Should Your Digital Bible Replace Your Printed Bible in Worship?

I love the dozens of Bible translations I carry with me everywhere I go. They’re on my phone. It’s the same for many of you. The convenience of having everything from a King James Bible to foreign language translations to a paraphrase has been a gift from God to me and to you as well.

When I make hospital visits to elderly people, I pull out my phone and read to them — usually from the King James Version, the translation that sounds so familiar. I use the Bible on my phone when I am a guest in someone’s home, when a random thought enters my mind on a specific idea, when I want to see how other translations handle a particular verse, and when I want to take another look at an upcoming text I plan to preach.

I use the Bible on my phone to aid my Bible memory, to take part in a casual conversation with anyone, and for my daily Bible reading. We use our phones around the dinner table where our family reads the Word of God together. Even guests joining us for a meal can easily participate.

It’s simply awesome having the Bible at my fingertips, literally.

As a kid I remember my pastor teaching us, “Carry the New Testament with you everywhere you go.” Many of us did. It was a small 3x5 copy with a blue paper cover. I carried it some places I went, but I didn’t carry it everyplace I went, because, well, I just didn’t. Carrying it in my sweaty Nikes after an afternoon of street ball or rolled up inside my wet swim trunks after hours of fun in the sun didn’t seem to work well for me.

But now my motto when getting in my car or boarding an airplane is, “I have my phone and my wallet. Everything else is bonus.” I don’t leave home without my phone and that means, I don’t leave home without my Bible.

That’s pretty cool if you ask me. No other generation of human beings has known anything remotely close to that reality. It really is a gift from God. Thank you, Lord.

Like every good gift God has given humanity, we have the capability and have demonstrated the propensity to abuse and misuse his good gifts to us. That includes the Bibles on our phones.

I love my Bible phone for everything except worship. For that I need my Bible printed on pages. My phone just doesn’t do it, and it’s not just because I’m old. I think all of us are better served in worship with a printed Bible.

On the printed page I can see the context of the sermon text better because more of the Bible is visible on the full page and the opposite page. On the printed page, I can see where we’ve been in our weekly progression through a book of the Bible, and I can see where we are going. I can’t do that on a 4x6 screen (I’ve got one of those really cool phones with the monster screen. I pity those of you that have to look at a domino).

When I take a note I heard the preacher say or if I write a devotional thought of my own in my printed Bible, I can see it easily. I know I can use my thumbs and craft a note on my Bible app too if I want, but it’s not the same thing as when I see a note written in my own unique handwriting from some time ago.

Further, others after me can see it too. I’ve been to many funerals where Christians have been comforted, encouraged, and reassured after thumbing through the well-marked pages of a Bible that belonged to mom or dad, husband or wife.

I’ve yet to hear someone say, “Could I take a look at dad’s phone and see what notes he dropped in his Bible app or the verses he highlighted?”

I have a few more common sense reasons for ditching my phone for use as a worship Bible, but here’s the biggest reason I must have a printed Bible for worship — the distraction is more than I can handle, more than my personal discipline can manage.

I know this because a man in our church told me so.

I’ve asked a few people in our church to help me as a Christian man by informing me of some areas of weakness. I know what some of my areas are, so I wasn’t surprised when I heard them again. But when a fellow church member told me, “You’re on your phone too much during times the church gathers together,” it was like a guy landed a devastating uppercut to my jaw. It was an immediate knockout.

I cannot use my phone for worship because I’m not mature enough to only use my phone for worship. To my shame, during worship I’ve read text messages, written text messages, taken a quick peek at social media, checked the weather, randomly searched for something on the web, and even bought something from Amazon. I’ve paid attention to the push notifications that come through at any given moment, and I’ve created reminders to prompt me to actions I might otherwise forget.

I’ve done all of this and more when God has called me into his presence to hear from him and to offer to him my highest praise.

Are you any different than I am? Maybe you’ve figured out how to overcome what I haven’t. Maybe you are crazy disciplined and put your phone into airplane mode before you sit down to prepare your heart to meet God prior to the call to worship.

Maybe.

But wait, there’s more. My phone also distracts me from the people I worship with. You’ve seen it, haven’t you? People everywhere in a church building and many of them with heads down staring at a screen as they walk the halls or sit in a row of chairs in a classroom or auditorium. Intended or not, it conveys the message, “Don’t interact with me, and I won’t interact with you. We good?”

The prospect of connecting, caring, conversing, or chasing is pretty dim at that moment.

Here’s my pastoral advice. Bring your printed Bible to worship and use it. Leave your phone deep in your purse or pocket and determine not to bring it out until you leave the building. Or better yet, put your phone in a compartment in your car where it will be waiting for the warm embrace of your hands when worship is over.

Don’t get me started on when the church has to hear your ringtone right in the middle of pastoral prayer.

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