As a freshman at a secular college I took on the daunting task of writing a paper arguing a counter-cultural idea: That technology, in an effort to promote communication and human interaction, would in fact complicate it.
At that time, Facebook was exclusive to Harvard students, Myspace was the dominant social network and the first iPhone had not been released. Ten years later, the world is more connected than ever — and, yes, communication is more complicated than ever.
Here’s what I mean, fellow Christians: Much of our engagement on social media is guided by our ill-informed, uninstructed and unchallenged spiritual minds. We often cave to the temptation to use social media as a platform to spread spiritually malnourished thoughts, ideas and convictions. I often recall C. S. Lewis’ words in The Weight of Glory:
Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
There is a severe lack of the spiritual disciplines in our approach to and engagement with social media that contributes to the elimination of critical thinking and genuine human interaction on this platform.
Today’s issues are too complex for any blog, tweet or Facebook post.
The Problem: We’re Spiritually Undisciplined
Social media does offer us opportunities to be voices of truth in the midst of lies and voices of reason in the midst of confusion. But when we are spiritually undisciplined, we undermine these opportunities in two key ways:
- We use social media to form our convictions.
- We use social media to communicate ill-formed convictions
Today’s issues are too complex for any blog, tweet or Facebook post. Taking our convictional cues from these platforms on issues we’re facing in our culture and struggling to overcome in our churches is like reading a novel whose author chose to write one hundred snippets of one hundred different characters – the information is incomplete, making it difficult for the reader to fully grasp the complexities of any one character.
Could you understand the character and motivations of the untamed Aslan in a single tweet or two? Why then would you be able to understand an issue like immigration reform in a similar fashion?
We must fight against the temptation to allow social media to be our nutrient supply in forming convictions, and we must also refuse to engage social media with spiritually emaciated hearts. Instead, our convictions must derive and be communicated from the spiritual disciplines the Lord demands of us as His followers.
When a national tragedy erupts or a controversial story breaks, is your first inclination to pray or tweet?
The Solution: Pursuing the Spiritual Disciplines
In our fast-paced, gratification-driven culture, the idea of meditating is either a lost art or a horribly misguided one. Receiving God’s Word through preaching and examining the Scriptures is a discipline that requires our stillness and our silence – something to which we are dangerously unaccustomed.
In his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitney explains what meditation is:
While some advocate a kind of meditation in which you do your best to empty your mind, Christian meditation involves filling your mind with God and truth.
Writing during the terrible reign of Hitler in Germany, our brother Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes this about the discipline of meditation in Life Together:
Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God… But everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practiced and learned, in these days when talkativeness prevails. Real silence, real stillness, really holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness.
If in his day “talkativeness” prevailed, how much more so does it now? Christian, meditate on the Word of God.
When social tensions flare on Twitter and Facebook, our first inclination should be to ask how God’s Word speaks to the issue. Then we should pray, expecting our good Father to hear us (Luke 11:9-13).
Most of us are devoted to many things. When you make something a priority, when you will sacrifice for it, when you will give time to it, you know you are devoted to it. God expects Christians to be devoted to prayer. (Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines)
When a national tragedy erupts or a controversial story breaks, is your first inclination to pray or tweet? Christian, devote yourself to prayer.
Fellowship with Gospel Community
Oh the wisdom and insights we gain from brothers and sisters who have unique and vastly varied perspectives on issues, but with whom we have one solid, unwavering foundation of solidarity: Jesus Christ crucified, resurrected and glorified.
Or do we really think there is a single person in this world who does not need either encouragement or admonition? Why, then, has God bestowed Christian brotherhood upon us? The more we learn to allow others to speak the Word to us, to accept humbly and gratefully even severe reproaches and admonitions, the more free and objective will we be in speaking ourselves. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)
Do you forsake authentic conversations with your brothers and sisters for unaccountable Twitter wars? Christian, press in to gospel community.
Evangelizing the Lost
We must discipline ourselves to recognize every human interaction as spiritual war with eternal implications. Your Facebook post has the power to dehumanize or assign value and build up or tear down the one who reads it.
We must think about evangelism whenever we talk with outsiders – wisely making the most of every opportunity. Knowing how to respond to people as individuals implies reflection and preparation. (Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines)
Do you not know that every human (on the other side of your phone/computer/tablet, etc.) bears the image of God? Christian, make the most of every opportunity to evangelize the lost.
Your Facebook post has the power to dehumanize, assign value, build up or tear down your reader.
Engaging Social Media Spiritually Informed
Please don’t understand me to say that social media is completely ineffective. (After all, this is an online article.) The challenge for us is to winsomely engage social media unlike those who have no hope. I have personally been influenced for the better by the way in which some of my brothers and sisters use social media to speak into culture.
Having devoted themselves to these spiritual disciplines, their responses are saturated with the spiritual fruits of wisdom and grace. By their words and sensitivity, it is evident that the convictions they bear derive from the deep springs of God’s Word, devotion in prayer, the strength of gospel community and an overflowing heart that desires to see the lost saved.
Their approach, and I pray mine as well, is distinctively different.
This article originally published on Aug. 1, 2016.