iPhones on the Altar

Today begins one of my favorite events of our church year: D-Now. If you happen to unfamiliar with this program, it is a weekend event for youth that focuses on worship, fellowship, and most importantly, discipleship. I have great memories of D-Now weekends from when I was a teenager, and I’m always so excited to see what God is going to do in the lives of our youth over these few days.

One tradition that our youth group began a few years ago was for each student to take his or her cellphone and place it at the altar in the sanctuary before each worship service and Bible study. This wasn’t something I ever had to do when I was growing up because cellphones weren’t the constant companions they are today. Back in my day (I shudder as I write that) cellphones could only be used for one thing – making phone calls! It was a simpler time, wasn’t it? Today, we’ve moved into the smartphone age with all the apps, messaging, social media, and gaming that goes with it, and honestly, our youth have suffered because of it.

Cellphone addiction has become a very real thing and many of our teenagers can’t even fathom what it would be like to live without that constant connection to the online world. That’s why I absolutely LOVE it when I watch our students place those phones at the altar, even if it is only for a short period of time, for they are making a conscious choice to respond to God instead of responding to the chirps and dings of that constant distraction.

The fact that I’m squinting at my computer screen right now reminds me that I am no longer a youth but that doesn’t mean that I don’t need to experience the exact same thing as our youth will over this weekend. Age is no guarantee that we will be less prone to distractions that keep us from regularly enjoying God’s presence. Let me give you an example from Scripture. Take a moment and read about a distraction that happened to Moses, even his old age.

The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. (Exodus 18:13–18, ESV)

Moses was a man uniquely blessed by the manner in which he was able to encounter God. However, he let the disputes of his people become a distraction from enjoying God’s presence. The Bible tells us that when Moses would come down the mountain from meeting with the Lord, he shone with a great radiance, so much so that he had to wear a veil in front of the people. Can you imagine that; being so close to God that you were alight with His glory? However, instead of enjoying God and being His chosen representative, Moses chose to spend all day down in the valley listening to their complaints. That’s not a good trade-off. I’m sure Moses believed he was doing a good thing, at least until his father-in-law set him straight. What seemed good was actually keeping him from what was great – God Almighty.

As I glance over at my cellphone, I realize that it is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in a lot of ways it can be used for good. However, I can all too easily let what I call good keep me from the One who is great. The same is true with so many things in our lives. They don’t look bad to us, and we can even justify them by calling them good, but if they become distractions, keeping us from spending quality time with our Great Father, then those things must placed to the side on a regular basis.

Today, would you be willing to take some time and consider what things in your life, even if they seem to be good things, have become distractions? If you’re willing to do so, then please go one step further. Find a way to place that distraction at the altar for the next few days. Trust me, awesome things begin to happen when we remove all the things that keep us from hearing God’s mighty voice.


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