A few years ago, on one of our summer vacation experiences, my bride and I flew to Seattle, Wash. and took a cruise up the Inside Passage into Alaska. It was a great vacation, but for me one of the best parts of that whole trip was the experience we had on the first morning in Seattle, before we even boarded the ship. We visited the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, very close to the pier where the cruise ship was boarding. This visit was one of the major highlights on this whole trip for me.
For several years now, I have used in my college classes a video that demonstrates the business philosophy employed by this unique retail establishment, and I wanted to experience first-hand what I saw in the video. I was not disappointed.
One of the major principles that the 17 young men who work at the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market employ in their dealing with customers, whether the customer buys fish or not, is to “be there.” That is, these fellows are focused in their efforts to serve each individual customer individually. They want to make sure that no matter what question the customer may ask, they are paying attention to the needs of that individual customer and are reaching out to that person in an effort to make their visit to the market a pleasant one and a positive experience that the customer will want to repeat.
Thinking about that in my relationship with God, I ask myself if I have ever really taken the time to “be there” in my relationship with God. How often have I given God a cursory presence in my life, but never really taken the time to pay attention to Him and to focus on Him in a deliberate and positive way?
Could that same question be asked of you? Here’s another way to look at it: Imagine at the end of your life you’re welcomed into the presence of Jesus, who has saved you by his grace. In the midst of all the wonderful things we will experience, we’re ushered into our own “media room.” As you enter your personal media room, you’re told that you get to sit on a cozy couch with comfortable pillows, eating as much popcorn and candy as you want (without the calories, of course) and that you’re going to watch a video of your life. The video is a compilation of all the moments in your life when you were fully present, all the moments when you weren’t numbed-out or distracted by media technology – TV, the Internet, cell phones – all the moments when you were totally engaged with others or fully attentive to God.
Now imagine this video playing in your personal media room and ask yourself these questions: How long is your video? How many scenes will depict you relishing life to the fullest, not numb or distracted, fully enjoying and loving the people around you? And as you think about your life’s video, how many scenes will show you completely ready to hear what Jesus is trying to say to you?
Paying attention to the details in our relationship with Christ is the whole meaning of prayer. Being ready to hear what He says to us is the crux of the matter. Some people are not there yet. One such example is Ted Turner, the media mogul and founder of CNN. In an interview with Fortune, Turner was asked, “I know you were religious up to the point of seeing your sister suffer for five years and die at 17. You’ve gone back and forth about whether you’re agnostic. Has your lack of belief that God will save humanity motivated you to feel a level of responsibility that others don’t feel?”
Turner replied, “If God’s going to save us, it’s time for him to show up. We’re not showing evidence that we’re ready to save ourselves. That’s what bothers me.”
But when asked if he considered himself “agnostic today,” Tuner said, “Yeah” but then he also offered some surprising thoughts on prayer: “I still say prayers for my friends who are ill. Little short prayers. Mini-prayers. It can’t hurt anything.” (“Ted Turner at 75”, Fortune, 12-9-13)
I am not quite sure how to take those comments from someone who once said publicly that Christianity is a “religion for losers”. But I also know that focusing on God is the answer. Being there, present with Him, is what counts. When the Apostle Paul says, in Philippians 4:6, that we should “…not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” he was making it pretty clear that our focus should be on God in Christ Himself. The emphasis on “nothing” and “everything” makes that clear. Then, in the next verse, he tells us that, if we do that, if we truly focus our attention on God, then “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
God wants to give us His peace. And He challenges us to regularly pause to focus on Him to do just that. Quite frankly, that is what the National Day of Prayer is all about. Today, across the nation, communities are pausing to focus on God in prayer for our nation, for our communities, for our leaders and for our own special needs. It is our attempt to “be there!” for God. That is why, locally, the Highland County House of Prayer is sponsoring a National Day of Prayer gathering on the Court House lawn tonight, beginning at 6 p.m. Won’t you join us as we focus on God in prayer?
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Times-Gazette.