I was in my mid-twenties when I found my introverted self driving a Fed Ex truck for 8-10 hours a day. It’s not exactly the kind of job that engages one’s mind. In fact, while not a bad job, it’s quite boring and, with the exception of the occasional customer and other drivers on the road, you’re pretty much alone all day (I loved it!). So, I used my tax refund that year to purchase a luxury item for myself: a new fangled device called an “iPod”. I had every intention of finally discovering all that great music out there and spending my day listening to it while getting reacquainted with old favorites. But something else caught my eye as I loaded good ole iTunes on my computer.They were called podcasts.
To my eye, they were basically talk radio shows that loaded directly onto your device everyday. How cool! So, I browsed the already substantial variety of podcasts available. I remember I found a few sports casts, one or two other story based casts that sounded neat. Then I saw it… the “religion & spirituality” section. Inside there I found a bunch of garbage I knew I wouldn’t like (I couldn’t possibly care less what Deepak Chopra had to say, for example), but I also found some familiar names. Everyone at church used Ray Comfort’s good person test and here he was with this new podcast called “Way of the Master Radio” co-hosted by some dude named Todd Friel. Gotta have that one. Then, I noticed someone took some Paul Washer sermons and turned them into a daily podcast. I honestly had never heard a Washer sermon before, but the young guys at church couldn’t shut up about the guy and, hey… I gotta fill up 10 hours, right? So let’s give that one a shot too.
So, for the next year or two I listened to those casts. Other stuff came and went. I went through a Rush Limbaugh phase. I had a time where I really enjoyed John Piper. I remember discovering the “Stuff you Should Know” crowd at some point. Those ones never lasted, while Todd Friel and Paul Washer were a daily occurrence for me. My life was never EVER the same! I mean this without any exaggeration: Buying that iPod and downloading those two podcasts is why I became a Calvinist, a children’s ministry director, a leader in my church, a blogger, a more mature Christian; and to a lesser extent a foster parent, a biblical counselor, a bible study leader.
The impact of Mr. Friel and Mr. Washer, and how God used them in my life, was immeasurable. I’ve never met Mr. Washer and only met Mr. Friel briefly at a conference many years later, but in many ways those men were closer to me than many of my friends. Day after day I heard a Christianity that made sense. A Christianity that was serious and thoughtful, one that was logical and consistent. I encountered men who poured their heart out as they consistently dealt with the issues in front of them. Mr. Washer made me feel small and like a wretch, while making God seem holy and almighty. Mr. Friel told me that I really was a wretch but also helped the gospel make sense to a wretch like me. It really is Todd Friel to whom I owe a debt for the “great awakening” of my faith. He was so patient with men like me, explaining every detail. He was unafraid to tackle the big and important issues. Plus, he kept mentioning some guy named John MacArthur. I had NEVER heard of him, but he did this thing called “expository preaching” which, when I heard it, was like soft rain on the parched desert of my mind and a joy to my heart (Psalm 119:111). Soon enough, I was drinking daily from the fire hose that is Grace to You.
It was because of podcasts, not my rather disappointing church (different than my current church, which is wonderful), that I learned and grew so much in the faith. It was because of podcasts that I became knowledgeable. Podcasts were the vitamins which fed my growth. They were a daily joy that helped sustain me. They can be a God-send for you too. As a seasoned fan who subscribes to nearly 2 dozen podcasts and manages to listen to almost 6 hours of content a day (on average), I hope to help you make better use of the technology and get more out of your day by illuminating why and how you ought to listen to podcasts.
You Need to Study
Podcasts make studying convenient. Chances are you don’t have the type of life where you can sit in a comfortable chair or at a desk and read whatever you feel like reading during the average day. Chances are you don’t have a number of professors on call that can explain a topic to you at the pace you want it explained when you have time to listen. Chances are you probably know there is a lot of stuff you don’t know, but don’t know what that stuff is or even how to begin to study it. The answer to all three of these conundrums could be podcasts. Podcasts give you the ability to be taught when you are doing other things that don’t require a whole bunch of brain power. My workday is filled with podcasts. When I first started, I didn’t listen to podcasts at all because it took a lot of my brain power to figure out my job, learn the skills, and acquire the knowledge I needed. But a few months in and I was on auto-pilot a lot of the time, and those “auto pilot moments” are gold for podcasts. I may not be able to drag a book and notepad into a machine while I’m installing new sensors, but I can bring my phone and ear buds. My brain can be tuned into learning whatever it is I want to know and I manage to still be a productive asset to my employer. It takes practice to train your brain to do two things at once, but most people are capable of more than they give themselves credit for. When it comes to knowing more about the things that are important, it’s worth the effort.
You Have the Time
One of the things podcasts indirectly brought to my attention is how much down time we all have during the day. There’s the commute into and from work; the walks to the bathroom, a meeting, or to our car; the time waiting for an elevator; standing in line for lunch; eating lunch; etc. That’s just the work day! I’m sure stay at home moms have more of a steady stream of tasks that may require more attention, but I’m also sure there’s some down time in their days too. Plus, we fill our non-working days with so much mindless activity that our brains are almost begging to be engaged and used while we do something else in auto pilot. I spent a lot of my summer going through random items in storage – organizing and sorting them. Podcasts were my constant companion. Cutting the grass, cooking dinner, taking a shower, paying bills, cleaning the house… there are a number of important things we do that barely rise to the level of conscious activity. Redeem that time! (Eph 5:16) The best piece of advice I can give you in learning to redeem time is to train yourself when you feel your mind beginning to wander, it’s time to focus on a podcast.
I’ll pause here and acknowledge that burnout and sluggishness is a real thing. There’s a definite need to shut off the brain every now and then and to recharge. In those times, that’s exactly what you should do. But don’t let your feelings dictate what’s best. Rest and recreation are important to your mental and intellectual health, but human beings were NOT designed by God to be idle creatures. We ought to feel out of place at rest and have a sense of urgency to keep moving. Part that dynamic has to be our desire to learn.
You Can Become a Multitasker
Some will say that listening to podcasts or multitasking won’t come easily to them. I’ll be the first to concede that God has gifted different people differently. Not all of us are going to be seminary professors and write treatises on all sorts of brainy subjects. There’s plenty of room in the church for the lady who just wants to raise godly kids in a well-made home, and the guy who just wants to make sure the church has clean and functional bathrooms. God bless those people. But, everyone is an ambassador for Christ. Moreover, everyone is a theologian — whether they admit it or not. We owe it to our Lord to represent Him well, as capable people able to rightly divide the word of truth (2Ti 2:15) and always ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us (1Pe 3:15). So maybe it is difficult to learn audibly. Sure, you may not ever get to the finer points of church history or the minutia understandings of arcane textual variants; but in both areas you can do better than you are doing right now, and so can I.
Find a Routine
Listening to Podcasts is easy and so is getting through a lot of content. I found that having a routine rotation helps quite a bit. I organize the podcasts by day and start my day with the daily podcasts, then move to the weekly podcasts published that day, and then any occasional or irregular casts that drop on that particular day. This way, if I get behind a few days (usually happens over the weekend) I’m not listening to things out of order and I can follow the stories, news, or lessons as they were intended. I also never put pressure on myself to get through a set amount of content in a day. The downloads will always be there to listen to later and today has enough worries of its own (Mat 6:34). If I get busy or if other things need my full mental attention, NOT setting goals makes it easy to take off the ear piece and put aside the cast.
I use my iPhone to aggregate the casts and always carry two earpieces with me. One of those earpieces is a wireless Bluetooth headset (yes, I’m THAT guy) which is discreet and allows one of my ears to be available to hear my name being called or some other noise I need to pay attention to. The Apple issued wired earbuds (which are phenomenal) are my back up set for when the battery runs low on the Bluetooth. I also always have a phone and headset charger in my bag. I use the Bluetooth even when I’m alone instead of using a the phone’s speaker. I find that I can more easily move around especially if I’m doing something like housework or the like. If I need to leave the room to get something, I’m usually taking my phone with me anyway and my earpiece obviously travels right alongside. When I first bought it, after a few days of wearing it, it became so comfortable that I often forgot I had it on. I’ve had my Mpow Freego for YEARS.
I use the native podcast app that comes with the iPhone as my aggregater because, despite a vocal chorus of complaints from many other iPhone users, I think it’s easy to use and gets the job done. I’m forced to use Apple products on my job but if it were up to me, I’d use Android products. When I had an Android, I used PodKicker and loved it. Truth be told, what you need is a no frills reliable piece of software that gets the job done. Don’t download apps that promise you the moon and all kinds of perks. Look for reliability. Well… on second thought… maybe there are a FEW features you should look for.
Three Things Your Podcast App Should Have
First, find an app that allows you to easily access the show notes. Podcast producers often use show notes to supplement their podcast. Also, you want an aggregator that has an easy way to make a playlist. I use playlists almost exclusively and it’s really the only way to listen with the method I described above of dividing podcasts into the day they were released. If you can find one with multiple playlist capability you’re golden; because then you could save podcasts for the future on a particular subject and play them back to back for review. Finally, and this is MOST IMPORTANT, you want an aggregator that will allow you to play the podcasts at faster than normal speed.
Playing at an accelerated speed sounds scary and many people don’t like it. My wife and I happen to listen to some of the same podcasts and she hates it when we’re in the car together and the car’s bluetooth connects to my phone and plays those podcasts from my aggregator because she can’t keep up with the speed. For her, it’s distracting. To be fair, it used to distract me too. I listen at 1.5x speed. I’ve heard James White (also an avid podcast fan) listens at the insane 2.2x speed. Some people think it’s an indication of how smart you are and how fast you can process information. At the super high levels, there may be truth to that, but I’ve found you can train yourself for higher speeds. For years, I listened at regular speed. Then, because I wanted to fit more in I went right up to 2.0x. That didn’t work. So, I gradually worked my way up. I was at 1.1x for a little while, then 1.2x for a bit. Eventually, I got up to 1.8x before I started to lose track of what I was hearing and felt quite a bit more comfortable at 1.5x. Now, 1.5x sounds normal and 1x sounds… slow. The point is, I didn’t come to that level naturally, I had to train for it. Let me encourage you to do the same. You get more done, you fit more in, and often times (I’m sorry to report) podcasts are filled with a lot of filler that goes by faster and wastes less of your time.
Coming Up Next…
In the next post in this series, I’ll reveal the relevant parts of my podcast lineup and make some recommendations. Obviously, your needs will be different than mine, but be encouraged that you should build your lineup around needs not wants. It’s fine to have a fun cast or two, and it’s fine to just listen to something interesting every now and then, even if it’s not particularly edifying. But remember, if podcasts become ALL about fun and never about edifying, we may as well not even listen to them. We’re here to work, and podcasts are our training. In the next post, I’ll go through what I know I need, and what I think we all need, and I’ll show you how I have tried to meet those needs through some high quality podcasts.