The ubiquity of the smartphone hardly needs further documentation. Suffice to say: we've (almost) all got one, and we're (almost) all prone to spending far too much of our time staring at it. Our natural response to this, especially as Christians, is to decry the awfulness of all the distraction and preoccupation involved. We proclaim the damage that our phones can cause to our ability to form and conduct meaningful relationships, especially with God. But that's not the only way of looking at it.
If we're aware of the pitfalls, and intentional about avoiding them, smartphones don't have to be bad news for our friendships or our spiritual lives. In fact, in the case of the latter, they can actually be useful in enhancing our connection with God. Various smartphone apps have been created with this specific purpose in mind, but there are also a range of other great programmes available which – while this might not have been their creator's intent – have a great spiritual application (no pun intended).
Streaks (iPhone only – Android version in development)
This incredibly simple app allows you to track your 'good habits' by simply logging how many consecutive days you manage to practice them for. So if you want to remember to pray, read the Bible and get some exercise each day but sometimes lack the self-control or simply the memory to do so, the app reminds and encourages you. At £2.99 it might seem expensive, but if it works for you it'll become your daily go-to for self-discipline.
Bible In One Year (iPhone / Android)
Lots of great Bible reading apps exist (especially the all-conquering YouVersion and the innovative Glo), but for sheer ease of use and great, practical commentary, you can't beat Alpha International's smart BIOY app. The beauty is that the daily reading is contained within the app rather than requiring a separate source, while the accompanying reflections from Holy Trinity Brompton's Nicky Gumbel are expertly applied to the daily life you've taken a few moments out from. Best of all, it's completely free.
Cove (iPhone only)
Created as a feelings management app for those in challenging circumstances, the award-winning Cove is an extraordinary way to share how you're feeling through music. A simple interface allows users to create, save and share simple musical loops which communicate their emotional mood. And if that works as a way of crying out to other people, why can't it be used as a method of crying out to God? Not only can this brilliant (and free) programme work as a kind of prayer, it could also create a perfect backdrop for meditation.
Fighter verses (iPhone / Android)
The great art of Bible memorisation is somewhat lost from some of our modern discipleship. This app from John Piper's Desiring God team aims to put that right by turning the idea into a digital game of sorts, challenging you to memorise an incredible 520 verses of Scripture over two years. The slightly militaristic terminology might be a little off-putting for some, but most of us will agree that reading and learning Scripture is something we could all benefit from. At £1.89 it requires a modest investment, but that's less than the price of a latte for something you might use several times a day.
Reminders (or any To-Do List app) (all formats)
It's a simple idea which probably doesn't even require you to download a new app. Why not use your phone's in-built reminder programme to log the things you want to remember to pray for? So often – particularly on social media – we can be guilty of promising that we're #praying for a friend, when inevitable distractions mean we never actually manage to fulfill the sentiment. Simply creating a list of prayers on our phones (perhaps with attached notifications) makes us far more likely to follow through on that Facebook-comment promise. The excellent PrayerMate does the same thing with a specific focus, but given that on average we barely use the vast majority of apps on our phones, it's a great idea to find this alternative use for one we might open every day.