Many of us could fritter our lives away on smartphones.
Here in the UK, the average person apparently checks their phone every 12 minutes. That's according to a recent report by the communication services regulator Ofcom, A Decade of Digital Dependency.
But phone time doesn't have to be unhealthy time. In fact, there are some brilliant apps out there which can be a real help to anyone serious about their Christian faith. Here are four that you might find worth a look at:
1. BibleMe (from EFire apps). Ever felt vaguely you should have a go at memorising Scripture? It is, after all, the Word of God. But maybe you have never got round to it – or have had a go in the past, and not got very far. Or perhaps you would just like an encouraging verse to carry round in your mind each day. Well, BibleMe is brilliant on all counts. In several decades of following Christ I have never ever been any good at systematically memorising verses, despite one or two attempts. But BibleMe has, for the first time, helped me start to do it properly. What's more, I have enjoyed it, and have found myself looking forward to using it each day.
What's great is that this app takes care of all the logistics of 'how to memorise verses' for you – the mechanics of it, the frequency of it, the perseverance. The more you use it, the more flexibility you discover. It's free, although there is a small admin charge (£1.29 in sterling) after you have more than 30 verses. That said, the developers say that if you genuinely can't afford it, contact them with the details, as they may be able to waive even that small fee.
2. PrayerMate (from Discipleship Tech). Perhaps you are someone who struggles with prayer sometimes. Well, join the club! Not for nothing does Romans 8 say that we 'do not know what we ought to pray for' as it can sometimes feel like that for almost everyone. PrayerMate is an app which helps us pray regularly and systematically, and gives plenty of freedom and flexibility as to how we do that. It's also free.
What's more, it contains a number of different feeds – from churches and a huge variety of Christian organisations – which can be of assistance in stimulating prayer. I love getting Scotty Smith's daily devotional prayer 'Heavenwards' directly to my phone each morning via this app. But, of course, as Romans 8 goes on to say, you do still need the Holy Spirit to breathe life into your prayers – the app can't do that for you!
3. Jesus Words Meditation (from Apposoar). There are a number of similarly-named apps, but this one, from Apposaor, has a distinctive logo of a yellow figure seated, with a cross in the middle. If you have ever fancied a more meditative approach in your spiritual life – perhaps through weariness or just because you are a contemplative type of person – then this app, although little-known, seems good to me. Some Christians 'get' this sort of thing – others find it baffling and are instinctively rather dubious; a lot of it is a matter of temperament rather than theology.
There are several better-known and more highly-financed Christian apps which attempt to combine some aspects of contemporary mindfulness practices and the Bible. And some of them are in my opinion pretty poor – on both counts. But the strength of this app is its simplicity: it really is just listening to words of Jesus, and chewing them over, in a meditative, mindful, relaxing setting. No dodgy meditative or wacko pseudo-Christian nonsense! But you can certainly have the sound of waves in the background if you want to. And why not! It too is free.
4. Bible in One Year (from Alpha Int). A free daily Bible-reading app from Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton and the people who brought you Alpha. It does what it says on the tin – takes you through the Bible in a year. Each day there are three readings, and three devotionals based on them. You can either read them or listen to them (with Poirot actor David Suchet providing the Scripture narrations). Personally I have found trying to read the Bible in one year in any form too much for me to digest properly, but a lot of people I know find this app very helpful. One woman told me she has it set to come on to listen to as soon as she wakes up each morning as it makes such a difference to her day. So while this app wasn't for me, it could well be for you.
And finally, if you want to curtail unhealthy frittering of time on your phone (as well as using it positively, as above) try the free YourHour time-monitoring app from Mindefy Labs. It's not Christian, but if you spend too much time on your phone it gets cross and tells you off. Which has got to be an aid to Godliness.
Speaking of which, I must now log off...
David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A