Mastering Smartphones for the Master

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on December 7, 2017

There’s a funny cartoon showing bride and groom figures atop a beautiful wedding cake. The groom is in a sharp-looking black tux, the bride in a lovely white gown.

They are texting.

The image rings true. We’re a nation of thumbs and screens, instant responses and impulsive comments. 

Christians are no less addicted. Worship services seem more punctuated by ringtones than amens. We are as in love with our devices as the unbelievers at the Starbucks table next to us.

The Digital Problem

That’s a real problem. We cannot be still and know He is God (Psalm 46:10) when pulled jerkily by an electronic leash.

Parents, Set Limits

You don’t let your kids eat ice cream five times a day or stay up late on school nights. You can limit their hand-held time, too. 

Yes, you can. A little flip-phone can safeguard your child as much as a $900 smartphone. And, yes, they will protest. Of becoming social laughing-stocks. Of not being able to use Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter. Of not being able to take notes in class, if they use tablets. (Hint: pen and paper are truly countercultural — so encourage your kids to live on the edge and use actual notebooks.)

God entrusted your children to you. You are responsible for what they have and, to the extent possible, to what they are exposed.

Your responsibility extends beyond keeping them from wasting time and losing focus on the good things they should be doing. You need to protect them from cyberbullying, pornography, and all the other dangers.

“The nature of digital communication is that we are endlessly distracted,” says theologian Bruce Hindmarsh. Distracted people cannot live in the fullness of what is perhaps the most essential aspect of our image-bearing of God: intimate relationship. If we manically check our “feeds,” we cannot build the closeness only concentration and focus can construct.

The electronic marvels in our hands have lots of good to offer. Yet they steal our time, energy, and relationship. They do that to our children too.

Here are some practical ways of gaining control of our smartphones and tablets and stewarding them rather than being mastered by them.

Adults, Set Limits  

Set a limit on how much you use your smartphone, tablet, even browsing on the computer. Don’t spend more than one hour a day of discretionary time on them. Use it as a break, but don’t take more than an hour all together during the day.

Ironically, smartphones themselves help us limit our use of them. Writing in INC. Magazine, Jeremy Goldman lists six apps “that can help you to, well, stop using your apps.”

For example, Offtime “helps users unplug by blocking distracting apps like Facebook and games and filtering communications. It includes information on how much you actually use your smartphone.” And Moment “tracks your device usage and allows you to set daily limits; the app notifies you if you exceed them.”

We cannot be still and know He is God (Psalm 46:10) when pulled jerkily by an electronic leash.

Be careful of how easily even the good use of such devices can suck you back into an addiction. Who could object to reading your Bible on your smartphone? You can read it anywhere, any time. Even that can be a problem: For example, “I better check my email before I read,” and other famous last words.

If reading the Bible on your smartphone does that to you, use an actual Bible. One of those leather-bound, gilt-edged, paper-laden books that still populate bookstore shelves.

Remember What’s Important

The life to which the Lord has called His followers is one in which He is always present, whatever the circumstances. He wants us to be just as present to Him. If we’re living virtually, we won’t know Him actually, and we won’t be doing His work fully.

“In the smartphone age, we are bombarded daily by the immediate: Facebook updates, blog posts, and breaking news stories,” writes Tony Reinke in his book, 12 Ways Your Smartphone is Changing You. “Yet the most important book for our soul is ancient. God’s Word demands our highest levels of … concentration because it requires relational reading.” Relational in the sense that we’re hearing from the God of the universe, Who loves us infinitely and therefore wants our exclusive attention when we’re spending time in His word and prayer.

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Jim Elliott, the missionary martyr, wrote once, “Wherever you are, be all there.” When in class or at work, when spending time with your spouse or your kids, when in God’s Word or at church, when driving or in a professional meeting, are you all there?

If not, examine why. The chances are good that it’s the device in your pocket or purse, rectangular and glowing and inviting. 

Set holy limits on it. And if you’re planning a wedding, please don’t text at the altar.

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