I’ll admit it: I like my new toy.
Before you assume that I’ve succumbed to the midlife pull of red Corvettes or canary-yellow Sea-Doos, let me hasten to assure you that my toy is clad in somber black, weighs about two ounces, and looks remarkably like a USB drive.
It’s a modest and unflashy toy, a thoroughly Adventist toy, one that I can take to the General Conference office each day without fear of being thought a show-off or provoking concerns among my colleagues that I’m hankering for lost youth and prowess. Less noticeable than a tiepin and less gaudy than a set of cuff links, it clips demurely to a belt or pocket edge—unseen, unheard, un-commented upon. Even its brand name—Fitbit—is still relatively unknown, providing me an unusual opportunity to imagine myself something of a trendsetter.
But oh, the satisfactions of my unobtrusive toy.
At 9:00 a.m. I open the smartphone app that quickly syncs my Bluetooth with my Fitbit:1 “1876 steps,” it silently reports on my iPhone screen; four staircases climbed; .86 miles walked; 774 calories burned—as though my breakfast had disappeared already, overwhelmed by the intensity of my early day. At this pace, and at this hour, it should be relatively easy to mightily impress myself by day’s end. Already I imagine the inner warmth provided by the pop-up message declaring I have passed 12,000 steps, ascended the equivalent of a 10-story building, and made last night’s lasagna-fest completely disappear.
If diligent, I chart my weight, ounces of water consumed, and hours of sleep—trusting that no intercepting technology can steal the record of my less-admirable statistics. I even have the consolation of what passes for accountability, for one of my colleagues—an overactive German with a body type entirely unlike mine, I remind you—can track our daily steps in a friendly competition that he always wins by miles.
My Fitbit is, as I noted, a thoroughly Adventist toy, no matter who may have manufactured it. It is discreet, invisible to others, tracks my behaviors with unerring accuracy, and rewards me with encouraging small messages for having met my too-low goals. I know just how I’m doing as often as I want to, accompanied by the inner glow of the one who can prove—numerically—that his actions are superior to the masses who trudge along unmeasured and uninspired. Whole new behaviors now emerge because I know they’ll be recorded—like that evening a week ago when I paced 100 large circles around the darkened living room to meet my daily step goal.
All of which would only be the stuff of a 50ish editor’s self-congratulation until I caught myself some days ago half-wishing that there was a Fitbit for my faith—you know, some somber, lightweight, unflashy device that tracked my daily progress toward the kingdom: prayers uttered (or at least promised); kind words spoken (or imagined); embraces cheerfully given (or at least given, cheerful or not). How convenient, I found myself musing, if my recording angel sent an hourly progress report by some divine Bluetooth technology to my smartphone. How easily I might be inspired by the record of my own good deeds to do more—and still more—for the kingdom!
“God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11, 12, NKJV).2
The subtle temptations that accompany a faith with high behavioral standards always predispose us toward that most insidious of spiritual postures—the one whereby we stand in the house of God, decorated with self-given medals, and pray with our bettered selves. True, even the cup of cold water given in the name of Jesus will not lose its reward (Matt. 10:42), but Jesus knew that we are too easily impressed by the record of the good His Spirit does in and through us. And so He continues to advise us, “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3).
Here’s a call for an unself-conscious Adventism—a trust that the name of Jesus will be praised even if the record of my living or your giving disappears forever into celestial cyberspace. No metrics could have ever captured how much the Master gave, and, as He said: “A servant is not greater than his master” (John 13:16).