Put Down the Phone

Put Down the Phone

Choosing Scripture Over Screen Time

by Jasmin Howell | December 1, 2017

I leaned against the railing of the deck and looked out at the treetops waving gently in the late evening breeze. I could feel my shoulders relax as the thoughts that had been worrying the corners of my mind began to ebb away. Birds were singing, and the sun was setting. In the lingering autumn warmth, ripe apples in all their glory filled the air with fragrance.

A rare quiet moment descended upon me. Something about the simple beauty of this scene was tugging at my heart. A lump caught in my throat, and my eyes welled up with tears. My need for communion with the Lord was a tangible ache. I was suddenly struck by how rushed, infrequent, and distracted my times with Him had been over the last few months. I was yearning for stillness with my Savior, but I hadn’t been prioritizing it in my life. 

I breathed out a silent prayer. I miss our time together, Lord. I’m always rushing from here to there, caught up in the demands and the tasks before me. Please remind me how to stop. Your Word says You are always with me; so please help me silence all the noise and find my rest in You.

Mere moments after that prayer escaped my lips, my phone began to buzz, signaling a slew of new emails — all questions, needs, or deadlines that, no doubt, required my immediate attention. Then a series of “dings” with the arrival of new text messages — each seeming to demand attention and a response. Only seconds later my phone rang with an important call. In the back of my mind, my running list of tasks was growing as I mentally added items to the pile. Do this, do that, call this person, send that email … a sense of panic started to rise up in my heart. This is how life had felt lately … a series of urgent beeps, dings, and buzzes, and a panic-inducing list of to-dos that kept my mind busy and my heart occupied with the temporal needs of today. My spirit ached for the Lord, but my mind was full of today’s troubles and needs. Was it possible to put aside my noisy phone and find rest with the Lord in this busy season? It seemed impossible!

 
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Choose Scripture

There will always be things vying for our attention. There will always be choices for us to make and things to prioritize. Even in our busiest seasons of life, we all have the choice of picking up our Bibles or our phones. When you are at your busiest, what happens to your relationship with the Lord? In this busy season of my life, my phone has had more of my attention than I would like — and my Bible has been on my coffee table, unopened, more than I would like. 

The Bible says that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man [and woman] of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 ESV). We cannot be equipped to do anything very well for the Lord if we are not spending time with Him. I know I so often rationalize to myself, I’ll just take care of this one email, and then I’ll pick up my Bible. But inevitably, once I get on my phone, taking care of one task easily turns into twenty minutes of distraction. I feel like I will be more competent, organized, and efficient if I take care of the pressing task before me — and then my mind will be more free for the Lord. But so often the opposite is true. The more I put it off, the more distracted I become
and the more impossible it feels to set those distractions aside. Soaking ourselves in Scripture is really the only thing that will make us more competent and well-equipped to carry out every other task in our life.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, my mornings were restful times with the Lord. I looked forward to when my feet would hit the floor. Grabbing my Bible and my journal, I would spend quiet time with Him writing out my prayers and needs, and journaling about what I was learning in His Word. It was a fruitful time of growth in my life. In the last few months, as I’ve been caught up in my demanding work schedule and juggling the roles of being a wife and mom, I have often thought back to that season and have found myself asking: Did I have more time then? Or was I simply less distracted? 

It was a season of life before "iPhone" had become a buzzword. The most technology I ever had in my youth was an alarm clock on the nightstand, and it didn’t provide much of a distraction to my time with the Lord. In fact it was helpful, as its morning beep-beep-beep shook the sleep from my eyes and got me up and out of bed to enjoy those morning quiet times. I didn’t even have my own computer until I was well into my twenties! But these days my phone is plugged in beside my bed and serves as my alarm and my computer in one. My phone is often the first item I grab in the morning, sometimes responding to a text or email before my feet even hit the floor. Sound familiar? 

It reminds me of the story of Elijah. As a prophet hunted by a wicked queen, his own life was full of potential distractions. But the Lord met him in a powerful way to reveal where He was to be found in Elijah’s life — and in our lives as well!  “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper … Then a voice [spoke]…” (1 Kings 19:11-13 NIV). In my own life, the metaphorical winds, earthquakes, and fires of life so often have my attention, while the whisper of the Lord is easily lost in the din. I believe that this truth is so important for us today. Because of these little handheld devices, we can be so tuned-in to the noise of the world and tuned-out to the voice of the Lord. 

These little devices play a HUGE role in our lives — and the incoming texts, emails, account notifications, and phone calls are accompanied by a false sense of urgency. Part of the illusion is that an immediate response is required from us. Meanwhile our Bibles often remain unopened as we respond to the flow of incoming information from our phones. Even though our Bible won't ding and buzz for our attention, the life-giving truth it offers is what we need most!

Set Boundaries

The longer that my phone has been part of my life, the more it becomes second nature to grab it for everything from looking up a recipe and listening to music, to firing off a quick email or checking my bank account. I can, quite literally, do almost everything from my little handheld phone. And, unfortunately, it often drives me to distraction. Where my free time used to be devoted to time with the Lord, walks in His creation, creating something beautiful for my home or as gifts for friends, writing music, or contemplation … I find my mind is so cluttered and busy that even when I get that free time, I don’t know how to use it! 

With hundreds of distractions literally in the palm of our hands, it is now vital for a Christian woman to diligently consider the place that phones, iPads, and even computers have in our lives. What boundaries do we set to protect our times with the Lord, above all else?

As Leslie mentioned in a past article on this topic, “No other generation in Christian history has ever had to navigate the murky waters of digital conduct.  We can’t read books from great Christians through the ages who have gone before us and set a shining example … because they don’t exist. And yet … [this] doesn’t give us an excuse to ignore the importance of learning how to honor God in this area of our lives.”1

Because my phone is the singular most important item I use in my job, it is becoming more imperative than ever that this little item takes its proper place, and that I don’t allow it to distract me from the Lord. If you find yourself feeling distracted, burdened, anxious, and weary — it may very well be that you are choosing to spend time on your phone — scrolling, liking, and replying — instead of refreshing your heart and mind in the presence of Christ!

So, as the first generation faced with the need to properly manage the distraction of our phones, social media, and our fast-paced world, how are we going to ensure that God gets the glory, even in this area? 

Here are a few suggestions for managing your phone use and allowing your time with the Lord — and His voice — to be more prominent than the noise of the world:

One

Plug your phone into an outlet outside of your bedroom at night, and get an actual alarm clock. Keep your Bible on your nightstand in place of your phone! When your old-school alarm goes off, grab your Bible and grab a seat! 

Two

Silence your phone, and leave it in a different room while you meet with the Lord. Then the temptation to pick it up to check your Facebook newsfeed won’t be a problem. Don’t worry, you won’t miss anything life-altering in the time you spend with Him! But at least you won’t hear every buzz and ding, which will make you feel like you are missing something! And hopefully, the more you do this, the less it will matter to you what is happening on that phone screen!

Three

 Though it’s great to put your phone on silent while you meet with the Lord, it may not be practical to keep your phone on silent throughout the day. In my life as a wife, mom, and businesswoman, I simply can’t silence my phone all day — as my husband, colleagues, or clients may need to get in touch with me. So, the probability that my phone will buzz or ding is pretty much guaranteed. Rather than jumping to respond every time the phone buzzes, try to block off certain times of the day to check your phone for important messages and calls, and the rest of the time, dedicate your energy to the other things that need your attention. Instead of silencing your phone entirely, consider turning off notifications for texts, emails, Instagram, and Facebook messenger. It’s amazing how much quieter your phone — and your life — will be.

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We can blame our spiritual distraction on all kinds of things: a bulging task list, a packed schedule, too much school work, a child who won’t sleep through the night, an exhausting job, or a buzzing phone; but ultimately we are making choices every day to say yes to something, and no to something else. By our choices are we saying yes to the Lord? Or are we saying no and choosing something else instead? 

Perhaps, like me, you are deeply longing for a richer spiritual life, for more time basking in the beauty and wonder of Christ! The Word of God is a river of life, and our phones and the distractions they present are nothing more than a parched desert — we wander around in them, looking for meaning. But like the Psalmist, you may be crying out, “O God … earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you … as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1 ESV). If so, you must make time for Him without distraction. We will never find real refreshment and life behind our phone screens. Nothing can be a substitute for the Word of God and nothing can bring life except Christ!

I have come to the realization that it is not my phone — or anything else — that is to blame for my lack of peace or my sparse and distracted times with the Lord. It is MY USE of those things that determines how they impact my spiritual life. I can choose to respond to every ding and beep — giving them precedence in my life and allowing a myriad of distractions to take my eyes off the Lord. Or I can acknowledge that I have given it too much importance, and ask God for wisdom on how to use my phone (and other technology) for His glory. The beeps and dings aren’t going away, but we each have a choice how we respond to them and how we respond to the voice of the Lord. It may be just a whisper … but it is ever present. 

Next time He beckons you into His presence, put down the phone, and go to Him.