I sat down for my morning devotions with the Lord, opened my Bible, and immediately heard a “ding” on my phone alerting me that I had received an email. My mind began the well-rehearsed inner dialogue that goes on whenever my prayers or Bible reading is interrupted by social media.
It can wait. You’re here to worship God.
But what if it’s important? What if it’s something I need to pray about? What if it’s someone who needs me to help? Ministering to people online counts as devotional time, too.
Nice try, but you know that’s not entirely why you want to check. Distraction feels good. Escape is easy. All you really want to do is see if anyone loves you.
Sometimes I don’t check social media when it interrupts my devotions. I continue with my Bible reading and prayer, waiting to engage in the online world until afterward. Praise God for the grace to make that hard choice! Other times, I do check and am glad I did. I learn about something that requires prayer, I am able to encourage someone, and I am able to return quickly to my Bible reading and prayer. Then, of course, sometimes I check, get totally absorbed online, squander my devotional time, and live to regret it.
I am continually amazed by the way social media can distract me! I’ve been asking the Lord to help me see what’s at the heart of the matter. What fuels my personal draw toward email, texts, Instagram, and Facebook?
The Valley of Vision
One morning I was despairing over my struggle, wondering if I should throw my computer out the window, bury my phone in my sock drawer, fast from social media, or ask a friend to hold me accountable. Then I opened a well-worn copy of The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions and read a few prayers of the Christians who lived in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The prayers were so relevant to my struggle! I tilted my head and thought, These prayers feel like the Puritans had social media. It sounds like they struggled with a desire for social significance, longing to be YouTube stars, Facebook phenoms, and Instagram idols.
Consider this excerpt from the prayer, “Man’s Great End.” Maybe you’ll see what I mean.
Most men seem to live for themselves,
Without much or any regard for thy glory,
Or for the good of others;
They earnestly desire and eagerly pursue
The riches, honours, pleasures of this life,
As if they supposed that wealth, greatness, merriment,
Could make their immortal souls happy;
But, alas, what false delusive dreams are these!
And how miserable ere long will those be that sleep in them,
For all our happiness consists in loving thee,
And being holy as thou art holy.
O may I never fall into the tempers and vanities,
The sensuality and folly of the present world!
It is a place of inexpressible sorrow, a vast empty nothingness;
Time is a moment, a vapour,
And all its enjoyments are empty bubbles,
Fleeting blasts of wind,
From which nothing satisfactory can be derived;
Give me grace always to keep in covenant with thee.
What a poignant description of my own struggle with social media! And yet the Puritans didn’t have computers to throw out the window or phones to hide from themselves. They didn’t have social media, but they did have the same desires for wealth, greatness, and merriment warring against their devotion to Christ.
This helped me to see that my problem isn’t social media; my problem is my sin. I prayed:
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
The Heart of the Matter
I asked the Lord to help me see what is at the heart of the matter. Why do I turn to social media instead of to You, Lord?
From what I can tell, I struggle with a longing for significance. I want evidence that I matter and that I’m making an impact on the world. I want to see that people like me, value my thoughts, and need me.
I’d rather find my significance on Facebook than in Scripture. I’d rather look for contentment on Instagram than in Christ.
At the heart of the matter, I’m self-consumed and worldly, building my own kingdom instead of God’s. When I am about to worship God, I open my phone to see if anyone is worshiping me.
Thankfully, this is precisely what God welcomes us to bring before His throne. He relieves our burden of sin because Jesus died and rose to conquer all of our sin. For centuries, He has been faithfully forgiving repentant humans’ idolatry, rebellion, and worldliness. What a wonder!
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Following God’s Guidance on Social Media
God doesn’t stop at forgiveness; He then helps us move forward in righteousness. He gave the Puritans wisdom regarding their particular temptations, and He gives us wisdom regarding ours. When I asked Him for wisdom regarding social media, I discovered comfort and clarity through Matthew 5:14–16. Through it, the Holy Spirit is teaching me that my involvement in social media is part of my calling to be a light in this dark world.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
I copied this verse onto a Post-It note and stuck it near my computer. Whenever I am tempted to use social media to feed my sinful desires for self-centered idolatry, I meditate on the verses above and renew my mind with the truth of God’s Word. I am asking God for grace to be a light online. Amazingly, this gives me strength to overcome the temptation to look for meaning in online attention and helps me to focus my worship on the Lord.
What is it for you? What’s at the heart of the issue when you indulge in too much social media? Take this to the Lord today in confession. Ask Him to guide you with His Word to use social media in a way that pleases Him. God is faithful to forgive, cleanse, and lead us in righteousness.