Does your Electronic Bible Work?

I’m so deeply committed to “more-is-better” that I hardly notice I am addicted to it.  If this program has 30 Bible versions, it is better than the one that has 5.  If my e-book stores the Bible and 1,000 more titles, it is better than the Bible alone. When I got my smartphone, I enjoyed the freedom it gave me. Now, I don’t have to bring my Bible to church anymore.  I just read off my phone.  But I think last Sunday will be the last time I do it.  My electronic Bible doesn’t work.

It works fine.  It just doesn’t work for me.

Two Sundays ago, I got onto the MRT (Subway) and made my way to church with a Bible in hand.  It had been some time since I did that.  As a pastor, I had my Bible with me in the church office.  When I preach now, I tend to use the slide presentation and read the Bible off the projection. Last Sunday, when I attended church as an ordinary worshipper, something happened.  Suddenly I felt like my teenage years again.  When I held a Bible in my hand, I had to behave as a Christian. It doesn’t mean I don’t behave as one when I don’t hold a Bible.  It is just that my Bible is a public commitment to Christ that allows others to place me.  The thought crossed my mind, “I think life is easier holding a phone.” But if I were to live out my life as a Christian, I need to reach the point when behaving like a Christian is the norm.  I need to get used to the Bible in my hand and the responsibility it places on me.

I feel that the phone has taken over too much of my life.  When I am with someone and a signal comes, it could be an email, a text, or a phone call.  What do I do?  I try not to interrupt my conversation with the person I am with, and just ignore the signal.  But somehow that is hard to do.  It is like I don’t understand why a customer service person may be talking to me, and stops to listen to a phone call.  After all, I took the trouble to come and stand in front of you.  “Why do you put me on hold in favor of the person who phones up? Next time, I will phone and interrupt your conversation with a live person.”

My electronic Bible doesn’t work because it does too many things. I have come to see the tyranny of my phone.  When I have nothing but a physical Bible with me, I can only read the Bible.  I am not interrupted by phone calls, distracted by emails, summoned to action by texts.  Some of you may have the discipline to block everything out and focus on the Bible.  I can do that too.  But for me, that takes too much effort, willpower.  And I would rather reserve my energy, my effort, my willpower to read God’s Word.

I enjoyed driving my kids around.  They could take the school bus (they’re free in America). But I got up early to drive them to school and got to work early.  All that just so I can spend a bit of alone time with them.  Family time is great, but I want alone time with each of my kids.

Then I think of God my heavenly Father.  He wants alone time with me.  He wants to have me to himself, and not shared with another person or interest.  He wants to speak with me, to listen to me.  This is when my phone Bible does not work.  Every now and then, I tell God, “Timeout please, I gotta respond to this email / text / call.” I know God wants a dedicated time from me.  He looks forward to it as I look forward to the time I spend with my kids. But it seems my phone gets in the way.  The phone used to be for phone calls only, but now, it connects me to everybody around the world all the time.  I really shouldn’t put  God on hold.  But that is hard to do when the very phone I use to read his Word is buzzing with other messages.

I think it is inaccurate to call our alone time with God “Quiet Time.”  I need not utter a single word and still be distracted by other things.  That time we spend with God is essentially consecrated time, holy time, set-aside time.

For me in ministry, there is an added distraction when I spend time with God.  It is the challenge of reading the Bible for myself or for other people.  That line is difficult to draw.  The message I have for my flock is often God’s message to me first.  Yet, if I were to read in order to teach, I am not really spending alone time with God.  I would be coming to God with a ministry agenda. I need to come to him just to listen to him, and talk with him about my stuff.  There is certainly a need for me to read the Bible for God’s message in ministry, and there is a need for intercessory prayer for all of you. But that should be separate from my consecrated alone time with God.

Over the past years, I have been reading the computer version of the Bible more and more, and less of the paper copy.  The computer version is so convenient.  I can make notes, I can look up something immediately when I have a question, and even know when someone has just sent me an email — of course, I am never tempted to pause and read your email.

The electronic Bible is still superior when I am doing work.  But it doesn’t work for me when I need to spend time alone with God.  The pew Bible works well because it is there. But it is not my Bible.  It is not enough that I read a Bible. I need to read my own copy.  I need to write in the margins as the Lord speaks to me, I need to underline what the Holy Spirit impresses upon me.  My Bible records God’s conversation with me. The pew Bible doesn’t do that.  The pew Bible is not my consecrated Bible.  It is shared with other people.  I need my own copy to personalize as God speaks to me one-on-one.

The pew Bible doesn’t work for me.  My phone Bible doesn’t work for me.  These little compromises diminish my alone time with God.  The Maker of heaven and earth wants to spend time with me. I think I can find space on my desk for a Bible.  I think I can find the strength to bring one to church.  I think I can tune off the world when God and I are together.

Peter Eng

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