Bible study and learning the ways of God from others, it’s hard to hold onto Sunday’s sermon for more than a few hours (or even until the end of lunch). It’s intense work for us to experience extended times of prayer – even though we truly believe in the power of prayer – because our minds drift so easily. Our marketing and media consumption has conditioned us to plow through thoughts and jump from subject to subject without many deep considerations.
In light of our waning attention spans, we are increasingly missing out on the things that matter to God. We rarely listen for His voice. We would much rather be surprised by momentarily stumbling into God’s kingdom than to seek it as our top priority. We prefer to be Snapchat disciples.
All of which makes discipleship – and full-life generosity – very difficult.
We would prefer that our lives were defined by the moment…the whatever-is-happening-right-now. And while that is not inherently a bad thing, we need to be careful not to miss out on the bigger picture. If we want to fight against being Snapchat disciples, we should take steps to ensure that our lives are characterized by a handful of defining values.
What are the values that matter most in your life? What values would God highlight as top priorities for you? And how can you stay focused on those defining values for an extended period of time?
If you’ve hung out around the GenerousChurch team for any time, you probably can identify one of the things that we think is high on God’s priority list. Yep… full-life generosity. Not only do we believe that this is one of the driving characteristics of God, but we also believe that the Gospel always comes wrapped in the cloak of generosity. (For more, please download the free e-paper, Connecting God, the Gospel and Generosity.) So, hopefully, if you are reading this blog, you are seeking ways, with us, to live out lives of ongoing generosity. Hopefully, you are pursuing this core value in your life (and in your church) that captivates your imagination and holds your attention more regularly than any other subject (including football).
Together, we are pursuing lifestyles that intentionally imitate the generosity of God.
Maybe the best thing that we can do to combat a lack of focus is to grab each others’ hands and say, “Let’s work on this together.” Maybe the best thing we can do is pray for unity around the healing value of generosity and ask God to instill His Church with His eye for being generous. But, whatever approach we choose, we are far more likely to succeed if we are not pursuing this alone. We are much more likely to overcome our 8 second attention spans if we are putting those attention spans together.
There are tons of articles online that throw out tips and hints for increasing our attention span. Sure, those are helpful. But, let’s get creative around the most important part of this journey – doing it together. Here are a few of our ideas. (And after you read this list, please email us to let us know what ideas you have in mind.)
- Call another church leader in your area and over coffee ask them to begin walking this path with you.
- Write out your 3-4 core life values and begin sharing them with your spouse.
- Challenge the leadership at your church to engage in a focused study of full-life generosity.
- Engage more regularly with GenerousChurch…email us occasional thoughts on Biblical generosity or stories of generosity in your world.
- Take your small group or discipleship group through an in-depth look at how God is generous toward us.
- Engage with others on social media that will help keep generosity at the front of your mind.
- Grab a friend and go out with no intention other than to serve someone in your community.
Whatever you determine to do, make sure you do it in the context of a network of others who are heading in the same direction. And live it out as an intentional, big-life value rather than something that pops up every few months as a feel-good idea.