“Our Facebook, who art on the Internet, followed be thy pages . . . “ Facebook prayers are a thing now, right?
Don’t worry: this 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. Our modern problems do not lurk in apps or software. In truth, our modern problems are not modern at all. Our “modern” problems reside deep within us, where they have always hidden. Social media merely puts us—and our problems—on display with astonishing speed and reach. In one respect Facebook and its many children have provided a new outlet, called cyberprayer, or Facebook prayers.
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 wisely. 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.
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 go to social media to know we are not alone. We post our Facebook prayers because we will certainly get some kind of answer.
TYPICAL OF FACEBOOK PRAYERS: 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. Facebook prayers are how 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 a 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 of [getting] some answer—any answer—which we can see and hear.
Even more frightening than not getting an answer from God is the possibility that the Father would respond, and focus us on the real problems of our lives. Imagine what would happen if God responded to your cyberprayer:
ACTUAL PRAYER: Father, I’m going in for a job interview today. Please help me get this job because I really need it.
POSSIBLE RESPONSES FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT:
- 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 post our Facebook prayers because the social media space 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?
Ray Hollenbach, a Chicagoan, writes about faith, tech, and culture. He’s the author of The Impossible Mentor: Finding Courage to Follow Jesus (and other books) He currently lives in central Kentucky, which is filled with faith and culture, but not so much tech.
This article originally appeared here, and is used by permission.