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Friday, December 2, 2016

Social Media as a Spiritual Discipline?

I just spent 5 minutes scrolling through Facebook. Now, I feel as dirty as a teenage boy who looked at porn for the first time. Where’s the shower! Seriously, even casual engagement with social media can often leave us feeling angry, hopeless, jealous, inferior, self-righteous, desperate, and judgmental. Social media can leave us filthy without us even realizing why. I wonder about the impact of social media upon divorce, violence, division, and depression. Would the world be better off without social media?

Well, I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the bath water and here’s why. God has always found a way to inhabit our way of life. In an ancient world that revolved around religious cultic practices and governmental law, God established the religious sacrificial system and 10 commandments to govern his people, the Israelites. To reach 1st century Jews, God came to us as a first century Jew named Jesus. God has a way of employing the tools of a particular culture to reach that culture. He forms people right where they “live and move and have their being.” Social media is where we live. But can God redeem it?

What if we engaged social media not in ways that make us feel dirty but in ways that foster our formation? Maybe social media can be for us a spiritual discipline like fasting, bible study, and worship. I’m convinced,  that while social media can certainly be a means of oppression and depression, it has the potential to be a premier tool God uses to deepen our faith and increase our love.

Let’s explore just a few of the many ways we can engage social mediums like Facebook and Twitter as a spiritually formative discipline. Please comment by sharing some ideas of your own, maybe even stuff you’re already practicing. If more and more followers of Christ practice the ideas below, as well as the ones you’ll present, social media won’t feel so dirty. I confess that I’ve fallen into the trap of allowing the popular practices of social media to deform instead of form me. But as we head into the new year soon, I’m turning over a new tweet!  

-Take a Prayer Scroll: Scroll through your Facebook feed prayerfully. Read the post of friends and family members trying to discern the hopes and hurts beyond their posts. Then, pray for them as led by God’s Spirit. If you come across a shared story from a news network about racial violence, a natural disaster, political shaming, or some other painful reality, pray for God’s intervention. The typical knee-jerk response, at least for me, is to post my words for the public to see instead of voice my prayer in private for God to hear. Let’s pray before we post. Or, let’s pray and not post. Try to start your day with a prayer scroll. Perhaps you can commit the first 10-15 minutes of your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram diversion to prayer.

-Celebrate Others: Let’s be honest, so often what we post is a not-so-veiled attempt to get people to notice our wisdom, accomplishments, cute kids, wonderful spouse, home d├ęcor or articles (like I’m doing nowL). Of course, this is not an entirely dirty use of social media. We should be able to share what’s going on in our lives with family and friends. But, what if we focused more on highlighting the wisdom and achievements of others more than showcasing our own? It would drastically change social media. I know people whose use of social media is entirely focused on celebrating others. You know someone like that? Imitate that person. The next time you are on Facebook, celebrate someone else by sharing their post or liking their picture. When you open Twitter, retweet someone else’s profound statement, book announcement, or thoughtful article. You get the idea. Or simply offer an original post or tweet that celebrates another person or group. Try to celebrate others via social media at least 5-10 times daily.

-Speak for the Oppressed: Social media is full of rants, which is why some of us take an occasional sabbatical from it. But the negative ranting is no reason for us not to use social media to speak up for those who can’t, won’t or don’t speak up for themselves. In order to get a hearing in a sea of ranting, we will need to expose injustice in thoughtful, gracious, forthright and loving ways. “Jesus came from the father full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Grace and truth are good guidelines for social media engagement. Be a voice for the people for whom Jesus was a voice. Post or tweet something that exposes the plight of the poor, mentally ill, persecuted and socially ostracized. Expose the ugliness of human trafficking and drug addiction, as well as political policies and economic systems that marginalize people. Be a voice for the voiceless and invite your Facebook friends and Twitter followers to do the same.       

Jump in. Help us out. Add your ideas.