bible holding man pointing to heaven

Friend, Follower, Or Both?

How many friends do you have? Growing up, if you’d asked me that question, I would likely have responded with, “three.” Today, that answer would sound like something a social misfit, a highly introverted person, or the local pariah might say. There were many people in my life that I would have called acquaintances. That number would likely have been significantly more than three, but probably not more than fifty.

Now, what about followers? To be honest, I can’t honestly say I had any followers. Later on I learned there were a few girls in highschool and college who might, I say might, have been sufficiently interested in me to classify as followers and for a short time I did have a couple that would classify as stalkers. Fortunately for me, they seemed to have A.D.D. and their interest quickly turned to someone else.

Today, in the age of social media, those terms have come to mean something else entirely. However, there is a distinction that separates the two, which comes down to a basic principle: social media friends are those you know personally, while those you follow are people of interest to you, though they’re outside your circle of real-life relations.

So, what about your spiritual life? Are you a friend of Jesus, a follower of Jesus, or both? And what does that mean?

A few years ago while listening to one of my favourite preachers, God really poked me in the eye with Isaiah 55:6.

Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.

KJV

What really convicted me were the words while he may be found. The implication of those words is, of course, that a time will come when we cannot find Him.

This has led me over the past few years to really dig into the idea of seeking the Lord and what that means.

I have been reading scripture for almost 60 years now. I first read the bible from cover to cover the year I turned 50 and have done so many times since, but mostly I’m a daily reader without a concise reading plan.

It has been mostly through my bible reading that I have sought the Lord. Yet I feel as though simply reading scripture ‌may not be all that is required in seeking the Lord.

The word seek means to go in search of – to discover. It implies a methodology. When searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack, one wouldn’t expect much success if you simply jumped into the pile and began throwing around handfuls of hay.

Seeking the Lord is a journey of discovery and so I’ve concluded that I needed to read the bible differently, to slow down, to meditate and think deeply about scripture. To consume it as though it were a delicious meal.

Listen to the words God spoke to his people before Isaiah told them to seek the Lord.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

Isa 55: 1-3 NIV

I was an early adopter of digital bible reading. I loved the myriad of things I could do with a digital copy of the bible. Sharing with friends was especially easy, but I could also look up the Greek translations, search commentaries, find reading plans, even publish small group studies with links, comments, and prayer requests.

But strangely, the devices seemed to wear on me over time. Whether it was my eyes or my brain or just the feel of paper, I felt like I was missing something with pixels. My spirit didn’t seem quite as settled, quite as calm and at peace, when I looked at a screen. But mostly, I was far more distracted by those devices. Often it was a text or an email, but all those App options frequently became rabbit trails that took me off the main path, the path where I was walking and talking with my savior, to a place where, while filling my head with lots of very good information, my heart remained quite empty and alone. Why?

There has been plenty of research on the effects of the internet on our brains.

We have learned to develop two kinds of reading, paired with particular media. One is more linear, slower, deeper, deliberate, logical, coherent, sustained, and on paper. The other: more nonlinear, fast, scattered, disjointed, and shallower, as we browse and scan, eyes jumping or darting around the page, digital

David Mathis; Are Paper Bibles Better? How Screens Shape Our Reading

We need to understand the value of what we may be losing when we skim text so rapidly that we skip the precious milliseconds of deep reading processes. For it is within these moments — and these processes in our brains — that we might reach our own important insights and breakthroughs.

Maryanne Wolf. Director of the Center For Reading and Language Research, Tufts University

Reading on digital devices does not create the same kind of brain circuits as deep reading” beware of “the habit of superficial comprehension developed in digital reading. As a ‘People of the Book,’ Christians have a particular calling to preserve and promote the gift of deep reading from physical Bibles.”

Karen Swallow Prior, Professor of English at Southwestern Seminary

But the real “why” may be… why are we so attracted to reading on a device in the first place. Nicholas Carr, in his book: The Shallows – What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains says…

Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts — the faster, the better.

The words, the faster, the better, ring true. In this world of Uber-busyness, we are all looking for ways to save our precious time and, in many cases, we associate convenience with time saving. What could be more convenient than having this rich resource of biblical material at our fingertips at all times? Instead of thumbing through pages trying to find a verse, while the pastor continues on in the sermon, we can often retrieve that verse in a few seconds on our device. It’s convenient. We can cut it, paste it, highlight it, make a note about it, in the blink of an eye.

But it’s been said that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Indeed, God has pursued a relationship with us since the beginning, but within the structure of relationships, what role does convenience play? What would your marriage look like if you only communicated when or in a way that was convenient to you, or if your physical intimacy was based on what was convenient for you or your spouse, or you only spent time with one another when it was convenient? For relationships to flourish, we have to invest our time, our energy, we have to be sacrificial as we seek to be in relationship with others.

We all know that devices that were intended for our convenience or even for our pleasure have resulted in us being, as TS Elliot said, “Distracted from Distraction by Distraction.  and the words of the Apostle Paul ring loudly in our ears…

…there is none that seeketh after God.

Romans 3:11 KJV

Please understand I am not making a case to abandon digital. The ship has sailed on digital. We can’t avoid it and many of the reasons myself and others adopted digital in the first place really can add value to our Christian journey.

What I am saying is that all of us need to seek the Lord. Like the merchant looking for fine pearls, we must treasure our time with Jesus and His Word. And one way we can do that is by reading deeply. You see, it’s not really the medium, but the meditation.

As I returned to my paper bible, making notes, underlining words and paragraphs, looking up cross references and related scripture, my reading took on a more conversational tone. I began to meditate and pray about what God was trying to say to me and a desire grew in my heart to sit in God’s presence and just listen.

The story in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10: 38-42) when Jesus had come to the house of Mary and Martha, Martha was distracted while Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to what he said. But Jesus didn’t tell Mary to get busy helping Martha. Instead, he explained that what Mary was doing was the better thing and that it would not be taken away from her. Mary was meditating on Jesus’ words.

So while I’m not saying that digital doesn’t have a place in our day-to-day life as Christians, I am saying that it’s not conducive to seeking the Lord. There are just too many distractions. There is a better way.

Recently I have started reading a King James Version of the scriptures which actually forces me, because of the old English Lexicon, to read even more deeply and to meditate on the poetic structure of the words.

Now before I close there is one more thing, I’d like to mention about reading a paper bible vs digital. Witness.

Everything we do as Christians is a witness to the world. If you’re on your lunch break at work or school, or maybe you’re just enjoying some time outside and you take that time to read your bible on your device, what is your witness to the world, to your co-workers, your kids.

If I’m on my phone, my kids (or anyone else) don’t know if Dad is reading the Bible, checking email, or scrolling through Instagram. When they come to the kitchen in the morning and see me reading my Bible, they see their dad doing what he encourages them to do. Sometimes they will sit down and ask what I am reading, which leads to good conversations about the things of God. This rarely happens if they see me looking down at my phone.

When people see you on your phone, most would assume you’re reading a news feed, on social media, or answering a text or email. When those same people see you reading a paper bible, it conveys a whole different message.

I want Jesus to be my friend and so I seek Him. I invest in our relationship, especially when it’s not convenient. I want to be a follower of Jesus, so I seek Him. I try to be where He is, especially when it’s not convenient. 

To be a friend and a follower of Jesus has nothing to do with convenience. It’s all about seeking and seeking while He may still be found.