Technology and Psalm 131

“O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Psalm 131:1-2)

I spend a lot of time thinking about the effects of our digital age on our minds, and especially on the spiritual life of the Christian. My primary ministry is with college students, and I see how important technology is to every moment of their lives. However, it’s not just they who are affected: I also breathe in the digital spirit of our age, and what I have been breathing in has changed me.

What I have noticed in my own life is that it is much harder for me to concentrate on just one thing without my mind wandering than it used to be. If I open my Bible to read and meditate for a while, another part of my brain informs me that it has been a while since I checked my email, or I remember that I need to send a text message to somebody about something. If I’m praying it’s even worse: a hundred possible interruptions come to mind when I am trying to seek the Lord.

Much of this cannot be laid at the feet of technology. I’ve always been highly distractible. As a child I was a daydreamer, and had difficulty staying on task, or remaining in my seat at school. We had no ADD diagnosis for me to hide behind back then, so I was left at the mercy of every teacher looking for an infraction of order in the classroom. Digital technology has not improved that for me. I can scan through a hundred blog articles in my RSS feed, but sitting down and thinking deeply about a verse of Scripture, or listening for the voice of God does not come easily.

Writing years before the digital age in his book, No Little People, Francis Schaeffer made the following observation:

“People today are afraid to be alone. This fear is a dominant mark of our society. Many now ceaselessly sit in the cinema or read novels about other people’s lives or watch dramas. Why? Simply to avoid having to face their own existence… No one seems to want (and no one can find) a place of quiet — because, when you are quiet, you have to face reality. But many in the present generation dare not do this because on their own basis reality leads them to meaninglessness; so they fill their lives with entertainment, even if it is only noise… The Christian is supposed to be very opposite: There is a place for proper entertainment, but we are not to be caught up in ceaseless motion which prevents us from ever being quiet. Rather we are to put everything second so we can be alive to the voice of God and allow it to speak to us and confront us.”

If only he had lived to see our generation, with its constant Facebook activity, Twitter postings, email, smart phones, and continual “connectedness” at all hours of the day!

So how do we quiet our souls before the Lord? How do we get the voices of the sirens of technology to still?

The technology is here to stay, so any thought of “disconnecting” will be fruitless for most of us. The Amish don’t want you in their community, and you don’t know how to do anything useful, like care for livestock or build a fence anyway. We have to find ways of retreating from our laptops and mobile phones to meet the Lord, if only for a while.

I find that taking walks helps, especially if there are few distractions like cars and people. For some reason, getting out into nature makes a difference, even if it’s the tiny acre of natural beauty at the little park at the end of my street. Lonely beaches, hiking trails, and (surprisingly) golf courses are good spots. But it’s not about the location.

What really makes the difference is being patient with your tendency toward mental self-distraction. In Psalm 131, David says that he has calmed and quieted his soul. For us, that will take time, and we will face a number of failures as we do so. If you take the time to quiet your soul before God, not kicking yourself every time another competing thought intrudes, but waiting patiently for the voices to subside, you will find that place you need to be in order to hear the voice of God. Cut yourself a little slack; you’re out of practice.

What has helped you? Leave a comment.

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Theme Change

I decided it was time to shake off that dark theme I was using for something a little cleaner: black on white pages, just like reading a book. More posts are coming; I’m reaching a point where I’m not too busy to blog here. What do you think of the new theme? Leave a comment.

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On Motivation for Change

What motivates us to change our behavior? Let’s say that you have a problem with pornography, and that you wake up enough to decide to do something about it. What is really going to motivate you to start living a new way? There seem to be levels of motivation here:

    Level 1 – you don’t want to change at all, you’re enjoying your sin.
    Level 2 – you realize you should change, but you’re not really ready to do anything about it.
    Level 3 – you realize you should change, and you’re ready to take steps to do so.

At level 1, you’re not going anywhere at all. You’ve been deceived by sin to the point where you revel in it, as Peter says, “having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2 Peter 1:9)”

Getting to level 2 usually involves some kind of wakeup call: you get caught looking at pornography by your spouse or roommates, or you lose a job because you came in late after another night of sexual excess, etc. At this point, you’re not really motivated to change; you’re just feeling bad about the consequences of your actions, and you know that you should do something about it, much in the same way you know you should fix that leaky faucet on the kitchen sink. However, the lure of sin is still too strong. It may take continued failure and loss before you come to the end of yourself, and reach out to God for his help.

Getting to level 3 is involves a conscious decision to make a break with your sin. You repent before God, and probably others, and decide to live a new way. This is the stage I am most interested in here. What motivation will get you moving forward, and keep you moving?

I have been reading John Owen’s work, The Mortification of Sin, and one thing he said really struck me:

A man who only opposes the sin in his heart for fear of shame among men or eternal punishment from God would practice the sin if there were no punishment attending it.

Owen’s understanding of our sinful hearts is dead on! For years I labored under this misunderstanding of grace. I tried to stop using pornography because I wanted to avoid the negative effects of this sin, but my motivation was ultimately legalistic, and those efforts met with failure. If I could sin all I wanted without any consequences, then I would gladly embrace sin. My heart hadn’t been set free by grace.

“Such a person has cast off, in this respect, renewing grace, and is kept from ruin only because of restraining grace. He has fallen a great way from grace and returned under the power of the law. Must this not be a great provocation to Christ, that men should cast off his gentle yoke and rule, to cast themselves back under the iron yoke of the law, merely because of their lusts?”

So what should your motivation be? “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Corinthians 5:9)” Living a life that is pleasing to God doesn’t come from our iron will to abstain from sin because of our fear of consequences, but rather emanates from practicing faith in Christ because we love him. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)”

Only a motivation that is based on renewing grace will suffice. Having been accepted by God through the work of Christ, we determine to deal with sin because we are forgiven.

I would appreciate your thoughts and comments.

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A Blog Revisited

I admit it – I may be the world’s most neglectful blogger. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I don’t want to commit every stray thought to a blog, as if anything I can conjure up is worth reading. I write carefully because my stray thoughts are like stray cats: you never really know where they’re going to go next. The primary reason that this blog has been neglected is that I’ve been busy, colossally busy.

For the last two years I have been preparing a book for publication, called Porn Free: Finding Renewal through Truth and Community, based on the curriculum I developed for the Sexual Integrity for Men course here at Xenos Christian Fellowship. The manuscript is done now, and I’m working with an editor friend of mine to turn it into something readable. A book proposal will be going out soon to publishers, and if all goes well and it gets published, you’ll be seeing it this year. I’ll keep you posted here.

In the meantime, it’s high time I started paying attention to this space.

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