Phone: iDol or iTool?

He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it….He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire….And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” Isaiah 44:14-17 ESV

These verses make me smile every time I read them. In reality they should make me cringe. Isaiah demonstrates the absurdity of idols…they are truly nothing more than wood: the same wood used to make a fire. While it’s easy to see how worthless idolatrous statues are, recognizing our own idols can be more challenging. In the same way that wood can be used as both fire fuel and an idol, our smartphones can as well.

I’m reading a convicting book by Tony Reinke on the 12 Ways Your Phones Is Changing You. In some ways it makes me want to throw away my phone. In other ways it reminds me of the powerful tool my phone can be for the gospel. Perhaps in this dichotomy lies our spiritual formation challenge. Perhaps our phones double as the cedar trees of Isaiah’s day. On the one hand, we can use our phones to read the Bible, encourage others, share the gospel, and build relationships. On the other hand, our phones can become idols, sweeping us up into the latest tweets, pins, posts and snaps. It’s ironic to me how quickly I laugh at the foolishness of the idolater in Isaiah and fail to notice the idolatry lurking in my own life.

Like most aspects of our spiritual formation, there isn’t a clear-cut solution on our phones. On any regular day, my phone probably serves as a gospel tool for part of the day and a idol for another part of it. However, by recognizing this truth, I can begin to ask the Lord Jesus to convict me of my idolatrous use of the phone (areas where I look to the phone to satisfy me rather than Him). Then I can bring this aspect of my life under His Lordship–which is what spiritual formation is all about.

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