Am I the only who feels this way? I wondered for the umpteenth time. I was in the midst of a conversation with friends lamenting their iPhones. The complaints were familiar: our smartphones make us more self-focused, short-tempered, less able to interact with real people, eager for the approval of others, unable to read and communicate in-depth. The woes are limitless.
And I don’t disagree. I too have given over too much power to my phone. It has shaped me in a number of ways I’m not proud of.
But my secret thought in that conversation and others like it is this: I like my phone. I think it’s more helpful than hurtful—even (maybe especially) in my spiritual disciplines. Am I a fool to say I think it has actually aided gospel growth in my life?
In our effort to distance ourselves from the pitfalls of these devices, are we missing what a blessing they can be?
BRAND NEW TECHNOLOGY, SAME OLD PROBLEM
Throughout history, people have sounded the alarm every time some new technology hits the scene:
Socrates worried writing would cause our minds to grow lazy;
There were cries of information overload and chaos when the printing press was invented;
The distribution of newspapers caused concern that people would no longer get their news directly from the pulpit;
Worried parents thought that teaching reading in schools would certainly wreak havoc on the minds of their children;
Later generations worried the advent of radio and television would wreak havoc on their children’s ability to read.
Today, you can’t go on the Internet without seeing headlines bemoaning the connectivity and technology of this age, too. Those concerns are valid. Certainly, we should not consume new technology without carefully examining the ramifications.
Paul’s warning to the Ephesians is useful for us: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).
THE CAPACITY FOR GOOD AND EVIL
Just as the printing press can print the Word of God or pornography, our phones can deliver good or evil. With the Holy Spirit’s help and the accountability of a Christian community (and perhaps the implementation of some digital boundaries), we can choose to use our phones for our edification and sanctification, rather than for our destruction.
Our phones can be put to work to help us to obey this command in our current age: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
They can help us find wisdom and gain understanding, which is a blessing (Prov. 3:13). They can help us “do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thess. 5:15).
10 WAYS PHONES CAN BE USED FOR OUR GOOD AND GOD’S GLORY
The following are ten ways smartphones can be tools for our good and even God’s glory.
1. Hearing the Bible. Perhaps the most important way our phones can help sanctify us is by providing the Word of God through various Bible apps. While paper Bibles should not be replaced, Bible apps can provide customized daily reading plans, nourishment in a pinch, and add oomph to our quiet times. As I make my way through my Bible-in-a-Year plan, my app audibly reads along with me. In this way, not only am I reading the Word of God in my physical Bible, but I’m also hearing it as I go. This is especially helpful to me in the early morning when my mind is prone to wander.
2. Memorizing Scripture with voice memos. Storing God’s Word in our hearts (Ps. 119:11) is a sweet tool for sanctification. Using a voice memo app can greatly enhance Scripture memory. Reciting memorized portions into our phones allows us to immediately check our work against the written Word. The immediate feedback is excellent for catching mistakes and ensuring we rightly memorize Scripture.
3. Reading more books. Various apps allow us broad access to more books than in any other age. It’s normal today to travel frequently and commute long distances. That potentially wasted time can be redeemed as we listen to or read books we could not access prior to our smartphones. I am deeply indebted to Christian authors whose words have shaped me and library apps that have made wide reading affordable.
4. Growing through Christian blogs and websites. Smartphones allow us to access Christian blogs (like this one) and websites every day. Having the Internet in the palm of our hands allows us to wrestle with even deep theological issues at a moment’s notice. Whereas we would have needed to make a trip to a seminary library in the past, we can now immediately peruse a variety of sites and articles to help us gain commentary on a given Bible passage, theme, or difficulty.
5. Listening to a wide range of teachers and preachers. Many disciples find podcasts and sermons invaluable for growth and learning. Podcast topics vary widely from hearing news from a Biblical worldview to theological discussions, encouragement for moms to the history of racial issues in the church, and wisdom for Christian living. Access to a wide range of preachers and teachers from multiple theological backgrounds helps us keep growing both inside and outside our typical doctrinal bubbles.
6. Connecting with friends and family. Depending on one’s life stage or calling, texting can be a lifeline for Christian fellowship. Missionaries serving overseas, pastors or their wives reaching out to friends in their shoes in another city, or even new moms who need encouragement but don’t have time to meet or call a friend, can all benefit from receiving and sending encouraging texts. In our global, busy lifestyles, texting allows us to type out our prayers for one another. It can be a sweet and intimate way to keep in touch and build one another up.
7. Remembering names, prayer needs, and important dates. Phones can be a practical assistant, helping us practice hospitality on Sundays when we gather for corporate worship. We can immediately record the name of a newcomer to church right after we shake their hands. We can refresh our memories the following Sunday and greet them by name, making a warm and inviting impact. We can have our phones handy to record someone’s prayer request so we don’t forget it as soon as they walk away. Additionally, alarms can be set on our calendar apps to help us remember to pray for a surgery, an important test, or other need in our community.
8. Accessing special groups. While it’s no substitute for face-to-face friendship, Facebook can provide access to specific groups and ministries around the world. I’ve been able to connect with other adoptive parents, missionaries, ex-pats, and Christian women wherever I have lived around the world. These special niche relationships haven’t been available near me at certain times, and the online alternatives have been a source of strength and encouragement. Additionally, we can keep up with missionaries in various contexts through their secret online groups, which provide updates and prayer needs.
9. Understanding your community. Social media apps allow us to know what others in our communities are drawn to or hoping for. Based on others’ posts and what they’re chatting about, we can keep a finger on the pulse of what matters to those who attend our church, Bible study, or neighborhood fellowship. In this way, we can be better prepared for false teaching or false gospels when they arise, or fads that aren’t biblical. Social media allows us to be prepared in advance and contribute a gospel-centered voice to a conversation that might otherwise lack it.
10. Building one another up. Group texts are the way young adults communicate. Rarely do people call one another or use email. Texts are the best way to stay abreast of what is happening in the lives of our community members. Texts can be an excellent way to share joys and sorrows and prayer needs. They’re also a great way to coordinate group meetings, meals for people in need, and more. It’s nearly impossible to stay involved in relationships today without texting.
There is indeed a way to use our phones that will help us “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10).
Smartphones can be a powerful tool for our growth. Let’s consider how we might put them to work for our good and God’s glory.
 I am indebted to this article for this historical information. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2010/02/dont_touch_that_dial.html
Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters, and has served as a missionary for nearly two decades. She and her husband serve with Pioneers International and planted Redemption Parker, an Acts 29 church. Her passion is leading women into a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. Her book, Enough About Me: Find Lasting Joy in the Age of Self, is forthcoming with Crossway in 2020. Read more of Jen’s writing on her website or follow her on Twitter.