What We Can Learn From the Machines

You may have heard of reverse mentoring.

It happens when younger folk teach us older people how to do something–usually with technology (because they know more about it).

Today I want to reverse teach–that is, take something that is often hurtful and use its example for good.

A well-known news broadcaster often talks about the negative influence of the “machines” in our modern world. He’s referring primarily to cell phones–which are becoming powerfully addictive.

Let’s flip it around.

Here’s what we can learn from the machines.

What We Can Learn from the Machines

People often ask me how I select topics for articles. The most concise explanation is I try and listen to God–and then write what he’s saying to me.

Where do the ideas come from?  Most come from “God- moments” when a phrase, concept, or inspiration darts into my mind. When it happens, I’ve learned to write them down (writing is 20/20 memory) and file them away until the right time to ponder and publish. (There are currently 21 such ideas in my “Draft” folder.)

Yesterday I received another moment of inspiration.

I was talking to a Professor Ernest Gibson in his office at Faith International University. Dr. Gibson is a wise, African-American Texan who’s the longest tenured prof at our institution.

Somewhat out of the blue, he passionately spoke about our need to hear God’s voice and obey him.

“Ron,” he deeply intoned, “Our students need to learn to focus on God and learn to obey him. That’s a key to life.” He went on to explain that one of the largest emphases of the Old Testament (now called the “First Covenant” in theology circles) was God teaching His people to listen, think, and obey (i.e. Deuteronomy).

“Let’s help our students do it!” he almost pleaded with me.

At that moment an idea burst into my head. The insight was powerful and kept coming to me. Finishing my conversation with Dr. Gibson, I walked back to my office and immediately wrote down the key points that danced in my mind.

Not long after, I took my daily prayer walk and the thoughts continue to flow. I could hardly turn off the spigot of what God was unloading inside.

I even heard the headline: What can we learn from the machines?

It’s incredible how cell phone use has taken the world by storm over the past twenty years.

A quick glance at the statistics reveals there are currently 8.9 billion cell phones in use in the world (among 5.1 billion individual user accounts). The top five nations:

  • China – 775 million users – 55% of the population.
  • India – 386 million users – 28% of the population.
  • United States – 328 million users – 71%.
  • Brazil – 91 million users – 43%.
  • Russia – 84 million – 58%.

The country with the highest per capita cell phone use is the wealthy oil kingdom of the United Arab Emirates at 82%,

I can easily make an argument that cell phone technology–as a tool of communication–makes positive impacts in our world including quickness and ease of communication, sense of security, use in world evangelism and over-all human connectedness.

No wonder Steve Jobs recruited John Sculley, head of Pepsi-cola, to become the new Apple CEO with the challenge: “Do you want to keep making sugar water the rest of your life or do you want to come help change the world?”

Cell phone use has certainly accomplished the latter–but not necessarily for good.

Many studies show that people are becoming addicted to cell phones– spending one day a week on-line (24 hours) on average and 34 hours for those 16-24. People are even developing physical nodes on the back of the neck from gazing down at their hand-held device. Lack of focus, inability to have meaningful conversations and lasting relationships are all being attributed to cell-phone use and abuse.

A television personality recently took his children on vacation to Germany and Austria. While touring the beauty of the Austrian Alps, he noticed some Chinese tourists sitting on a bench–with the pristine wonder of the prettiest mountains in the world towering around them.

What were they doing?  All looked down, staring at their cell phones. He took a photo to record the irony of the moment. Leaving the scene for a few minutes, he returned to the area and found the same Chinese tourists–still zombie-like, gazing at the machines.

What a waste of time and beauty.

Why do people love their cell phones and appear to be making them the world largest addiction?

Some obvious reasons come to mind. First, cell phones allow us to chat or talk to people, They’re an easy-to-use vehicle of communication. Second, they make us feel connected to others–loved, important, valued (bad things too, but that’s another topic).  Finally, they make us feel secure–never alone–with the ability to be heard.

Now let’s reverse teach and see how we might learn from the machines.

My professor friend is right. One of the clearest lessons God tried to teach the Hebrew people many years ago was to focus on him, think about his wonder and greatness, and ponder the goodness of living a holy life. The key was relationship to him–listening, talking, crying, praising and developing a deep and abiding friendship with God to meet all your deepest desires and needs.

God didn’t give us machines for this purpose. He gave us something far more intricate, complex, and amazing called the human mind (spirit) which includes our conscience, intuition, and thoughts. Linked to our emotions (soul), the human mind is the most wonderful “processor” ever designed.

Even better, it doesn’t cost $700 and need to connect to satellites. It came free with our creation, with no monthly charge, and never needs an upgrade (except the redemption of a seared conscience).

A major purpose of the human mind is to communicate with God–hear from him, love him, obey him. The glory of that communication takes place when we focus–think about him and look for him everywhere.

The staggeringly cool thing about God is that he can speak simultaneously to every human heart every second of the day–enlightening our minds, inspiring us, and teaching his truths.

One of my favorite hymns, “This Is My Father’s World,” describes it this way:

“In the rustling grass I hear him pass. He speaks to me everywhere.”

The older I become, the more I hear God constantly communicating with me. The voice is clearest when I focus my mind–and use walks, gaze at creation, ask questions, pray, sing, ponder and just think about things deeply ( i.e. the Psalms). Many insights flow.

Oh, there is one difference between cell-phone use and using your mind to connect with God. With the machines, you control the conversation by answering or not answering, texting or not, and deciding what apps to use. That habit isn’t helpful to your spirit. It can make you self-centered and very lost.

But when you think about and talk to God, he lovingly controls the conversation–for your good. Submission to him, searching for him, and waiting on him, are all beneficial to your character growth. You develop a selflessness in the relationship which makes you humbly secure in his love and grace.

God commanded the ancient Hebrew nation to observe a Sabbath day each week to focus on him (worship). Today, most of us spend 24 hours a week on the machines–neither wise nor restful.

Put down the addiction in your hand. Don’t stare and punch buttons. Instead, take contemplative walks. Drink deeply of his creation. Look up, listen, and worship.

“He’ll speak to you everywhere”–if you let him take control.

You’ll never regret one moment of your eternal conversation.


  1. Gerry Buckner on July 18, 2019 at 9:03 pm

    Excellent article!!!! Thanks Ron.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.