Posting My Religion
‘Live for the gram’. ‘Pics or it didn’t happen?’ We hear mantras like these so often that, almost without thinking about it, they get under our skin and into our hearts. We start to accept it as normal for every significant moment in our lives (and, heck, the trivial ones too) to find their way onto social media and even decide how to spend our time and money around what would be worth broadcasting online. And sometimes, almost unconsciously, we end up applying this filter to our faith too.
Answers to prayer, moves of the Spirit, and spiritual insights fill up our feeds, and with flat-lay shots of our morning devotional and #blessed captions, we find ourselves establishing a profile for ourselves as the ideal Christian woman we want to be no matter how far that feels from reality.
We might tell ourselves that we are just serving as a witness, encouraging and even evangelising those in our network. But, when we are honest with ourselves about how we feel when the likes and the comments roll in, and when they don’t, we have to admit that we may be tuning in more to our own followers than the One we want to follow.
It might be that those comments and retweets are from people who feel inspired and encouraged by what we’ve posted. But Jesus warns us against performing our piety, whether our charitable giving, our praying or our fasting, in front of others because what he cares most about is which direction we’re facing when we do them:
Jesus goes on to say something similar about fasting, and immediately after comes his famous teaching on storing up treasure in heaven rather than on earth. Normally, we think of that passage as cautioning us against materialism, but given this context, I think it also covers devoting more headspace to what other people think about us than on God’s perspective.
With his common refrain about God rewarding us for devotion done in private, Jesus is suggesting that whenever recognition and approval from those around us is our goal, those plaudits are our sole reward. Sound the trumpet, a metaphor for publicising an act of charity or worship, and the sound falls flat in God’s ears.
Jesus isn’t criticising public prayer or worship per se. After all people were encouraged to pray, sacrifice, and give alms at the Temple - Jesus himself spoke favourably of the widow who put two coins into the Temple treasury (Mark 12:42-44). But, Jesus is asking us to examine our hearts more carefully than we curate an outer appearance.
Are our prayers longer and more intimate than our captions and which comes first? Do we say ‘I’ll pray for you’ in a comment but forget to actually take that request to God? When we retweet an encouragement or counsel, is it something we have internalised and put into practice before telling others to do just that? Our best amen comes from living it out, not just re-sharing it with a clapping hands emoji.
Jesus also warned the Pharisees not to ‘clean the outside of the cup and dish’ when ‘inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence’ (Matthew 23:25). Clean the inside first, He counselled, and that will take care of the outside. We can get so lost in making sure our social media profiles appearto bring glory to God, that we forget that how we relate to God in our quiet moments, our innermost thoughts, is what matters above all.
Often, our concern with appearances comes from our insecurity. I struggle to fully trust that I am forgiven and loved by God, but if I am known for producing ‘Christian content’, then my salvation must be really sure, right? I find it easier to use how other people see me as a gauge for how well I am doing with my walk with God than to trust that the promises in the Bible really do apply to me and I’m not just reading other people’s mail.
But that’s exactly the attitude which Jesus is warning us against, because it means my self-doubt is speaking louder than my trust in God. God wants to be the one I go to when I feel insecure and unworthy, because only resting in His truly unconditional love can take me off the treadmill of people-pleasing.
God sees us truly and fully – He knows our every thought before it is on our lips, before it is in our Instagram story or our Facebook update. While we curate a highlights reel, God sees everything left on the cutting floor, and none of it drives Him away.
When God calls us to die to ourselves, which includes setting aside our desire to win other people’s respect and affirmation, He leads by example. While we hope to always be seen in the best possible light (‘would you mind deleting that picture of me? It makes me look like I have a double chin’), Jesus was willing to be misunderstood by both His friends and His enemies, even though it meant being falsely accused and wrongfully executed.
So, if our social media activity comes from a place of trying to impress God or earn anything else from Him, we can safely drop the hustle. His closeness and commitment to us is unchanging and unchangeable. Even if no one else in the world knew we existed, even if we totally fell off the social media map, we would still be fully known. We would still be fully adored.