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We live in a soundbite culture, in a society where the desire is for a short, memorable phrase or sentence which pithily sums up all we mean. Twitter, the social media app beloved of so many (330 million people use Twitter, including the US President), enables people to ‘tweet’ opinions (and policies…) using up to 140 characters. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with slogans or being succinct, but it concerns me that we are becoming a people unable to read, mark and inwardly digest God’s wonderful book because of the influence of the soundbite culture on our habits and concentration.

Our Bible study tonight looked at Acts 7:1-53, Stephen’s speech defending himself against accusations of blasphemy and speaking against Moses and the temple. Such speeches were a normal part of society at that time. People were used to the oral tradition of listening and remembering what they heard. In good speeches, arguments are laid out in logical fashion and there is coherence in what is said. Stephen gave a very succinct history of Israel (effectively summarising much of the Old Testament!), but I don’t think many people nowadays would call this speech succinct. They would find it difficult to follow. Our soundbite culture means we want things to be summarised into tweets. Preaching is often seen as boring: ‘I can’t listen for more than fifteen minutes,’ many people tell me. This inevitably will limit what we can absorb and learn; we need to be willing to move beyond the milk of God’s word to the meat (see Heb 5:11-14). It takes longer to eat a steak than to drink a glass of milk…

Bible study and understanding God’s word require us to move beyond soundbites. Memorable phrases are all very well, but we need to be a people, like Stephen, so soaked in God’s word that we not only know the facts of that word but what God is saying to us through it. This means a radical re-thinking of our culture and our obsession with and attachment to technology, social media and visual stimuli. It means a devotion to God’s word and a willingness to meditate on it. God has far more to say to us than can be fitted into 140 characters. Grow up and discover the joys of communication with God.

Praise be to you, Lord;
    teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
    all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
    as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
    and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
    I will not neglect your word. (Ps 119:12-16)