Is technology a raging or a tamed beast? I thought of this illustration from idea of breaking a horse. You think of a tamed stallion that someone has broken—they’ve broken his will, not his spirit. The stallion that has been broken is very valuable. He can be used to sire more horses, he can be used to round up horses, he can be used to race. But if you don’t tame that stallion, if you don’t have any control over him and he has all the control over you, he isn’t valuable in the same way. You try to put a bit in his mouth and he runs, or he does anything to get away from you. He has control over you, you don’t have control over him.
I use this as an illustration to say if we’re not careful, that’s what our technology—our smartphones—can do to us. You’ll see that as we get into our discussion today. Due to society’s interest and advancements in knowledge and application, the internet and electronic media has given us both usefulness and slavery.
When I first started working on this, the question I was posing and trying to work through was: What are parents to do about teaching their children about the use of technology? Once I began to study this, I started realizing it would be wise for all of us to consider what we are doing with technology. Are we slaves to it? Are we using it as usefulness? We’ll focus mainly on these opportunities and perils that lie in digital technology, and why we must tame this before it enslaves us.
Let’s look at the big picture. It is possible to love and use all kinds of technology, but still make radical choices to prevent technology from taking over our lives. Before anyone can master anything, they must first consider their expectations, and implement plans to fulfill those. As a biblical counselor, when someone walks in—before we even get too far into the session— it’s helpful to ask, “What are your expectations of coming here to see me?” That really helps us as we begin to progress into what their issues are. The same is true for technology—we must consider our expectations.
First of all, when we think about technology, our character is in question. Some of you have said technology could be used for pornographic material, some said it could be used to research and gain great understanding.
The mission of our family is to cultivate wisdom and courage. I love Psalm 90:10, which says “Our lives last seventy years or, if we are strong, eighty years. Even the best of them are struggle and sorrow; indeed, they pass quickly and we fly away.” We fly away—as in we will pass away—and we will be with Jesus. Our families—and therefore us as individuals—we’re to help shape members to first love God and love others, to have wisdom and to have courage to do what we must do to bring glory to God. We must understand that our place in the world and the faithful way to proceed needs to have conviction and character to do that which is right.
We all have the opportunity to do the stupidest, most carnal things with our phones. We have the opportunity to do the smartest and most spiritual things with our phones. And so guess who is responsible? We no longer have, “Well dad said,” or “Mom said,” unless you want to say, “Abba said.” That’s our Father, and we want to make sure our actions are right before Him.
Technology, although brilliant, is at best neutral in forming human beings who can create and cultivate as we’re meant to. It is a neutral device. It is not a bad thing—like our stallion example from earlier, that horse is not bad. It’s if we choose not to tame it, choose not to break it, choose not to make it so we can use it for what is best for us.
Will our technological advancement help us become less foolish and wiser? That’s something to always consider: “I’m using this phone. Is this helping me to become wiser or am I really being foolish?” Or will it help us become less fearful and more courageous to do that which God would have us to do?
God in Genesis told Adam to be fruitful and multiply: to have children, family, heritage, and develop the social world. God says also—from the very beginning of time—to subdue the earth, literally to harness the natural world. When Adam was created, only God knew that technology was going to advance to where it is today. I don’t think they knew what technology was in Eden—they didn’t need to. But technology is part of the natural world now. Someone way smarter than me learned, developed, invented, and implemented the technology that we’re using today. That’s the natural world. Someone did that, and that brain was created by God. You could say it was developed by man (as far as wisdom and application), but God created that. As humans, we are to be here to be fruitful and multiply—our social world, yes—but also to harness the natural world and subdue it. We must be careful with our devices, which are part of this subdued world.
We must shape space or it will shape us. We must make choices about the place where we live, where we work, how we develop character, and how we are creative. That is one of the neatest opportunities we all have—even in counseling I’ve shared this with those who I’m working with—I think one of the neatest, greatest, biggest blessings we all have is the choice to love God and serve God or we have the choice to disobey God and flee from Him. We have that choice. He does not want to buy us. He doesn’t want to make us—of course, God works in our hearts in a lot of these exact statements, and we’re going to find out someday in eternity how His will and our wills work together. One day we’ll have a long time to ask some questions.
Right now, God gives us this opportunity to make choices about what we do. God’s gifted us, He’s presented us with talents and personalities and experiences, and it’s our opportunity to direct those to use them for His glory. We must make sure that we use our space for creativity, skill, beauty, risk—all bringing glory to God.
The use of technology should not only be thoughtful, but it should be informed by the Bible. How we use technology will be influenced by Scripture if we understand God’s purpose for technology. Our purpose is to bring glory to Him. Whether you’re specifically thinking of hand-held scissors or a shovel, or all the way to some of these huge earth movers, down to that small little device that’s in your pocket—all of that can bring glory to God. We must use this technology as a means to accomplish God’s purpose.
What helps us in beginning this journey? Structuring time really takes time to structure, doesn’t it? It’s easy to wake up on a Saturday morning, or wake up on a vacation day, and think, “Wow, I’ve got 12 hours at my disposal.” You get to the end of the day and you think, “What did I do?” You did something for 12 hours. I’m not saying that relaxation and all that is wrong, but the plan for those 12 hours could have been so different had you started three days ago and written down a plan for how to use your time. However you operate is just wonderful, but the main thought there is to build rhythms into our lives. We work, serve, glorify God much better if we’re on a structure.
I’ve heard many people say that the worst time for their spiritual development, their spiritual sustenance, is on vacation. During a work day they’ll say, “I get up at this time. I read my Bible at this time. I go to this place. I return.” Now all of a sudden in vacation I haven’t built that in. I’m not knocking vacation, that’s not my point. My point is, if we don’t structure our time, our time takes over. We’re supposed to work and we’re supposed to rest. God gave us that within His whole context of creation. He created and it was good. He rested and it was good. We must do that.
Work is the fruitful transformation of the world through human effort and skill, in ways that serve our shared human needs and give glory to God. If that’s the case then we must embrace technology enthusiastically and unthinkingly, right? No. We must completely separate from it, right? No. I believe we must have disciplined discernment. If God allowed someone to create it, then I believe it’s our responsibility to control that, tame that, so to speak.
Exodus 20:9-10 says, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your town.” And in Exodus 23, the Lord commands that every seventh year a rest be taken for the land. I would encourage us to consider also, we must rest from our devices. We must be mindful of them.
One thing that sums up the difference between humans and technological devices is sleep. You notice that your email keeps flying through throughout the night while you’re sleeping. Those towers for cell phones are still going through the night. Everything’s going, but our bodies need rest. Sometimes we really need to keep ourselves from our devices so that we can get that rest. We are meant to be still, quiet, unconscious, and vulnerable for roughly one-third of every day. It’s recommended that we get sleep approximately 8 hours a day—about a third of the 24 hours we have each day.
Our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength are all nurtured through sleep. If we’re not careful, we can allow electronic blue light, which is what’s generated from our cell phones, to keep us thinking it’s daylight. If we’re so tethered to our devices, sometimes we might just really be harming ourselves.
Just like we did as parents, grandparents, or even babysitting for someone—just like putting the children to bed, I think phones and electronic devices need to be put to bed as well. God wants us to rest and not have something to keep us away from there. I recommend putting electronic devices in a separate room only to be checked when you’re ready for your next day.
Digital living offers particular challenges and digital living offers particularly opportunities. Which one are we going to land in? I think we need to be mindful of that. I would hate for you to have a cell phone or iPad, and every time you use it, think, “Oh, I hope I’m not sinning. I hope I’m not disappointing God.” That would wear on you. You want to say, “I’m thankful to have this. I’m really privileged to be able to think, to Google, to be able to study, to be able to prepare.” It can really helps you in that specific regard. Yet at the same time, it is a challenge.
In our working world, we must learn to work and we need to work to learn. Even at an early age, we learn best when learning takes work. It doesn’t work for mom or dad to just keep talking through your assignments, and then you’re going to leave and you’re gonna have it all in your head. I think one of the best things that parents can do—and I had this from my parents, and therefore I sought to implement it with our children—is if you have a rough homework assignment, say something like, “I’m really glad. Work at that, strive for that.” As a result, you’re going to see how that really helps them develop in their own character.
Screen entertainment literally takes no work. And if we’re not careful, we can avoid good things that do require work and instead turn on some screen and watch something. Parents often give their children screens, not to make the child’s life easier, but to make the parents’ life easier. You can make technology very productive for your kids, but you can also make it very destructive.
At times, eliminate passive screen time. Give space where only productivity learning is encouraged.
If we’re not mindful, we are increasingly distracted—pulled from one task to another, and one from one media to the next. Part of this whole encouragement for this seminar is to help us to ask, what am I letting my device do to me? What am I helping my device do for me? Let’s not get mindless about it. Let’s be mindful, focused, controlling that stallion, so to speak.
Is boredom really bad? The quest to cure boredom with screen time actually accentuates the boredom. “I don’t have anything to do. So, I’ll just flip on my phone or turn on the TV, or whatever it is that let’s me even be more mindless.” That doesn’t let us be productive.
Having nothing to do is not boredom, consider it intentional rest, then produce something. I think sometimes producing a nap is a good thing, freeing yourself from what you’ve been doing is a good thing, but be productive.
Notice where you turn when you don’t feel like doing anything. Is it this book I’ve been reading? Is it this Bible reading that I failed to get done yesterday? What are we doing with our downtime?
Technology has developed people who desperately need outside entertainment and distraction, and therefore, unfortunately, they don’t find anything to engage themselves in, so then they just go back to their phone. I heard this statement about football: A football stadium is 80,000 people who desperately need exercise, watching 24 men who desperately need rest. Sometimes I think about that in technology, someone may really need rest, but they just keep their mind going by looking at something. I may think I’m resting, and I’m really not.
The electronic device that we own is not wrong in and of itself. That’s not the wrong thing. But it is prone to draw our hearts away from God, while being distracted. Let’s not let our hearts get drawn away from God. Let’s find things that draw our hearts to Him.
When you spend time with people, only spend time with people. Make sure that we’re not letting technology come into our life in such a way that it takes away from our interactions with others. I read that it takes seven minutes for us to initiate and then become engaged in a conversation. Too often in less than that seven minutes someone’s phone will need attention.
Don’t let your device interrupt that. I know I’ve done it. In the middle of a conversation, saying, “Just a minute, I’ve got to take this call. I’ll be right back with you.” And by the time I’m back, “What were we talking about?” I don’t know. They don’t know—well shame on me. I’m the one that interrupted that. Let that conversation continue.
This is what we do when we’re rearing our children. A child’s at mom’s side, saying, “Mommy! Mommy!” And the response is, “Just a minute, I’m speaking to Daddy.” Yet when a phone calls for our attention during a conversation, how often do we interrupt our conversation to give attention to our device? You didn’t do that with your children, saying, “Just a minute, I need to talk to this child.” No, you finish the conversation first.
Notice what you do when you have down time. If not careful, you’ll first look at your phone.
Technology is a God-given gift, like we talked about with subduing the natural world. Therefore, technology is subject to the curse. It can and will lead us to do something that is not appropriate. It’s the human application of technology that determines if it is honoring God or furthering sin.
We’re the ones with the whip, we’re the ones with the bridal, we’re the ones with the saddle, we’re the ones with the harness. Technology is not the wrong. It’s the one who’s applying that. I would encourage you to remember that technology is a God-given gift that is subject to a curse. How we apply it is what helps us to honor or to distract ourselves from God.
At our fingertips is the most dangerous weapon we have—it’s instant access to sin. At our fingertips is the most awesome instrument around—instant access to truth. “What was that verse again?” You click a couple times and you have it. Back in my day, you take out your Bible, you go to the concordance. You think, “Now, what was that word?” You’d look for a search word. It wasn’t there. You have to find another search word. By that time, you ask, “What was I looking up?” You forgot what you were doing! Now, you just type in a few words and usually have more than one verse that you see. Instant access to truth.
Make sure we always have someone who can look at our device for accountability, even if no one ever does. It would be awesome to know without a shadow of a doubt, when I pass away, someone’s gonna pick up my phone and see what I’ve been looking at. They may go looking around thinking, “I wonder what Dad used to look at.” Are they going to find that I really liked to know what the Eagles scores were, or check the latest cost of something on Amazon? Just think about what that phone is going to speak about you.
Make sure you have a good filtering system on your devices. We’re not here necessarily to talk all the way through that. It is amazing someone out there is trying to hack into your system—devil and others—so that you look at something that would possibly mislead you.
We must neither demolish or run away from technology. We must restrain it and redeem it. Anything we have can be used for God’s glory. At the same time, anything we have can be used to God’s detriment. We can harm, we can hurt, we can bring the name of Christ down. So let’s restrain and redeem what we have.
Much of this next discussion will go even more pointedly to the phone. Smartphones need smart people to use them. If you’re in the average, you check your phone about 81,500 times each year. Divide that by 365—that means you check your phone every 4.3 minutes of your waking life.
Our lives are consolidated on our phones. It’s a valuable tool. What are you doing April 12 of next year? In no time you can find it. Previously, you would have to ask, “Where’s that April calendar?” We have calendars. We have cameras. We have pictures. We have work. We have workouts. We have reading. We have writing. We have credit cards. We have eBooks. We have maps. We have news. We have weather. We have email. We have shopping lists. All that can be encompassed in your phone. It’s wonderful. It’s frightening. The GPS apps on our phones possess about 30,000 times the processing speed of the navigational computer that guided Apollo 11 to the surface of the moon.
Our phones are changing, altering, and aiding us in the following ways.
First, is that of distraction. Do you grab your phone first when you wake up in the morning? “Got to see what’s on Facebook. Got to see what’s on the news. Got to see what the weather is.” And before you know it, your devotional time in the morning is spent.
The more addicted you are to your phone, actually the more depressed and anxious you are likely to become. Also, you are likely to be less able to concentrate at work and sleep at night. Some people use digital technology to keep work away, to keep people away, and I’m afraid to keep eternity away.
If not careful, we become tools of our tools. Rather than owning them, they own us. That’s what we want to just be very careful of—to not allow ourselves to be distracted.
Our interactions with other people can be impacted greatly by technology. Sometimes we’re willing to text what we won’t speak to their good or bad. For example, a text that says, “I love you,” when we would never actually say that to someone. Why not? Or, “You shamed me. You’re an embarrassment to me.” You wouldn’t say it to their face, but you would write it. If we’re not careful on electronic media we can do some silly things. We ignore people we see to engage people we don’t see.
Be mindful of who we are really after. God tells us to love God and love others. Our cell phone devices are not really in that “others” category. It can be used to help love others, that’s for sure.
When we always see our lives through glass, we forget that we are made of flesh and blood. I am a human, and I am to relate to humans. God created us in His image. If I am in His image, I want to make sure that I continue to further that image in how I help others, as opposed to looking at everything through that glass.
We can so enjoy likes on Facebook, or a thumbs up in a group chat. Online attention is really not true approval. Vain glory is futile. We want God’s approval above all, don’t we? We want God to say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” When we think about approval, human approval can render faith pointless. We can be so caught up in having others think how great we are. Too often that’s unfortunately why some people don’t want to confess their sins, even in a counseling room, even in front of others. I may ask, “How are you doing in reading, in talking and sharing, and becoming?” And a counselee will respond simply, “Oh, great.”
Promise Keepers was a men’s group for accountability, and they would ask these questions: Have you viewed improper material? Have you lied? Have you had an improper attitude? Have you lied about anything that you just said to me? They gave a second chance to be transparent and say what they should say. Let’s make sure we’re concerned primarily with God’s approval, not man’s. If I kept you happy and God sad, I’ve got the wrong priority. We want to make sure we’re seeking approval from the right source.
However you choose to read and engage with the Lord and become close to Him is fine. But make sure it’s not only listening. Reading the Bible gives us a lot. God’s Word demands our highest levels of literary concentration because it demands relational reading. Gods says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Not just, “Be still and just hear that I am.” It takes time to know that God is our God. Not that we’re dumb, but at times we let distractions get in our way.
God is the creator of all we have. All of creation refers back to God. The Spirit makes us alive to know God. And the Spirit makes us alive to thank God. It takes a little bit of a process to go from, “God is great,” and then “God created” and then, “This is my lot and I am thankful.” And so let’s just make sure we’re thinking through reality in here. Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Whether you eat, or drink, or look at your cell phone, do all to the glory of God. That’s our reality, we are to give glory to God in all that we do.
What makes us confident? If we worship idols, we become like idols. If we worship God, we become like God. We are made in His image. If not careful, we begin thinking of ourselves wrongly, where we are not who we think we are. We are not even who others think we are. We are who we think others think we are.
We want to be very careful about that. We want to make sure we bring glory to God. He knows what’s in my innermost heart. He knows what’s in my thoughts. He knows what’s in my actions. He knows what’s in my plans, and I want Him to be pleased all the way through that—not just when I’m in front of someone else. In reality, we are who God knows we are. That really is where we want our confidence to be.
Part of what adds to loneliness is unnecessary information, unnecessary ego boosts, unnecessary entertainment, avoiding boredom, avoiding isolation, avoiding hardship. This came to light once—I was teaching a class to a group of collegians. It was on youth issues and youth struggles. One of them was loneliness. And of course, I think that can probably parallel all the way through college life and all the way through adult life. This was a few years ago, but recently enough that people were allowed in their college to have a cell phone in their pocket or their purse.
As soon as the bell rang for the class to be dismissed, everyone as they began walk out pulled out their phones and looked down. You’ve got this sea of people, and all you see is the tops of their heads because they’re looking at their cell phones. Back in my day, you had to talk to somebody that you’re walking down the sidewalk with. I wonder why loneliness is occurring? We’re using our devices to be our friend, who can’t respond to me, who can’t share confrontation or encouragement. Technology offers us many benefits, but with one major pitfall: Isolation. There are times when technology can benefit us to build relationships, but when it’s a substitute for friendship, no wonder we’re beginning to be lonely.
What sins do we hide? Wrong is wrong even if everyone’s doing it. Right is right, even if no one’s doing it. Sinful behavior is easy on a phone, but God sees all and wants to free us from all sin. I love the verse in Psalm 101:3, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” Sometimes if we’re not careful, we think, “The only thing that I want to avoid on my phone is pornography.” But wow, if you spend 50 minutes to 3 hours on Facebook, well, it wasn’t good to look at pornography, but it wasn’t good to be mindless for that amount of time either.
Facebook can be valuable, I’ve found this even in my church setting. I can walk through on a Sunday, and I can know so many things by just running through that News Feed. But to my shame I can also see that an Olympic record that was just set. And then I go into that Olympic record, and then, “Oh, look! The worst baton passes that have ever been made in the Olympics.” And then I look at that, and then before long I’m looking going down a rabbit hole. We’re not just concerned about one area of sin on phones. It’s just not pornographic material that’s worthless.
There’s a fear out there, it’s called FOMO: fear of missing out. We can think, “Man, I’ve got to know exactly when the weather is going to change, and when the best deals are at the store, and when the flight statuses are arriving, and I’ve got to know it all.” We should fear missing out on eternity and eternal rewards—that should be our fear. As we’ve all said, we want to love God and love others.
God tells us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Unfortunately, I think we can let our cell phone be number 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 in our lives.
Matthew 7:12 says, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” You’ve been in circumstances like this, where you’re pouring your heart out to somebody, or maybe your sharing an interesting anecdote that they asked for you to tell them, and then all of a sudden they say, “Oh, excuse me. I’ve got to take this call.” So I was second to that phone call. They asked me what I was doing, they were interested until someone else called them.
Or you just hear a ping on your phone, and you think, “Oh, I’ve got to see who that is, got to see what that is.” Sometimes it’s a sale item that showed up or a sales call. But you’ve chosen to prioritize that over the person you are with.
Now I’ll give you some resources and some thoughts to conclude. Here are books that I recommend:
12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Tony Reinke
Competing Spectacles, Tony Reinke
The Hyperlinked Life, Jun Young & David Kinnaman
The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch
The Next Story, Tim Challies
Logged On and Tuned Out, Vicki Courtney
A lot that I shared in this message is material that was helpful from 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You.
I would also like to share what my takeaway was, how God worked in my heart. We were at a trip coming home from Detroit, Michigan where our daughter, son-in-law, and their children are living. I was working on this talk, and you know how you get all the material and everything’s down and think, “Man, I’m ready to teach.” Then you know that question, “So what?”
So I asked my wife for any ways that I could grow in this area. And she shared some things that she hadn’t told me before that really helped me realize how my actions had been harmful with technology. I’m so glad we had that conversation.
It was so easy to walk into the home on the phone. We’ve decided that I won’t be on the phone when I first enter the home, and that’s been a really cool thing for our family. Then after that, for the first 30 minutes not to look at my phone at all. Then you’re able to engage with the people that are there.
Then a second thing I’ve really started doing and would encourage you to consider—and maybe you’re already way ahead of me on this—is charging and leaving my phone outside the bedroom.
And then finally, the last is to not allow the phone to interrupt me. Now I’m working on this, and still I don’t have the all the answers, I have all the desire. Don’t allow the phone to interrupt you. There are times that you feel like this is an important call that’s coming in. Well who decides it’s important? The person that holds the phone. I would encourage you: don’t let the phone interrupt you.
Say you’re talking to someone, let that call come through. You can hit automated responses that say, “Sorry, I’m talking to someone and can’t take this call right now.” They’re called smartphones right? There should be a way to let them respond and say, “I’ll be back with you in just a moment.”
I think this was the most vivid when I was standing in line in a store for customer service ready to return something. I’m standing in line, I’ve waited behind one, two, three, four people. I finally got to the front and then someone makes a phone call and the person takes the call. They’re talking that person for 10 minutes. I started to realize that I let my phone do the same thing to my friends, to my wife.