Upward & Outward

Upward & Outward

Going Against the Tide of Cultural Smartphone Addiction

by Annie Wesche | October 14, 2018

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
Colossians 3:2 (KJV)

Standing in line to disembark the ship, my mom glanced back at me and smiled. She reached for my hand and squeezed it — a gesture that was her frequent way of expressing a quick “I love you.”  I squeezed her hand and smiled in return.  As she turned back around, I sighed a deep thank you to the Lord for the past ten days we had enjoyed together sailing around the Caribbean. Living several states away from my parents, this trip with my mom had not only afforded us precious time together, but also the deep refreshment of warm sunshine and restful ocean waves — a true reprieve from the frigid winter weather and busyness we had left back at home.

The line we were in was at a standstill, and as I glanced around me, I noticed that the atmosphere of the crowd seemed “off.”  Something was markedly different than it had been in the days before. There was an uncomfortable silence — even somewhat eerie — for a group of people this size. For a brief moment, I stood in puzzlement, when suddenly, it hit me. Cell phones. We were no longer out at sea in international waters and everyone’s cell service had just been restored. BOOM. All around us nearly every head was down and attentions were fully seized by the small devices in their hands. A ship that had been abuzz for days with wonderful relational time and social outwardness — strangers meeting strangers, actual eye contact given, warm friendliness everywhere you went, and my favorite, the old-world charm of long and thoughtful dinner conversation — had suddenly been severed by the pull of these devices. The stark contrast was devastating. At sea, we’d endured our share of rough waters, but only now was I beginning to get a sick feeling in my stomach.  While some of the people could have had a genuine need to be on their phones, the turning tide was obvious — this social detachedness and craving to escape what’s right in front of us has become normal.

Upward & Outward share facebook Upward & Outward share twitter Upward & Outward share pinterest

Once we had disembarked and cleared customs, Mum and I made our way to the airport, checked our bags, grabbed a meal together, and then found our departure gate.  

“Mumsy, do you want to play a game while we wait?” 

“Sure!” she said excitedly, “Let’s see if we can find some chairs with a table in between.”  

We weaved our way through the crowded terminal and found a table with an open chair on both sides of it.  We off-loaded our carry-ons to the floor and eagerly set up one of our favorite card games. With our trip almost at its end, both of us were savoring every moment we had left to be together.  As we played, we talked about the highlights of our trip, what she had coming up at work, the projects I had waiting for me when I returned to Colorado, how we could encourage and pray for each other, and even dreamed a bit about the next trip we looked forward to taking together.

As we played, I looked up and observed the second crowd to surround us that day. A couple sat across from us ignoring one another for the seemingly higher pleasure of her Facebook feed and his iPad movie. Another couple sat side by side, yet detached — his eyes closed as he listened to something playing from his headphones while she was absorbed in a celebrity magazine. Two friends to our left worked on their selfies, separately. Even an elderly couple sitting nearby had their heads down and absorbed in their smartphones. No one at our gate was interacting with each other.

I looked back to my mother and beheld her like a rare and beautiful work of art.  I was filled with a wave of deep gratitude for her presence and interest in my life, and the constant love, attentiveness, and care she expressed whenever we were together. I was thankful for how she had made it a hobby to ask me questions that would lead to meaningful conversations … thankful that although she had a phone, it was tucked away in her purse, and it was entirely clear that she loved being right there, across a table from me, playing a game, and talking about the memories from our trip.

It was then that a voice from the aisle behind us said enthusiastically, “You’ve inspired us!”  We turned around to see a middle-aged man pulling out a deck of cards from his carry-on and his wife eagerly putting away her book to join him in a game. We smiled back, chatted with them warmly for just a moment, and then each turned back to our games.


That last day of our holiday provided a striking contrast of just how much smart phones have changed us as a society. Without them for those ten days, we were freed up to give our full attention to those we were with, and to dust off our social skills in order to get to know strangers.  And wouldn’t you know it, this world is filled with amazing people for us to meet! Our dinner table alone held three old friends from Brooklyn (who had us laughing continually), a seasoned writer of a New York sports column, hobbyist cruisers who could tell you all the best tips about cruising, and a British woman whose adventures with her husband included walking with wild lions in Africa, Antarctica expeditions, and countless other tales that held our attention night after night. And without everyone checked-out in an online world far, far away there was opportunity for the most exciting thing of all — to share with others the love and Life of Jesus Christ.  Every conversation and exchange, however long or short, was an opportunity to allow that love and Life of Jesus to reach them!

Smartphones & Our Hearts

I’ve often found that when I reach for my phone there’s not really a need for me to do so.  My phone didn’t ring and my notifications are even turned off, but it has gradually become a space-filler, a waiting line activity, a boredom buster — an impulse to escape the moment and be entertained with something “better.”  But in allowing this habit to continue, I’m actually training my heart to look for something other than what God has purposefully set before me.  And if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we are in danger of setting our value in the social status we hold in a mere virtual sphere rather than in the relationship we have with Christ, and squandering time away for ourselves rather than redeeming that time for the Lord. And it’s all making us feel increasingly empty in real-world living.

A national statistics website states that the average U.S. adult spends over three hours on their phone a day. All those “quick” checks and scrolls and glances are potentially adding up to more than 90 hours a month, and over 1,080 hours a year!  That’s a staggering 45 days of our year that we have possibly given casually, mindlessly, or even self-indulgently to the world within our smart phone.  Is that true for you?  And if so, is it worth it?

There are occasions where the use of our phone is the means by which we are doing what God has called us to do — managing a business, communication for our work, long-distance discipleship, a phone call to bless a friend or loved one, or posting encouraging things that point others to Christ-centered truth.  My Mum, when she was battling brain cancer and recovering from a stroke (had little else she could do), used her phone a great deal to send texts and messages — reaching out to others with love, exhortation, and encouragement in the Lord to all those He brought to her mind.  And since her passing, many people have reached out to tell us of the impact of those timely texts and messages. But, there is a grand canyon between a well-used tool for the glory of God and an “escape” from our real life.  How we spend our time is a reflection of our heart’s desires.   Allow the whisper of God’s Spirit to lead you on this point and be willing to change any habits which have formed to serve self’s longings rather than His glory.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven … for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 
Matthew 6:19-21

And whatever you do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. 
Colossians 3:17 (ESV)

Smartphones & Our Witness

Years ago, I was briefly introduced to the evangelist Luis Palau who travels all over the world preaching to audiences in the thousands.  I was a volunteer in his headquarters office and when someone introduced us, he looked me in the eyes, shook my hand, and stopped for a moment to visit with me.  The exchange was brief, but intentionally kind and attentive. 

Nearly a full year later, at a large crusade where 100,000 people were gathered to attend, I was walking across a large grassy area when he came speeding by on a golf cart.  He recognized me and motioned for the driver to stop, then turned and exclaimed with a smile, “Annie! It’s so good to see you again. How are you?”  We chatted, he thanked me for all I was doing to help with the event, and then said he hoped to see me again.  I’ve never forgotten his Christian kindness and attentiveness, especially knowing the great demands on his time and the amount of people he must meet.  Later on in the evening after he had preached, rather than taking advantage of the hidden-away speaker’s tent, I saw him backstage sitting with his grandsons, intentionally taking the time to express his delight over each of them.  This man didn’t just preach Jesus with his words on a platform, but he lived like Jesus with the people around him and for Jesus in the use of his time.  And what really stood out wasn’t just that he was present in the moment, but that he seemed to live with a joyful expectancy for what God could do with each moment and each person he was with.

When we are with others, we have an amazing opportunity to communicate to them their value to God, to cultivate those relationships in deeper ways, or bring the transforming hope of Jesus to someone new.  But if we are constantly looking down to check our phones, what we end up communicating is, “I’m bored and nothing here is as important as what I’ve found on my phone.”  How many conversations and exchanges we have missed by being swallowed up in an online world of endless distractions, while a very real world is all round us and filled with such heavenly potential.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor. 

Romans 12:10 (NASB)

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. 
Philippians 2:3 (NASB)


Life is made up of valuable moments. They are seconds and minutes and hours of glorious potential for growth, worship, rest, prayer, memories, laughter, outreach, encouragement, ministry, creativity, learning, serving, loving, and beholding more of our Beloved Jesus!  These seconds, minutes, hours, and days are generously given by a merciful God who has allowed us to choose how we spend them. But though He allows us to choose, don’t buy into the lie that Almighty God isn’t interested in those seconds, minutes, and hours of your life. God is intimately acquainted with all your ways. (See Psalm 139:3.) And He rightfully has a claim on it all. (“Or do you not know … that you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19).) When He numbered your days, He didn’t pull a random number from a cosmic hat. He has prepared wonderful things for your life to accomplish and moments that will bring you into a greater knowledge of Himself, preparing you and others along the way for eternity with Him! God masterfully and lovingly created you and then purchased your life and freedom for Himself with the highest cost that could ever be paid.  And a life paid for by Jesus’ blood is astoundingly precious and purposeful to God!

Our ruling passion of love for Christ must reign over everything, guiding even the daily use of our smartphones. The masses may be absorbed in an ever-increasing demand to be connected to their devices, and they may very well make it all look appealing and meaningful. New devices, apps, and features will always emerge and try to gain our time and affections.  But we, as believers, must not live by impulse, squander our time, feed a hunger for praise, or mirror the longings and affections of this world.  Let us keep Jesus ever before us, use discernment, and live with the expectancy for what God wants to accomplish with our time.

The choice is before us — will we look downward and inward for ourselves, or upward and outward for the glory of King Jesus?

Getting Practical:

Signs that Your Smartphone has Gained an Unhealthy Place in Your Life:

  • You check your phone first thing every morning and last thing every night.

  • You check your phone frequently even if there's not been a notification.

  • You stop everything and check social media immediately after you get a notification.

  • You scroll social media or browse online when you're bored.

  • You take your phone everywhere with you at home — even the bathroom.

  • You open your phone and check social media at stoplights.

  • After posting something new, you continually go back to see how many "likes" there are or what new comments have been posted.

  • You post simply to get responses.

  • You find yourself feeling discouraged or down if others don't "like" what you've posted or respond to it.

Examine Your Heart Before the Lord:

  • What do your time and activities on your smartphone say of your heart’s affections?

  • What has your smartphone use communicated to the people in your life — family, friends, strangers?

  • What does your smartphone use say to God and the place He has in your life?

  • Has your smartphone gained an addictive, unhealthy hold on your life?

Equip Your Heart:

A powerfully effective way to overcome poor habits in our lives and get our heart on the right course is to use God’s Word in times of struggle or temptation. Consider putting these Scriptures up in various places and commit them to memory — I guarantee you that the Lord will bring them to mind in times of need and strengthen you to retrain harmful habits.

Turn Away My Eyes from Looking at Vanity, and Revive Me in Your ways.
Psalm 119:37(NASB)

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven … for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 
Matthew 6:19-21

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 
Colossians 3:2 (KJV)

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Colossians 3:17 (ESV)

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; giving preference to one another in honor.
Romans 12:10 (NASB)

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.
Philippians 2:3 (NASB)

Ideas for Cultivating Upward & Outward Habits

1. Don't Allow Social Media to Control Your Life.

First Step:  Turn off social media notifications on your phone.

A Step further:  Retrain that impulse to grab your phone by purposefully denying it and waiting to check things online, keeping your phone out of sight, and planning a regular time when you “check in.”

Bold Move:  Simply stop using your phone at all for social media. Instead, access it from your computer, have a purpose in mind, and keep to a set amount of time.

2. Instead of "Looking Busy" in Public, Engage with the World Around You.

First Step:  Keep your phone put away. Be available to God’s promptings.

A Step further:  Smile, make eye contact with others, extend friendly conversation.

Bold Move:  Become attentive to ways you can encourage others, be helpful, or let strangers know they are loved by Jesus. What if you are the only Jesus-loving hope-bringer someone encounters all day? You could be the very means by which Jesus is faithfully working to bring that someone to the knowledge of Him!

3. Reclaim Your Car Time.

First Step:  Use this time to talk with Jesus!  Pray for your day — the class or appointment you’re headed to and the people you’ll meet along the way.  Pray for your family, friends, spouse or future spouse.

A Step further:  Listen to an audiobook of rich truth or an inspiring Christian biography. Or tack up a memory verse on your visor and review it at every stop light.

Bold Move:  If you have a regular commute, choose landmarks along the way (a brightly colored house, a street sign, a bridge, etc.) and assign them to specific people or situations that need prayer. (This one I learned from my Mum.) Your drive will fly by and you’ll be strengthening your faith and consistency in prayer as you go.


Yes, there are legitimate, even fruitful uses for our smartphones and amazing ways in which they can bring efficiency and connectivity to our lives!  Even social media can be a useful tool and outreach. But let us be watchful that they never pull us away from the Lord or the people He has put in our lives.  When things are in their rightful place, you will have the peace and go-ahead from the Lord to do them.   Let us stay attentive, surrendered, in His Word, and purposeful for our Beloved Jesus!

As you see God working in this area in your life, we’d love to hear about it!  Share with us what you have learned along the way and how you’ve seen your life strengthened in the Lord by changing the habits of your smartphone use.  Email us at [email protected].