Two church incidents more than ten years ago ramped up my lesson plan in being observant. Both reminded me that my observation skills were lower at certain times than at others. The clarity of retro-vision verified that Sunday mornings weren't always my sharpest in the observation department.
On an anniversary Sunday the congregation decided to play a trick on me. Everyone sat
exactly opposite from their customary seating arrangement during Sunday worship. I
didn't notice the reversal until i delivered the first introductory sentences of my sermon
that morning. Everything was out of whack. As one of my old school teachers said, I was
"bumfuzzled", momentarily disoriented. When I finally realized what they had done I
joined them in a good laugh. It was an excellent anniversary prank. The observant part
was simple. I should have detected their scheme long before I did. You know, when I
worked the worship center before the service their relocation should have been obvious. I
was just too intent on everything else that morning. I didn't observe their prank. My
personal observation skills took an upturn that day.
Most Sunday mornings I would duck into the baptismal changing room rest area
immediately prior to entering the stage area before worship. The rest room was in
the very back room of the prep area. To enter I had to pass each of the changing booths
male candidates used to prepare for baptism. On this particular morning I noticed a pair
of feet sticking our from under one of the changing room doors. They scared the
daylights out of me. I rushed into the rest room, slammed and locked the door and began
to deliberate how I was going to exit while a mad-man killer psycho was waiting in the
changing room to end my life. After sweating through about five minutes of personal
soul-searching, I grabbed my fountain pen, the only weapon in sight, charged out of the
rest room, threw open the changing room door, and bravely confronted my own
baptismal boots hanging on the back of the door. I didn't tell anybody about this
embarrassing episode for many months. I had stared death in the face that morning
because I didn't observe that those feet were actually my own baptismal boots.
Strategic learning is simply being very purposeful and intentional about the information we process and store as educational data to inform our lives. Being able to observe life around us is a strategic learning system that can teach us relational dynamics, how we function in such a fast world, and the ways we respond to the various stimuli that pull our chain in everyday life. In my mind the ability to observe life around us resonates with the expectation Jesus had of his disciples when he sent them out as sheep among wolves. Remember what he said: "...so be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). Part of being wise as serpents, in my book, is the wisdom to observe.
In Scripture this learning component is most often referred to as watchfulness, or being alert. Most Bible references to watchfulness are contextually conditioned by their expectation of Christ's imminent return. They were to be watchful and prepared for what was expected to happen as a thief in the night. Several, however, are more broadly applied. We are reminded to be watchful in prayer (Colossians 4:2), to keep alert with all perseverance (Ephesians 6:18), and to be sober-minded and watchful
(1 Peter 5:8), among others. The Apostle Paul modeled this kind of observant spirit when he "observed the objects of your worship" (Acts 17:23) before addressing the men of Athens. It was strategic learning he couldn't have gotten in his more formal rabbinical training or preparation for service.
A friend shared an experience of observation that touched me. One morning he left for work later than usual. As he unlocked his car door he noticed his neighbor's newspaper in the drive-way next door. it was unusual because his older neighbor was compulsive about getting his newspaper early every morning. My friend also noted that the neighbor's car was in it's usual place. So, he went to the door, rang the doorbell, and knocked, then pounded on the door. Finally, he went back to his own house and grabbed the house key his neighbor had given to him for emergencies. When he went into his neighbor's house he discovered him on the floor, the victim of a heart attack. He dialed 911, EMS arrived, and the neighbor was transported to the hospital and survived the attack. His strategic learning of observation most likely saved his neighbors life.
To observe is strategic learning. Many of us cruise through life clueless about what is happening around us. Being alert and watchful, that is, having the wisdom to observe what is going on in this fast-paced world is strategic learning that could benefit us all. And, help us notice when we're going to be the object of a joke.
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