We live in a time that is permeated with social media influence. You can’t really do much of anything without someone pulling out their phone to jump on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or another platform of choice. Are we on live? Did you just snap a picture? Everyone stop we’ve got to put this on our Insta story, admittedly this has become my media avenue of choice.
We can follow each other throughout the day even if we’re on different continents! We can document EVERYTHING! On my recent trip to Iraq it was such an easy and convenient way to keep family, friends, and donors up to speed with not just the projects we were doing, but the fun day to day occurrences. You could watch clips as we went to the front lines of Mosul to minister to soldiers, but you could also sit down with us as we drank hot chocolate with peppermint. It allows donors to see the projects they funded, but allows my family to see that we’re having fun.
This unending access into the personal lives of others has had me thinking for quite some time now. I see positives and negatives and yet for the most part I am concerned about the effects of social media on our culture. One area in particular has become a topic of conversation quite frequently, what about broadcasting good deeds for all to see?
On any given day I scroll down my Facebook newsfeed (which honestly I rarely do) and I can see so many positive and encouraging things. I see Bible verses, great quotes, and multiple pictures of the latest conference, mission trip, or outreach. I look at them and I get excited about how we’re all using our time and talents to touch the globe with the love of Jesus. I think my friends are amazing and I love being able to see how God is using them but what if realistically below the surface we’re revealing a deeper problem?
When I post the picture of myself holding the hand of a child from a foreign country as my organization is doing its latest outreach, what is the purpose behind it? I along with many of my friends either run organizations or work for non-profit ministries that their sole purpose is to do “good things”. For those their days are full of photo op moments. Others are just very active in their church’s outreach department or at the end of the day are simply just good people doing good things. As I scroll I’ll see pictures of someone who got saved at the local mall or feeding hungry children in Africa, perhaps a prostitute was brought in off the streets or even on my own page you’ll see that we went to some new crazy place and posted a picture.
Can I be really honest?
My friends and I often live in an interesting tension. The Bible says “don’t let your left hand know what your right is doing.” We all know the very important rule to not have pride or “boast of your good deeds before men”, but at the same time most of the organizations live with the understanding that a large portion of our ability to do the “good deeds” is because people are willing to donate their personal finances or time. Your finances make it possible for me to fly all over the globe and touch the broken, your finances make it possible for us to pass out blankets to the homeless, and somewhere inside of us we feel like we need to prove it to you that we are using your funds how you expected us to. I’m not saying that’s always rooted in the best thinking, but we want to be accountable and we want you to know that we’re actually doing what we told you we would. We also know that most people who give simply enjoy seeing the picture of the child they clothed, educated, fed, or witnessed to.
We know that God provides, somehow He even managed to provide long before social media. I know that’s so hard to believe. If I were honest, most of my friends who run organizations, hate the social media aspect of it and would much rather abandon it all together. I’ve personally dreamed of halting all social media presence and believing for God to provide apart from it, but then I’m often reminded of the parts of it that are beautiful! I can post a need or prayer request on social media and within minutes the body of Christ is eager to help. A few years ago my computer crashed and in a moment of frustration I posted about it, within an hour I had a brand new computer from a generous donor. Last year a friend’s phone stopped working, I thought I’d see if anyone would be interested in helping, boom within literal minutes she had a new phone. On a project level I often have the opportunity to post about a new outreach and messages soon come flooding in with willing givers. I’m thankful for the ease of letting projects be known, but also letting everyone see as the projects play out right before your eyes on Facebook or Instagram. For those that donated they can actually be with me right in the moment passing out that blanket to that needy family. It’s remarkable, so guys, the tension is real. How do we keep you informed and engaged with our projects, but also not “boast before men” about what we’re doing?
I have a dear friend who is often my accountability meter, she often challenges the motivation behind my actions and her constant challenge reminds me to question whether that post was for you or was it for me?
So where do we draw the line? As much as I appreciate the ease of access, I hate when we live in a “like” driven comparison society. Unfortunately all too often the motivation behind “good deed” posts have become corrupted with pride and less about informing donors and more about boosting our own ego.
Did people need to see John, your recent convert, blasted all over social media? Was it actually for the donors when I posted that recent picture of my team praying for the prostitute? Oh that was so nice of you to let the world know that you’re serving in the local soup kitchen, but why did you post a picture of it? My concern is that we don’t think before we click post and at the root of our “inspiring” picture was a desire for personal significance by a simple comment from a follower.
“Wow you inspire me!”
“It’s so amazing what you do!”
“I want to do that with you one day!”
“So proud of you”
Comment by comment our addiction to the praise of man continues and we find value in a counterfeit of true affirmation from our Father. For the Truth remains “your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:4) Perhaps we begin to crave the approval of man more than the unconditional love of our King. Our pride grows and undoubtedly eventually our true satisfaction will decrease as we scramble around for more ways to feel fulfilled by others compliments.
In our attempt to feed our own pride there’s a trail of onlookers who begin to compare their lives to ours. The stay at home mom who is actually more in line with the heart of the Father than we are when we click “post” while she stays at home day in and day out raising up kids that know and love Jesus.
I can’t warn enough in the dangers of comparing our daily lives to someone else’s highlight reel. The truth is we all have a life to live and journey to walk and yours isn’t supposed to look like mine or mine like yours. Please don’t look at anyone’s social media and assume they have it together simply because they picked a good photo to post. We never know what is going on behind the scenes or understand all that someone went through to become the person they are.
At the end of the day I agree with Theodore Roosevelt, “comparison is a thief of joy.” I don’t know all of the answers to dealing with the problems that social media has aroused in our society. We’re facing unique moral questions that lead us back to ask the question that we should daily examine, “what is the heart behind it?”
If we find at our root that we are searching for the praise of man or hoping to find some form of significance by our posts, perhaps we’re missing it all together. Your value is not determined by your page likes, instagram story views, or affirming comments. The Truth of how much you love or how effective you are is not found in the amount of good deeds you do for all to see. Most definitely your Christ likeness or spiritual maturity can not be determined by your social media account. Jesus will never ask you to give a record of your positive feedback.
I pray that in a society so influenced by social media we don’t forget the Truths of scripture. I pray we don’t begin to live more in virtual reality than we do the tangible world in front of our eyes. I pray we don’t confuse praise of man for validation from God. I pray we don’t compare our lives to other’s social media highlights. I pray we will begin to intentionally monitor our hearts as we pray, “give us clean hands and pure hearts” so that our lives will be a pleasing aroma to Him as we forge on to use social media as a tool for the Gospel and not an air pump for our ego.