This moment may be your last. Your sinoatrial node in your heart is a natural pacemaker that shocks the heart into beating with electricity. Now science may have a perfectly logical reason this happens, a reason that even makes it sound expected, but I am sorry – this is wild. Unconnected from an electrical plug, we stay alive by this little node that could.
One day our nodes won’t shock us to life anymore and we will enter the chasm of death. And that could be today or a very long time from now. For now we have right now. And right now – this moment – is ours to steward. Life is a gift from God and He doles it out one moment at a time.
This is why Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:15:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
For a Christian, the “best use of the time” would be using time in such a way that glorifies God and magnifies our joy in Him. Joy plus glorifying equals good time management.
Hunched Apex Predators
The next time you are in an airport, train station, or any crowded place that contains people waiting for something, take a look around. What you will find is hordes of highly intelligent apex predators burning through their time hunched over a rectangular box with a glass screen. I remember being on an airplane one time watching with curiosity as a grown man in a suit played a game on his iPad where he violently tapped on the screen killing colorful bugs. An apex predator made in the image of God.
Let me keep it real here – I am also one of those people. I feel the nearly irresistible pull of my iPhone at any dull moment in life. It beckons for me to unlock my screen and find amusement by reading emails, scrolling social media feeds, or reading a blog. Often, I give in. And using my phone to amuse myself to avoid a quiet moment or – gasp – speaking to others around me is a horrible use of time. Our souls pay a high price for this constant connectedness.
Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan posed the question that summarizes our problem:
“How are we to get out of the maelstrom created by our own ingenuity?”
In our brilliance we have developed tools and technologies that make life easier. You can order a pizza with an emoji, or so I’ve heard. But these tools make life incredibly complex as well. Our phones can distract us in ways that rob the life out of life. Let me emphasize the can here. Smart phones are brilliant tools with space age functions and they can be used to the glory of God. The technology is spiritually neutral and while smart phones are battery powered, they are human operated. Our affections and desires translate into finger motions that make our phones do stuff. If we abuse our phones, it’s on us – not the phone.
I am just finishing up a book called Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers, which I beg you to read. In the book, Powers argues that the distracting frenzy of technology is nothing new and that people throughout history have encountered similar issues, especially during times of great technological advance (the writing tablet, the printing press, the telegraph, etc.).
Powers looks to men like Shakespeare, Thoreau, and Ben Franklin, who lived during times of great change. There are some profound statements from these men on this issue. For example:
“In proportion as our inward life fails we go more constantly and desperately to the post office. You may depend on it, that they poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters proud of his extensive correspondence has not heard from himself this long while.” (Henry David Thoreau)
“All new tools require some practice before we can become expert in them.” (Benjamin Franklin)
“Remember thee? Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat in this distracted globe” (Hamlet, William Shakespeare)
Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that there’s nothing new under the sun. The issue of busyness through technology is not a recent development, even if it feels like it. I like to think, for example, that Charles Spurgeon’s letter writing and his 18 hour days are somehow different from the modern day office worker who does similar work with different tools. We can over romanticize the past in this way.
Inviting the World to the Table
We’ve all done it. You sit down with someone at a table and instinctively put your phone on the table. Often, both parties do it.
Is this merely to avoid sitting on your phone (if you’re a back pocket phone person) or avoid the phone/leg pinch (if you’re a front pocket phone person)? I think something deeper is going on here. The phone on the table is a clear statement, even if an unintentional one, that while you are meeting with the individual across from you the world can still reach you.
You have invited the world to your meeting.
We are so used to this seemingly benign behavior that we just move on past it. But then – oh wait, sorry, let me grab this phone call. Or maybe a text comes in and your brain pulls you towards your phone to see who it was. The wizardry of a smart phone can become obnoxious when it keeps you from connecting with the people you are with.
Yesterday afternoon my wife and I had a meeting at Liam’s school. And you know what, I left my phone in the truck. It was wonderful. As I sat there in our meeting it struck me that I was actually there in the meeting, not wondering who might be emailing me or fighting the urge to check that notification.
As Benjamin Franklin said, we need to learn how to better use this new tool. We need to master it before it masters us.
Just because the world seems to live on social media doesn’t mean you have to. Just because everyone else around you is on their phone it doesn’t mean you have to do the same. We have the freedom to be weird and choose our own way of living.
Here we are guided by the words of Paul:
All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. (1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV)
Christ-followers are aliens and exiles in the world. And as we follow Jesus, our paths will all look different. If we want to make the best use of our time, we will need to be mindful people. That means we might take a path that looks odd to others – and that’s okay.
Smart phones are great tools if they make us smarter and connect us to those around us. But they are dumb phones if they distract us into oblivion. Here we have a choice.
Just think about it.