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Smart Phones and Self-Governance

“The fruit of the Spirit is…self-control” (Gal.5:22) “A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.” (Prov. 25:28)   I’ve learned not to trust my friend – he’s like that “city with broken walls.” He says that he’ll be there for me, that he’ll follow up. But he…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
“The fruit of the Spirit is…self-control” (Gal.5:22) “A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.” (Prov. 25:28)
I’ve learned not to trust my friend – he’s like that “city with broken walls.” He says that he’ll be there for me, that he’ll follow up. But he doesn’t. He furthermore says he loves his family, but then he does stuff that deeply hurts them. My friend can’t self-govern.
But before you judge my friend, what about the gap between your intention and your behavior? For example, what does it say about you if you spend more time on your smart phone than you intend to? Yes, let’s assume it happens occasionally, but what if it becomes a habit for you?
It begs the question: Is it possible to set up your life so that it is governed by technology and still be self-governing?
My answer is “no.” To be self-governing implies that you are living by design. Your actions and your values are in sync. You are able to control your behavior (your decisions, moods, words and time-usage) based on your belief-system. 
Everybody has a set of values that they adhere to. Some, for example, may say that freedom trumps all values for them. But you have to compare that value with the way they act. If they are controlled by their smart phone, are they free? Their behavior may not be in line with their value system.
Alcoholics may say that they value their children, yet in a drunken rage may verbally and physically abuse them. Wife-beating husbands may plead, “I promise, I’ve changed. I’ll never do that again.” But their actions contradict their beliefs. What is a wife to believe, her husband’s words, or her lyin’ eyes?
What about when your belief system is unclear or where two of your values pull in opposite directions? For example, what about when you say you value your friends, yet you spend more time on your smart phone than with them?
Or what about people on a mission trip intending to show the love of God to those in need who are absorbed in their smart phones? They may use the phrase, “I’m an adult” implying that a mission agency shouldn’t control their behavior. They can be trusted to do the right thing. But can they? Adults self-govern. Adult behavior implies self-control. 
The issue should spark some self-examination:
  • Do you find yourself checking your smart phone during lulls in a conversation?
  • Do you spend a lot of time looking down at your phone?
  • Do you struggle with staying present?
  • What would it look like for you to put your phone away for a week? 
So, how are you in this area? Ask your friends and family – what will they say about your engagement with your smart phone? What will they say about your ability to self-govern?

Comments (20)

  • This is the best blog on this topic (tho I see it has been progressive.) You have gone to the heart of the battle – intention vs. action, addressing life by flesh-choices vs. Spirit-choices and hypocrisy vs. integrity. In any and every arena in life. I am ever looking to the One Who is for us, an ever present, loving help!

    • Thanks, Kathy. Wrote it on the plane to Ohio this weekend.

      There will be more to follow this one that help us to wrestle with the issue of breaking addiction.

  • Brilliant Seth, and this cuts right to the point of the matter. I’ve been following this issue and can say it was a huge struggle for a lot of people on my squad. There have been many people who have commented saying Adventures needs to have sessions with the Racers and teach them how to self-govern themselves. What they don’t realize is that those conversations have been had and we’re talking about all of this now becuse those conversations and encouragements and feedback sessions haven’t worked. Adventures can only do so much in the way of encouragement and the passing on of wisdom gleaned from past experiences. At the end of the day each Racer is going to make a decision for themselves based on personal values and disciplines.

    One of my squad leaders was passionate about personal discipline and truly lead by example in this area. Some people took it to heart. Others didn’t. But those who did are happier with the way they finished the Race I would say.

    When we operate out of our human nature, we resist admitting we need help or that we have a problem at all costs. I know because this happens to be one of the biggest and hardest things I’ve had to overcome. We don’t want to admit we’re addicted, because that would require us to change our behavior. For someone to suggest we are addicted or ask us to give up our phones feels like a personal attack on our “rights.”

    • You’ve got it, Derek. And frankly, I struggle as much as many. I feel like I’m starting up an AA group!

  • This is really great and timely. This morning I had a thought of just being more present in the moment or still. Then later I read this post and just confirmed that I need to exercise self control. Really like your questions at the end.

    When I first got around iPhone users, I was shocked how they would not be present in a conversation but if we laughed or the topic became interesting they wanted us to repeat ourselves. And then I became one. So easy to get sucked into a virtual cage!

    Challenged me enough to share the post with my fiancĂ©e. You probably now have a new fan 🙂 and I won’t be able to forget the post any time soon – ha ha.

    My social media probably has cost me more than I want to admit. My 700 or so “friends” can do without another social update or sermon tweet that keeps me distracted from the very people around me or from really hearing the sermon.

    Need to be more present.

    Keep challenging us!

    • Congratulations on finding your fiance, Steve – please greet my new fan for me!

      Yes – this is tough stuff. I plan to come out w/ a smart phone addiction assessment next. That will hurt even more!

  • I think this does get right to the core of what we need and what will bring life. Sarah and I just got internet at our house. For the last 5 months we were internetless at the house. It was great. Now that we have it, I don’t see it as a bad thing, but an opportunity to still be present when the opportunity is there to check out.

    I am thankful for the ways our family has aimed to eat dinner together every night – to connect. But lately since we have gotten internet, my tendency is to get absorbed into reading random crap online. I noticed I was not doing my wife any favors who’s love language is quality time. I also could feel a sluggishness creeping in. Being present in the midst of the ever growing distractions this world is continually offering is a battle, but one definitely worth fighting.

    It reminds me of a Henri Nowen book called The Way of the Heart. It is probably one of the most influential books I have read on keeping still and tuning in to the presence of God. He lays out three aspect of our spiritual life – Silence, Solitude and Prayer. He is one of those seminal thinkers we were talking about the other day. Obviously he has written a lot of books, but he gives expert guidance in today’s world because he walked it out so well in today’s world.

    Good stuff. Great conversation that provokes a desire for change not only in my own life, but every one else’s I share space with.

    • Yes, we all could probably stand to up our game some. To clarify our intentions and then to clarify our accountability. Thanks for sharing, Jordan!

  • Ha ha, I think you are, Seth!
    Derek’s last paragraph there is so true. We live in an instant age – instant food, instant coffee, instant information. The lie is that somehow we will suffer or miss out if we don’t stay swimming in the river of information, albeit mostly trivia in truth. It keeps us gasping for air and paddling hard to keep up with it all at the surface, but God wants to lead us to follow the stream and head for the depths and the places of quiet waters with Him. And He is not part of the instant age. Waiting on God requires time and the gift of our full attention.
    It is a big lie in the church that it is essential to be struggling in that river or you are disconnected with culture. Time to break that one methinks.

  • I was listening to a podcast by Ravi Zacharias yesterday in which he referred to a study of kindergartners. Children were given 1 marshmallow by their teacher and told she had to go to the office but would be back in a short while and if they hadn’t eaten the marshmallow, then she would give them another, so they would get two to eat. They were told if they ate the marshmellow while she was gone, that is all that would get. The hidden cameras on this are hilarious. The data is sobering though. They tracked these kids something like 25 years later or more, and almost to a T, those children that were able to exercise self-control, discipline and understand the concept of delayed gratification were the adults who were successful and managing well in life. Those who ate that first marshmallow were almost exclusively the ones who as adults were struggling and in trouble.

    Be it a cell phone or a marshmellow in one’s hand, self-control and discipline has lifelong consequences.

  • I too, have been watching this thing unfold. The comments and the passion of some of the young people in regard to removing or at least adding a little balance to the issue.
    I have been a member of AA since 1986 and it still dumbfounds me as I attend one of our meetings and I hear the unmistakable vibrating of a call or text or media message coming in to someones phone in someones pocket or purse. Occasionally we get a loud ringtone that usually embarrasses the person to physically get up and run out of the meeting and TAKE THAT CALL! When we start our meetings our chairperson now (most meetings) remind us to SILENCE our phones before the meeting begins.
    Believe me this isn’t just an World Race problem. This has become a problem for so many people that have embraced that technology.
    It reminds me in a way prior to my getting into recovery in AA going to counseling (before smart phones) and getting into some real hard emotional work, a real breakthrough, and someone (due to their own feelings being tweaked, and afraid of going there, interrupting just like a cell phone ringing, and the emotion, and the feelings become lost. The human being in that short time shuts down.
    On the other side of the example is just that, you are out in the field and at one of those only God can bring about moments, just like in that counseling circle something is going on that God is working to bring about in a life, and I mean any interruption in that train of thought could derail the whole experience.
    I used to travel to Colorado when I was in my early twenties. I used to be so proud of myself for taking off for two full weeks without reading any media, or watching any TV. Those vacations are still some of the best moments that I have ever spent with myself.
    When I first came into AA I asked another man to be my “sponsor”. A sponsor is someone who has been in the program, and has worked through the Twelve Steps in their life, and is now in a matter of speaking is “giving away what God so freely gave him,” to help another person with their struggle. He asked me a very important question. Are you willing to go to any lengths to keep your sobriety? I replied yes. We then knelt together, joined hands, and recited our Third Step Prayer from our AA Big Book.
    “God, I offer myself to thee, to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me from the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life. May I do Thy will always!”

    So, are you willing to go to any lengths?

  • Thanks Seth.

    Unrelated, will AIM have a retreat again open to everyone similar to the one in 2008?

    Wow 7 years have flown by!

  • Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. …Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. -Romans 8:5-6,12-13 Any good thing which we put above God can be bad. Our question should be are we honoring God with our cellphone usage?

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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