1) The telephone can divert the flow of prayer. God wants his people to talk to him. That’s one reason why he sends all sorts of experiences into our lives – so that we’ll talk to him about them. That should be the automatic reaction of the believer when joys or troubles come: we turn to God first and pour out our feelings to him. “He alone is my rock and my salvation.. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62 vss 6-8). But how often do we do that? Instead we reach for the telephone. We pour out our feelings to anyone and everyone else rather than to God. Our troubles should drive us to seek comfort in God. Instead, we find relief in other human beings.
William Cowper lived before telephones were invented. But he understood that temptation. He asks:
“have you no words?” (to speak to God?)
“Ah! Think again,
Words flow apace when you complain.
And fill your fellow-creature’s ear
With the sad tale of all your care.
Were half the breath thus vainly spent
To heaven in supplication sent,
Your cheerful song would oftener be,
Hear what the Lord has done for me!”
How much greater the danger is in our age when there’s always a “fellow-creature” ready to listen on the other end of a telephone line! We may gain human sympathy but we lose the supreme treasure of intimacy with God.
2) The telephone makes solitude hard to find. Most people in our society hate silence. If they’re alone in the house, they switch on the radio or television “just for company”. Or they pick up the telephone, just so that they can hear a voice. They don’t want to be left alone with their thoughts.
We need times of solitude. Times to sit in silence and think. To examine ourselves, to search our hearts, to remember God, to meditate on death and judgement, and heaven and hell. We need to be alone with God. That means shutting out distractions and interruptions. Jesus said “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father” (Matthew 6:6).
How hard it is to find that solitude in a world of telephones! The moment you sit down to be quiet, the telephone will ring.. or you’ll feel a sudden impulse to ring a friend. For us, finding quietness means not just closing the door but unplugging the telephone.
3) Telephones encourage us to speak without thinking. How often the book of Proverbs warns us about the danger of speaking without thinking. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise”. “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 9:19, 29:20).
The phone rings. Someone has a question, a problem, an interesting story to tell. And of course, you’ve got to reply. You’re taken off-guard. There’s no time to reflect, to think things through, to decide how much it’s wise to say. You can’t say “Oh just give me five minutes to think”. Five minutes silence in the middle of a telephone conversations seems an eternity. So words flow. It’s only when the phone goes down, you begin to realise what you’ve said. How many times we’ve made rash promises over the phone, betrayed secrets, committed ourselves to things we don’t really agree with… How much safer if we had dealt with the matter by letter, or face to face. “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23).
4) The telephone can prevent us from building balanced relationships. The telephone can keep friends in touch. But paradoxically, it can also prevent us from building real friendships with the people around us. We were created to live in communities – to be in contact with real people: neighbours, workmates, fellow church-members. We were intended to interact with those people in many ways – to talk to them, yes, but also to smile at them, to shake their hands, to walk along the road with them, to eat meals with them, to help them in practical ways, to play football or Monopoly with them. Does the telephone help us to build such relationships? I suspect not. Many of us find it easier to chatter to a disembodied voice at the other end of the country than to relate to the people around us. People in our society seem to spend more and more of their lives on the telephone and have fewer and fewer face to face friendships.
Read the gospels if you want to see what friendships should be. See how the Lord Jesus related to his friends – working together, praying together, travelling together. Notice particularly how important mealtimes together were. It was so often over a meal that the Lord Jesus shared his deepest thoughts with his friends. It was there that closeness was built. Does the telephone help us or hinder us in building such friendships?
5) The telephone enables rumours to spread at terrifying speed. Gossip has always been a danger in society and in churches. But there has never been a time when gossip could spread as quickly as today. Someone telephones you with a fascinating titbit of news. Before the day is out, you’ve rung your ten closest friends to pass it on. Rumours spread through the evangelical world with terrifying speed. And very often they are exaggerated, distorted or plain wrong. But by the time they are corrected, everyone has heard them. The damage has been done. “Do not go about spreading slander among your people” (Leviticus 19:16). “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down” (Proverbs 26:20).
Let me repeat. Telephones are wonderful things. They enable us to stay in touch with Christian friends across the world, to share prayer requests instantly, to offer help in emergencies, to sort out business quickly that would take weeks by letter. We even operate a telephone message line as a way of sharing the gospel. Most of us would find it hard to manage without the telephone. But if we ask “has the telephone helped us to live nearer to God? Has it helped us to live a life of godliness”, many of us would have to say no.
We must learn to control the place the telephone has in our life. And if we find we can’t do that, then the only option left is to get rid of it. The Lord Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.” He meant it. We are to put out of our lives anything, however vital, which causes us to sin. Which is harder, to cut off the right ear or to have the phone taken out?
Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss all this. But not by telephone, please!