Unplugged: Technology and Spiritual Growth
A few weeks ago, at Family Camp, I was able to lead a workshop titled “Technology and Teens.” While the workshop was for high school and junior high students, the principles are ones that we could all learn. I know I was convicted by my own teaching. First, let me explain what the workshop was NOT about. It was not teaching how them how to be more technologically savvy, because, let’s be honest, they could probably teach me way more than I could teach them. And secondly, I am not trying to teach them about the dangers of certain types of technology. There is certainly plenty to be said on this subject and I could have had a separate workshop, or article, addressing some of these issues, such as online predators, cyber bullying, etc. My primary focus in leading this workshop, and what I want to share with you through this article, is “How does technology affect my spiritual life? Can too much technology be a bad thing? How can I use it to deepen my faith?”
Let us begin by talking about some of the benefits of advancing technology. We have more connectedness to our friends, families, and even the remote places of the world. We have faster communication and easier research. Students today don’t know the struggle of using the card catalog and reading journal articles on microfiche. But we must recognize that there are detriments to these constant advancements, especially when it comes to our spiritual growth
Before we get into the negative aspects of technology, I need to address the premise in that previous statement. I mentioned that technological advancements can be detrimental to spiritual growth, so the underlying presupposition is that you are attempting to grow spiritually. In John 15, Jesus gives us his teaching about spiritual growth:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:1-11)
Here we have Jesus telling his disciples, and us as well, that if we truly are his followers, we will be growing, we will be bearing fruit as we keep God’s commands. The way that we grow is by “abiding” or living/staying in Christ. Jesus uses the illustration of the vine and branches, where he says that he is the vine and his followers are the branches coming off the vine. A branch cannot grow unless it is connected to the vine
When we talk about technology, there is a lot of talk about being connected, and in tech terms, connected can be good or bad. When we talk about being connected to each other, technology helps with that. When we talk about wanting freedom from wires, new technology helps with that as well
Let’s talk about connected in terms of electricity. Regardless of whether or not we are wireless in our technology, we always have to be connected somewhere to a power source. We have to be plugged into something to receive power. What happens when too many things are connected to one power source? Usually one of two things is going to happen: the connection is going to blow or it’s going to be weak.
What about us? What happens when we’re connected to too many things? As I mentioned, technology is meant to help keep us connected, but who/what are we connected to? Is there such a thing as being too connected? When we think of all those connections that we have, is our connection to God in one of those ports. Going back to that power outlet that has too many devices plugged into it, what do we do when we see that all the ports are being used? Do we get a splitter to give us more ports? Do we unplug something? What is it that usually gets unplugged? When we think of all our connections, and how much time we have in the day, what usually gets unplugged to make room for other things? Too many times it’s that connection to God that gets the boot. We would rather spend that time on Facebook or Snapchat or binge watch a few more episodes of that show on Netflix, than spend time reading our Bibles or connecting to God in some other way
Maybe we don’t unplug God, but maybe we overload ourselves with too many connections and our connection to God isn’t as strong as it should be. One of the downsides to technology and to being connected to multiple things is that we are losing our ability to focus. Several studies have been done that have shown that the amount of time we spend online or using our phones has diminished our ability to focus on tasks such as reading and listening to others.
Some of you, right now, as you are reading this are having trouble focusing on what you’re reading. You’re just wondering about what you might be missing out on. There is actually a psychological disorder that has been created to address that constant desire to know what everyone else is doing and the fear that you might be kept out of the loop. It’s called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). We actually crave distractions, and I say this to knowing full well that I am a sufferer of this. I let too many things distract me and I can attest to how damaging it can be to your walk with Christ. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to read my Bible or spend time in prayer and I hear the buzzing of my phone or the dinging on my computer letting me know I have some sort of notification.
We need to re-learn how to focus. This is what the Bible refers to as “meditation.” Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” The righteous man is the one who meditates on God’s law, his commands, his words. To meditate on God’s word is to think deeply on it and in doing so prepare our hearts for prayer and worship
But all our distractions are keeping us from meditating. We can’t focus. We can’t think deeply. We can’t remember.
So we need to work at retraining our brains. Of course, I have no delusions to think that after reading this, you are going to immediately throw your phone out, but I do want to give you some practical tips to help you break free from your other connections so that your connection to God can become stronger. Here are just a few suggestions:
Turn off notifications. There are few things that you get notified about that you can’t wait until later to find out. This doesn’t mean that you need to not know when you get texts (we don’t want parents not being able to reach their children) but you don’t have to be notified of every one of your friends’ posts on instagram or snapchat.
Don’t take your phone everywhere. Again, for students, I’m not telling you to leave your phone at home (your parents still need to be able to find you). What I am saying is don’t bring it to the dinner table. Learn how to carry on a conversation with the people in front of you. Don’t take it to the bathroom. If you can’t relieve yourself without scrolling your facebook feed or watching youtube, you’ve got a problem.
Turn your phone off at times. Some of you just had a panic attack because I suggested you turn your phone off. You don’t always need to be reached (again, doesn’t apply to parents being able to reach their children). You should especially turn it off when you are reading your bible or spending time in prayer. Just go ahead and eliminate the possibility of being distracted.
Unfollow people. I didn’t say unfriend people, but there are some people whose posts you don’t always need to see. One article suggested unfollowing every single one of your friends on facebook. If necessary, you can set it up where you get notifications from specific people. You’d be surprised how little time you spend on facebook when your news feed is empty.
These are just a few of the things you could do, and these may seem difficult, but we have to ask ourselves if Jesus is worth it. Is growing closer to Jesus worth being a little less connected to everything else? If you can’t say that he is, then there is a deeper issue at root. I know it’s going to be hard. That’s why we need accountability. We need others checking up on us and asking how we’re doing. I need to hear this as much as everyone reading this. Let’s make a commitment to encourage one another and pray for one another as we desire to focus more of our time on growing deeper in our relationship with Jesus.
Soli deo gloria,