Consuming Alone

In this series we’ve tried to help pull us out of our fish tank and examine the water we swim in every day: the water of consumerism. We’ve examined how the waters of consumerism have impacted our experience with the local church and found that impact has been largely negative. The next two weeks we will talk about the way it has engaged our devotional life and worship life before closing by discussing how it has impacted our lives as stewards.

When growing up it was fairly common to talk about “your personal relationship with Jesus.” Salvation, similarly, was couched in very personal terms: “Have you asked Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Savior?” Those statements aren’t wrong, but they only begin to get at what the Christianity of the New Testament. In the gospels and the letters in the New Testament those who are invited to participate in Christianity are called into a new family, are asked to welcome a new kingdom, and are called to live in a radical new community. The invitation to salvation went far beyond one’s “personal relationship with Jesus,” inviting one into a new community, new way of life that was lived out in a new family.

That said, we would be wrong to throw the baby out with the bath water and dismiss the personal nature of the Christian life. Time and again in Scripture we see intensely personal decisions being made regarding following Jesus (see Nicodemus in John 3 or Peter in John 21). Likewise, Jesus’s own devotional life was fueled by time spent alone in prayer (Lk 5:16; Mt 22).

The era we live in affords us perhaps the richest opportunities to develop a deep devotional life in the history of the church. The tools available to us are breathtaking. A full 14 centuries of the church passed before the printing press was created (in 1440) and another hundred to three hundred years would pass before most people would have access to a Bible. Today we can pick up a hard copy of a Bible for just a few dollars or access the Bible on our computers or phones for free. In addition, we can listen to the Bible or Christian podcasts, we can read thousands of Christian books and blogs, we can use apps from almost every location on the globe.

Such access affords us the ability to develop incredibly rich devotional lives. On my commute I am able to listen to some of the best preachers and teachers in the country daily. My devotional life has been stoked by books from the saints. And I have been instructed on how to hold times of family devotions and personal devotions from men and women much wiser than I who I wouldn’t have learned from in eras gone by. All of these are tremendous blessings and opportunities for us who live as consumers of these products.

There are negatives that come with these gains, however. The constant stream of information can be hard to turn off. As a child of the age of consumerism, I have always struggled with meditation and silence. I crave information and the hit I get from its stimulation. And I frequently change the way I do my devotions as I try out the many different methods offered by those wiser than me. Such change can provide a helpful spark to my soul, but it also means that I don’t have a rich legacy of decades of a prayer journal or consistent devotional practices as others do.

Overall, we stand as those tremendously blessed by the opportunities of consumerism for our devotional and prayer lives. But these do come with a cost. May we be deeply grateful for the opportunities and utilize them for the benefit of our soul while also being aware of the unique challenges we face.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

For more on the Consumers series, see:

Part 1: We are Consumers

Part 2: Consumers at the Mall

Part 3: Consumers at Church, part I

Part 4: Consumers at Church, part II

Part 5: Consuming Alone

Part 6: Consuming Worship

Part 7: Signaling Consumption