Reflections on “18 Obstacles to Personal Devotions in the Digital Age” by David Murray

Yesterday, while going through my twitter feed, I ran across the above named aritcle. I enjoy reading David Murray’s blog, as his posts are biblical, thoughtful, and challenging. (I’m also excited to begin reading his new book, which came out just after I made my fall reading list). This particular post struck a cord with me, and so I want to share it and some thoughts on it. Before reading my reflections, please take a moment to read David Murray’s post here, as I will only comment on a few of the 18 obstacles.

To briefly summarize, Murray contends that despite all of the good (or perceived good) of the digital age, the habits created by the pervasiveness of technology and information can actually be quite detrimental to our spiritual lives. Murray is concerned not only by the distractions produced by our always-on-hand devices, but also by the way our consumption of and access to information is seemingly changing the way we think in general. (Lest you think Murray is being an alarmist, Nicholas Carr was discussing this issue back in 2008). Thus, Murray lists 18 obstacles that the wonders of technology present to Christians’ devotional lives, and thus their spiritual health.

Two of Murray’s points particularly resonated with me:

Murray writes:

9. Loss of quiet: Constant beeps, buzzes, and updates reduce undisturbed time for the brain to rest. Unlike other revolutionary media like radio and TV, the Internet is ubiquitous. We never get even a few minutes waiting in line with our own thoughts but turn to the smartphone to fill it up.”

I can certainly relate to this. I have noticed I used to chat with people in a line or think about an issue that was on my mind, now I just check twitter. This can also be a killer to my devotional life, because anytime I hear an alert on my phone, I want to grab it and see what it’s all about. To combat that, I try to always silence my phone when I’m reading or studying my Bible. If I forget to turn the volume off, I simply ignore it until I am done reading. Chances are whatever the alert is, it can typically wait fifteen minutes.

This next point by Murray struck me on an even deeper level:

“17. Loss of humility: In This is your brain on GoogleKate Shellnut wrote: ‘These days, we still say things like “I don’t know how” and “I can’t remember it,” but our ignorance rarely lasts long. Seconds later, it gets pulled up on Google or YouTube. The information we don’t know is so close—quite literally at our fingertips—that we forget we don’t know it.'”

As I think more about my social media habits, I find that much of the reason I spend so much time on twitter is because I want to be “in the know.” Somewhere, deep inside I am terrified of being “late to the party” and looking silly because I found out about something three hours after everyone else. I don’t want to not know. I want to have seen the tweet, read the blog, watched the video, so if someone says “Hey did you hear about (insert new pressing thing here)?” I can calmly (and smugly) answer, “Oh yeah, I knew that.” That is insecurity. That is pride. That is me wanting what only God has: omniscience. And that is sin. For that I must repent. Which is a sure sign I need to spend less time on twitter, and more on my knees.

This is a pretty big issue for Christians, and one of which I think many are unaware. We can often feel that we don’t have time to sit and read God’s Word, and when do, we often find it so difficult to focus. As it turns out, some of that may well be caused by the environment that live in; by that very patterns of life we’ve come to accept as “normal.”

The truth is, growth in Christ is something that takes time, a lifetime in fact. We can’t Google ourselves to spiritual maturity. It takes the work of Holy Spirit moment by moment, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. My prayer and hope is that articles like this one will help me and you identify those things which would distract us from Christ and build the discipline to press further into Him, even if that means disconnecting, unplugging and not being the “first to know” the latest news.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out David Murray’s follow-up post: “20 Tips to Personal Devotion in the Digital Age.”

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Filed under How to Read the Bible, Reflections

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