New Spiritual Disciplines: No.5 – The discipline of Longevity

Have we become too obsessed with all things "new"?

Each day this week, we're looking at a new spiritual discipline for the modern world. Inspired by Richard Foster's classic book Celebration of Discipline, we've created a list of additional practices and attitudes which – when brought before God – could powerfully and prophetically impact our culture, our community and our selves. Read, reflect, think and pray through the article and the questions at the end. You might want to start with article No. 1, which includes a longer introduction.

There's a phrase in Hollywood that claims "if it ain't new, it's through." In the '90s, that's how movie executives got used to dismissing tired old ideas and formats, but today those words seem to have a much wider application. A faster and faster-moving culture has got us obsessed with the new; with rapid evolution, upgrade and renewal. That's why so many people are trapped in a costly cycle of annual iPhone upgrades, it's why TV talent shows like The X-Factor create such a rapid turnover of celebrities and then has-beens. The 'latest thing' has become an idol.

This obsession with newness has a number of consequences. It enhances our commitment to consumerism; when we buy into the idolatry of the new, we'll spend our money on maintaining our pursuit of it. It also means that the lifespan of cultural phenomena is greatly reduced. Playground crazes now go on for weeks instead of months; news stories that dominate headlines are literally forgotten about two weeks later. Even when important stories of injustice or need reach the forefront of the public consciousness, our obsession with the new dictates that they'll soon be replaced by something else.

Short-termism is the wages of a vacuous, materialistic culture, where our lives are underpinned by the desire to keep acquiring more stuff. The story has to keep changing, because otherwise we might be able to stop spending money for a moment. It's also the result of multi-channel, 24-hour rolling news coverage, and the hundreds of TV stations which need to fill their daily schedules. There's so much content to be produced, so many products to be sold; so many companies whose profitability relies on the churn of the new.

In contrast, Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes that "There's nothing new under the sun." This is a wise perspective that applies as well to the new iPhone as it does to the annual X-Factor Christmas single. We're duped into believing we have to keep up with rapid change and progress, when most of the time all we're really seeing is cleverly-disguised repetition.

So what does it mean to behave counter-culturally in a world that moves on too quickly? Some things matter enough that they shouldn't just be washed away in the 'news cycle' – take the increasingly less-fashionable example of the Syrian refugee crisis as one example. When we know it's not yet time to move on, how do we both avoid being urged along toward 'the next thing', and find something prophetic to say and do that might enable others to do likewise? For this to happen, I think we need to practise a spiritual discipline of longevity.

Practising longevity means asking God daily for his help in not being distracted by the cult of the new, but rather being focused on the things that are important, even if they're ageing. It also means trying to live simply, especially in the areas of culture where tempting upgrades are common, such as technology. Short-termism can take the world's focus off the situations that really matter; practising longevity ensures those voices are still heard, so that means making long-term commitments in a world that's forgotten how to do so.

Each of us should be self-reflective enough to realise if we've bought into exactly the same consumerist ideas as the majority of our culture. We're not driven by the accumulation of possessions, but by our commitment to the longest-term plan of all. Our lives should reflect that perspective, rather than sharing in society's short-term, short-sighted worldview.

Questions for reflection

1. Do you find yourself getting excited about 'the new'? In which areas of your life is this particularly seen?

2. How can you fight the culturally-engendered instinct to upgrade and buy new things?

3. How aware are you of the rapid turnover of news stories in the media? What has perhaps disappeared from your radar, which God might be drawing your attention back to?

Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. You can follow him on Twitter: @martinsaunders