The digital age hurries and shatters our concentration into a million little pieces, and now the greatest challenge to literacy is a short attention span.
Haste is infectious. It affects everything about our lives, even the way we read and study God’s Word. We jet through the Bible and search for the “bite-sized nuggets.” C. S. Lewis warned that, “We can become so busy doing things with the work that we give it too little chance to work on us.” Is your attention hastening from one great biblical resource to another? Do you find yourself scanning rather than digesting much of the articles, videos, and Bible passages at hand? Do you overwhelm your reason with a barrage of biblical truths but don’t sit still long enough to give it time to work on you?
Here are three practical suggestions that help us slow down and think deeper about the Word of God:
1. Hold the paper-bound Bible more. As the writer of an article on bbc.com keenly stated, “the rise of apps and social media is changing the way many of the world’s two billion Christians worship – and even what it means to be religious.” There is no surprise that “the mobile phone Bible is replacing the book Bible” in our modern age (Chris Walker, 2017). Digital reading is often paired with hurried minds and fingers. According to statistics, “digital readers naturally read too quickly.” The screen conditions us to skim hastily, zoom fast, and zip on the surface of our texts. In short, we are hurried into reading, breaking down our concentration, shrinking our attention spans, and weakening the hard work of deep reading.
Perhaps the speedy clicks on tablets, rather than the monotonous turns of paper pages, buys us time. The concise Bible messages, or the digital highlighted verses shared all over social media may promote a more individualized, expressive, personalized faith. The ease and practicality of a thin-electronic tablet may override the bulky leather-bound book. But are we forfeiting unknown depths and glorious discoveries in the frenzy of saving time? In the desperate hurry to find ourselves in the scroll of our phones, are we transforming the Bible into a “pick-and-mix” book, overlooking its broader themes? Are we distancing ourselves slowly from the weightiness of God’s Word by choosing practicality and easiness that fits in our pockets better than in our hands? Are we reading the Bible more like “it was Wikipedia, rather than a sacred text in itself, missing out on all the feeling stuff and going straight to the information”?
Christians are rightly called “people of the book” where God reveals his absolute and timeless truth. After all, God wasn’t satisfied to just tell Moses the law and stories, he wrote them down himself on the tablets. And they were not the smart, digital tablets, but rather heavy, bulky, sizable stone ones (hard to fit in anyone’s purse or jean pocket, for that matter). As people of the Word, there must be more advantages God thought of when he ran his finger over his stone prints. Advantages such as the awakening of our visceral pleasure that only printed books can provide—the soft pages, the smell of the fresh print, the weight of the book, the visual thickness of the story. Could the delight at holding the physical Book actually slow us down, pin our concentration, and take us for a dive deep into the meaning of God’s truths? What other advantages do you see to holding and reading a paper-bound Bible?
2. Commit to one good passage at a time. Being on social media is like being in a perpetual airport. There are just as many points of view and topics discussed as there are destinations to fly to. A timeless saying, addressing the taking in of multiple types of readings, warns that, “Tasting one dish after another is the sign of a fussy stomach, and where the foods are dissimilar and diverse in range they lead to contamination of the system, not nutrition.” He then sums it all up, “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” To adapt his point to portions of Bible intake, I’d say, “To be everywhere quickly, is to be nowhere long enough to make a difference.”
Maybe we need to learn to linger more. Lingering is when we don’t allow haste to lead us on to other resources as quickly as with a finger swipe. Lingering is camping on one good Biblical passage or article—giving it time to germinate within us for as long as it takes. Lingering is intentional locking of our attention in on one single direction, rather than following the urge to be everywhere in our apps. It is the practice of “Be still and know that I am God”—a call not to boring inactivity for Christians, but an invitation to actively pursue God single-mindedly, from a passionate heart dressed in godly, intentional peace (Ps. 46:10).
But lingering is hard in this electronic age. As Tony Reinke points out, “we have been trained not to linger over digital texts.” It’s a danger that affects our love for God’s Word. But we shouldn’t give up working on it just because it is counterintuitive. In fact, learning to linger benefits our hearts more than we realize. John Piper sums it up in this way, “What our eyes linger on, our hearts will learn to love. What our hearts love, our eyes will linger on.”
When was the last time you stopped scrolling and chose to linger for some time on a single passage in God’s Word? How else could you practice lingering in God’s Word in our technological age?
3.Pursue the Bible above all others great books. The world has seen over 130 million books published so far. According to statista.com, it looks like 7 out of 10 Americans still make time to read at least one book a year. With numbers reaching 300,000 of books per year (e-books and print), choosing what to read requires just as much intentionality and time. Trends often dictate our personal reading lists. Instagram pictures of new book releases makes it easier to know who is reading what these days. Entire articles are dedicated on admired leaders’ overall picks of most favorite books.
“Literature and art are God’s gifts to human race,” says Leland Ryken. Beautiful literature is a gift God bestows on readers to be enjoyed and tapped into with delight and praise. Truth is, I look forward to such beautiful new releases, captivating novels, and brilliant topical books. But no book should be mined deeper than the Bible itself. And though, some may argue, the Bible is not as cutting edge as most best-sellers or popular books, it is sharper than any cutting-edge sword still.
Social media may glorify books, award authors, and dictate what is “beautiful” in its own eyes. But, as an English major and former French professor, I grew to appreciate and love the beautiful literature and styles of the Bible as truly powerful and transformative, unlike any man-made works out there. God’s presence and power is tied to this Book—to living, breathing, active words. Because the Bible is unlike any other book, it should be read unlike any other book. If we neglect to do so, “we not only cut ourselves from the divine umbilical cord that feeds our souls, we also cut ourselves from the truth that makes it possible for us to benefit from the truth, goodness, and beauty in [all the other] books that we read” (Tony Reinke).
Do you intentionally pursue the Bible more than you do all other kinds of literature and books? When was the last time you went to bed, excited to wake up and spend rested time in your Bible?
“Not everything that greets the soul can offer it nourishment”—a sobering reminder for Christians in our digital age. Haste keeps us from lingering, diverting us onto the next lit screen. The danger of diversion is that it eventually numbs our minds and tires the heart. But it’s not all the social media’s fault. Clicking our hearts away into spiritual anemia is a symptom rather of an already distracted, hassled heart. Un-plugging for a season may help the heart and mind heal and regain some rest. But in the end, the best way to restore full healing to our inner parts is to plug the heart and mind to the source of all life, Jesus. Once connected to Christ by faith, his supernatural peace is transmitted directly to our inner being. And although there is no app for this, there is God’s guiding Book, still surpassing all human (digital) understanding of all times.