Our Facebook, who art on the Internet, followed be thy pages . . . Facebook prayer is a thing, right?
Don’t worry: this post isn’t a screed on the devilish dangers of social media. It’s too easy to locate trouble and place blame in structures and technologies beyond us. It’s also too easy to ignore such complaints because, honestly, who’s going to “fix” Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest?
Our modern problems do not lurk in apps or software. In truth, our modern problems are not modern at all. Our modern problems reside in deep within us, where they have always hidden. Facebook merely puts us — and our problems — on display with astonishing speed and reach.
Social media is like any other technology, a device capable of good or ill. It’s a tool to be wielded well or to hinder the real work of living life well. Social media is a comfort to the shut-in, and a means to share everyday joys; it is also the latest platform for fears and fools to find expression.
In one respect Facebook and its children have provided a new outlet: cyber prayer. What was formerly the province of what was called a “prayer closet” is now an opportunity to broadcast our prayers around the world in search of someone who will hear. Prayer has always been difficult because we have so often felt alone — in the very place we are told to pour out our hearts before God. In prayer, when we meet the silence of God, we usually fill the silence with our own words. With social media, others will fill the silence for us.
We want to feel heard
We go to social media to know we are not alone. We post our prayers because we will certainly get some kind of answer in response:
POST: You guys! I’m going in for a job interview today. Please pray that I get this job because I really need it.
- You’ve got this!
- Hugs to you, I’m praying.
- Don’t worry: God’s in control.
These answers, well-meaning but completely powerless, feel better than no answer at all, which is what we often think we get from God. Traditional prayer is the place we bump into the silence of God. Cyber prayer is how, together, we fill the void apart from the still small voice of the Spirit.
It’s true: there are plenty of examples of God’s people praying together, rallied by social media, and miracles have followed. In a world of billion-plus Facebook users, this should not surprise us. But daily, and in ways uncounted, we have turned to social media because we are sure to get some answer — any answer — which we can see and hear.
But what if God really does hear?
Even more frightening than not getting an answer from God is the possibility that the Father would respond, and use the response to focus us on the real problems of our lives. Imagine what would happen if God responded to your Facebook prayer:
PRAYER: Father, I’m going in for a job interview today. Please help me get this job because I really need it.
- What happened to the last job you had?
- Are you afraid I will not provide?
- Are you so desperate for money you would debase yourself by working for a company that exploits the poor and abuses its own employees?
The gospels are filled with stories of people who brought their requests to Jesus only to receive challenging “answers” to their prayers:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
We take our prayers to Facebook because it is filled with people like us, and when people like us respond we can be sure to get the answer we are looking for. If we complain about other drivers, people like us will respond with more of the same. If we post angry words about a political party, we can be sure others will join our anger. If we post the latest warning about the dangers of modern life, we will soon read fearful words from others who feel powerless against big business or Big Brother.
Here are the challenges of living in a world filled with social media. Can we wait on God? Can we sit in the silence without trying to fill the void? Can we bear the possibility that the Spirit will change the subject, and ask about the condition of our souls?