Screentime No. 1

I was recently punched in the mouth. Not by an angry parishioner or bystander, rather, by a sermon.

What I want to do right now is encourage you with all my might to stop reading this article and follow the link I’ve embedded. It’s to the sermon series entitled Screentime from the Athens Church in Athens, Georgia. Then, after you’ve had some time to digest their material and you’re still looking for more, come back and read on.

After watching those lessons, I knew it was time to preach a series of lessons here in Tompkinsville. I believe the best sermons are the ones that are most personal, and I needed to study and hear the sermon(s) I was about to deliver. I learned so much about myself and our society and I couldn’t wait to get it out there.

Here’s what I learned. First and foremost, I thought technology dependance was a you problem, but actually it was a me problem. I started off with a simply resolution, I would be better. I went home that night and apologized to my wife and kids for being distracted by technology. They were all gracious, but I knew it meant something by their response. While I felt ashamed, it wasn’t because of some sin, rather some neglect. I honestly knew at that time, I had been preoccupied with nonsense in the face of substantial relationships and experiences.

The verse that kept running through my head was Matthew 6:21 when Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I believed that my heart hadn’t always been invested in the greatest treasure this world has afforded me, my wife and kids. I did some research and found some surprising numbers. The Pew Research Center (follow this link) found that 80% of Americans own a smartphone (that’s roughly 200 million individuals). While that number seems astronomical to me, it’s not absurd at all. Consider your friends, how many of them have a smartphone? How many don’t? The number that shocked me was one I found at this link. It’s more emblematic of the problem we all face – the average smartphone user (that’s me and probably you as well) spends 215 minutes (or 3 hours and 35 minutes) on our phone each day. Even if these numbers have some slight variable in them, they are still emphatic.

We spend too much time on our devices.

After presenting the research I declared my first frightening conclusion. Simply put, our relationship with our phones is creating a lopsided reality. Instead of the phones needing a consumer to engage them, the consumers (me and you once again) need the phones to function. I couldn’t help but be drawn to Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:8 which says, “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.”

While you and I both know Jesus wasn’t actually calling us to become physically harmful, He was demonstrating (with hyperbole) a need to prioritize our “needs.” We are not physical beings after all, we are spiritual beings “made in God’s image,” (see Genesis 1:26), and our journey in this world is but a temporary pitstop on an eternal life. Yet here we are, worried about our physical needs because that’s who we are – and our cell phones are feeding our earthly wants, not our spiritual needs. Maybe, if our problem is deeply engrained, we do need to cut off our technology and throw it away before it costs us our very soul.

One of the analogies made in the sermon above and in mine was about technology and gluttony. I loved the expression (and used it) that gluttony is defined as an endless appetite meeting endless content. I called the technology problem an all-you-can-consume buffet of information.

While we all know gluttony is bad, it’s something we don’t spend much time talking about. If you’d like to dive into a deeper study of gluttony, I’d encourage you look here and also there. The analogy makes total sense when you take time to consider the universal scroll of social media on your phone. Technology provides something that is a temporarily satisfying while actually offering very little spiritual or physical nutrition. It sucks you in and you need more to fill the bottomless pit of your soul.

I know, I know, you probably think that last line was a bit heavy-handed. Let me prove to you it wasn’t.

If you have an iPhone go to your Settings and look under the tab entitled Screen Time. It gives a daily account of how much time you invested in your phone over the last week. What does it say? 4 hours a day? 5 hours? 10 hours? I’m not here to tell you how much time is too much, you already know.

When you see it, you know.

If you’ve invested too much time, like I had, you’ll realize that phone is becoming a dangerous device you carry around as if you can’t live without it.

I finished my sermon with a few practical steps to improve your screen time. The theology of technology discussion in the sermon from Athens was very helpful. It gave me some thoughts that seem to be truly helpful. Here are the steps I’m taking to be better:

1 I ask this question every day – how much is enough? What is more important than the phone? Do I need it right now, in this moment, or can I live without it?

2 Does the technology at my disposal help or hinder my faith? I encouraged everyone to consider its place by acknowledging Colossians 3:17. That passage says, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” That might seem overly simplistic until you begin to realize you weren’t doing it and it was creating an idol you carried around in your own pocket.

3 I created a technology-free zone and time in my house. The dinner table is now our TFZ. That time has been set apart for family, and nothing else. It’s not a long time, but it is a valuable time to cast out the world and focus on us. I also began to simply leave my phone charging instead of keeping it with me in the house. I still answer text messages and calls when they come, but I’m not tempted to look at it anymore in the downtime between anything and everything.

4 Finally, I made it a priority to just let go. I’m afraid I was creating a world where my phone took more from me than it gave. I know I love God, my family, and my friends more than my phone, but the “fruit” of my life didn’t always reflect that. My treasure was being overlooked because of the idol in my pocket. It was taking the blessing of time and helping me waste it.

I share all of this with you because I want you to avoid my mistakes. I’m thankful it didn’t spiral out-of-control and cost me something I can’t replace. I’m grateful for the wake-up call I received and I’m thankful to be able to share it with you today.

We all struggle with something, some of us with the technology sitting in our pocket. I pray that won’t be your struggle, but if it is, now you know you’re not alone. At the end of the day I want you to realize technology is a wonderful gift that allows us to connect with like-minded individuals, find communities that strengthen us, and even worship with our brothers and sisters from afar, but it can not and will not ever be able to replace God. The acceptance and knowledge you get from it won’t eclipse the true value God gives His faithful followers.

So unplug a bit and dig into your family and faith. You just might find, as I did, that your life is better because of it.

Neal Mathis
Neal Mathis

The founder and editor of The Merger and a man who longs to one day be a scruffy-looking nerf herder.

Photo by gabe bult on Unsplash