I drive a 2003 Pontiac Aztek. This fact tends to cause one of two reactions to those who are aware of ascetics of the Aztek. One set of people smile and nod, as if fondly remembering their quirky uncle — a unique style that is to be appreciated by all. Another set of people wrinkle up their nose and shake their head, as if remembering the layered set of polyester Izods in turquoise and pink they used to wear in the early ‘80s – a unique style that is to be avoided at all costs.
In the one year I have owned this car, I have changed my opinion about it. No, I have not changed my feelings about the looks of the car– I have always enjoyed its boxy frame. My opinion that has changed on it has to do with my perceptions of how many of these cars are on the roadway. Prior to purchasing this car, I believed that no one in Norman, America drove an Aztek. While I enjoyed this car in magazines and on the internet, I never really noticed them on the streets in everyday life. One day after purchasing my Aztek (a tan model), I began to notice that there was another tan Aztek that was routinely parked about a half mile from my house in a parking lot. I since have noticed at least three other tan Azteks around Norman, not to mention the scores of black, red, and yellow models I have seen.
Two possibilities exist. Either everyone in Norman who owns an Aztek bought them on the same day I did, or I simply became more aware of the Azteks around me once I had one of my own. Given the astronomical odds of so many Azteks being sold on the same day in the same town, I tend to think that I simply became more observant the day I bought my car. Scientists would also agree with me on this one. An area of the brain known as the reticular activating system (RAS) determines what we notice and what we ignore. In a sense, when I bought my Aztek, a new “folder” or category was created in my RAS called “Aztek.” Because of my new awareness of this category, I began to notice its presence far more often.
I talk about this today, because I think a spiritual RAS occurs in our life when we spend time in prayer. Psalm 5:3 says, “In the morning, O Lord, Your hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” The Psalmist here shows a connection between praying to God, and waiting in expectation for His answers. In other words, when we pray for things, a new folder in created in our spiritual RAS that makes us more aware of divine activity in that area. For instance, if I pray in the morning for an opportunity to talk to a friend about Jesus, and then I run into them in the mall and they tell me about something significant that is going on in their life, I am far more likely to view this as a divine appointment and opportunity than if I had not prayed at all and just ran into them. Now the reality is that God is involved all the time whether we realize it or not, but our prayers help to make us more aware of the places where God is already at work.
This is not to say that prayer accomplishes nothing . . . the parables of Jesus help teach us that our prayers are used by God in the shaping and unfolding of His will . . . but it does help remind us that our prayers also make us more aware and expecting God’s involvement in our lives.
Tomorrow, when you get out of bed, spend a moment praying for your day and the things you would love to see God unfold for you there. After you pray, like the Psalmist, wait expectantly for His answers as your spiritual RAS is now activated. Just as I drove by an Aztek for weeks without recognizing it was there, so we can live out our lives day after day not recognizing what God was doing around us.