The Power of Personal Attention

Long-time football fans know the name of Jerry Rice, one of the best wide receivers ever to play the game. In twenty years in the NFL — most with the San Francisco 49ers — Rice earned thirteen Pro Bowl selections, three Super Bowl rings, and a pile of all-time statistical records. And that exceptional career is even more exceptional when you consider his college background. Unlike many NFL greats, Rice didn’t attend a big-name university. His alma mater is Mississippi Valley State, a college in the rural south with a student body of less than 3,000.

With his talent, Jerry Rice could have played football at a major university. In fact, several were interested in him. So why did he choose a college so small and obscure?

“Out of all the big time schools to recruit me,” Rice explained, “MVSU was the only school to come to my house and give me a personal visit.” The big schools all sent cards, letters, and invitations to visit campus. But MVSU sent their coach. He went to Rice’s home, sat down with him, looked him in the eye, and said, “Jerry, I need you.” And that made all the difference.

Sometimes there’s just no substitute for personal attention. Christian, consider a few applications.

People who visit our assemblies need my personal attention. Have you ever visited a congregation and been more or less ignored? Then you understand how important this is. If you see someone at our assembly who is a stranger, greet them and introduce yourself. Find out who they are, where they’re from. Show an interest in them. Invite them to come back. Invite them to study. Invite them to lunch. Personal interest opens doors of opportunity.

People who are lost need my personal attention. I need to do more than sit in a Sunday morning Bible class and talk about how lost they are. And, while the church’s collective support of evangelists is vital, I need to do more than put money in the offering plate. I know some lost people, and I must try to show them the right way. I need to talk to them, show them kindness, and build trust. To whatever extent I have the ability, I need to teach them — lovingly and honestly. I need to make sure my own example matches what I’m teaching them. And I need to be willing to sacrifice the time, the energy, and even the possible discomfort that all those things will require.

People who are in need should get my personal attention. In our country there are all sorts of federal, state, and local government programs to provide a “social safety net” for the poor, plus countless private organizations that work to help people in need. I’m not trying to dismiss the value of those things. But the Biblical model of helping the poor isn’t limited to paying taxes or writing a check to an organization. Passages such as Matthew 25:31ff, James 1:27 and 2:15-16 show the need for what Marvin Vincent called “personal contact with the world’s sorrow.” Virtually every day we will come face-to-face with people who need help; we must try to bring them face-to-face with mercy and compassion in the way we respond.

People who are hurting, struggling, or discouraged need my personal attention. There are countless ways to help someone bear a burden: some words of sympathy, encouragement, or admonition; a shoulder to cry on; a helping hand with a chore; a few minutes together in prayer. What they all require is an investment of time and attention. Very often the first and best thing you can do for someone is simply to be there. Can others count on you?

People in my family need my personal attention. Money can’t take the place of conversation; gifts are no substitute for companionship (see Proverbs 15:16-17). What we often call quality time is important, but the quantity of time we spend says more about what (or rather, who) we value. Your children and your spouse don’t just need the things you can provide them — they need you.

It bears repeating: there’s just no substitute for personal attention. Especially in an era when technological tools to manage our time, resources, and communication often have the ironic effect of making us more and more isolated from each other. Whether someone is lost, needy, or hurting, whether they’re someone we know well or someone we just met, the personal attention we give them can make all the difference.