What role does your smartphone play in your spiritual development?
Maybe you’ve never really given it any thought. Maybe your phone seems as relevant to your spiritual health as the kind of car you drive. For others, to even ask that question is to provoke guilt and a fleeting commitment to simplify your life by dumbing down your phone.
It’s so easy to talk about the negative effects that smartphones can have on our walk with Christ. With a smartphone for example, all the porn you could ever want is at your constant disposal. On a more “innocent” level, with a smartphone you always have something to distract you. Games, Instagram, text, email, etc., it’s all there waiting for you, and we can slowly shrink our capacity to endure quiet moments of solitude, reflection, and prayer.
At times I’ve considered getting rid of my iPhone to help rid myself of distractions. Maybe one day I’ll decide that’s what is best for me, but I don’t think I’m there yet. The Bible’s clear that holiness can’t be measured by simply giving things up. Because God created all things good, created things aren’t the real culprit when we use them to sin (1 Tim. 4:3-5). We can get rid ourselves of our sinful desires’ favorite outlets, but that in itself doesn’t rid us of sinful desires (Mark 7:14-23; Col. 2:16-23). (Though there is wisdom in ridding ourselves of outlets in order to create space to focus on the real issue.)
Obviously, smartphones carry real dangers we need to be aware of, and fortunately there’s a lot of articles by solid Christians out there that do a good job of warning us about them. But I think there’s also a conversation to be had of how our phones can be a powerful aid to our holiness, because I’ve found that they also carry enormous potential for spiritual growth that don’t get talked about near enough. For me personally, this has included:
1. Bible apps
Stop for a second and consider the fact that the Bible is God’s own words to mankind and are profitable for us (2 Tim. 3:16). Consider that the Bible contains the words by which we receive eternal life, overcome sin, and are equipped for good works. Consider that in it we learn the truth about who God is and who we are; that through it we can become aware of the true motives behind all our actions (Heb. 4:12). From a historical perspective, consider that there was a time when the ordinary Christian didn’t have the Bible in his own language (still called “now” for many people today), and that men like William Tyndale who attempted to do this were persecuted for it. Consider the fact that one of the great giants of the faith, Saint Augustine, was converted by reading a single verse from Romans 13.
When I really stop and think about this, I am blown away by the fact that I am so rarely without this book on my person. God’s chief means of communicating to man is accessible to a ridiculous degree. Those short moments of the day that I so easily fill up with Twitter and checking email for the twentieth time are moments that can be filled with meditating on even one verse of God’s Word.
At any given moment, I can pull up the Bible app and access God’s word in multiple translations. I can pull up the ESV Bible app (my normal go-to) and search for verses by keywords. Within that app, I can also access the brilliant ESV Study Bible.
2. Prayer apps
I recently downloaded the PrayerMate app, designed to be an easy way to organize all your prayer requests into one place. You can create different categories of prayer requests and set them to show up daily or on a specific day of the week. Additionally, you can add Operation World to the app and be given specific ways to pray for all the nations of the earth. As someone who is a pretty disorganized pray-er by nature, it’s pretty helpful.
3. Voice memos/ Recording apps
When I was in high school, I picked up a study tip that I use to this very day. My teacher told me of a student who would study by reading aloud his class notes into handhold cassette recorder and listening to them as he drove. In college I bought such a recorder and used it to memorize Scripture while I drove. Today, I use the Memorize Anything app for the same purpose and have been able to memorize a ton of Scripture during my commute to work.
For the purpose of this blog, let’s ignore the millions of sermons and the many quality Christian podcasts your phone gives you access to and focus on the fact that some seminaries offer the audio of entire courses for free on iTunesU or on their app. Let me say that again: at your fingertips is quality, seminary-level education, at no charge.
5. The Shorter Catechism
You probably already know the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, even if you don’t realize you do: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The WSC consists of rich theology stated concisely, and it’s designed to be memorized. The Shorter Catechism app is built to facilitate memorization and it’s been a wonderful thing for me to meditate on.
Obviously this list is short and, in the case of #5, oddly specific to me, but these are just a few of the many ways that my phone has helped me grow spiritually. Though there are dangers to be aware of, even just the accessibility of Scripture that smartphones have provided is reason enough to help us appreciate them and see them as a potentially powerful weapon in our spiritual formation.