Smartphones and Spirituality

Like most things in life, smartphones are amoral. They can use you or you can use them. They can be a pain or a profit. Especially to our spiritual dimension of life.

While I highlighted some of the perils – they can be used in an amazing way too. Here are some ideas.

Listen to the Bible – while I’m not a fan of reading the Bible on a smartphone and would encourage the use of a hard copy – this is a very useful tool for people who struggle with reading. Most Bible apps have either a streaming or even offline facility for this purpose. The other great use for a smartphone Bible app is sending encouraging Bible verses via share as an sms. Recommended apps: YouVersion Bible or Bible.is

Use lists for praying for people. It’s easy to hear or see a prayer and forget about it -why not jotting it down straight away and reviewing it daily. You can use designated prayer apps like (PrayerMate or Echo) or just a good list app like Wunderlist.

Use Calendar for scheduling – that way you will prioritize and organize your life in a smarter and more intentional way. Set reminders accordingly to ensure punctuality.

Use your texting app for sharing needs and sending encouragement. It’s quick and extremely effective. It shows care and vulnerability. Perfect tool for edifying relationships.

Podcasts are a great way to catch up with your own church’s sermons (our has one for Android, CFM Podcasts) or other sermons or teaching. You can use the stock app for Iphone or I recommend Pocket Casts for Android. Be discerning though. While you won’t find an author/church ministry you will agree with everything – I am sure that there are some better avoided.

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Start the Smartphone Detox

Smartphones distract. That’s their curse. The lure is information and the trade off is distraction. They distract me from reading, praying and engaging socially. Not that this is a new battle. I have plenty of excuses and distractions even without a smartphone. But the smartphone just amplifies them.

Smartphones feed the pride beast. We snoop. We boast. We try to be witty. We clamor for attention. So that we feel better about ourselves. We worship at the temple of self and the smartphone is our taxi there.

Being ‘wired’ can have spiritual pluses and minuses. For me isolation is not an option. While in some cases and for some personalities – avoidance and abstinence is recommendable – often self-control is the better way forward.

Maybe we need to start with a detox. You only know how addicted your are to caffeine when you get the raging headaches. They tell a story and expose us to the truth: addiction. Take a break from your social networks and see how you feel. What do you miss? Hod does it affect your mood? How does it impact the people around you? With holidays just around the corner for most people – this might be the best time for it. This could be the first step.

The next step is a thoughtful one of examination and elimination. And it’s personal. You can’t make a universally applicable filter. Here are some of your decisions:

  • do you need a smartphone or a dumb phone? Is it for work or personal?
  • what should your smartphone be used for? If you have a tablet or computer, you could probably do most things on that. Is it a communication tool, a media device or your primary tool for gathering information?
  • you need to decide when should your smartphone be used? Should you have it in meetings? In cafes? In the bedroom?
  • what apps to you need to have: what do you delete, keep and install?
I am sure that we can ask even more. But that’s a start. Now it’s time to act.

In my next post I will attempt to show a redemptive way of using smartphones as useful spiritual tools.

Does My Smartphone Make Me Dumber?

A few weeks back I was listening to a concerned scientist speak about the perils of the ever earlier adoption of mobile devices for children. It seems like an unusually serious topic for a late night show.I expected the usual lecturing that you can get from the latest nutritional health freak that is just trying to scare people off into buying their new miracle product. Instead, I got a very genuine and reasoned academic argument.

I will spare you the details – suffice to say that if things continue this way the future generations will be gravely affected both socially and in their ability to read and reflect. Think functional ADD-like need for instant and constant stimulation and serious relational inability to connect face to face.

I have noticed the negative effect of the constant need to be ‘wired’ in my own life. The incessant temptation to check Facebook – out of curiosity (disguised as ‘care’ for ‘friends’) and Twitter (disguised as a desire to be ‘up-to-date’). Think first thing in the morning, think supermarket cash tills cue, think car park, think last thing at night, think waiting for someone in a cafe and horror, think the odd peek during a dull meeting).

A Banksy fan account tweeted (ironic, I know) this disturbing picture:

banksy mobile
It sums up pretty well what we can become – modern day slaves. perhaps too freakishly close to the controlling nature of the Matrix (just try to get yourself weaned off and see if I’m joking).The trade-off is that we find it harder to simply be quiet and….observe, listen, think, watch, read. We fill our minds with unnecessary images of kittens doing silly dances, endless football parodies, zillions of ‘this is what i’m eating right now’, nauseating selfies, myriads of inadvertently ‘my life is better than yours’ type photos and faux ‘drive by’ political/social campaigns. Of course there is the odd good stuff. And that’s why I’m not throwing the baby with the bath water.

In the next post I will attempt to write about the impact this issue has on my spirituality and suggest a healthier way forward.

Slot Machine Sermons

If I would get a ‘tenner’ every time someone complains about a subject that is their ‘pet project’ and isn’t preached by the pastors… It never ceases to amaze how we love to reinforce our information and conviction on what we know and feel safe with, to the detriment of discovering something that might just rock our world a little. I’m not talking about reinterpreting Scripture. I’m talking about ignoring Scripture.

This wrestling is evident to me, personally. As I am doing my daily-ish readings through The Bible in One Year – I feel so tempted to skip Old Testament passages. My attention span wrestles with some of the detail heavy narratives, my sensibility is affected by the gory and blood-filled conflicts and my spirit is grieved by the countless number of lessons not learned…

The Psalms and Proverbs are fine in small chunks but either repetitive thematically (Psalms) or one liners that deserve to be meditated on in small bites (Wisdom Literature). Don’t even get me started on the depressive darkness of some of the prophetic books…

I like logic and like lists and practical day to day applications – at heart I guess I am a pragmatist – that’s why the Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s Epistles rank highly in my estimation.

Yet I have discovered that if I was to act on my preferences – I would have a poorer understanding of God’s character, HIStory and man’s role in it. I would be like the kid that eats just ice cream – hardly a healthy and balanced diet, pleasurable though it may be.

Some of the modern day dangers of this approach to preaching/teaching in our faith communities are these:

  • when we chose thematic issues that we feel are relevant – we are like patients that prescribe their own chosen medicine for their self-diagnosed sickness
  • when we avoid a systematic Biblical expository approach – we are likely to miss out on being surprised by unexpected comforts and challenges that ‘the whole counsel of God brings’.
  • when we isolate certain passages for extra focus (red letter Christians) – we are less likely to trace a pretty clear Scriptural pattern evident through HIStory.

My encouragement to us all is to keep engaging with the study of the whole Bible – wrestling with genres and passages we find harder. I encourage the formation of new ‘preaching taste buds’ primarily for expository preaching where the preacher works through and applies the text rather than coming up with an idea and then finding texts to support it. The later isn’t wrong as an occasional method but not recommended as a staple diet.

As Tim Keller observes:

“Exposition is something of an adventure for the preacher. . . . You can’t completely predetermine what your people will be hearing over the next few weeks and months. As the texts are opened, questions and answers emerge that no one might have seen coming. We tend to think of the Bible as a book of answers to our questions, and it is that. However, if we really let the text speak, we may find that God will show us that we are not even asking the right questions.”