How Purpose Defeats Distraction
In 2 ½ years, I will be 40 years old, which the Internet says is the beginning of Middle Age, that “period of human adulthood that immediately precedes the onset of old age” (Britannica.com). As I rapidly approach the time when there will be more days behind me than before me (if I haven’t reached that point already), I am becoming more and more aware of my limitations. My strength is limited. My mental capacity is limited. My time is limited. My influence is limited. And as the onrush of time and my limitations press in on me, I’ve been thinking more and more about that silly little computer I carry around in my pocket and stare at for too many hours each week. I don’t want the second half of my life to be marked by useless, mindless scrolling. I don’t want to reach the end of my days knowing there were thousands of hours wasted: minutes, hours, days when I didn’t accomplish the purpose for which God put me on this earth.
The Tech Threat
I sense I’m not the only adult feeling the fleeting nature of time and the sense that technology can cause us to waste it. In fact, I’d argue that for many Christians, their smartphone is a bigger threat to their soul than the secular world and its anti-God agenda. I agree with New York Times columnist Ross Douthat; When asked how concerned he was that his children would grow up in a secular, anti-religious culture, Douthat held up his cell phone and said the device he was holding in his hand was more concerning to him than the direction of Hollywood, universities, media, or the government. In the phone and all the technology it represents, he saw an instrument far more effective than any of those institutions at consuming his children’s attention and forming their affections away from God and toward self.
To counteract the phone’s time-wasting affects, I’ve implemented many of the tips and tricks for technology control outlined in helpful books like Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport or The Common Rule by Justin Whitmel Earley. I’ve put my phone “to bed” at night. I’ve tried to not wake up to it in the morning. I put it in a drawer at my office so it doesn’t distract. I try not to look at it during meetings or conversations with family and friends. But those are not permanent solutions. Those self-disciplines are necessary, but they don’t take away the allure of distraction. They help me save time, but they don’t teach me to value it.
I know that if I deleted social media, got rid of my cell phone, and stayed off the Internet, I’d still be prone to distraction and time wasting. I know that because I struggled with both when I was a kid, even before the iPhone existed or Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook. So as I reach the second half of my life, with a cell phone along for the ride, I don’t need less technology. I need more wisdom. I need to pray the Psalmist’s prayer. “So teach us to number our days so that we may present to you a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
Resisting the Temptation
Clearly, the wisdom I need for the second half of my life is found in the Word of God. But if I’m looking specifically for the wisdom that can help me resist the allure of technology and time-wasting, I need to go back to the beginning of God’s Word. I need to understand why God has put me on this earth. Only when I understand His purpose for my time will I be able to maximize it with joy and spend it with meaning.
God’s purpose for me—for all his creatures—is first laid out in Genesis 1:27-31. Here’s the text:
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ 29 Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every animal of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food’; and it was so. 31 And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
While mankind’s fall into sin changed so much about us, it did not change this creational mandate. This text applies to you and I today as much as it applied to Adam and Eve before they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In these verses, I see purpose for my second half of life and the antidote to my tendency toward distraction.
Humans are the only part of God’s creation made in His image. That gives us staggering glory and meaning. The creator of the Universe—the all-powerful Lord of heaven and earth—has decided to craft men and women in His likeness. Among all the privileges of being made in God’s image, the highest and most wonderful is that we have the relational capacity to commune with God. As Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the Creator is inherently relational. To be made in His image is to share that relational capacity and to be capable of relationship with God. Nowhere is this more eloquently spoken of than in the gospel of John. “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent,” (vs 3). Knowing Christ only happens through a deep dive into His glory. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit,” (2 Corinthians 3:18). I want to spend the second half of my life knowing God. Understanding the One whose image I bear.
Beyond my pursuit of God, there are specific tasks God has given me, tasks I cannot be distracted from if I am going to fulfill my calling and live a meaningful, joyful life. I am going to look at those tasks in Part 2. Only when we understand what God calls us to will we have the motivation to pull away from time-wasting technology.