An Unsettling Study

Before reading this article, it would be beneficial to read Mark Hoeksema’s editorial from the May issue of Beacon Lights.

What you read in this article may shock you. It may be something you’ve never taken into consideration. Or it may be something your parents are constantly badgering you about. Whatever the case may be, please consider what I have to say, so that we can combat such temptations and habits together.

What fellow Beacon Lights staff member, Jake Dykstra, and I decided to do was to calculate how much time we spent on social media and on our phones in general for three days as a follow-up to the previous editorial. Our findings emphasized some scary things, much to our chagrin.  Here are our findings.

For the three days, Jake used an app that tracked his total phone time, which apps he used most, longest usage time, etc. Jake’s average time spent on his phone was about two hours and thirty-one minutes. This app also recorded how many times he “quick checked” his phone (“quick checks” being turning his phone on, unlocking it, looking at the screen, and shutting off the screen). In one day, he checked his phone 95 times.

I, too, downloaded an app that tracked my phone usage, although I deleted Instagram and Snapchat weeks ago, so my data will be skewed—my usage time would have been much higher if I still had those apps. My average daily phone usage was about two hours and sixteen minutes. Instead of “quick checks,” my app counted the number of times I opened my phone in general, which was, at its peak, 154 times.

The data shocked me, as it should. Putting numbers to the amount of time I spent on my phone made how much time I was on my phone more of a reality. After I sat ashamed for a while, I began to ponder some things: what was I removing from my daily schedule to make room for my phone? If I cut down the time spent on my phone, what could I be doing instead? Daily devotions, art projects, helping more around the house, homework, interacting with my family, or learning a new hobby? The amount of time spent on my phone demonstrated a lack of prioritizing, or at least, warped priorities.

Whenever we talk about priorities, the matter becomes one of our hearts. Are they concerned with the things of God? Or are they more attached to the things of the world? Something that has stuck with me comes from one of Rev. Haak’s sermons. He said that you would know where your heart lies by what you first pick up in the morning. If you pick your phone up first, then you are giving your heart to the physical and temporal things of the world and to the devil. But, if you pick up your Bible first, then your heart belongs solely to God.

In my case, my heart was more connected to my phone than to God. I was giving my phone precedence over God, which is blatant idolatry. I didn’t even notice how my phone slowly and sneakily took over my time so that I had little to no room for God. The number of “quick checks” alone demonstrated this.

God warns of such idols taking over our lives in ­­­­Matthew 6:24, but rather than using the “idol,” he inspired Matthew to write “master.” The word master connotates a hierarchical relationship, the master controlling his servant, the servant obeying every command. It isn’t a coincidence that God chose this word because if we really think about it, our phones have become our masters. Our lives revolve around them, their battery life, and the amount of data we have left. They ring, vibrate, or chime, and we come running, like any good servant would.

Our phones might not be graven images, but they can take over our lives just as naturally, effectively, and entirely as any pagan god. Through a combination of our sinful natures and Satan’s deceptive ploys, we are susceptible. Satan tells us that having our phones nearby is a good thing in case someone needs to contact us in an emergency or so that we can quickly Google something we have a question on. Don’t get me wrong, these can be good things, but, as the saying goes, you give an inch, he will take a mile. Once Satan has his foot in the door, it will be difficult to get him out.

Checking our phones only for emergency calls or texts becomes a constant checking of our other social media apps or mindless games. As we sink deeper into the social acceptance of being on our phones constantly, our master, the phone, takes full control, rather than our master God. I know that I am at a point where I can’t tell who controls me more, God or my phone.

How can I change this? I don’t want to be reined to my phone, a bit in my mouth, but I want to be able to feel free, which God offers to me. I want him to be my master, not some technological device that can only offer me brief satisfaction and instantaneous contact.

I challenge you to join me in the next couple of weeks to participate in a few things to help us lose the addiction, break the bonds our earthly master, and let God command our lives. First, I advise you to get an app that calculates your phone usage. It helped Jake and me uncover what our sinful natures didn’t want us to see, showing us our need for God. Second, delete those apps that lure you in, that you spend too much time on. It will hurt at first, believe me, but in the end, you’ll find that they aren’t worth the time you give them. Third, every time you want to “quick check” your phone, pick up something else instead, like a book, some homework, your Bible, etc. This diversion should help you forget about your phone for the time being. Fourth, pray for yourselves and your brothers and sisters in Christ as you all struggle with this addiction. The best way to be comforted comes from direct conversation between you and God (Matt. 26:41; John 14:16; 2 Cor. 13:4–9, James 5:16). Fifth, if you feel as if your efforts to change are pointless, and you want to give in to the temptations of your phone, trust that God is your strength (Ps. 46:1) and will never leave you to fend for yourself, even after you turned from him. He carries you through the battle against your earthly master, your phone. Sixth, reorganize your priorities. Put God first in your life because he’s most important and all that matters.

So, I ask one more time, where does your heart lie? Will you pick your phone up first tomorrow? Or will you pick up your Bible?