Connections 08.27.2023: Stop, Look, and Listen

Isaiah 51:1-8

As children, many of us learned to “stop, look, and listen” when we crossed the street, to (hopefully) cross safely. We learned that paying attention could help keep us out of danger. Paying attention is not just a tool to avoid bad things, though. Paying attention to the route we’re driving allows us to know where to go. Paying attention to the needs of people around us helps us know how we can serve them. Paying attention to the people we care about shows us how we can best communicate our love to them.

This week’s lesson from Isaiah is part of the ancient, deep tradition that Jesus was born into and that he lived faithfully. When he taught his disciples to petition God (as in Mt 7:7 and Jn 14:14), the writing of the ancient prophets is the well that they all drew from to know how to be part of God’s people. This is how they knew whom to follow and where to go, how to serve the world’s needs, and how to communicate love. This is how they knew what God’s way was, so they could ask faithfully for what they needed and trust that God would provide.

In Isaiah 51, the Old Testament prophet issues a series of directions to the people of Israel experiencing exile. If they want to know what God is doing so they can follow faithfully, even in a time of despair, what they have to do is simple (though perhaps not easy): they have to pay attention. They have to stop, look, and listen.

In the first eight verses of Isaiah 51, the prophet gives instructions either to “look” or “listen” eight times (including a “give heed” and a “lift up your eyes”). If the Israelites want to know what God is up to, they simply must be paying attention. If they are, they will experience comfort and hope (vv. 1-3). They will receive teaching and deliverance (vv. 4-5). They will realize the fleeting nature of earthly concerns and the eternal way of salvation (vv. 6, 8). And they will know how to live when they encounter hate (v. 7).

Jesus’s teaching about prayer may seem revolutionary, but it was rooted in this: when we pay attention to what God is doing we will desire what God desires, then we will pray in God’s way. Isaiah’s instructions to stop, look, and listen can help us to recognize where God is at work in and around us so we can go, so we can serve, so we can love. So we can ask—with God’s own “teaching in [our] hearts”—and so we can receive.


  • Find all eight times when Isaiah instructs the people to “look” or “listen.” What, specifically, should they be paying attention for?
  • What will they discover about God when they pay attention? How will these discoveries help them live faithfully?
  • What are the things that distract us from paying attention as we should?
  • Imagine that you were able to follow fully Isaiah’s instructions to pay attention. What would have to change in your life to “look” and “listen” for God as faithfully as possible?
  • Isaiah says if they pay attention, the people will experience comfort and hope, teaching and justice, deliverance and courage. They will get a new perspective on what is fleeting and what is lasting. Does one of these promises speak to you today? How do you need to pay attention so you can experience one of these ways of God in your own life?
  • How might paying attention change your prayer life, and help you to ask for what you need and what the world needs with God’s “teaching in your heart”?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at


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