I am working my way through the book of Leviticus for my daily devotions. Not your typical go-to book, but I am reading and praying my way through the Old Testament. Yesterday, I noticed that I was particularly unfocused, even when engaging the Word with prayer. What helped highlight my level of distraction was my using a tablet as my Bible and the increased urge to flip over to another app, such as twitter or the weather or anything else besides the Bible.
Pondering my desire, especially after I gave in, I began to wonder how much time I spent not only distracted but also actively engaged visually and mentally on another app. I also began to think of all the people who I no longer see carrying around paper Bibles, and instead only use their phone or other electronic device. A quick glance around a table or church and it is obvious that the number of Bible app users is on the rise and the paper Bible users are on the decline. What is also obvious, if one takes time to observe, is that those with Bible apps tend to flip to other apps at some point, even if ever so briefly, during Bible studies and church services (which makes me believe it also regularly happens during personal times in the Word).
Given the love of electronics in this day in age, I would no doubt receive blowback if I suggested no Bible apps during church, Bible studies, and personal devotional times. I do understand the convenience, portability, and quick reference ability that apps provide; but how about the distraction level? With a paper Bible our minds can still wander; but an app allows a switch in mental and visual focus along with a guaranteed active mental engagement away from the Word with the flick of a finger. I would guess that the number of times a person switches between apps is higher than the person thinks. What would happen if, ala “Silence” from Doctor Who, a person marked on their arm with a sharpie marker every time they switched away from their Bible app and for every app or page they connected to during church, Bible study, or personal devotional time?
This isn’t meant to be an anti-app article. Rather, thoughts on the already highly-distractible culture that has developed and the ease to which apps feed into this character weakness of a lack of self-control. As Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson write in Name Above All Names,
Being able to think long and lovingly about the Lord Jesus is a dying art. The disciplines required to reflect on him for a prolonged period of time and to be captivated by him have been relegated to a secondary place in contemporary Christian life. Action, rather than meditation, is the order of the days. Sadly, too often that action is not suffused with the grace and power of Christ…
We need to learn to recapture such Christ-centeredness in our activist, busy age. Many of us are by nature too impatient. The most common tools of life, used on a daily basis – our computers and all of our technology – simply increase that impatience (p. 15).
How about an experiment? Try going a week without using your technology for your Bible? How hard is it to maintain concentration during this app fast? If that is too much for you to handle, the app addiction being too strong, try turning your device on airplane mode or some other mode that interrupts your ability to access your online dependent apps (at least during church, Bible study, and devotional times); and mark every time you think about switching apps and every time you switch apps. These exercises will not only illuminate the quantity of time being distracted by something besides the Word, it will also afford an opportunity to pray and ask the Lord to continue to develop the spiritual fruit of self-control within our hearts; a character trait we all could use more of in our lives.