The New York Times article “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret” provided groundbreaking new information about technology, privacy, and how information on our location can easily be tracked and sold to companies. While its title may come across as alarmist, important discoveries are presented in this article. Simply by observing where we regularly spend our time companies are able to make a profile of us which can be surprisingly accurate. For the average person this isn’t a reason to throw away all our devices and enter solitary retreat, avoiding anything to do with technology. However, it does help us to begin to think about the information we share with our apps and how our devices have even begun to control us. And if certain app developers can get a decent profile of me simply based on where I go, then what does where I spend my time say about me?
Recognizing Our Rhythms
Thinking of where we spend our time will often lead us into talking about our rhythms. The idea of rhythms is visible in music, poetry, painting, nature, and other related fields as a way to orderly mark time. Our daily rhythms are the habits and routines that help to orderly define our days. As Christians, there are so many benefits to having regular rhythms, as our rhythms contribute a great deal towards our spiritual growth. Rhythms can help us lead lives more centered around Christ, especially if we orient our days around spending time with Him and loving others. However, rhythms can also be problematic by putting blinders around our eyes, causing us to miss the people around us who we may most need to talk to or serve. Rhythms, if done selfishly or casually without intentionality, can cause us to miss opportunities to take advantage of for Christ.
As Christians we’re called to proclaim the glory of God to the world so that those who are lost may hear and believe in the work of Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:8). When we consider this calling we have, we begin to realize the missiological benefits (speaking of our call to lead lives on mission for the cause of Christ) to having regular rhythms and routines, especially when it comes to where we spend our time. When we visit the same places to study, go to the same grocery stores, and make it a point to frequent the same locations, then we open the door to relationships that may have not been developed otherwise. We’re able to get to know the person working the check-out line at the grocery store, see the same people at the library where we study, and get to know other people who we may not have come into contact with. Then over time, as those relationships deepen due to regular interactions, we can intentionally leverage those relationships for the sake of the gospel, all with the hope that they’ll come to know Jesus. All of this starts with frequenting the same places and praying to better see those around us in order that those relationships may begin to develop.
Many of our rhythms and the places we spend our time will be tied to our stage of life. For students who live on the OSU campus it makes perfect sense to spend time studying in Edmon Low or in the Union. For families with kids it is easy, convenient, and fun to head to local parks to spend time outside. Many of our rhythms will naturally put us around people who are similar to us in how they look, talk, dress, and live, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To spend time around people who are like us is, of course, our natural spot of comfort. Interacting with people who share similar hobbies, interests, and life experiences creates a good foundation on which to form a relationship. These relationships form naturally and help us as we get to know them and eventually share the gospel. Thoughtfully considering where we spend our time can easily be leveraged for the advancement of the kingdom of God. Rhythms are beneficial for spiritual growth by allowing us to meet new people and develop relationships, yet can also become selfish when we ignore those around us. May we continue to grow to see those around us in every area of life as made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and, therefore, love them, get to know them, and share the good news of Jesus as we develop relationships.
Beginning to Push Outside of Our Comfort Zones
While it’s essential for us to recognize those areas where we spend our time and press into them, does the call to follow Jesus always come alongside a guarantee for our comfort? What would it look like to ever-so-slowly push out of these rhythms and spend our time somewhere unexpected of us for the sake of the gospel?
To get practical, what if we took one of our study sessions each week and went somewhere out of the ordinary? Not to neglect those at our usual spot (because as we just discussed, those relationships are valuable!), but to instead come into contact with people we usually wouldn’t be around. When we are grounded in the gospel with the truth of who we are, then we don’t have to be afraid of leaving our comfort zones. When we recognize the image of God in others and see everyone as deserving of dignity, then being around people different from us will only make sense. We can move from only spending time with people like us to getting to know those who are richer or poorer than us, older or younger than us, of a different ethnic or cultural background than us, and in a different stage of life than us because we know that they, like us, are made in God’s image and have inherent value. What if we decide to shop at the grocery store that isn’t quite as nice or convenient for us, but that puts us into contact with people from different walks of life whom we would not have met otherwise? The gospel frees us to do this and gives us the call to do so.
The Perfect Example Of Christ
When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus we see that He provides us the perfect example of how to use our rhythms wisely. Jesus had regular rhythms, such as in Luke 4:16 when we see Jesus going into the synagogue every Sabbath “as was his custom.” Jesus would also regularly retreat to solitary places to spend time in prayer with the Father (Matthew 14:13; Mark 1:35, 6:46; Luke 22:39-40). Yet Jesus would often push out of these rhythms, such as when He deliberately chose to go through Samaria in John 4 and ended up talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. Even though He could have taken a different route, and it was culturally taboo for a Jewish man to talk to a Samaritan woman, Jesus did all of this intentionally so that the Kingdom of God could spread to this woman and those in her town. And “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him” (John 4:39).
The supreme example of Jesus intentionally altering His rhythms is seen in the incarnation. Even though He was God, Jesus still left heaven, became like us, and associated with us so that by His work on the cross we may be saved (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus was always intentional to establish rhythms and reach those around Him while being willing to take advantage of ministry opportunities as they showed up during His normal routines. But He would also intentionally go out of His way to reach people with His perfect love and grace.
Establishing Rhythms For God’s Glory
How we use our short time on this earth and reflect on our regular rhythms reveals the deep desires of our hearts. Do I only desire my comfort, satisfaction, and ease of life while being surrounded by people who are exactly like me? Or do I desire to love the city well, serve those who are different from me, and hope that God will move to make His glory known through these relationships that may seem confusing on the surface? As we start to ever-so-slightly push outside of our comfort zones with our rhythms and frequent new places we can do so without fear and expecting God to move greatly. We can go into these times in prayer that we would see others around us, form relationships with them, and have a great burden for them to come to know Jesus. May we, as a congregation, continue to grow in seeing others around us in the unique areas in which God has placed us. However, may we not do that to the neglect of people who are different from us, as we too were once the outcasts who were pursued by an incredibly loving God!
-By Noah Mennenga