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Social Media Is Terrorizing Our Prayer Lives

Time with God is the first thing to go when the schedule gets busy, as they say. The more stressful our calendar gets, the greater the demand of the urgent over the important, and the easier it is to shuffle off a little prayer and Bible reading for a calmer date that never quite comes.

Most Christians are familiar with this phenomenon and the tyranny of the urgent. But there is another phenomenon that we talk about less, probably because it’s a little newer. It hasn’t settled into the Christian imagination yet, but we’re familiar with it. It’s the social media effect. The constant pull of notifications, new content, replies, likes and affirmations. Some interactions from a friend. A new headline to get mad about. There is always something, some reason to pull out our phone and check. It makes sitting silently anywhere for any period of time a dicey prospect, which is why we’re so loathe to be without our phones in the bathroom or at the airport.

But for prayer and Bible reading, sitting quietly is the name of the game. It is literally called a “quiet time.”

It’s a time we set aside not just to talk to God, but to exercise the practice of listening to God. It’s a discipline of true silence, the attempt to quiet the soul and discern the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart. For a Christian, there are very few more important things to do regularly. And this very practice of sitting quietly, with no distractions, is actively under assault in our society.

At this point, we’re well aware that social media companies are heavily invested in getting us addicted to their product. Some of the greatest minds of our generation are handsomely paid to find ways to tie us closer and closer to our devices, devising new ways of keeping us glued to them. Any free minute is a minute we could be on our phone, using their app, driving up their profits. These people have been very successful.

So now, when we wake up in the morning, the first thing many of us do is roll over and check our phone. It’s also the last thing many of us look at before bed. In our most undisturbed moments, social media has become — for many of us — a default position. And we would be pretty naive to not realize the impact this has on the rest of our lives — especially our prayer lives, which are so vulnerable to distraction anyway.

Because the Bible’s call to pray without ceasing is really a call to constant communion with God. Paul isn’t asking us to have a running monologue to God in our heads, he’s telling us to devote our waking moments to listening for God’s voice. It has always been easy for humans to drown that voice out. There have always been temptations to fill our waking thoughts with things other than God. But maybe never before has our attention been so monetized. People are fighting over our every waking moment, raising their hands and screaming for us to pick them at all hours, every day. Social media has a lot of benefits. It’s done a lot of good. But if you let it, it can and will terrorize your prayer life.

In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is standing on a mountain, looking to give God a piece of his mind. A windstorm ensues, so strong that it actually breaks rocks apart. But God was not in the wind. The windstorm is followed by an earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake either. And then came a raging fire, but God wasn’ there either.

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And then, from the mouth of a cave, 1 Kings says Elijah heard a “still small voice.” Some translations have it as a “delicate, whispering” voice. Upon hearing it, Elijah wraps his face in a mantle, because he knows he’s found God at last. And only then does God ask him: “What are doing here, Elijah?”

Finding God’s voice takes deliberation and, just as importantly, concentration. God’s communion with you may be still, small, delicate and whispering. It’s the sort of thing that’s easy to miss, especially if you’re distracted.

This isn’t a plea to get rid of your social media. It is an observation about what this social media world might be doing to us, and a reminder of something important: Ignoring the urge to look at your phone is a revolutionary act, an act of defiance against those who are trying to make a profit off of your attention span. And if you can turn that urge into an impulse to open yourself up to the still, small voice of God instead, who knows what sort of transformation you might experience?

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