Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Applying What We Know About Our Internet Usage to Our Spiritual Lives

Just had a few thoughts from yesterday's piece that covered the Atlantic Monthly article, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" The article is, I think, a good wake-up call for those of us who frequently browse the Internet. In particular, I think that it encourages us not to compartmentalize our lives. By this I mean that we should not think that our Internet usage is cordoned off from our spiritual lives. What does this mean on a practical level? Let me share.

Yesterday's post touched on a number of other concerns that I have regarding constant Web use by Christians. Today, though, I want to zero in on the problematic question of how our devotional life is affected by the Internet. Put simply, if in our usage of the Web we are training ourselves to concentrate in ten-second bursts, we're going to struggle, I think, to sustain a meaningful devotional life. Devotions are not essential to being a Christian. That is, you don't have to have a thirty-minute time set aside each day for prayer and Bible study to be a Christian. However, most Christians throughout the ages have found that in order to walk closely with God on a daily basis, it is quite helpful to set aside time for these things. In our devotional time, we seek to focus for a period of time on God and His influence on our spiritual lives. Contemplation and thoughtfulness are thus at a premium when it comes to devotions.

Every Christian who has ever tried to do devotions knows that it's hard to do them. Your attention wanders, your concentration drifts, and sooner than you can know it, you're miles away from your church's weekly prayer requests, or Jeremiah's lamentations. How important, then, that in all of our lives, we cultivate mental habits that train us to focus, and not to flit. If you are constantly surfing the web, nibbling on content, I am guessing that you will find it challenging to dig into the Word. If you check email every ten minutes, I would venture that your concentration will easily shift from prayer to distracted thought. Why should it be otherwise? You're training yourself to do just that--to shift.

In seeking to be wise, discerning, disciplined Christians, then, we've got to think hard not just about what we take in, but how we take it in. Most Christians are quite aware of the need to avoid bad Internet content. Few of us, I would guess, are aware of the need to avoid a bad approach to the Internet. As in many areas of life, we simply consume it like the masses around us, thinking little about its effect on our lives.

We should not allow the Internet to shred our devotional lives. If we do surf the Web and check email, we should do so carefully, such that we are capable of deep reflection and sustained attention. Our devotional lives can only be rich if we develop such abilities. Also, though, how can we expect ourselves and others to pay attention to sermons and hymns if we're constantly trafficking in information? If our personal devotional life will suffer from overexposure to the Internet, so too will our congregational participation as members of churches. We'll check in and out of sermons, tune out of the very songs we're singing, and generally regard church with a glazed-over boredom, all the while unaware that it is not church and its offerings that are the problem--it is us and the attention spans we have trained to flit and flicker and fade in and out that are the problem. Shame on us for so often blaming the church and the pastor when it is almost solely we who are to blame.

Do you exhibit these symptoms? I know I do at times. If so, train your senses. Re-think your Internet consumption. Carve out within yourself the ability to focus and think deeply. Your spiritual life--and your church life--can only benefit as a result, and God can only be glorified as another area of one's life opens up to the transforming power of God's Word.

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