Recently, I was able to join about 400 pastors at a conference in Indianapolis. I don't mind flying, but three-hour flights are not high on my excitement list. One thing I noticed on this trip that I haven't typically noticed before was that as soon as people were seated, before the plane even began to taxi out of the gate, people already had their electronic devices out and on. And not just on, but fully engaged in their favorite movies, TV shows, and games.
It made me think of the obvious conclusion we are all aware of--our use of electronic devices is ever growing along with our dependence on them. I am not one who thinks technology is evil and ruining our lives. I believe there are many benefits to having these devices at our disposal (most of this blog is being written on my iPhone). Many advances to the benefit of humanity in general and for the gospel specifically could not exist without modern technology.
Where the concern comes in, especially for us as Christians, is when our dependence and use of modern technology, specifically mobile devices, becomes unhealthy - both physically and spiritually. What do I mean?
I have students in my high school classes that often come in tired. I find out they've been on social media and/or on their phones late into the night. Just the fact of looking at a small glowing screen precipitates fatigue mentally and physically. Even when I am working for extended periods of time on my computer, I have to walk away and let my eyes and mind rest. I'm sure that we will begin to see more cases of neck and thumb problems from people looking down at their phone and texting so often.
But the greater concern is spiritual. I am not thinking of content specifically, per se, though we should all be careful as to what we put before our eyes and into our minds. Rather, I am thinking more of the distraction that keeps us from engaging in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible intake, fellowship, and mission.
I take a cue from Jesus’ life in Mark 1:35–”And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” I mentioned to my church when preaching on this section of Mark that Jesus would have left His cell phone at Peter’s house. Why? Because Jesus not only wanted but needed undistracted time with the Father. This was His priority and nothing would keep Him from it.
Jesus came with a mission to bring salvation to Israel and the world. But there were lots of distractions that would seek to deter Jesus from His primary mission. Not only through direct Satanic attacks, but the rise of His own popularity put His mission and purpose at risk. Jesus’ decision to move to other towns in Israel (Mark 1:38) came as a direct result of His time with His Father--undistracted time before the sun rose.
Our situation is no different. We have a mission; not to redeem the world as Jesus did, but to proclaim His redeeming work of salvation, for His ultimate glory, to those around us - both inside and outside the Church. We do this both in our verbal proclamation of the gospel and through living out our faith before those around us who are still lost in their sin. We do this by gathering together and rehearsing the gospel in song, hearing the preaching of God’s word, and through taking communion together. But how can any of this happen if we are distracted from what Jesus calls the necessary things (Luke 10:42)? That is, how will godliness and gospel mission happen apart from spending time with our Father in the Word and in prayer, and true facetime with our fellow brothers and sister in Christ? How can we share Christ with an unbelieving coworker if we are only engaged in what is happening on our screen? This can only be done in distraction-free moments.
So this will mean there are times where we need to put the phone or tablet down, cut the cord so to speak, and be quiet and focused in the presence of the Lord. It means we will not immediately go to Facebook or Instagram, but to the Bible. It means praying without the urge to check text messages or Twitter feeds. It means putting the phone on silent when in corporate worship. Not that there is no time for these, but let's make prayer and the Word a priority. Let’s not forsake the gathering together of the saints (Hebrews 10:24-25) and engaging with the lost with the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). Let’s not be dominated by anything (1 Cor. 6:12) except that which is edifying to our souls, to others, and for the gospel mission.