Last week I blogged five steps to getting going with the PrayerMate app. If you’re new to the app, these would be a great place to start:
It’s often said that Apple don’t do cloud services as well as Google, and one very clear example of this can be seen in the Android SDK. Right from API Version 1 Android has supported something called “Sync Adapters“. They’re a little convoluted to set up, but basically Android provides an abstract framework straight out of the box for adding any kind of background network sync behaviour you need to your app. It handles calling your sync task at suitable times, for optimum battery usage, and makes sure it all runs nicely in a background thread. All you need to do then is define the behaviour each time the sync is performed.
The step by step instructions here are pretty thorough in talking you through what you need to do. I got stuck at just a couple of points:
- Firstly, they provide incomplete code in step 3 for their CreateSyncAccount method. I had assumed that if addAccountExplicitly failed then that was a fatal error, so was returning a null account. In fact, you can ignore this error completely and still return the new account object you’ve created.
- In the final step, running your adapter, it would appear from what I’ve experienced and what I’m reading on StackOverflow that the documentation everywhere is completely lying to you, and you do in fact need to turn setSyncAutomatically ON even to use addPeriodicSync. What’s more, addPeriodicSync takes an interval in seconds not in milliseconds like the example code would suggest.
- Finally, the example code passes a null extras bundle to addPeriodicSync, but this will in fact cause an exception. So make sure you pass in a bundle, even if it’s completely empty.
Despite these initial hickups, Sync Adapters have given me a real headstart in adding online feed subscriptions to the Android version of PrayerMate, so consider me impressed.
Update: Big gotcha – setting the frequency
It’s worth being aware that if configured naively, your SyncAdapter could be run arbitrarily frequently, i.e. multiple times per minute, effectively constantly running in the background and draining the battery. You are therefore
“The rest of [my manilla folder] is filled with letters– prayer letters, personal letters, occasionally indepedent notes with someone’s name at the top. These are filed in alphabetical order. When a new letter comes in, I highlight any matters in it that ought to be the subject of prayer, and then file it in the appropriate place in the folder. The letter it replaces is pulled out at the same time, with the result that the prayer folder is always up to date. I try to set aside time to intercede with God on behalf of the people and situations represented by these letters, taking the one on the top, then the next one, and the next one, and so forth, putting the top ones, as I finish with them, on the bottom of the pile. Thus although the list of alphabetized, on any day a different letter of the alphabet confronts me.”
If you’re anything like me, you probably have an email inbox full of prayer letters that, on your better days, you read once, but which all too often never really go much further. Long gone are the days when I have a printer anywhere near my email inbox– I had the growing sense that the 21st century needed a digital equivalent to Don Carson’s manilla folder. Thus PrayerMate was born.
Today’s task: adding attachments
Today we’re going to look at two tasks to help you pray more fruitfully for your friends. Firstly, something that everybody can do: adding photos.
Tap into a subject, and tap the pencil icon to put it into edit mode. If you then tap the circle that appears near the top of the card, you can then pick a photo that represents that person, choose your cropping circle by dragging around and pinching to zoom in and out, and finally hit “Done” when you’re ready. Next time you pray, that person’s face will pop up as a little reminder to help you think of them.
Next, let’s add a PDF attachment. There’s two ways to do this: the most likely route is via your email inbox. If anybody’s ever emailed you a PDF prayer letter, open it up in your email client, then when you tap on the attachment you should get the option to “Open with…” PrayerMate (if you’re on iOS) or if you’re on Android you should be able to find a way to “Share” it with PrayerMate. Track down the subject you want to attach it to, then it will be saved against that subject in the app. Now when you reach that item in your prayers, there’ll be a little “PDF” link which you can tap to open up the PDF full screen.
The other way you can get PDFs into PrayerMate is via the “Import from Dropbox” feature under the “Settings” menu. This will list all of the files in your “Apps/PrayerMate” Dropbox folder, including PDFs (as well as .txt files that you want to import as subjects).
Well that’s it for PrayerMate Amnesty Week. I hope you’ve found it helpful. Now it’s over to you to actually get on and use the app. You might find it helpful to set a reminder alarm under the “Advanced Settings” menu to help you make a habit, but ultimately there’s nothing it can do to overcome a sinful heart. Go well, and don’t forget to join the email newsletter if you haven’t already.
One of the things that can be a barrier to regular, faithful prayer for people is the feeling that our prayers are “stale”, that we’re just praying the same things over and over. One of the points that Don Carson makes in his wonderful book “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” is that this is one of the ways that praying Bible prayers for people can really help. Biblical prayers are often much bigger in scope than the things we sometimes ask God for – so instead of praying that their sick cat will get better, we pray that they might be rooted and established in Christ, and that they may truly grasp what is the height and breadth and depth of the love of God – huge, eternal prayers that there’s always room for growth in.
“Where shall we learn the will of God, the values of God, the character and purposes of God, the promises of God? We shall learn such things in the Scriptures he has graciously given us. But that means that when we pray, when we ask God for things, we must try to tie as many requests as possible to Scripture.”
Of course, it’s also helpful to pray some of those Biblical prayers into the specifics of people’s lives, and so it’s helpful to have some up-to-date prayer requests from people. Today we’re going to focus on three kinds of people that PrayerMate can help us pray for, and tomorrow we’ll focus on one final way it can help with praying for specific prayer requests.
Praying for mission organisations & churches
PrayerMate allows you to subscribe to regular prayer updates from all sorts of fantastic Christian organisations, including London City Mission, Open Doors, UCCF The Christian Unions & many more. There are also a growing number of local churches who publish their prayer diary through the PrayerMate.net website.
Praying for missionaries
As well as the subscriptions mentioned above, both versions of PrayerMate include a “prayer gallery” where you can do a one-off download of set prayers. OMF UK have very kindly donated a handy range of prayers to help you pray for missionaries. There’s a suggestion for each day of the week as well as some more general prayers. These can be used exactly as they are, or I suggest you customise them with the specific names and details of particular missionaries you’re supporting.
Husbands praying for their wives
Part of the responsibility of being husband is being faithful in prayer for your wife, the one nearest to you. In partnership with 10ofthose.com, you can download some sample prayers from the upcoming book “Water on the Word” by Andrew Case, designed to help husbands pray biblically for their wives.
Todays task: downloading some prayers
In the main “add” page (accessed by pressing the + button) you’ll find a section titled “Ready made content and organisations”. This is where you’ll get access to both the downloadable prayers and automatically updating “feeds”.
Let’s focus on the downloadable prayers today. Tap into the “World Mission & Bible Translation” category and then choose “OMF Missionary Prayer guide”. You can preview it first, then if you want to download it, tap the “Download prayer” action in the top right. This will begin the process of creating a new subject. Assign it to the list that makes most sense (perhaps “World Mission”). If you want, you could use the pencil icon on each card after you’ve downloaded them and replace Paul’s “I” with the name of your missionary friend.
Elsewhere in the Prayer Gallery you’ll also find some Bible prayers, or many suggested prayers for various family members.
Extra credit: subscribing to feeds
You might also find it helpful to subscribe to one or two feeds. Tap again to the “Add” page and find the “Ready made content and organisations” section. From here you can browse around various categories. One of the recent additions is the “Devotional” category, where you’ll find content from Scotty Smith’s “Heavenward” blog and Glen Scrivener. If you tap into a feed you’ll get further details, then you can tap the “Subscribe” action at the bottom. You’ll need to assign it to a list, then new content should start showing up automatically as it is published.
This post is part of PrayerMate Amnesty Week. Yesterday we entered some people we want to pray for regularly.
Throughout PrayerMate Amnesty Week I’ve been referring to the book that first taught me how to pray, “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” by Don Carson. Carson begins the book with some fantastically practical wisdom on the business of getting on and praying. Among other things he says “Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray.”
“What we actually do reflects our highest priorities. That means we can proclaim our commitment to prayer until the cows come home, but unless we actually pray, our actions disown our words.”
Cuts straight to the heart, doesn’t it? I often need this rebuke – after all, there’s no point being the developer of a prayer app if you don’t also get on and use it yourself!
He also says this, which is perhaps a helpful warning against dipping in and out of a prayer session too quickly:
“Pray until you pray. That is Puritan advice. It does not simply mean that persistence should mark much of our praying– though admittedly that is a point the Scriptures repeatedly make.. What they meant is that Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying.. “If we ‘pray until we pray,’ eventually we come to delight in God’s presence, to rest in his love, to cherish his will.”
Today’s task is both the easiest and the hardest – the easiest because there’s not much to it, the hardest because it’s where the spiritual battle rages in our heart. Today we’re going to get on and pray.
When you first open up PrayerMate, you should be presented with an “Overview” page, listing the subjects you’ll be praying for today. Swipe this to the left to reveal the first item, then it’s over to you to do the praying. After you’ve prayed for each topic, just carry on swiping to the left to reveal the next item. Each time you swipe past a subject, PrayerMate will mark it as “prayed”, so that next time you ask for a new set of cards it will give you something fresh to pray for instead.
Once you have prayed for your final card, you’ll get a few extra screens – a “blessing”, the feedback page (with links to leave a review of the app, or to send me an email) and the “new session” page. You should be taken to this final page each time you open the app now for the rest of the day. From here you have two choices: go back to the start to pray for the same subjects over again, or tap the praying hands to request a completely new set of cards.
Extra credit: Editing as you go
For bonus points, you can try adding details to one of your cards as you pray. When you are looking at a card that you want to add some notes on (e.g. specific prayer requests they’ve given you, or notes on answers to these prayers) press the pencil icon in the top right corner of the card. From here you can add notes or change the name of the subject. You can also tap the list name to move it to a different list, or you can tap the circle to add a photo. Each subject also has a cog button to access “Subject settings” where you can change the scheduling rules or priority (e.g. if you want to make it appear more or less often, or only on certain days of the week).
This post is part of PrayerMate Amnesty Week. Yesterday we looked at using lists to help you pray
We all know that prayer is an important part of the Christian life, but what sorts of things are we actually supposed to pray for? Here are a few pointers that we find in the Bible:
- Jesus gave his disciples the Lord’s prayer, telling his disciples to pray for God’s name to be honoured, for his will to be done, and for our daily needs of bread and forgiveness
- One of the few really explicit things Jesus tells us to pray for is found in Matthew 9:38: he calls us to pray for God to raise up people who will take the gospel to the lost
- In Colossians 4:3, Paul says “pray for us, for God to open a door for the word”. In other words, we’re to pray for the gospel to advance, and for ministers of the gospel to have opportunities to preach
- Read Don Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation too all of the ways in which Paul himself prays for the various believers he’s writing to – there are loads of these, and they’re all great models for us!
- In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul says “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” – not just for our leaders and those in authority, but for all people
Creating subjects in PrayerMate
Yesterday I talked you through setting up your lists in PrayerMate. But of course, they’re useless without some specific things to pray for in each of those lists. This can be a fairly time consuming process, but I recommend you start small with just a few items in each category, and you can always add more gradually over time. There are three main ways you can add subjects:
- Manually adding subjects: this is the ‘old-school’ way. From the front page of the app, tap the ‘+’ button at the top of the screen to access the new subject page. Enter the name of the person or topic you want to pray for, select the list, and if you want, pick a photo to go with it (we’ll cover this in more detail later in the week).
- Enter a list of names: this is a new addition to the app, but makes creating large numbers of subjects much quicker. You can access this through the ‘+’ button on the “Overview” page, but for variety lets go a different route. Tap the icon to access the “lists” page, then find the list you want to populate. Press the “+” button at the bottom of that list, and then choose the “Enter a list of names” option under “Quick add”. If you tap into this, you can then just type in a whole bunch of names, pressing the ‘return’ key in between each one so that they each appear on a separate line. When you press the ‘Done’ button in the top right, PrayerMate will then go away and create a new subject for each of those names, under the selected list.
- Create from address book: you can also create subjects by browsing through your address book and selected contacts who you want to turn into subjects. This has the added bonus that those subjects will be linked with those contacts so that you can text them as you pray, and it will also pull in any photos associated with those contacts automatically. The option to create contacts from your address book will be next to the ‘enter a list of names’ option.
Pick a couple of your most important lists, and try to come up with seven subjects in each of those categories. As a suggestion: enter the names of seven people from your church, and seven friends or family members.
If you don’t need some of the default subjects that get created automatically for you, you can always delete them. When looking at the list, do a long press-and-hold on the subject you want to delete and choose “Delete subject”.
Many people find it helpful to have a bit of structure in their prayer life, as a way to help ensure they’re praying over a wide range of topics and people, and maintaining a helpful balance in what they give their attention to. One very popular prayer scheme is ACTS:
- Adoration: the ACTS scheme begins by focussing the mind on God with a time of ‘adoration’ or worship. Praising God for who he is and what he has done for us in Christ.
- Confession: next it is right that we spend a bit of time acknowledging the ways in which we’ve failed to live with Jesus as Lord in our life, and asking for God’s forgiveness.
- Thanksgiving: there is much to be thankful for in the Christian life – not least of all the forgiveness which our confession makes us mindful of. There’s also something very healthy about making it a regular part of our prayer times to bring to mind all of the other little ways in which God has answered our prayers and blessed us abundantly.
- Supplication: only after we have worked through our prayers of adoration, confession and thanksgiving to we finally turn to ‘supplication’ – bringing our requests before God. Putting this at the end can help guard against the ‘shopping list’ mentality of just coming to God with our list of wants and expecting him to grant them like some kind of genie in a bottle.
Another very popular prayer scheme along the same lines is STOP: Sorry, Thank you, Others, Please, which similarly puts God first and ourselves and our requests last. Even the Lord’s Prayer itself can be used as a very helpful structure for guiding our prayers.
Of course, within some of those overarching headings you can further break it down. Ever since reading Don Carson’s “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” as a student, I’ve always used lists to help me with my intercessory prayer – the “Supplication” or “Others” bits of those schemes I’ve mentioned. Don Carson writes this:
It is difficult to pray faithfully for a large spread of people and concerns without developing prayer lists that help you remember them.
I’ve tended to find it helpful to have a few lists which help me pray for a spread of issues:
- Close friends and family – these are the people I want to be praying for every day, the people who are part and parcel of who I am as an individual
- My church and small group – part of being part of the body of Christ is praying regularly for those in my local church, and especially within my small group, for whom I have an extra responsibility of care.
- My evangelism – we know that it is the Lord’s work to open the blind eyes of those who don’t yet know him, and so I am called to pray regularly for opportunities to share my faith, and for the particular people that I rub shoulders with regularly that God might have mercy on them. If I don’t make a point of praying regularly for this, then I should hardly find it surprising if I don’t see God at work!
- Wider society – the Bible calls us to pray regularly for our politicians and those in authority over us, as well as for the lost in our world.
PrayerMate is a mobile app designed to give a helping hand, particularly in this area of intercessory prayer. Lists like the ones above are at the core of its design, so that each time you fire it up it gives you a selection of items from across all of your lists. For instance, for me this morning it suggested a devotional prayer (perhaps part of the “Adoration” section of the ACTS scheme), a prayer for my wife, for my oldest son, a couple from my small group, a Christian software developer who I meet up with from time to time, an aspect of the life of my church and today’s prayer point from the UCCF Christian Unions prayer diary. That’s seven items from seven different lists – just about at the limits of what my little brain is able to cope with!
If you’re somebody who would find this kind of structure helpful to you in your prayers, then you might find the PrayerMate app helpful. It comes preinstalled with some suggested lists, and of course you could leave them as they are and you’d get on just fine. But I strongly suggest that you tweak them so that they make sense for you and your particular context. Step one, then, is to decide what lists you want to use.
Some general guidelines
If there are particular people or causes that you want to be praying for every day, PrayerMate tends to work best if you give each of these topics their own list, just for them. That way, you can make sure that list appears every day, and you also have the flexibility of creating more than one subject in each list to help you pray for a spread of concerns for each person. For example, you could have a “My job” list, with subjects for “Evangelism”, “The people I manage”, “Working as to the Lord”, etc. – and you’d be prompted to pray for a different one of those each day. The flip side of this is that if you have too many lists, you’ll probably find yourself being overwhelmed with things to pray for each day. After about seven or eight prayer points my mind starts to feel a bit swamped, so although I have lists for my wife and my son, after that I then just use fairly broad lists for all of the other friends I want to be praying regularly for.
How to manage your lists
To manage your lists, press the “lists” icon (in the top right hand corner of the app on Android, or a tab at the bottom on iOS), where you’ll see all of the default lists. You can add new ones easily enough (you might also want to use the button in the top right of the first “My lists” column to change the list order by dragging your new lists higher up in the order). You could also rename existing default lists to reappropriate them – to do this just tap the cog button in the top corner of that list to access “List settings” and then edit using the ‘name’ field. To delete a list, again press the list’s cog button and choose “Delete list”.
Each list has a setting to choose whether you want to “always pray for this list” – and if so, how many items you want from that list. For example, you might just want one prayer point from your small group, but then two or three from your other “friends” list. Used sparingly, this is handy for those really important people in your life.
Why do Christians bother to pray?
It’s a good question to be asking at the start of Lent, a time traditionally set aside for contemplation and prayer. For many of us, prayer is something we know that we ought to be doing as Christians, but it can be surprisingly difficult to motivate ourselves to get on and do it. So why should we bother?
At the heart of the Bible’s answer to that question is the fundamental relationship that we enjoy with God. For the Christian is someone who has been adopted – by rights we are far from God and deserve absolutely nothing from him, but by his lavish grace, through Jesus, not because of anything we’ve done, we can be called God’s own children. What a remarkable truth that is – if only we would really grasp it!
As God’s children, it’s only natural that we should want to talk to our heavenly father. Prayer, then, is an expression of our complete dependence on him, our helplessness to do things by our own strength. No wonder, then, that straight after giving his disciples that most famous of prayers, the “Lord’s Prayer”, Jesus turns to this relationship we enjoy with God to motivate them to pray:
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)
If you then, who are evil, will give your children good things when they ask for them, how much more will our gracious God! Of course God will be gracious to us if we ask him – it’s in his very nature. He’s hardly going to be less generous than a human father is towards his children!
That’s the motivation that Jesus gives for his exhortation to pray:
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
Ask, because you know that God wants to give it to you. It’s not saying that absolutely everything I ask for will be given immediately in exactly the way I was hoping for – this isn’t a promise for the gift of a new laptop just because I fancy one. The specific example that Jesus gives here is “the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” – so this is in the context of God-centred prayer that is described to us in the Lord’s Prayer itself, praying for his kingdom to come and his will to be done. But we shouldn’t let that diminish the force of this promise – God will answer our prayers, if only we’ll get on and pray!
A little extra help
Even given this wonderful encouragement to pray, there are still many distractions and temptations in the world. Personally, I find I need all the help I can get, so that’s why I built the PrayerMate mobile app, now on iOS and Android. This Lent, I am going to be running a series of blog posts under the title of PrayerMate Amnesty Week. I know that getting going with PrayerMate takes a bit of an investment of time, and I’m hearing from a lot of people that they have downloaded the app and are full of good intentions, but just haven’t quite got around to setting it up yet. PrayerMate Amnesty Week is an opportunity to put that right. Starting from Monday 10th March, I’ll be posting a new blog post each day, with a bit of encouragement to pray, along with some practical tips on getting going with the app. At the end of each post I’ll give you some homework to go away and do by yourself with the app.
PrayerMate Amnesty Week Posts:
I’ve been developing iOS apps since the end of 2010, so have only ever seen the world of Android from a distance. Where I’m from, you hear a lot of talk about the problem of fragmentation on Android. Whereas the adoption stats for new versions of iOS are pretty impressive (apparently iOS7 hit 33% iOS market share in just 24 hours, and 58% after one week) the situation on Android looks very different, with the second most popular Android version remaining Gingerbread, released in 2010.
With my iOS hat on, when PrayerMate launched on Android earlier this year, I assumed it would be far too much hassle for one independent developer working in his spare time to take on this fragmentation issue, so I decided to support only Honeycomb upwards – a major OS update which introduced some significant new changes to the core Android UI.
But what they don’t tell you over in iOS developer world is that the Android ecosystem provides some pretty impressive tools to make supporting older Android versions really easy. Let me give you a quick overview of just three reasons why adding support for older phones isn’t nearly as hard as you might imagine:
1. Compatibility-aware compiler
When you set up your Android project (I use Eclipse) you specify the minimum version your app supports. Out of the box, the compiler knows exactly which API level each feature was introduced at, and will throw a compiler error if you try to use functions that are too modern for the versions you claim to support. If you use conditional statements to alter behaviour by Android version, then you can use attributes in your code to say what API level a given function is designed to run against, to disable these compiler errors on just those bits of code. It also warns about deprecated APIs so that you can use more modern alternatives where appropriate.
This makes the situation so much easier than the native state-of-affairs on iOS. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was some way to figure out how to make XCode throw such compatibility errors, but out of the box you get no warning whatsoever if you use functions introduced in an iOS version later than the minimum one you hope to support, and the only way to discover this is through thorough testing and waiting for the crashes to happen (which needless to say is not very scalable!)
2. Compatibility support libraries
Another seriously impressive feature of the Android SDK is the compatibility support libraries. In many situations, where a new API has been introduced, the SDK then goes and adds an alternative implementation that conforms to the same method signatures but which ports the new functionality back so that it also works on older OS versions. This avoids the need to have lots and lots of conditional branches running separate codepaths on separate Android versions, and instead means you can just write one lot of code that works everywhere.
Ok, so this one isn’t native to the Android SDK (although a very similar library is) but there’s a great open source project out there called ActionBarSherlock which lets you add the “action bar” UI paradigm introduced in Honeycomb even when running on older Android versions. It requires a minimal amount of setup, and works almost identically to the real action bar. So, again, rather than having to invent two separate user interfaces depending on the Android version, you can have the same functionality running everywhere.
In conclusion, the Android fragmentation problem doesn’t seem nearly so scary to me as it once did. I managed to get PrayerMate to support Android versions all the way back to Froyo (v2.2) in a single (pretty relaxed) weekend, and because of support from the compiler I can be pretty confident of not having missed anything.
I know that every time I release a new update to PrayerMate, I always say it’s the most exciting version ever. But today’s update to PrayerMate for Android makes me really extra excited!
New downloadable “Prayer gallery”
Firstly, it adds the downloadable prayer gallery that iOS users received earlier in the week. It’s very small for now, but it includes a small selection of Bible prayers (including the traditional form of the Lord’s Prayer that many of you have asked for) and some tips from OMF UK on how to pray for missionaries. You can download the prayers into PrayerMate, and then feel free to customise them, e.g. by inserting the personal names of your particular friends.
It also includes some extracts from a forthcoming book published by 10ofthose called “Water on the Word” by Andrew Case, designed to help husbands pray biblically for their wives. If you find these helpful, let me know, and I can add more to the gallery.
Support for older Android versions
Several of you expressed disappointment that PrayerMate wasn’t able to run on your particular phone, because it only supported the newer Android versions. I’m pleased to announce that as of today, it will now run on Android versions back to Froyo (v2.2.0). If you’re running a version of Android older than that then may I politely suggest that it’s really time you treated yourself to a new phone. I can’t necessarily promise that absolutely every feature will work perfectly, but the basics are all there and I can always release incremental fixes over time if you report specific problems to me.
Improved Dropbox support
As well as a little bug fix that was preventing Dropbox imports from updating your card details, you can now also import individual text files from your Dropbox folder. Add a “.txt” file to your “Apps/PrayerMate” Dropbox folder, fill it with the contents of your prayer, and you can then load that in as a subject.
Enter a list of names
One of the biggest factors that stops people getting started with PrayerMate is the challenge of actually setting up your prayer points. The new “create from list” feature aims to make this a little easier, by allowing you to enter a whole list of names, and PrayerMate will go away and create a subject for each one.
Download it today
Today there is a small yet important new update to PrayerMate for iOS. It addresses three very long-standing feature requests:
- It includes a new “prayer gallery” of downloadable content. This is very small and simple at the moment, but I can add it to gradually over time without requiring further app updates. It includes some links to various Bible prayers that you can copy and paste, and I’ll be sure to add many more over the coming weeks and months. If you have any prayers that you would like to share with other PrayerMate users, do hit the “Get in touch” button inside the app.
- Multiple reminder alarms. Where previously you could only have one reminder per day, you can now add as many as you like through the day. If you decide you don’t want one any more, just swipe that row to the left to delete.
- You must now explicitly ask for a new set of cards to pray for on any given day. If you like to pray for same things all day long, now you can! Once you’ve prayed, your cards will stay the same until the following day. If you prefer to pray for new things every time, there’s a button you can press to ask for a new set of cards.
The update also includes some other minor updates:
- You can now create a bunch of subjects by entering a simple list of names
- Subject ordering should now be respected properly in prayer mode
- The date that you last contacted somebody is now tracked, so you know how long it’s been
- New “Help” gallery, which will be gradually expanded over time
P.S. Bonus points if you spot the glaring typo in this update. I’ll try to fix it soon!
Today I’m pleased to announce the release of the first big update to PrayerMate for Android. It has a bunch of the new features you asked for:
- You can now attach photos of people to their cards, as a little prompt to help you pray!
- You can now backup your prayer database to Dropbox, and import it back again. This should be completely compatible with the iOS version as well, allowing you to transfer your data between devices. (Note: if you have any trouble re-importing, do get in touch by hitting the ‘send feedback’ button inside the app)
- Subjects can now be scheduled by date, by day of the week or by day of the month, in addition to the “default” scheduling mode.
- I’ve added an explicit button to ask for a new set of cards on any given day, so you can choose whether to keep praying the same stuff or for new things each time.
- It’s now possible to choose to install the app to an SD card rather than directly to your phone, if you’re running out of space.
There’s also plenty of bug fixes:
- The reminder alarm is now properly fixed for all users – apologies for any inconvenience caused by this malfunctioning for some of you
- The app now better tracks your state and how far you had got through praying
- Some subjects that had got “stuck” should now be back in circulation
- Fixed a few crashes whilst managing your data
Let me know how you get on – you can email me through the app, or follow @PrayerMateApp on Twitter, and PrayerMate is on Facebook too. Do leave a review on Google Play if you enjoy it!
Want to make a computer programmer groan? Just ask them to explain “unicode” to you and watch what happens, as all of the joy drains out of their face in an instant.
It turns out that an ancient story from one of the very earliest chapters of the Old Testament still casts a shadow over software development in the 21st Century. Which story? The account of the Tower of Babel and God’s subsequent judgement on the world – a judgement which still makes itself felt these many thousands of years later.
In the days of Noah, God recognised that the intentions of man’s heart was “only evil all the time”, and so he made a fresh start of the world, beginning again with just Noah and his family. Yet the human capacity for evil was undiminished, and it’s not long before we see the human race trying to exert their independence from God: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
In one of those verses that proves what a sense of humour God has, we read that whilst they were busy trying to build the tallest tower imaginable, reaching to the very heavens, God still found it necessary to “come down” to get a closer look at the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.
“And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.'”
It was a period of unprecedented harmony for the human race, but how did they choose to use that spirit of co-operation? To rebel against God and try to throw off his shackles, making a name for themselves. Even then, God loved us too much to leave us to this rebellion, and so he proposed a judgement fitting the crime:
“‘Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth.”
Whilst their great intention was to prevent themselves being dispersed across the face of the earth, God did the very thing that they were afraid of and caused them to divide and spread out across the earth. He muddled their languages so that the unity they had previously enjoyed was destroyed, and in its place there was misunderstanding and gobbledegook.
And that, my friends, is why software developers today still have problems making their programs handle foreign characters properly. It’s not simply that computers can’t agree on what language to speak – in many ways, English is the common tongue of most software. It’s that even when there IS agreement on the language, computers can’t even decide quite how to represent that language. As Joel on Software explains in his excellent little introduction to Unicode:
“In Unicode, a letter maps to something called a code point which is still just a theoretical concept. How that code point is represented in memory or on disk is a whole nuther story.”
The humble apostrophe causes no end of problems in even otherwise very straightforward English documents, if you use the curly kind rather than the straight line variety, since depending on the character encoding you use to save your document its codepoint could be presented in all manner of different ways: ISO-8859-1, UTF-8, UTF-16, big-endian, little-endian, blah blah blah. When you start getting in to languages with lots of accented characters like French, or even whole different alphabets such as Chinese, then it starts to get completely unmanageable unless you understand what you’re doing. And even when you understand what you’re doing, chances are you’re having to interact with libraries and services which DON’T understand what they’re doing, or which decide to handle things in an ever so slightly different manner.
So God’s curse on the sinful intentions of our hearts is still making itself felt even today. It can add all sorts of overhead when trying to get software based on different platforms to talk to each other. We’ve come a long long way from where we were a few years ago, but even so it can still cause much banging-ones-head-against-a-wall.
And so we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
People have been asking for this for a while, so I’m pleased to announce that if you have set up a prayer diary on the PrayerMate.net site, then it is now possible to allow people to subscribe to your content by email if you sign up for a service such as MailChimp (which I love, by the way!)
1. Create a campaign
Step one is to log in to MailChimp and create yourself an “RSS-Driven Campaign”
2. Enter feed URL
You’ll need to provide a feed URL:
You can get that URL by clicking the “Subscribe by email” link in the right sidebar on your prayer diary:
3. Configure email template
Next you’ll want to set up your email template. MailChimp allows you to use some special code in your template to embed the contents of the feed in your email – if you’re using a different email service then you’ll need to figure out what the relevant code is for that service (I’m afraid I can’t help you with this). Try copying and pasting this into your template:
*|RSSITEM:DATE:l j F Y|*
4. Create a signup form
Then all there is to it is to publicise your mailing list and let people subscribe. MailChimp also provides tools to let you create a mini signup form:
When given the choice, choose “General forms”, and then you can easily set up a form to let people join your list.
Then just enable your campaign and watch it go!
This all feels slightly ridiculous, but getting iOS apps and Android apps to talk to each other via Dropbox is complicated considerably by the issue of Unicode and Character Sets. For anybody who hadn’t realised – computer science is plagued by the effects of the fall, and the legacy of the Tower of Babel is keenly felt. Computers simply can’t agree on how to talk to each other, they can’t even agree on how to speak French – some computers representing characters in a character encoding like UTF8 that uses one byte per letter unless more are needed, and others encoding in UTF16 that uses two bytes per letter unless more are needed.
It would appear that the iOS Dropbox API is saving files out in UTF16 (at least in my app!) whereas Java (and therefore the Android Dropbox API) naturally reads things in UTF8, causing problems!
It feels like total overkill, but in the end I discovered this handy little Java library that can guess what character encoding has been used for a given string: juniversalchardet
After the Kickstarter campaign to bring PrayerMate to Android, I have a few items of PrayerMate branded clothing spare. If you would like to offer your support to the PrayerMate cause, here’s what’s on offer:
Medium T-Shirts x3 – £15
Medium Hoodies x2 – £22
Large Hoodies x2 – £25
It’ll be first come first served, and you can haggle with me over how much postage and packaging you pay. Drop me an email here.
What Would Jesus Do when it comes to leaving online reviews on the App Store or Google Play? What does the Bible have to teach us about how to review apps in an Internet age? It turns out, quite a bit!
I think the clearest bit of teaching on the subject comes from Matthew 18:15-17:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Ok, so I’m stretching it a little. But notice that in disputes (particularly between believers) Jesus describes a clear process of escalation:
- Start by telling the person who has offended you in private. This is just good manners. It’s easy to take offence at someone, but there’s a good chance that they weren’t acting maliciously or with evil intent – and raising the matter privately avoids unnecessarily trashing their reputation and giving them a chance to repent.
- If that fails, bring in a couple of others. Sometimes our hearts are stubborn, and it takes a little social pressure to make us see the situation clearly. This still allows for the situation to be dealt with privately and without airing the dirty laundry in public, but helps show the seriousness of what’s going on.
- Finally, if and only if there is still unrepentance, get the whole church family involved. If even the whole body of Christ can’t help this person see what’s wrong, then there’s something really wrong.
So how would Jesus review? Here’s what I reckon:
- He’d begin by raising any issues privately with the developer. If it’s a bug in an app, then the best way to help the developer fix it is to get in touch and give helpful background such as your operating system version and the exact steps you went through. A 1-star app review isn’t the right place to report bugs.
- If reporting the issue fails to produce any response, he’d probably try to discover if it’s a widespread issue, to help the developer see the seriousness of the issue. Maybe he’d tweet or post on Facebook – “anybody else had this issue?” Most app developers are super busy with all sorts of competing priorities, and bugs that are affecting several people are much more likely to get attention than one-offs that are hard to reproduce.
- If the bugs persisted, then he might politely warn others in a review. Sometimes in good conscience you want to leave a negative review of a product, to warn others not to waste their money on something that doesn’t work. But you can still be polite about it! “I wanted to love this product, great concept, but sadly, after long conversations, the developer was unable to resolve some serious flaws”
Some examples of a really bad review:
- 1 star – no explanation. Not even an “I hated it!”. This serves nobody – the developer has no idea how to improve her product, and other potential customers can’t tell whether they’ll hate it too for the same reasons. I’d suggest that this is pretty lazy.
- 1 star – “the app crashed on launch, sort it out, waster!”. If this was the only review left on an app, this might be within the realms of the useful to other potential customers, but (apart from being pretty rude!) it’s very unlikely to actually help you get the app fixed, since the developer has no information to go on. If it’s the only such review amongst hundreds of very positive reviews, then it’s not even all that useful to other users since it’s probably a fairly specific issue that relates to your particular setup (as an aside, I might gently request that if you’re running a beta version of iOS then you should please refrain from leaving reviews about app crashes)
There are some cases where a negative review is appropriate, but I think one should always aim to be courteous, and remember that the person at the other end is a real human being who probably works hard and isn’t deliberately setting out to create rubbish apps:
- Make a clear distinction between the app in general and specific updates / issues. Every app has its catastrophic update that goes disastrously wrong. This is inevitable from time to time. But I’ve also seen excellent reviews in such situations, along the lines of “This is one of my favourite apps but this particular version has serious issues”
What do you think? How do you think Jesus would review apps?
Have you heard about WorshipGOD UK, a new national worship conference that is taking place in the UK hosted by Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Music?
The conference will be held on 5th-8th March 2014, at The Forum, in Bath and host by Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Music. It’s a 3-day event on the theme of “Called to be Faithful” – the idea being that as pastors, leaders, worshippers, musicians and singers, we are not called to be famous or successful, or to put a primary emphasis on being creative, cool or impressive, but faithful. “We will explore what it means to be faithful to receive God’s grace, be faithful to proclaim his Word and gospel, be faithful to serve our local church with the gifts God has given us, be faithful to grow in musical skill, be faithful to prepare people for suffering and death.”
Sounds like a really good thing to me, and an event that I hope will be a real blessing to the church.
The conference will have loads of main sessions and seminars that promise to be “packed with both theological truth and practical instruction”. Speakers include Bob Kauflin and some Sovereign Grace guys (Craig Cabaniss and Jeff Purswell), as well as Mike Reeves, Tim Chester, and Donald Whitney, so it ought to be fantastic. Worship leaders and musicians will include folks from Sovereign Grace Churches in the UK and USA, as well as guests including Stuart Townend and Nathan & Lou Fellingham, and others.
Looking for a calendar activity that you can plug in to your Android app to let people select dates? Check out Caldroid – attractive design, massively flexible, well written. In short – it’s great!
It took me a while to track down something like this, so I thought I’d give it some Google-juice!
I don’t know the people involved, and I have no idea whether the game will be any good. But I decided to help fund it, because I think projects like this deserve a fighting chance. It takes money to make a decent game – and I’m sure we all desperately want this game to be done well, however sceptical we might feel. I don’t think we can keep moaning that there are no good Christian games if we’re not willing to lend our support when people with the guts to get on and try something ask for it.
They’ve got just 26 days left to reach a pretty ambitious target – so support the Kickstarter today.
Ever since I launched the PrayerMate app back in May 2011, people have been asking if it could be made available on Android. I’m thrilled to announce that the day has finally arrived, and a basic version of PrayerMate is now available on Google Play and the Amazon Appstore.
PrayerMate is an app designed to help you to actually pray for all the people and causes you care about. You create a little index card for each person, and every time you fire it up it picks a selection for you to pray through. It’s that simple!
Just to set your expectations – this is a VERY cut-down version of the app for now, with just the basic features needed to make it useful. It doesn’t let you subscribe to online feeds or attach your PDF prayer letters yet – it doesn’t even let you add photos at this stage. But it’s a start – just as the iOS version didn’t do any of those things when it first launched either. You can help determine the future direction of the app by voting on the survey linked from the “Settings” menu within the app.
A HUGE thank you to the generous support of everybody who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign to make this happen – I couldn’t have done it without you! And also big thanks are due to London City Mission, whose sponsorship means that the app can be offered free of charge until 31st March 2014.
Do try out PrayerMate for Android, tell all your friends, leave a review on Google Play if you like it, and get in touch to tell me your experiences and if you need any help.
I’m very excited to announce that the PrayerMate Christian Prayer App is now sponsored by London City Mission until 31st March 2014. Thanks to their generous support, you’ll be able to download the iOS app completely free of charge for the duration of their sponsorship (and the Android version too
once that goes live Update: the Android version is now LIVE on Google Play and Amazon Appstore! – sign up here to be notified).
Graham Miller, the CEO of London City Mission, says this:
“London City Mission will only make progress on our knees. I give thanks for PrayerMate making it easier to bring our needs to God. The technology that so often distracts from our spiritual walk is being used to call us back to a healthy habit of daily prayer.”
London City Mission exists to share with the people of London, patiently, sensitively and individually, the transforming love of God in Jesus Christ, and to enable them to join his church.
London City Mission staff and volunteers go to the people of London:
- Where they live – through community ministries based in local churches or the Mission’s own centres and cafés, and through schools work
- Where they work – through chaplaincy ministries, especially among the transport and emergency services
- Where they have settled – through specialised ministries to immigrants and ethnic minorities
- Where they are marginalised – through ministries to prisons, homeless people and street people
- Where they are being cared for – through hospital visiting and pastoral work in care homes for the elderly.
Merry Christmas everybody! I hope you all had a wonderful day, with plenty of opportunity to give thanks to God for the wonderful gift of his son Jesus. It’s quite possible that in celebration of God’s great gift to us, somebody who loves you may have given you a little gift of their own. If you’re one of the lucky ones out there who got a new iPad or iPhone for Christmas, you may be scratching your head thinking this is all very well and good, but how are you going to get your PrayerMate data across from your old device?
If you’ve restored your new device from a backup of your old device, then all your PrayerMate data should be safely transferred across. However, if you’ve decided to set up your new device from scratch, all is not lost! You can transfer your PrayerMate data via Dropbox. Here’s a step by step guide of how to do it.
Step 1: Export your data from your old device
Open up PrayerMate on your old device, navigate to the app’s main “Settings” menu (accessible whilst praying), and choose the “Export data” / “Export to Dropbox” setting. You’ll need to log in with your Dropbox credentials if you haven’t already (and possibly you’ll first need to set up a Dropbox account)
If you want any photos you’ve attached to people to be transferred, choose the “Export with photos” option:
It may take a while to upload all of the photos, and you’ll see a little progress indicator whilst you wait. Once it’s complete you should see confirmation:
Step 2: Import your data on your new device
It’s then time to switch over to your new device. Download PrayerMate if you haven’t already. Then go to the app’s main “Settings” menu again, and this time choose “Import data” (N.B. on some newer 64-bit Android phones Dropbox isn’t directly integrated with PrayerMate – but if you choose “Import from another app” you can use the separate Dropbox app if you’ve installed it, and browse to the folder “Apps/PrayerMate” within your Dropbox). After you’ve logged into Dropbox, you’ll be presented with a list of files in your PrayerMate folder. Look for the one with today’s date:
If you exported photos on the first device, make sure you choose “Import with photos” on this second device too:
Again, you may have a bit of a wait, but eventually you’ll be presented with confirmation of how many categories and subjects were imported:
My wife was trying to sync her data from her old Android phone to a Google account so she could transfer them to a new Android phone. Whilst trying to add her Google account to her old phone, she kept getting this error message:
Can’t establish a reliable data connection to the server. This could be a temporary problem or your SIM card may not be provisioned for data services. If it continues, call Customer Care.
Annoying, huh? Search the internet and you get forum thread after forum thread of people having the same problem over years. Many people seemed to suggest that the only solution was to do a hard factory reset, losing all of your data in the process which totally defeated the object!
Hilarious, then, to discover this super simple solution:
“Just try signing into the YouTube app with the account you want to sync and it will automatically add it to the list of your accounts. Kapish!”
Sure enough, that instantly fixed the problem in a matter of seconds. Amazing!
PrayerMate is a great tool to help you pray regularly for your small group. If you’ve not discovered them already, there’s a couple of features to help you in this, and even more in the pipeline for future releases.
At the end of our small group meetings, we always share our prayer requests with each other. If you’re anything like me, your instinct is to type them straight into a subject in PrayerMate. But then what? Naturally, you want to actually turn to pray for them, right there and then! Open up the subject you’ve just set up, then on iOS there’s a little up arrow button by the subject details, or on Android there’s a “…” button in the top right. Press this, and you’ll get the option to pray for them straight away.
You can also email out the prayer points to your group using this same up arrow button. iOS lets you create a “group” of contacts in your address book, which you can easily access from PrayerMate, or I find it easiest to email them to myself and then forward the email to the rest of the group when I’m at my desktop.
A Beginner’s Guide to PrayerMate for Android
What is PrayerMate?
PrayerMate is an app for Android and iOS that helps you be more faithful in prayer. Enter the people and causes you care about, grouped into lists of your choosing, and every day PrayerMate will pick a selection of these subjects for you to pray through, one at a time.
Your first prayer session
The very first time you open PrayerMate, it will create a few default lists for you – my friends, my family, and so on. It will also create a small number of default subjects, for example the Lord’s Prayer. Since you only have a small number of subjects in the system, for now you’ll be shown roughly the same set of subjects every time you run the app – which may get a little repetitive!
Creating new subjects
To get started, I suggest you dive right in and start creating some subjects to pray for. I started off with each member of my family (on the “My family” list), some close friends (on the “My friends” list), and some organisations and countries around the world that I care about (on the “World mission” list). The simplest way to create a new subject is to press the “+” button at the very top of the screen, select which list you want to add to, then type in a name for your subject (e.g. “Mum & Dad”). When you’re done typing press the “Done” button in the top right.
Now when I open up the app, I’ll still be shown the Lord’s prayer, but I can now swipe it to the left to see my first family member, and swipe again to the left to see one of my friends, then swipe left again to see a world mission item. Each time I swipe to the left I’m telling PrayerMate that I’ve “prayed” for that item, so that next time I fire up the app I’ll be shown a different item from that category instead.
Managing your lists
As well as being able to pray through a selection of items that PrayerMate chooses for you each day, you can also access all of your subjects at any time by pressing the “Lists” button at the very top of the main screen. You can swipe sideways to find a list, or press any entry on the initial “Lists index” to jump straight to a list.
At the bottom of the “Lists index” you will also find some special lists: the archive, your recently prayed subjects, and a “Books” gallery of downloadable prayers.
How items are scheduled
PrayerMate’s default mode is to show you no more than one subject from each of your lists every time you open the app, up to a maximum quota that you set using the “+”/”-” buttons on the first “Coming up” slide. Within each list, it will always show you the item that you prayed for least recently – so over time you’re guaranteed to get through all of the subjects in your list. If you want a bit more control, you can also manually adjust the number of items from each list that you’ll be shown from the settings screen for each list. For example, you might want to pray for one family member each day and three friends. To access a list’s settings menu, tap the “Lists” button at the very top of the screen, scroll sideways to the list in question, and tap its settings button (it looks like a cog). There you can switch on the “Manually set items per session” setting.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably feel that some of your lists are more important than others – for example, you want to always pray for your family every day, but you mind less about not praying for a world mission item every single time. Switching on the manual items per session setting on a list tells PrayerMate that it should always do its best to show you items from this list. But use it sparingly! It works best if only one or two lists are configured in this way.
You’ll probably find it helpful to make specific notes against each subject giving you some ideas about what to pray for them. When looking at a prayer subject, press the edit button in the top right (it looks like a pencil in a box) and you can then start typing any text you want to into the largest box that appears (it should say “tap to add details…”).
Many people have said that they find it helps them to pray for people more if they attach a photo to their entry. You can do this by editing a card and then tapping the circle that appears.
PrayerMate also allows you to set an alarm, reminding you to pray at a set time every day. You can do this through the “Reminders” page accessed by pressing the alarm clock at the very top of the main screen. Set a time, and you’ll then get a prompt saying “Time to pray?” at that time each day.
As well as the default scheduling mode described above, PrayerMate also allows you to set some slightly more sophisticated scheduling rules. On a specific subject you can change the scheduling mode, to either default (which you now know about), by date (where you pick a specific date from a calendar on which you want to pray for this subject) and day of the week (where you can choose one or more days of the week on which you want to pray, e.g. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). You can do this by pressing a subject’s settings button (it looks like a cog) and then changing the “Scheduling mode”.
You can also set an ‘auto-archive’ date on subjects. Once this date has passed, your subject will be moved into the archive, so that you’ll no longer be asked to pray for it. You can always get access to archived items at a later stage through the “Archive” menu on the options page.
See also: PrayerMate Frequently Asked Questions
For all the tips and the latest news, sign up for the PrayerMate email newsletter here. I won’t send emails more than once a month.
To get up and running, I’ve created a five step plan.
A video introduction
You may find this handy video that the Chapel Life has put together useful:
Following are some frequently asked questions about the PrayerMate app for iOS.
Can I sync my data between two devices?
Yes – go to the app’s “Settings” page and you can choose the “Create an online account / sign in” option.
Is there a desktop version of PrayerMate?
There is not currently any official desktop client for PrayerMate, but if you export your data from the app’s “Settings” page then you can load it into this unofficial community tool by Dean Montgomery, make your changes, and then load the data back in to the app.
Can I increase the font size?
Yes, you can do this from the app’s settings page.
Is there a way to temporarily pray every day for a special event?
There’s instructions here on how to pray daily for a special event.
How do I remove a reminder alarm?
On the reminders page, you can swipe any alarm to the left to reveal a “Delete” button.
For various reasons I was looking for a way to make a Heroku app run a rake task on another Heroku app. I looked into using the excellent Heroku API to achieve this, but couldn’t find any documentation on the subject. After a little bit of playing around, I discovered that you can achieve it by making a POST HTTP request like so:
curl -n -X POST https://api.heroku.com/apps/<your-heroku-app>/ps \
-H "Accept: application/json" \
-H "Authorization: $TUTORIAL_KEY" \
-d "command=rake my_rake_task"
(see here for details on how to build the $TUTORIAL_KEY variable)
The other weekend I went to speak at a men’s breakfast at St. Luke’s Wimbledon Park on the topic of “how should Christians engage with technology?” It’s something I’ve been wanting to put together a talk on ever since my time studying on the Cornhill Training Course and working as their IT guy, a period of my life which gave me plenty of time to think about how theology and technology interact (this was also when I first developed the PrayerMate app).
I think this is a topic which Christians ought to be encouraged to think about a lot more than we do, because it’s something that’s both really important and all too easy not to think about all that hard. For that reason, here are my notes from my talk.
The fact is that technology is absolutely everywhere. Even if you think you’re a luddite who’s hopeless with technology, there’s a chance that you own a pair of glasses – well, that’s technology. There’s a very good chance that you use electric lighting to stay up beyond sundown – that’s certainly technology. Even if you go to bed at 5pm in the winter, you’re certain to have read a book or two in your lifetime (though frankly, if you’re going to bed at 5pm, I don’t know where you find the time!) The humble book employs an enormous amount of technology – from the paper it’s printed on, to the printing press used to copy it (perhaps one of the most revolutionary pieces of technology ever invented), to the alphabet itself, which believe it or not hasn’t always existed and once upon a time somebody sat down and invented.
“Technology” is basically anything that is created by human beings to help us reach beyond what we would be able to do without it – whether that’s just doing an old thing more efficiently, or whether it’s doing something that was entirely impossible before. Technology is all around us, and it’s so deeply woven into the very fabric of our lives that we barely even notice it’s there. That’s precisely why it’s so important that we do take time out to consider it from a Christian perspective – because the technology we use always changes us.
There’s masses and masses I could say on the topic, but I’m going to basically address three areas: technology is not morally neutral; technology changes how we think; and some practical thoughts on using technology.
Technology is not morally neutral
When it comes to technology, it’s very easy to respond in one of two ways:
- There’s the approach that just rejects all new technology outright – we don’t like the change it represents, so we reject it en masse as evil. It took me years and years before I got my first mobile phone, and in the mean time I stubbornly rejected it.
- The other common response is that we embrace it wholeheartedly as an unambiguously positive force for good. The culture around us often portrays all technological progress as a step forwards – newer is always better, and just because something can be done, then that something should be done.
But if we look at what the Bible has to say, then I think we can say that both of these approaches are lacking. Have a look at Genesis 1:27-27:
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'”
So we see that God is a creator – he makes things. And one of the pinnacles of his creation is that he creates men and women, and he creates us in his image, so that we too will be creators who in turn like to make things. As we master the world around us and bring our ingenuity to bear on the problems that we face, we’re actually reflecting something of the image of God, and that’s a good thing and a right thing. It’s part of how we’re going to fulfill that creation mandate that God gave to Adam and Eve, to “fill the earth and subdue it” and rule over it.
So our ability to create technology is a good and a positive thing that reflects something of the image of God. But we also need to recognise that we live the other side of Genesis 3: in Genesis 3 we see humanity rejecting God’s good purpose for our lives, and in judgement God puts a curse on his creation.
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17)
So things are now distorted and warped. The creation order is turned upside down, the things we created to help us master the creation now try to master us. It’s a few chapters later that we get the first clear example of technology in the Bible, in the hands of one of the murderer Cain’s descendants, “who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron” – it’s not loads clear, so don’t attach too much weight to it, but it’s not presented as entirely positive. Then you get the first major building project in the history of humanity in the form of the Tower of Babel, which again is not exactly portrayed in an overwhelmingly positive light. There it’s an example of technology being used to exert independence from God – making a name for ourselves apart from our relationship to God.
So the basic principle which we need to establish when thinking about technology is this: technology by itself is what we might call “amoral” – that is, it is neither overwhelmingly good nor inherently evil. Like lots of things in this world it’s something with great power for good but which is also deeply affected by the fall. What’s important is how we use that technology – what we use it to do, and what we allow it to do to us.
Technology is neither overwhelmingly good nor inherently evil – it’s how we USE it that counts.
Some of the benefits of technology are easy to spot – maybe it’s an app like PrayerMate that can help you in your prayer life, maybe it’s a Facebook message to a struggling friend that gives them the encouragement they need to keep going, maybe it’s just the way that electric lighting and central heating helps our midweek Bible studies go better, or the way that the printing press has enabled the Bible to be distributed far and wide and put into the hands of ordinary people. Technology has enabled some wonderful things.
But technology can also very easily become an idol in our lives. Most of what I have to say here is really inspired by Tim Challies’ book “The Next Story” (which you should all go out and read immediately), and he says this:
“Though the devices and tools we create are inherently amoral, at the same time we would be foolish to believe that they are morally neutral. The things we create to assist us in overcoming the consequences of the curse also seek to dominate us, drawing our hearts away from God rather than drawing us toward him in dependence and faith.”
Anything created has the potential to become an idol in our lives – something that we put our trust in instead of God. And technology has perhaps a greater-than-average risk of being turned into an idol because it is so powerful in extending our abilities and what we’re able to achieve – it promises to help make us a little more like God, and overcome our finiteness and weakness. And that’s something we need to be aware of and pray against. It can be that the technology is an idol in itself (the latest iDols from Apple, perhaps?) or they can enable other idols, such as my pride, as I project an image of living the most remarkable life imaginable on Facebook, or lust, in the form of Internet pornography and so on.
My goal here is to encourage us all just to be a little more thinking in our attitude to technology – not to reject it outright, nor to embrace it unquestioningly. Instead, to try to see beyond the superficial and to think a bit more about how it affects us, and why we feel about it the way we do.
Technology changes how we think
It’s really important to recognise that our technology has the power to radically alter how we perceive and think about the world around us. If you’ve ever read Neil Postman’s book “Amusing Ourselves to Death“, he argues that the advent of television completely revolutionised how we engaged with everything from politics to education (had the internet been invented at the time he was writing, I’m sure he’d have said his hypothesis was even more true of that). Because of the television, we’ve become a very visual culture. Postman talks about how important it is these days for politicians to look the part if they’re to get elected, because so much is decided by the public watching them on telly. He asks how many of the great leaders of the past would still have been elected if they were to run for office today?
So, technology can change how we think. How many of you have ever made a decision about what to wear or what to do, because you’ve been thinking “how will this look on Facebook?” Or maybe that’s just me!
Let’s briefly consider just two examples of ways that technology changes how we think. Even if you don’t think these are relevant to you, they’re sure to be relevant to your children or the people that we’re trying to reach in our churches.
1. Technology means we’ve redefined community
In the old days, your community was defined by your physical geography – where you lived – and primarily that usually meant your family who you shared a house with. So if you wanted to contact somebody, you’d call the family telephone, or you’d write a letter to the family address. Now it’s shifted from our geography to being much more about the individual, and our preferences – so our community can be a virtual one defined by common interests. You email me as an individual, you send me a text message as an individual – and it’s all completely cut off from my geographical context, my family context.
So does that mean I should throw away my mobile phone, close my GMail account and refuse to communicate with anybody except by snail mail? Of course not! Apart from anything else, it’s probably too late for that! But being conscious of the way that our technology has changed us, we can be armed to think about how this might have a knock on effect for our godliness, how we relate to God and to one another. There’s no doubt that this is one of the reasons why as a culture we increasingly find church so hard work these days, because very often we don’t have a whole lot in common with the other people we go to church with, we’re not that bothered about our local community, and it all feels a little bit too much like hard work. We’re going to need to go back to our Bibles to figure out why we should bother with church, and how to persuade the next generation to bother with church in a world where meeting together physically in one place is increasingly less interesting. Communication is increasingly about “mediated” contact these days – it’s much less daunting to send a text message or an email to somebody that they can read at their leisure than it is to look them in the eye and give them my full attention and require their full attention in response. Going to church is such an alien concept in a world of mediated contact!
2. Technology means we’ve redefined truth
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried anything on Wikipedia before – but there are very strict guidelines that determine what you’re allowed to say on Wikipedia. It’s all based around the concept of “consensus” – everything you write has to have a citation from another source, everything has to be backed up by somebody else who agrees with you. They explicitly say that it’s not a place for original ideas or new thinking.
Or if it’s not about consensus, it’s all about “relevance”. As sites like Google and Facebook have to deal with larger and larger volumes of information, they’re getting more and more sophisticated in filtering things out so that they only show you what they think you’ll consider “relevant”. You’ll see more and more content from the friends that it thinks you engage with and less and less content from the friends that it’s decided you’re not really that interested in, and it’s all very self-reinforcing.
Both of these ways of defining the truth – consensus and relevance – have problems for the Christian, because we believe in revelation. Biblical truth often clashes with consensus, and doesn’t necessarily seem all that relevant to an outsider who’s thinking superficially. But it’s the ultimate truth, and it’s supremely relevant because it’s about our eternal future – if only we have the ears to hear.
Obviously there’s loads more we could say on that topic – plenty of further examples of ways in which our technology changes how we think. But in summary: be on your guard! Don’t engage with technology unthinkingly and expect to come away unchanged.
Some practical thoughts on using technology
Really I just want to talk about one thing under this heading, and that’s distraction. Our technology these days increasingly leads to distraction. If we allow it to, our technology can really begin to own us, with all of the beeps and buzzes and notifications that constantly vie for our attention and drag us away from the real interactions with the people right in front of us.
As a result of all this distraction, we’re less and less able to concentrate for long periods of time, we find ourselves less and less able to do something simple like just sitting and reading a book. It can even get to the point where we find ourselves feeling quite anxious and fidgety if we have to sit with our own thoughts and nothing to distract us. It can draw us away from the people we’re face-to-face with, and be a disaster for our working productivity.
Our hearts long for that little beep, so we feel like we need to leave the volume turned up. But the reality is that the world will still go on if our emails go unread for 30 minutes, and we’d be much better off if we just turned the notifications off and instead just checked in every once and a while.
All this can be a real issue for habits of personal devotion like having quiet times where we spend quality time in God’s word and praying. So many times I’ve been trying to read the Bible, only to find myself checking my phone or my iPad because some idea has occurred to me part way through, and before I know it I’ve completely forgotten what I was looking at.
I think if we’re going to be serious about putting God first in our lives, we have to be pretty radical with our technology.
For myself, it’s a real discipline of trying to make sure that my Bible reading is the first thing I do in the morning, rather than checking my email. It just feels to me like it says a lot about my own priorities that I’m more excited to know if anybody around the world has sent me a nugget of novelty in my inbox, than I am to hear from the Creator of the Universe who has some eternal truth to share with me – and trying to make sure I hold off checking my email until I’ve listened to what he has to say just feels like the right thing to try and do. Apart from anything else, often I’ve only got about 3 minutes of peace and quiet before the baby wakes up, and if I use it to check Facebook then the quiet time may never happen!
Coupled with the short attention span, we have less and less need to exercise our memories, as we become more and more reliant on Google to give us the answers. We don’t know how to memorise scripture any more, because we know we can just look it up on Bible Gateway instead. How much the poorer are we for it?
So let me urge you: keep reading your Bibles, keep reading good Christian books, and why not try to memorise the occasional Bible passage?
Questions to ask our technology
I am aware that this was a bit of a whirlwind tour, with lots left out. However, I hope there’s been something there that was vaguely useful, and some fuel for further thought on the subject.
To close, let me leave you with some questions from Tim Challies that we should ask of any technology. You’ve heard of the discipline of talking to yourself – well here’s some ways you can talk to your mobile phone instead:
- Why were you created? This will often give us some useful insight into the likely effects of this technology. For example, the mobile phone was invented to keep businessmen in contact with the office at all times, so it shouldn’t surprise us if one of the effects of a mobile phone is that suddenly we find ourselves connected to the office at all times!
- What is the problem to which you are the solution, and whose problem is it? The problem that a new technology solves isn’t always my problem – it’s possibly just the solution to the manufacturer’s falling annual profit!
- What new problems will you bring?
- What are you doing to my heart?
Or the very timely XKCD version that was published today:
P.S. I’m trying to raise money to bring my PrayerMate app to Android – can you help?
The PrayerMate Christian prayer app for iPhone, iPad & iPod Touch has helped thousands of people be more faithful in prayer. I’ve been blown away by how many people have used it and got in touch to say how helpful they’ve found it – for something I wrote during an Easter holiday as a little side project, that ain’t bad! But there are still many many people out there who I’m sure would benefit from it, who are unable to use it because they’re Android users rather than Apple users.
That’s why last night I launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring PrayerMate to Android. If you’ve not heard of Kickstarter before, it’s basically a way for creative projects like this to raise a specific finance goal directly from its supporters. You can pledge anything from £2 to £350, and if we don’t raise the full amount needed to complete the project, nobody has to pay a penny. Even the smallest donation would be appreciated, and would help show your support for the project, but if you pledge more then you can get access to some great rewards like an exclusive PrayerMate hoodie.
Watch the video for all the low-down of how we’ll be using the funds:
Even if you’re not in a position to support the campaign financially, please spread the word far and wide – tell everybody you know: your postman, your cat, your Bible study group at church. We’ve got 29 days left to make this thing happen – support the campaign today!