Like them or loath them, smartphones have become a staple of modern life. You can barely board a train, buy a coffee, or even walk down the street without passing someone engrossed in their glowing rectangle of wonderment. In some quarters it's even become fashionable to bemoan their distracting nature, or point to the avarice that a new iPhone can instil. While there are certainly discussions that can be had around those points, that isn't the whole picture. Smartphones, due to their constant companion nature, can actually be used as a powerful way to enhance your spiritual life. No, we're being serious. To prove the point we've put together a list of ten different ways that your digital device can help you turn your eyes to things that are good, and away from the mesmeric evil that is Candy Crush.
1) The Bible app
Ok, bit of an obvious place to start, but if you haven't already downloaded the free Bible app by YouVersion then head at once to your app store of choice ( it's available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry). Alongside the bible itself, this app allows you to follow various reading plans, highlight passages, make notes, create bookmarks, and then have everything synced across all your devices. That way you'll always have your thoughts and favourite verses available in seconds wherever you are. There are hundreds of translations and languages available to download for free, you can set up reminders to nudge you into reading your plan, plus there is even a social element where you can link to friends who also use the app. An essential download.
Keeping a spiritual journal or prayer diary can be a very helpful way to explore your relationship with God. Looking back over worries, prayer points, and moments of blessing or challenge can give us the longer view that is often obscured by the immediacy of life. Your phone is a perfect medium for this as you've always got it with you and there are a wealth of journaling apps available. Day One (iOS & Mac OSX) is a beautifully simple example that features an elegant interface where you can store various thoughts privately and securely. You don't necessarily need a specialised application though as any note taking app (and every phone comes with one installed) can be used for capturing your journey. One thing to bear in mind is whether it will work on other platforms (Android, iOS, Windows Phone) or allows you to download your creations as text files (.TXT). This feature is preferable as it makes it easier to move your journal to another service later on should your technological allegiances change.
3) Prayer prompts
We've all been there. Someone at church or work is going through a difficult period and we proffer the old classic 'I'll be praying for you'. We then leave and promptly forget our intercessory promise. Well, it's easy to fix. Every smartphone has a calendar app and a reminders app; simply create an entry straight after your conversation that will prompt you to pray at a time you know you'll be free. It takes a few seconds, and avoids the embarrassed silence when the person sees you a week later and thanks you for your prayer support. Of course you can go further and create entries for your prayer list, or for your kids, parents, colleagues, anything at all. The thought of a Pavlovian dictator in your pocket might be a little weird at first, but this really could revolutionise your prayer life.
4) Use WhatsApp for prayer groups and encouragement
Whatsapp is an instant messaging app that has the useful function of allowing you to set up private groups. In these groups everyone contributes to the conversation and can read everyone's responses. This is a great way to have an ongoing prayer support group where members ask for help, post encouragement for others, or just share verses they've read that are relevant for the group. One great use we've seen for this is when a small group or community is fasting together on a set day. When one was feeling hungry they'd post, then others would bolster them with prayer and biblical wisdom. The chap who posted hamburger pictures received a stern talking to afterwards, and I think I learned my lesson.
5) Store online articles to read later in Pocket
The internet is a veritable treasure trove of information and opinion. Much of it can of course be ignored as the frothing ranting of madmen, but amidst the noise there is quality writing to be found. The problem is that we often come across the interesting stuff while doing other things. Be it a Facebook link to a deeply moving story about the executed Coptic Christians, or the Christian woman who decided to wear a hijab throughout lent, it's not always possible to read them there and then. Traditionally you'd try to remember the site, or maybe even leave the tab open on your browser, but these are far from ideal. Pocket is a free app for Android and iOS that allows you to save them from either your phone, tablet or PC, and then read them later. The app downloads the story, formats it beautifully, works offline, and means you never have to miss that thought provoking article, wherever you are.
6) Listen to Christian books
It is of course entirely possible to read good books on your phone through apps like Kindle and iBooks, but if you travel a lot, commute to work, spend time driving, washing the dishes, or like to go walking/jogging/soaking in the bath, then holding your phone in front of your face could present formidable challenges. An Audible account is a worthy alternative that brings expertly narrated audiobooks to your phone. For £7.99 a month you can sign up and download one book a month from the absolutely huge library. These books are yours to keep, even if you cancel your subscription, and can help bring the word alive through David Suchet reading the NIV bible, classic biographies such as God's Smuggler, or theological tomes like N.T.Wright's Challenge of Jesus. There's even a free one month trial, and you get to keep the book at the end. Be warned though, audiobooks are incredibly addictive.
7) Listen to the best teaching from around the world
If the idea of twenty five hour audiobooks seems a little arduous, or you're looking for shorter things to listen to while out and about, podcasts are an excellent alternative. Subscribing to these free shows can bring world renowned teachers such Tim Keller or John Piper to your phone once a week, usually recorded preaching at their churches. To access these valuable resources you'll need something called a podcatcher (or podcast client) that will download the shows automatically. For iPhone users there's Apple's own Podcasts app which comes preinstalled on new devices, but you can also try other cross platform offerings such as our personal favourite Pocketcasts (Android & iOS).
8) Remember everything with Evernote
Evernote is a ridiculously useful place to put everything that you need to remember, it's sort of a digital brain. You'll often hear productivity enthusiasts singing its praises, and with good reason, but it's not just for work and major projects. Whereas journaling is great for more thoughtful reflection, Evernote is the best way to quickly grab things on the go that inspire or challenge you, and save them for later. The app has a camera, voice recorder, and text editor so if you see a book you know you need to read, just take a picture and store it in Evernote, then order it when you have time. Walking down the street and have a thought that you know you'll need to remember? Use the voice dictation. Someone has a word or you, or you for them, put it in the text editor. It might sound basic, but it's amazing how often the little things we see or hear can help us if only we can remember them.
9) Create an inspirational scrapbook online with Pinterest
Humans are very visual creatures, something that wasn't lost on the creators of Pinterest. Think of this app as a scrapbook for the internet. See something you like? Send it to Pinterest. The real strength of the service though is searching through it for certain subjects and seeing what everyone else has curated. You'll often find verses, quotes, or links to short articles all displayed with big, friendly images. It can sound a bit random, and the whole feel is somewhat patchwork, but as a digital wall of things that make you energised, grateful, or encouraged, it can be a very good place to dip in and out of.
10) Find some new music
We can all become a bit set in our ways, and with music this is often the case. Breaking free from the comfortable shackles of a ten year old Matt Redman CD is difficult, but now thanks to music streaming services you can perform a musical intervention. Where once was only a paucity of options, now you can download as many albums as you like, from across decades of music, all for a set fee of around £10 per month. You'll be free to explore all those albums you never got around to, or try something brand new you've never heard of. This freedom is surprisingly liberating, could rekindle of love of music once again, and will create the opportunity for you to impress/embarrass the kids with your impromptu version of the latest Rend Collective number. There are several services currently available, with the best being Spotify, Google Music, and Deezer, all of which offer free trials.