The sun sets and rises, and all the people of the earth check their phones. The mesmerizing glow wakes us up, escorts us into the day ahead, supplying us with all we missed while we slept. Our little companion goes with us, every notification calling out to us. We wait for quiet moments to steal a glance at the screen, to slip away from work, the kids, or the boredom, and into the place that promises delight, comfort, or even rest.
This relationship affects us more than we’ve realized.
Even as we use our phones for good—to send encouragement to friends, to listen to Scripture, to read articles like these—we can’t deny its powerful place in our lives. We feel alone, unsafe, and naked without our phones, subtly finding security in its presence.
We often struggle because we’ve unknowingly been discipled by our phones about what it looks like to communicate with God.
Our phones affect our spiritual lives, too. Those habitual glances at a comforting screen not only replace our reflex to pray; they also threaten the times we do find our way to our knees. We often struggle because we’ve unknowingly been discipled by our phones about what it looks like to communicate with God.
Immediate, Rather Than Patient
Access to the world lies within reach of our fingertips. Any knowledge we desire, Google will give to us. YouTube or Pinterest will help us learn any process we want. Any person we want to reach? Well, which app should I use? Haven’t heard back from them yet? Hop on Instagram or Twitter while waiting.
We tend to fill every moment of awkwardness or discomfort with distraction, but prayer requires patience.
Our phones promise immediate access, alleviating the suffering that comes with waiting. But without suffering, there can be no endurance, and without endurance, we can’t cultivate godliness.
Recently, I placed my phone across the room before a time of prayer. As I attempted to bring the cares of my heart to God, the number of impulses to reach for my phone unnerved me. Our phones promise immediate access, alleviating the suffering that comes with waiting. But without suffering, there can be no endurance; and without endurance, we can’t cultivate godliness. Patience comes as we learn to quiet the deluge of input, focusing in prayer.
The residual effects of constant phone use can crowd out our capacity for processing, leaving us with the inability to prolong our praise and petition (or even our silence) before the Father who loves us and hears us when we call (Ps. 62).
Phones also teach us to expect an immediate reply. In prayer, though, we may wait years—a lifetime, even—before God answers. This is for our good, that in the waiting we might grow in character and gain more of him.
Crafted, Rather Than Vulnerable
Before sharing a word, image, or thought with the world, we spend time crafting it to perfection. We prepare a message for our followers. We live with an audience in view, inviting the masses to witness every little experience.
Yet when we put away our phones and step into the reality where God is our audience, we freeze. We haven’t rehearsed our lines, and we grow tense because we don’t know what to say. We express what we know (I shouldn’t be anxious) rather than what is true (I’m wrecked with anxiety).
Our history with our phones has taught us that communication must be carefully constructed and thoroughly edited to be worthy of being shared.
In contrast, prayer exposes our vulnerability and acquaints us with embracing it. Prayer ought to “reconcile us to our reality, that we are helpless,” as Tim Keller explains. God is unimpressed with big words; he delights to answer the heartfelt cries of the poor and needy (Matt. 6:5–13).
Easy, Rather Than Uncomfortable
Our relationship with our phones has often coddled us, enamored us with our own love of ease, and brainwashed us, creating the false belief that relationships should be as easy as the tap of a screen. The influence of our phones can leave us desiring depth without work, intimacy without long-suffering, and community without commitment.
How humbling it is, then, to get in our prayer closets without our phones and realize how small we are—to discover how difficult it is to control our thoughts and our curiosity about what’s happening outside those four walls. Where our phones have numbed us through overstimulation, prayer summons our senses back to the surface. Our eyes become open when we close them to consider the unseen.
Where our phones have numbed us through overstimulation, prayer summons our senses back to the surface. Our eyes become open when we close them to consider the unseen.
Yet it is here, in the realization of our smallness, where we can finally relate well to God. When we cast ourselves on his mercy, his eternal comfort welcomes us into a relationship we don’t deserve and gives us courage to respond.
Learn to Pray Again
Without realizing it, we’ve probably looked to text messages, Instagram, Facebook, Voxer, Snapchat, and Marco Polo to teach us about communion, fellowship, and conversation. These are faulty reference points, unfit disciplers for informing our ideas about communication.
But how do we unlearn all we’ve become accustomed to?
Despite what you may perceive about others, no one’s a natural at prayer. It’s learned over time, informed by the Word, encouraged by the community of believers, and helped by the Holy Spirit himself.
We begin with acknowledging our need. We acknowledge our phones are shaping us more than we know, and we confess our need to prioritize spiritual disciplines. We ask for the Lord’s help, and we let the Word guide us in relating to him.