Church, it’s time to talk about our phones. They are always with us. There is a good chance you’re reading this on one. They are wonderfully powerful tools that bring information, entertainment, and connection to us in an instant.
They are also, I believe, the single biggest source of distraction in our time.
Why Does Our Smartphone Usage Matter?
That’s important because our attention, and what we give our attention to, are of great importance to God. In fact, one of the most valuable commodities we have as human beings is our attention, as tech companies are well aware of. But this is not just a modern phenomenon. Even in ancient Israel, King David understood this. He wrote in Psalm 16:8:
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
The wider context of Psalm 16 is lament. David was in the midst of a trial. Anyone who has suffered knows how easy it is to lose focus on what is important during those times. But David vows to not forget that when he looks to the Lord, even the darkest times can’t shake him.
David said he does this by setting the Lord “always” before him.
Beyond times of lament, I think we all can understand that we need to set the Lord “always before us” because distractions in life abound. Our attention drifts. We want to say, with David, “he is at my right hand.” But as I type this, do you know what is within arm’s reach of my right hand? My phone. And it almost always is.
How exactly do our phones hinder our ability to live in the way David writes? In his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer helpfully points out that our phones are meant to grab our attention:
“The odds are not in our favor. There are literally thousands of apps and devices intentionally designed to steal our attention… Your phone doesn’t actually work for you. You pay for it, yes. But it works for a multibillion-dollar corporation in California, not for you. You’re not the customer; you’re the product. It’s your attention that’s for sale, along with your peace of mind.”
This is important because while our phones work to grab our attention, what we really need is to give it to God. David shows us in Psalm 16:8 that when the Lord is before him and is at his right hand, he’s not shaken. It seems like most people on earth in 2020 have experienced a shaking. Routines, jobs, relationships—everything is shaken up from what it was before this year. And with so much unrest and uncertainty along political, economic, and racial lines, it can seem like the shaking will not end any time soon.
But when God is before us, we don’t have to be rattled when things shake; he is our foundation. So, I have two practical suggestions for how to avoid phone-based distraction and reorient your attention to God.
1. Set Time Limits on Your Phone
This is easy to do and can be found with a simple Google search for your specific phone. Limit time on apps specifically that cause anxiety and make you lose trust in God’s sure truths. News apps, social media apps, email—anything that diverts your attention away from God and relationships. Time limits help us ensure we can be present and attentive to both God and the people around us, instead of fearful and detached.
2. Give Your Phone a Bedtime
Put your phone away in another room before you go to bed and don’t grab it again until after you wake up. Research has shown that the last thing your mind engages in before slumber and the first thing you engage in the morning can drastically affect sleep quality and mood. So, buy a real alarm clock and don’t sleep with your phone by your bedside.
I want to be able to say that I spent my days giving my attention to Jesus and the ones I love. I want to be able to endure times of “shaking” because I’ve made sure he is at my right hand. Yet I simply can’t do that if my attention is always on the phone that is always at my right hand, and neither can you. Let’s commit our attentiveness to God and enjoy him together.