Is scheduling a spiritual discipline?

February 17, 2016

Could your calendar app be part of faithfulness in the Christian life?

In some respects the question seems ridiculous, but it points to one of the most helpful realizations I have come to over the last several years when it comes to loving my family and leading at my job. What I’ve realized is that far too many of us put a great deal of forethought into what we do at our jobs, but we put far less thought into the other areas of responsibility in our lives.

This is a problem, first of all, because our life is a stewardship, and being faithfully on mission in the world requires strategy and planning. As Christians, our lives and livelihoods are gifts of grace for which we will account, but we’re not merely responsible in life for those duties listed in our job description. I am an employee but I’m also a Christian, church member, husband, and father, among other things, and God has called me to faithfulness in all these areas.

Secondly, we’re fallen creatures, and we must be aggressive in combating our own sinful hearts. This means being strategic with our time across all of our areas of responsibility and guarding against lethargy and selfishness. Many of us take this kind of strategic approach with respect to our work lives: plan your day, or others’ needs will plan it for you. And yet even if we are diligent in planning our work it can be easy to fail to bring that same intentionality to bear in other areas of our lives. It’s easy to think that since we have to be “on” at work, we get to be “off” at home and don’t have to be as focused. But husbands, what are we saying to our wives if we are hyper-conscientious about how we plan our workdays but not our date nights? Parents, what are we expressing to our children when our work gets undivided attention, but we’re distant at home, glued to a television or phone because we need time to “decompress”?

This is not to say life should be devoid of spontaneity. But we must remember that the Christian life is a life of warfare. We are called to wage war against sin and must resist the temptation towards passivity. Strategic planning, then, is one concrete way we can fight sin and serve Christ more effectively. Here’s how I accomplish this.

1. Plan your week, not your day.

I take 30 minutes with my wife every Sunday night and make a plan for the week ahead, considering what I want my life to look like by the same time next week. The list is simple. It’s just a basic to do list in which I list out anything I want to accomplish that week over and above what’s already on my calendar. The important element here is that it is the week that I plan and not just the next day. This is because, for one, I tend to be overambitious about what I think I can accomplish in a given day, and making a plan for the week frees me from growing discouraged when enough boxes aren’t checked at the end of a day; it also offers margin so when the unexpected arises and my day takes an unexpected turn I don’t feel like everything is lost. More than that, having a week in view rather than just a day allows me to think about what kind of progress I want to make on big goals and projects. It’s easy to overestimate how much you can do in a day, but it’s also easy to underestimate how much you can accomplish in a week. Make the week your basic unit of measurement and you spare yourself the unnecessary effort of making endless lists; you also naturally begin to think in broader categories of long-term effectiveness rather than short-term requirements.

2. Review your roles.

This weekly planning starts with a quick review of my roles. I have a simple list saved on my computer that has listed across it every area in my life in which the Lord has entrusted me responsibilities—to name a few, Christian, Church member, Husband, Father, Employee, Boss, Friend, etc. I try to make sure I’m thinking through these categories when I put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and I’m writing out a list. The point in this is simply to make sure I’m attending to everything the Lord has called me to. Every week looks different, and I’m not trying to devote equal time to each of these categories. Faithfulness is the goal, not some elusive quest for “balance.” What this review does is simply help me keep my entire life in view and not just what seems most pressing at the moment.

3. Draft your list.

Start making your weekly list by asking yourself the question, “What do I know I need to do this week?” Think through your week, and take a look at your calendar to remind you of what you’re already committed to that week (e.g., meetings, conference calls, church events, family activities, etc.). Then list what else you know you need to do that week—whether tasks, conversations, or reminders. Make sure these items are concrete, next-step actions: “Talk to Tom about communications budget needs,” never just “Budget.” Use whatever tool you like but keep it simple and accessible. If it’s complicated to use or access you’re less likely to stick with it.

4. Plan your investments.

The most important step in the planning is the answer to the question, “Where can I invest myself this week?” This is when I make the move from getting stuff done to making sure I’m living my life well. Up until this point I’m just listing out tasks, but here I’m moving from details to the big picture. For work, I look at my list of things I need to do and ask myself, “What else is there I need to do to make the biggest difference?” or “How can I get these things done most efficiently?” At this point I will often take a look at my task list and block off certain times on the calendar so I can focus on high-yield work projects, or create space to where I can bundle several things together and get things done more quickly. But, more importantly, I’m also thinking about other areas of my life, and I ask myself questions like, “How can I surprise my wife this week?” or “What is something special this week I can do for my daughters that will create a lasting memory?” As I think through the answers to these questions I build in and protect time in the week to make sure I carry through. This step, more than any other, makes sure the urgent in one area of my life does not overtake all the others.

In C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, the elder demon Screwtape counsels his demon nephew Wormwood in the art of distraction. He comments that one of the “patients” he successfully led to destruction commented upon entering Hell, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” For those of us in Christ, living our lives faithfully and investing our time for maximum kingdom effectiveness is at the core of our mission. So we must be on guard against an Enemy who will seek to lull and to distract, and we should be diligent to use whatever means necessary to remain focused on all the fields of ministry the Lord has given us access to. In some respects, then, the pathway into spiritual warfare may start with something as simple as opening your to do list.

Daniel Patterson

Daniel Patterson is former Executive Vice President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Molly have been married since 2010, and together they have three children. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24