Monday, July 29, 2019

Snippets, Soundbites and Such

Don’t you marvel at how complex information can be condensed into neat little bite-sized packages? We live in a world of snippets and soundbites, with news programming covering major developments, ranging from press conferences to international crises, and reducing them to one or two-minute summations, kind of like a trash compacter for human discourse and experience.

Consider the recent debates between candidates vying for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2020. As one astute political observer stated prior to the two-day verbal brawl, the event wasn’t designed for depth and substance. The best candidates could hope for, he said, was to make a lasting impression by cleverly turning a phrase. To make their mark, hopefuls needed to tailor their communications for snippets and soundbites that could be replayed again and again.

That’s reflective of the society we’re in today. Long-winded essays and treatises of yesteryear have been replaced by tightly edited and pre-digested bits of information. Even with 24/7 coverage, the tyranny of immediacy has seduced us into believing a 90-second news report is all we need to know about anything.

With attention spans dramatically shortened, we seem unable to focus for more than a few seconds at a time. Notice the rapid shifting of scenes in movies, TV dramas and comedies. Even “Downton Abbey.” Our minds have become like grasshoppers hopping from one leaf to another.

Even though we’re accustomed to this, it’s troublesome for those who desire to grow and mature in our faith. Because you can’t microwave spirituality. We can’t treat the Bible like fast-food literature.

Not only is spiritual growth a slow process, but building a fruitful, faithful relationship with God also can’t be achieved by a few seconds here, a few seconds there. King David illustrated this vividly in Psalm 1, contrasting the righteous and the wicked. Writing about “the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,” the psalm writer then stated, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper” (Psalm 1:1-3).

A key idea is the term “meditates.” It doesn’t mean sitting in a lotus position, humming soothing mantras. It’s reading a passage from the Scriptures and then turning it over and over in our minds, trying to capture its meaning and then considering how to apply its truth to our lives.

I heard a Bible scholar compare this to a cow chewing its cud. It munches slowly and carefully, not gobbling it down as we would a Chick-fil-A sandwich and waffle fries on the run. In a similar way, we’re to study the Scriptures  and digest them thoughtfully and meditatively, not as if we’re trying to cram them down in the middle of a 100-yard dash.

Elsewhere in the Psalms, we read David offering advice for staying on track in our walk with God. He writes, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:9-11).

This doesn’t prescribe when or where we should do this “treasuring,” or even how. But it’s clear that contrary to the dictates of modern society, being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ can’t be achieved in bits and bytes while hustling from one commitment to the next.

Our minds must be anchored in God and His Word: “firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in (our) faith…” (Colossians 2:6-7). Just as I trust the tall trees growing behind our house are firmly rooted and anchored whenever a strong storm blows our way, I want my life in Christ to be firmly rooted as well, able to withstand the winds and chaos of life’s ever-changing circumstances. 

But this doesn’t happen automatically or by default. It must be intentional – and consistent. When life’s tough times come, we should fit the description of Isaiah 26:3, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.” For that to happen, snippets and soundbites just won’t do.

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