HAVE you ever asked these questions: How does God manage to listen to all the prayers of all the people praying to Him? How does He keep up with all the prayers directed to Him? How can He respond to them all at the same time? Does He have some assistants to help Him?
We may smile at these questions with the insights of age, though we really don’t know the answers too, for we are dealing with the mystery of God’s infinite nature. Imagine if God were to go high-tech and offered an email address (e.g. God@heaven.eternity ) that we can use to reach Him. Would God answer all the unimaginably large number of emails that He would receive? Alas, God does not have an email address.
Even if God had an email address, I believe his habits – of answering prayers – would remain the same. He would answer some emails immediately, but take His time to answer others, sometimes even taking years, not that He does not care or is unaware of the situation. And yet in the case of others, He would give the impression that He does not want to answer them at all. He either has more important things to do, or the emails are not in line with His larger purposes.
We could learn from God.
We live today in a communication saturated world – mobile phones, emails, instant messaging systems, and the like. All this is fine, as far as efficient communication goes. But are we really connected where it matters? We may be connected to the world, but not as well to God and to our own inner selves.
Take emails as an example. More than a decade ago, life was simpler. Mail was slower. We had more time to think. But in slightly more than a decade we are now caught in a high-strung world of electronic email clogging up our attention. When emails began to appear in our daily routines, they introduced a welcome ease and efficiency in communication. Once used by scientists to communicate with one another, they have now become an essential part of almost everyone’s daily life. While they still help us a great deal in our work and to keep in touch with friends around the world, there are also many downsides to emails.
One big downside is that we are increasingly subject to what we used to call the “tyranny of the urgent”. The emails that we receive come knocking on our doors demanding urgent attention and immediate responses. As a result the important things are our larger purposes, and our more important tasks such as our relationship with God and family members.
Many people spend far too much time reading and answering emails. What makes this worse is a kind of addiction to emails. Notice how people tend to check their emails every so often. A daily routine for many is to check emails at frequent intervals, with breaks in between to get some other work done.
We are becoming a society of email slaves. Emails have erased healthy boundaries between work and home, between work and leisure. Because of email, people are in work mode all the time, answering emails even in the middle of the night, or during their holiday breaks. Who is to blame? Our workplaces that want to invade our every space, or our own addiction to work and the need to be in touch?
ANOTHER phenomenon comes from the ease of sending copies of emails to as many people as one wishes. Often one is dragged forcibly to overhear what in effect is a private conversation. Why this electronic exhibitionism? Also, we receive other forms of unwanted emails – spam mail. In fact a large chunk of our emails are of such nature. They rob us of our time and energy.
‘We are becoming a society of email slaves. Emails have erased healthy boundaries between work and home, between work and leisure. Because of email, people are in work mode all the time, answering emails even in the middle of the night, or during their holiday breaks.’
It is time to stop on our tracks, even if it is but for a moment, and to examine our ways. As Haggai the prophet said to the Jewish exiles who got so little for putting in so much: “Give careful thought to your ways.” (Hag. 1:5).
The downside of emails is so great that sometimes I think seriously of quitting the email world, but two reasons have held me back. Firstly, the modern workplace is built around electronic communication; it would be difficult or impossible to work without emails. Perhaps we can quit emails when we are no longer at the workplace. But then, there is the second reason. Emails do make it easy to keep in touch with others.
Short of living a less stressful email-free life, we can still take certain measures to ensure that we do not drown in an email deluge.
We must learn to fast from emails from time to time. How about resisting the temptation to read and respond to emails on Sundays, in keeping with the spirit of the Sabbath? When you go on holiday breaks, leave your emails behind. Set aside some limited time to work on your emails each day and avoid constantly checking your emails (unless this is your main work). It is difficult but we must break free from this addiction.
It is a wise thing to learn from God Himself. How does He answer all the prayers that are directed at Him? And I am sure He receives a lot of “spam mail” too. He answers some, delays answering others, and possibly passes by others – at His own pace, and in line with His bigger and more eternal purposes. And in His own unique incarnational way, He prefers face-to-face relational encounters.
This wisdom is reflected in Quentin Schultze’s book, Habits of the High-Tech Heart; Schultze shows the need for being and character in our high-tech world. He observes that we would know “if we listen to the pace and tenor of our high-tech lives – that we are growing increasingly hurried and anxious”.
Our technological tools and toys, useful as they are, have a knack for constantly interrupting our lives and robbing us of our true journeys. To adapt what the Lord taught to our high-tech world, “What does it profit a man if he is connected to the whole world, but loses his own soul?” (Mk. 8:36). Let us say “no” to the hurried, distracted, addicted, interrupted and wasted life.