“Thank God it’s Friday!”
These words capture a common cultural sentiment that the life we long to live is found not in the regular work rhythms of the weekday, but in the recreational rhythms of the weekend.
But what if this view of the good life is deeply impoverished? What if the truly good life is not merely experienced in the recreational opportunities of the weekend, but also experienced in the paid and non-paid work we do each and every weekday? What if we truly woke up each Monday morning and with a joyful heart declared, “Thank God it’s Monday!”?
In the last several years, our church family has been exploring a more theologically robust understanding of how the gospel speaks into every nook and cranny of life. While our disciple-making mission has not changed, we have been growing in our understanding how apprenticeship with Jesus transforms our everyday life at home, at school, and at work. What we do on Monday is what we do with most of life.
Even though we continue to place a strong emphasis on creating meaningful and beautiful Sunday gatherings and fostering small group community, we are giving more attention to how we can better equip our growing multisite church family for life on Monday.
But what does being a “church for Monday” really mean?
In our series entitled “Church for Monday,” we press into this question. This eight-week exploration of whole-life discipleship will be highlighting seven marks of a growing disciple of Jesus. We will be learning more of what it means to be a Spirit-empowered apprentice who lives fully into the intimate and integral life Jesus offers us each and every day.
It is our hope that we will increasingly see our callings as a primary way we worship, are spiritually formed into Christlikeness, live out and proclaim the gospel, and further the common good of all fellow image-bearers of God. It is my heartfelt prayer that as apprentices of Jesus each one of us will roll out of bed on Monday mornings with joyful expectation and praise-filled lips declaring,”Thank God it’s Monday!”
We are always being formed. We are formed by vice or by virtue. Either way, these are the habits that shape us. Are we living with vice or virtue, sloth or diligence?
The vice of sloth is easily misunderstood. Sloth is not just a lack of productivity or ambition or hard work. It’s not about how busy or exhausted we are. Sloth is not just laziness. Rather, sloth is laziness with what matters most.
Sloth is more than inactivity. Sloth is the misordering of our endless activities which leads to death.
Sloth hides best in busyness
In Luke 10 we see that Martha is caught up in her busyness. Despite her efforts, Jesus rebukes her.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…” Luke 10:38
Oftentimes, we choose to do the lesser things. We do what’s easy instead of what’s necessary or best. That’s sloth. We hide our sloth behind a flurry of activity. We prefer the distraction of busyness over the real work of loving and being loved. We move away from God, thinking we are moving toward Him.
Be diligent: slow down
The first step in the fight against sloth is to slow down. And, it’s not just “slow down and do nothing” or even just do less. It’s slow down from being busy. It’s slowing down to reorder activities and give ourselves over to the right things.
Sloth is too lazy to change
Sloth is more than general laziness. It’s a lazy soul. The slothful person looks at God’s transforming love and says, it’s too much work.
It’s easier to be Martha, harder to be Mary. Mary’s doing what’s necessary. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) There are a lot of things we could do, but one thing is necessary. Luke tells us that Mary chose the good portion: she…sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. (v.39) Jesus calls us to listen first, and then to service.
We need a relationship with Jesus. All relationships take work, and if we refuse to do that work, it’s not going to work. Not only will the relationship be in serious jeopardy, but we can miss out on the joy offered to us through that relationship! But the hard work of a relationship can at times make us want to give up or distract ourselves with something else.
Be diligent: don’t give in
When sloth rises up, following Jesus can feel too hard. Don’t give in. Like Mary, sit at His feet, listen to what He says. The only antidote to sloth is diligence, perseverance, working at the relationship—which is the hardest thing in the world when we are feeling slothful! Our souls are bent towards laziness.
We say we want to change, but do we? I don’t want to be so angry or lustful or greedy. Change is not just going to happen. Peter said, practice these things. We must realize that practice makes virtue. Discipline makes virtue. And our motivation is not to earn His grace (you can’t do that) but because of His grace!
Early church fathers talked about how the best way to fight sloth is with the discipline of “staying put.” What they mean is doing what you know is right even when you don’t want to. Diligence. Instead of drifting, choose to step further in. We should do what we should be doing, not what we want to do, even when it feels like drudgery.
We’re busy with many things. So many things. One thing is necessary. God wants to make you whole, to transform you into the person He created you to be. Don’t you want that? Don’t give in to sloth. We need Jesus.
Sloth is too lazy to love
Sloth refuses to do what love requires. This is why it destroys families and workplaces and communities. It’s not just laziness; it’s being too lazy to love! Jesus isn’t telling Martha to stop working and go to Bible studies all day long. No! God loves us so that we will love others. When we don’t, sloth impacts everyone around us!
When we choose sloth (or drift), it may feel innocent. And sure, we need rest and downtime. Workaholism is not a virtue! But if we’re becoming slothful persons, we are robbing the people around us. It’s a failure to love. Your family needs you. Your neighbors and your friends need you. Your church. Your community. Your clients. Your classmates. Sloth sees the needs and opportunities for love and says, nah, it’s too much work.
Be diligent: love your neighbor
Find places to serve your community and your church. Volunteering is good. And the primary work God has for you is the place where He’s put you. It’s the work you do day-in and day-out, whether you get paid for it or not, whether you like it or not. Practice diligence. Then you’ll begin to see your work not simply as a collection of tasks, but as an opportunity to love.
Life is meant to be spent. This is why Jesus came. And He spent His life for you and for me. He longs to change us with His love. He constantly works on our behalf. And yes, He died for lazy people too. But He rose again to turn our sloth into love. To bring dignity and joy to our work and to our lives. To bring forgiveness when we fail and hope that we can change. This is the work He does. And it’s the work He invites us into. Let’s be diligent with what matters most.
Listen to our sermon series on the Vices & Virtues, the seven deadly sins and their corresponding virtues.
Are you today where you hoped your life would be? Have your New Year’s resolutions stuck or do you feel stuck? No matter who you are, it’s easy to say this year has been full of ups and downs with fits and starts, vacations, detours, and setbacks.
After the irregularity of the summer, the fall comes brimming with opportunity. It’s time to start over. And wouldn’t it be great if someone had that perfect advice that could get you set off on the right foot? Don’t you wish there was an Amazon or Yelp review from someone who’s been where you’re going? Wouldn’t it be helpful if someone could better guide you toward a smart restart?
No matter who you are, if you want to grow, if you want to get better at life, then you’re hungry for practical advice. The real surprise, though, is that what we need more than advice—no matter how practical—is wisdom.
And we need wisdom that’s not limited to recent experience from a few smart folks, but we need time-tested wisdom anchored in God Himself that has helped countless men and women of faith restart smart and go the distance.
This fall we will be resetting our lives with the ancient wisdom of Proverbs. And to be clear, this isn’t another “self-help” seminar with Bible verses tacked on for credibility. Proverbs is God graciously revealing His design and inviting us to walk with Him. And when we do that, we come to see that wisdom doesn’t just promise results, it’s just plain smart.
Now if you want to get the most of our restart this fall, here are three things you can do to start your restart…smart:
Make Sunday church gatherings a priority. The reason the fall is such a great opportunity to restart smart is because everything restarts. Sports, school, and well…life…restarts with its demands and opportunities. One of the greatest temptations, one of the easiest compromises to a smart restart is to let these other good things replace the priority of the Sunday church gathering. There have been a lot of programs and initiatives that have taken place in the church throughout history, but gathering together on Sundays every week has been a constant priority for over 2,000 years (Hebrews 10:24-25). There’s a reason for this. Make it a priority if you want to restart smart.
Don’t just listen to sermons. Apply. In other words, don’t just nod your head. Move your hands. Take notes. Do the difficult work of learning how God’s wisdom shapes your everyday rhythms, work on Monday, and weekend rest (James 1:22). Commit now to let this wisdom dig deep and rummage around if you want to restart smart.
Talk about this in a smaller community. You can never restart with success alone. We don’t learn best alone. We don’t follow through best on our own. And we don’t set knew life-giving habits best on our own. Instead, invite and empower other people to help you go deeper (Galatians 6:1-2). We’ll be talking through these passages in greater depth in our Community Groups with guided questions. You’ll never go as deep alone as you could with others. Let others in on this if you want to restart smart.
Are you ready for a restart? Are you ready for more than advice but wisdom? Now’s your chance!
We compiled a sermon series on the Vices & Virtues, the seven deadly sins and their corresponding virtues. We are no stranger to the vices. We have been fighting anger, lust, gluttony, sloth, vainglory, and greed for years. But what about envy? Do we also carry this small, subtle vice? The answer is yes. And that is a big problem because envy is the death of love.
In envy, you lose your ability to love others because others almost always have something better than we do. We lose our ability to care for ourselves because we are constantly comparing. We lose our ability to love God, because how dare He give that thing or that talent or that opportunity to someone else, and not us. Self-love kills. Envy kills love.
Genesis 37 tells us that envy is as old as sin itself. We see envy in the story of Joseph and that crazy, colorful coat.
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” (Genesis 37:3-4)
Envy begins with comparison
We’re always comparing. Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more. It’s been said: Envy is feeling bitter when others have it better. Honestly, who has not felt bitterness at some point!
Envy is rooted in identity
Envy begins with comparison, but it is also rooted in identity. Envy is always personal because it’s never really about the thing we’re envious of. Rather, it is more a reflection of our own fragile sense of self.
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. (Genesis 37:5-8)
In a patriarchal society, the brothers all want to be in charge, and that right should fall to the oldest, not Joseph, so they hated him even more.
Our comparisons, our envy, reveal much about our true selves. Our envy reveals our desires, idols, and sense of self-worth. Envy is often rooted in our own damaged sense of self and insecurity and often reveals itself in very passive-aggressive ways. We secretly celebrate when things go wrong for others, we quietly spread rumors, respond sarcastically, or just assume the worst about them.
Envy alienates us. It pushes us further away. Tragically, envy does not stop there.
Envy takes us where we don’t want to go
If left untreated, the trajectory of envy will take everything!
They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:18-20)
Joseph’s brothers rip off his colorful robe, throw him in the pit, but decide not to murder him. Instead they sell him into slavery. They are all ruined. Envy is the death of love.
Envy can only be killed with kindness
Like all the vices, envy can be killed. But envy can only be killed with kindness. It is more than simple behavior modification or trying to get better. It is not about doing more good deeds. It is about character formation and growing in virtue, both of which take time and effort.
Joseph was a slave, a falsely accused prisoner, a nobody. Ironically, he ends up in a prominent position and protects the people against famine. His brothers go to Egypt to get food, and they bow before Joseph. Joseph provides for and feeds them. And by doing so, he rescues the people of God.
The brothers continue to live in fear after the death of their father. They are not expecting the kindness Joseph will soon offer them. After 40 years, Joseph has learned and embraced kindness, forgiveness, love. Not in an instant, but through decades. His response is kindness to his brothers.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:15-21)
To kill envy, we must:
1. Embrace God’s kindness toward us as enough
We cannot be kind on our own. We must first embrace that God’s kindness towards us is enough. We are not God. God decides who gets what. This can only mean that our envy problem is not really with another person. It is with Him! Will we trust Him enough to let Him decide what is fair?
2. Extend God’s kindness toward others
If we want to kill envy, we must extend God’s kindness towards others. We must comfort them even when we don’t feel like it.
“So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:21)
Envy is the death of love
Our ultimate hope lies in the fact that God has not just been nice to us. Kindness Himself was killed on the cross for us! Jesus took all of our envy and all of our shame and offers us His love in return. God has not given us less, but everything we need because of the cross: forgiveness, hope, life, joy, power to kill envy, a new identity. We are the daughters and sons of the King. We have everything! With whom are we trying to compare ourselves?
Envy does not have to be the death of us. Being made in His image and as a redeemed people, through the power of the Holy Spirit, let us practice His kindness together.
Toward the end of his life, the Apostle Peter writes to fellow believers, “to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.” Peter also writes to us. He says we are to live in such a way that reflects the gift we have been given by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Having received the gift, Peter calls us to live a virtuous life. Are we living that life?
At the same time, Peter strongly warns against living a life filled with vice. Peter’s concern is this: we can run after virtue or be trampled by vice. It’s a matter of life and death. Dare we risk forfeiting the promises of God and return to a state of corruption as a result of sinful desires which lead to death?
A virtuous life is more than just rules. More than empty freedom. It is a life lived in the knowledge of who God is, who we are, and what He has done to rescue us. It is a life of discipline and self-control. It is a life of commitment and community. It is a life of gratitude, and one that is fruitful. Is it a life we run to?
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)
We are always being formed by our behaviors. A life filled with vices will kill you. According to Peter, they make us nearsighted and blind. We end up forgetting Jesus. We end up dead.
Vice is where our hearts go when unattended. Left to our own clever and deceptive devices, it’s who we can easily become, and often do. We are faced with the constant choice: we can run after virtue or be trampled by vice. What will we chose next?
Living a life of virtue is more than doing the right things or good deeds. A virtuous life is a commitment to establishing habits which in turn form and strengthen us. In a virtuous life lived out through faith, we become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world…(2 Peter 1:4) It’s a restoration of God’s image in us, for God is a virtuous God. A restored life is effective, fruitful, and strong, all of which glorify God.
“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (v.8) They confirm our “calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (v.10)
Falling takes many forms. It doesn’t have to start with murder. It can start in small ways and grow. Cain’s anger and envy grew into hatred, and then escalated to murder. God graciously warns Cain, “…sin is crouching at the door…but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7). This warning tells us that sin is real, aggressive, and easily overlooked. It is hidden in vices and waits to take control and destroy. We can’t afford to be nearsighted, blind, or naive. Doing so will destroy us. How is it that we oftentimes choose to be one, or worse, all of these things? We need to hear and live out Peter’s words.
There is good news. God gives grace. And Peter tells us: we already have everything we need to do this. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…” (2 Peter 1:2-3)
Divine power! God’s power! If you’re a Christian, you have everything you need to change. To grow. To become the kind of person you long to be. These things don’t have to master us or destroy us. This is good news.
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (vv.5, 10) Make every effort! As if your life depends on it! And know that it is an effort that is not alone. Thank God!
Listen to our sermon series on Vices & Virtues.
Good writers have many techniques. They know when to surprise their readers, when to confront their readers, and when to move their readers—all to make their readers think.
In Galatians 4, Paul desires to demonstrate that life by the Spirit is superior to enslavement to the flesh. So, he uses an advanced rhetorical technique. A brilliant writer, who had been trained in the most prestigious of classrooms, Paul invites his first-century readers to explore the differences between these two ways of living through allegory.
Allegory is a literary device that enables writers to use a story, poem, or word picture to make a broader point. Allegory relies on connections or associations. Writers who use allegory trust that their readers will understand that the story being told actually has a deeper meaning. They hope their readers will realize that the drama unfolding on the page actually articulates a broader truth.
Allegory sounds complex when you try to define it. But perhaps this example will make it easier to understand:
Think of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. A casual reader could argue that Lewis simply tells the story of a mystical world that was rescued by a talking lion. But those who are familiar with Lewis’ deep Christian faith, and those who are familiar with the story of the Bible, are able to recognize the connections and associations between Lewis’ fantasy world and the story of Scripture. They recognize that Narnia isn’t merely about kings and queens and spells and animals. They see that Aslan portrays Jesus, even as Edmund represents Judas.
In the same way, in Galatians 4:23-31, Paul uses a story that his readers know well to help them understand a concept that remains difficult for them to grasp. Paul uses the story of Abraham and his two wives—Sarah and Hagar—to convince his readers that life defined by adherence to Old Testament law is not superior to the life that Christ offers through faith.
To understand the point that Paul is trying to make, it’s important that we remind ourselves of the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.
Beginning in Genesis 11, we read that God called Abraham to marry Sarah and then promised Abraham that he would become the father of a great nation, through which all the world would be blessed. Abraham trusts God’s promise. But after some time passes, Abraham and Sarah remain childless. It seems as if God’s promise is in jeopardy.
So, Sarah concocts a plan. She suggests Abraham sleep with her slave, Hagar, saying “it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” Abraham consents to the plan, and soon Hagar bears a son named Ishmael.
However, when Abraham reaches his 99th birthday, God comes to Abraham and reaffirms His promise, declaring that Sarah will indeed bear Abraham a son. The elderly couple finds this news hard to believe. But in Genesis 21, it happens. Sarah gives birth to Isaac. God’s promise is fulfilled.
This story would have been familiar to Paul’s first-century readers. In the same way that we know Dorothy traveled to Oz or that Simba reclaimed Pride Rock from his evil uncle, Paul’s first-century readers in Galatia would have been well aware of the contours of Abraham’s story.
This is why Paul uses it as an allegory in Galatians 4.
He wants his readers to associate the benefits of life by the Spirit according to God’s promise with Sarah, and the deficiencies of life according to the flesh with Hagar.
And so he writes, “Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free. His son by the slave woman was born according the flesh, but his son by the free woman was the result of a divine promise” (Gal 4:22-23).
Paul makes clear “these things are being taken figuratively” (Gal 4:24). He wants his readers to recognize that these two women and their sons are being used allegorically in his argument to represent the differences between God’s covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai (i.e., the covenant by which God’s people had to maintain the entirety of the Old Testament law) and the covenant made by God to Abraham (i.e., the covenant in which God promises Abraham that He will unilaterally act on Abraham’s behalf, blessing Him immensely and using him, in turn, to bless others).
Paul invites his audience to consider which way of life is better: Trusting in your own ability to keep a law that’s impossibly perfect? Or trusting a promise-keeping God, who did what He said He would do for Abraham?
Paul’s hope is that his readers will see that, like Isaac, they are children of God’s promise. They have been made part of God’s family through God’s unilateral work on their behalf. They no longer need to live as if they are slaves to rules and regulations that suggest they might earn God’s favor. They simply need to trust what God has done for them by faith.
Paul’s allegory in Galatians 4 has captured the attention of scholars and theologians for centuries. Much as been written about the contours and complexities of Paul’s writing in this chapter. Numerous articles and sermons exploring the topic are available online. In my opinion, however, no one explains this passage with more clarity than Charles Spurgeon, the renowned 19th-century Baptist preacher. If you’d like to read his comments on the text, click here.
 It is worth noting, however, that Lewis maintained his Narnia stories weren’t allegories but “supposals.” For Lewis, a story was only allegorical so long as its tangible characters represented an intangible idea. (The English professor had quite concrete definitions for literary devices.) Indeed, Lewis maintained that a character can allegorically represent sacrificial love as a concept, but a character cannot allegorically represent Jesus Christ (a real person). For more, see “Why Narnia Isn’t Allegorical.”
The gospel message is central to the Christian faith. But what is the gospel and who is it for? Is it a religious doctrine, a book of the Bible, or a spiritual fairy tale? And what do we do with it after we hear it?
While the gospel message is timeless, the way every generation understands it is subject to change. It is crucial that the church in every generation should seek to thoughtfully and lovingly teach the central truth of the good news of Jesus Christ that rescues the lost and rejuvenates the church.
Recently we taught on the story of Paul’s conversion: the story of how one of the most predominant persecutors of Christians, and the hater of all things Jesus, became one of the greatest proclaimers of the message of Jesus. Paul went from declaring the church of Jesus Christ as public enemy number one, to declaring the centrality, exclusivity, and majesty of the gospel of Jesus. And Galatians is his letter that puts the gospel on unique display.
While there is so much for us to explore and unpack in Galatians, one thing in particular that we hope to show is how the message of the gospel speaks to both Christians and non-Christians. There is a tendency to simply view the gospel as a message for unbelievers who need to repent and believe in Jesus. Certainly the gospel is no less than this, but it is indeed much more.
The good news of Jesus does not cease to be good or relevant to someone the moment after they believe. On the contrary, the day you come to believe in the gospel is the day that you realize how much you need it every day. The gospel message of Jesus is vital for the believer and for the non-believer. As Tim Keller puts it, “The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A–Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”[Keller blog]
As we journey through this letter of Galatians, it is our prayer that the power of the gospel would continue to break through the darkness in our lives as we come to see the truth that this gospel is our only hope in life and death. There is no other.
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]On my phone, I recently caught up with a friend who is doing graduate studies in Paris. After we concluded our FaceTime conversation, I couldn’t help but pause for a moment and savor the technology in my hand. When we stop to think about it, smartphone technology is a bit breathtaking. With just a touch on a screen, we instantly access almost any information imaginable. From almost anywhere, we quickly hail a ride to get where we need to go. If we are in a new city, we can get detailed directions to a close-by restaurant, gas station, or movie theatre. With our phone camera we can capture a memory-making moment and, in a flash, post it on Facebook or send it via a text message to our family and friends.
Our smartphones are helpful things, but they also can be harmful things. It may be time to put a warning label on your phone: “Excessive use of this phone may be hazardous to your life.” The problem is that many of us are not being very smart with our smartphones. They have become too much a part of our lives.
In Tony Reinke’s new book, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, he points out that on average we check our phones about 81,500 times each year or about once every four minutes of our waking lives. Rather than being tools to assist us, phones can become masters that enslave us.
Neuroscientists tell us our phones are actually re-wiring our brains. Technologists point out that smartphones are specifically designed to keep us glued to the screen. Other researchers and social observers note how excessive use of phones is transforming us into distracted people where intimacy in our interpersonal relationships is increasingly suffering. Excessive phone use fills our minds and hearts with digital junk food, impairing our literacy skills as well as our ability to think critically. Distracted drivers are a growing concern in automobile accidents.
We must also ponder the damaging effects of excessive phone use as it relates to our spiritual formation and cultivating intimacy with God. If spiritual formation requires an attentive life to Christ and others, a smartphone-driven, distracted life is a real and present danger for any apprentice of Jesus. Transparently, my phone woos me so much that on my day off, I often put it in a drawer out of sight. If I leave my cell phone at home even for a short drive to the grocery store, I feel a kind of panic, like I can’t function without it. How pathetic.
I believe it is time for us to become smarter with our smartphones so that we can pursue a more attentive, disciplined, and less distracted life. If you are not being very smart with your smartphone, if your intimacy with God, the wellbeing of your soul and your relationships are suffering as a result, let me suggest a wiser way forward.
First, get off your phone. Don’t text when you drive. On a weekly basis, do a several hour phone fast. I assure you the world will go on and you will survive. Not only will you survive, you will thrive. A technology fast is both freeing and enriching.
Second, get alone. One of the most foundational spiritual disciplines is solitude. We live in a very noisy world. Solitude not only nourishes our soul, it also helps us be more attentive to God and His still small voice in our lives.
Third, get in the Word. What is your regular weekly pattern for studying God’s Word? The spiritual discipline of study will fill your heart and mind with life-giving truth and timeless wisdom, not digital junk food of trivial information. Put your phone aside and pick up your Bible. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.”
Fourth, get outside. Get your eyes off the screen for a while and get them on God’s beautiful creation. Find places and spaces where God’s general revelation of creation can be restorative to your body, mind, and soul. Remember the word recreation comes from re-creation, and a part of Sabbath rest is the restorative nature of nature.
Fifth, get with others. One of the gnawing ironies of our smartphone digital age is that while we have never been more connected, we have never been lonelier. While we may have a ton of Facebook friends, we have too few face-to-face friends. Incarnated relationships formed and nurtured in real time and space are a vital component of human and societal flourishing. Embrace the spiritual discipline of community. Spend regular times eating together as a family and keep your phones away from the table. Join a small group that meets regularly and attend worship services each Sunday.
Let’s be grateful for our smartphones, but let’s also get smarter in managing them. If you are looking for a good resource to read, I suggest Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. It is my heartfelt prayer that we live lives characterized not by distractedness, but rather attentiveness to Christ, to others, and to our own hearts.
Photo by Courtney Clayton on Unsplash
“Every human being is involved in a desperate
attempt to narrate himself into a safe place.”
– Richard Powers.
I do not know who Richard Powers is or why he wrote this, but he is right about me. If I get to be in charge of things, especially my life, I will most certainly narrate my story away from conflict. Away from risk. Away from pain. Away from suffering. Toward comfort. Toward ease. Toward safety.
This creates a significant problem for me, especially if I want to have anything to do with God. Spend about two seconds reading the Bible or looking at the world, and it is painfully obvious: God is investing very little energy into narrating anyone’s story toward safety.
Think about the implications of this. God wants something for you, for me, other than safety. This means that all of the energy I am spending trying to get somewhere safe is a waste. God is narrating the direction of my life away from safety, away from comfort, and toward somewhere else.
Where? Where is God taking me? Where does God want to take you?
That question is why Jeremiah has become the prophet guiding me in my current life. God forced Jeremiah into a life he didn’t want; a hard life, a life of suffering and persecution. A life where the primary thing Jeremiah had to do was tell his city—including his friends and his family—that one day they were going to be destroyed. They had abandoned God, so God was abandoning them.
Not surprisingly, Jeremiah offers to quit the vision of life God has for him many times. Fortunately for us, God told Jeremiah to write down these moments, to record his life and his prayers so that we could listen in on what happens between Jeremiah and God when Jeremiah tries to grab control of his life and narrate his story into a place of safety.
My favorite moment is in Jeremiah 12:5. Jeremiah is ready to quit the hard, painful, difficult life God has put in front of him. So God asks Jeremiah a question:
So Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men,
What makes you think you can race against horses?
It’s such a God question.
Jeremiah is just trying to keep it together. His life is hard—people want to kill him. The people he lives with hate him. His hometown is embarrassed by him. And on top of all this, he knows the city he loves—Jerusalem—will be destroyed one day. War and violence are coming. Jeremiah is limping along, struggling to walk, to stay on his feet. And so God asks Jeremiah another simple question—one question that is simple, but which we rarely ask ourselves:
Jeremiah…what do you want? Do you want it easy? Do you want it safe? Do you just want to limp along in life, like everybody else? Do you want to embrace mediocrity?
Or do you want salvation? Do you want to run with horses?
Again, I come back to Richard Powers’ statement: “Every human being is involved in a desperate attempt to narrate himself into a safe place.” And all the human beings said, “Amen.”
That is my problem. Because salvation, in the Christian sense, is not about becoming a moderately improved human being. It is not about sinning slightly less than I used to sin. God calls us to something impossible. Not to struggle along, limping in life. Rather, He calls us to a life that runs with horses.
Most days, I don’t want that. When I think about the life ahead of me, a life filled with challenges I never asked for and don’t want, I want to quit. I want out.
Then I hear God’s question to Jeremiah turn to me. Tim, if you are ready to give up in this footrace with men, how are you ever going to live the life I have for you? How are you going to become the person I am going to make you into—a person who will run with horses?
Don’t you want to be someone who can run with horses? I really hope your life’s ambition is not to be like everybody else, to find a safe and easy life and never put anything on the line. I hope you want to grow and become the kind of person only God could make you.
The place to start is to understand where God is taking us, and it is not to safety. God is not creating in us a slightly improved human being. He is not making us slightly less judgmental or prideful. No, God has a far more significant vision in mind for us. C.S. Lewis laid out God’s vision for who we are to become:
God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature…
And apparently, a way God produces that in us—in me, in you, in Jeremiah—is by narrating our lives into danger. Into suffering. Into pain. It is in the places where we would never narrate our stories that we get our wings. It is in those places God teaches us to not just run a little faster but to begin to run with the speed of horses.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]