I’m a big Norman Rockwell fan and prints of a few of my favorites hang in my office. But one, Lift Up Thine Eyes, doesn’t really look Rockwellian. In a departure from his depiction of everyday life in small town America, Lift Up Thine Eyes is set on the street of a bustling metropolis. Contrary to Rockwell’s classic idyllic illustrations of dreamy-eyed youth and optimistic adults, the subjects in Lift Up Thine Eyes are downcast and expressionless. So focused on the worries in their own world these men and women unknowingly pass by a church whose newly changed marquee reads: Lift Up Thine Eyes.
Even though the work was painted in the 1950’s I’m taken with how applicable the message is still today. In fact, if Rockwell were alive to update the painting for the Twenty-first Century, all he would need to do is place a cell phone in the hand of each pedestrian and he would perfectly capture the ethos of our time.
A 2018 report indicated that the average American checks their phone 52 times a day. While I haven’t seen recent statistics, my guess is that time on smart devices has increased during the COVID-19 outbreak.
I know it has for me.
How about you? Do you find yourself spending more time on your phone during this season of isolation? Are you more likely to mindlessly scroll through social media feeds, pass the time playing games, spend way too much energy (and money) shopping online?
For others, the default isn’t vegging out, it’s doubling down. Maybe your greatest temptation is to prove that nothing is going to stop you from being productive. Maybe your phone is not a tool for distraction, but a reminder of all the people you need to call, emails you need to return, touches you need to make, projects you need to complete.
What happens when we are left to our own devices? What happens to you?
D.A. Carson’s cogent observation: “People do not drift toward holiness.” serves as a powerful reminder that left to our own devices, the current of our flesh will push us downstream toward sloth or performancism or lust or greed or whatever — anything rather than holiness.
What can you do to stay upstream?
1) Recognize the tendency to drift. As Carson noted, left to our own devices, we not actively pursue Christ. Rather than give in to our carnal nature, Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and follow Him.
2) Realize the role your devices are playing in your life? Be honest about this. For some, technology has been a wonderful tool for growth and connection. For others, however, it has proven to be a snare. Facebook stalking, meme sharing, virtue signaling, theology shaming, and mindless surfing are great temptations, but be honest, how often do you feel edified, encouraged, or refreshed afterwards?
3) Repent of the ways you’ve used your phone, tablet, computer, etc. to disguise, dull, or deny the deep ache in your soul. Even though these broken cisterns fail to slake the thirst, many continue to return to them. Acknowledge these empty pursuits and turn your heart, soul, and mind heavenward. John Newton’s great hymn Tedious and Tasteless was penned 250 years ago. Yet, its message still holds true. Here’s verse 1:
How tedious and tasteless the hours
When Jesus no longer I see
Sweet prospects, sweet birds, and sweet flowers
Have all lost their sweetness to me
The midsummer sun shines, but dim
The fields strive in vain to look gay
But when I am happy in Him
December’s as pleasant as May
4) Redeem the tool and/or the time. Rather than use your devices as functional saviors, utilize them to help you grow as a disciple.
Here are a few ideas:
- Utilize a Scripture reading app. Several sources, like esv.org, provide a variety of daily Bible reading plans.
- Create a prayer journal.
- Use the alarm feature on your phone to remind you to pray — or to spend a few minutes in silence or meditating on God’s word.
- Text Scripture passages or words of encouragement to others.
- Listen to great sermons, teaching, or devotionals. RightNow Media is a great place to start.
- Call someone and let them know how grateful you are for them.
- Sing along with your favorite worship songs.
- Set aside a specific time of day when you turn off all of the alarms, alerts, and reminders and be still.
Then lift up thine eyes.