Humans were made to gaze. God uses long, loving looks at Christ in the gospel as a primary means to our sanctification (2 Cor. 3:18). Experience confirms this intent in my own life. My greatest times of growth and dependence on God have come when I’ve taken an extra hour, day, or week to wrestle with a passage, meditate on a truth, or enjoy a promise. I remember pinning the apostle Paul to the ground one Sunday afternoon as a junior in high school, trying my hardest to understand what he meant by “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Phil. 4:7).
The best things in life don’t come in an instant but over time, which means we must cultivate the ability to wait, listen, and linger.
Our age, though, is one of short-form content. We live in a world of bits and bytes, snippets and sermonettes, scores of one-liners—140 characters or less if you please. In the early 2000s, as the capacity for greater bandwidth grew, a new era of audio and video streaming services was born. The internet exploded with on-demand songs and shows. Today, streaming music services are even closing in on iTunes for the lion’s share of the market. Spotify, easily the most popular and largest of these services, has more than 75 million users and boasts a whopping 30 million songs in its database. The real kicker is—so long as you’re okay with advertisements—this can all be yours for free. Any takers?
As good as this sounds, I lament the popularization of streaming services.
Gift of Inconvenience
It’s natural for us consumers to assume that convenience is progress. Isn’t being more streamlined a good thing? Isn’t it nice to have millions of songs at our fingertips whenever and wherever we want? Perhaps. But at what expense? If easy, cheap access to art causes us to forget how to pause and reflect, ponder and savor, then maybe we’ve gained less than we’ve lost.
I’m convinced that inconvenience is often a gift. It feels counterintuitive, but it’s true. Inconvenience can be God’s way of slowing us down when we don’t want to. It forces us to recognize the seemingly mundane. Buying a $10 album is a speed bump to instant gratification, but there’s often a hidden reward. In college, I spent months with the same CD in my car stereo simply because I couldn’t afford more. The result was a deep exploration of music I wouldn’t have given a full hour to if I were streaming. Reading a 300-page book sure takes more time than following a Twitter feed, but wrestling with an author’s argument to the final page can be a rich learning experience.
You’ll inevitably consume less this way, but you’ll likely consume it better, and learn the art of appreciation in the process.
Groomed for Distraction
In C. S. Lewis’s classic The Screwtape Letters, an upper management demon (Screwtape) is giving advice to his nephew (Wormwood) on the temptation of his latest patient. He notes how the habitual engagement of “flippant” and “vain” pleasures has a tendency not to heighten enjoyment but to diminish it, not to sharpen humanity’s senses but to dull them. If we’re honest, do we not feel this when we hop from one thing to the next, rarely giving ourselves time to savor what we’ve heard or ponder what we’ve read?
The way we engage our world is grooming us for the way we engage with God. Scripture shows us what it looks like to become stable, sturdy, faith-filled people. We learn that the righteous man “delights in the law of the LORD, and in his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2). It is sad but true that, by and large, the church has lost the capacity to meditate like this. If we cultivate unfocused and fickle attention spans, how can we possibly expect to cultivate a deep and intimate knowledge of God?
Learning to Linger Again
Interestingly, amid all the on-demand content sources beckoning us, at least one resurgence of an “inconvenient” gaze-enabling medium seems to be making a comeback: vinyl albums. Once a dying market, vinyl sales have posted massive increases for the last 10 years, nearly doubling profits annually. This is more than just a fad for audiophiles. Deep down, many people want the simple experience of sitting and listening to a complete work of art. They want to hold the album sleeve in their hands and read the lyrics. They want to learn to linger again.
It isn’t just music, though. Last year Adam Lewis Greene raised more than $1 million for his Bibliotheca project. His project sought to create a more reader-friendly version of the Bible, removing all chapter and verse references so it reads less like an encyclopedia and more like a novel. Crossway now sells its own “Reader’s Bible” as well.
When it comes to things like music-streaming apps, social media, and other outlets, it’s worth asking: It may be a time-saver, but is this better for my soul? Many good things aren’t necessarily good for us. The writer of Hebrews challenges us to lay aside not just every sin but also “every encumbrance” in order to run with endurance the race set before us (Heb. 12:1). We must take stock of things in our life—even good or neutral things—and ask whether they’re helping or hurting our ability to gaze well at Christ.
Are fast-paced mediums of entertainment and social networking making it difficult for you to linger long over the things of God? If so, bid them farewell for the sake of joy.