At risk of repeating the obvious: We’re living in the internet age.
We communicate through emojis, learn through videos, and relate through pictures. We have surmounted the limitations of space, breaking her hold on us, as we can now communicate just as easily with those who live across the country as with those who live across the street. But we’re not just inhabitants of the internet age. We’re Christian inhabitants of the internet age.
And we want our online identity to reflect that. We ask ourselves, “If someone looked solely at my profile, would they think I’m a Christian?”
So we saturate our online selves with spirituality. We post inspirational verses edited over sunrise stock-photos. We share the coffee-and-Jesus picture. We tweet a quote from today’s devotional; we make sure we pray a nice, long, theological prayer in our group. And everyone can see very well how much we love Jesus and what good Christians we are.
Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong for us to share online so others can see our good works.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:1-2)
We want others to see all the good we’re doing. We want others to recognize how well we’re doing. The applause of our online stadiums enthralls us. The adrenaline rush that comes from every little thumb and heart on our spiritual post ensures that we read (and post about it) again tomorrow.
And it’s not inherently wrong to post a picture of your Bible or something you’ve been learning or something God’s showed you. But we need to take a long, hard look at the reasons fueling our posts (as we should with all our actions in all our spheres). Because if we’re doing our “deeds to be seen of others” (Matthew 23:5), then we’re doing them amiss.
I’m in no way innocent. I once hiked up a (small) mountain on a Sunday morning, for a time of just me and God and my Bible. Except it wasn’t. It wasn’t just me and God and my Bible. It was me and God and my Bible–and the entirety of my friends and the world that I invited to invade my quiet time. Because as I hiked, I paused every few minutes to get a shot of the scenery. At each turn, my brain was busy thinking up good analogies or lessons to post. At the top, I spent fifteen minutes trying to angle my Bible so that both it and the valley below were in focus.
On my Instagram, it looked lovely. It documented a restful morning, spent dwelling in his creation and presence. Quiet, renewing, focused, and worshipful, right? Wrong.
We do these thing because we all want others to think well of us. In the world, this desire manifests itself in wanting the nicest clothes, or the fastest car, or the most well-paying job. But we’re Christians now, so we don’t care about that–or rather, often in reality, we’ve “Christianized” our desires. We want the nicest Bibles, or the fastest verse-reference recall, or the most ministry work we’re juggling. We want others to think well of our spiritualness. We’d like everyone to see and acknowledge how we’re so very mature and wise and spiritual. But those motivations are the exact opposite of what Jesus wants.
Now don’t hear what I’m not saying. These actions can be real. I’ve met people who are so buried in scripture that verses naturally flow out of them when they speak–and that’s good. I’ve met people who love Jesus so much that they pray for a long time because they want to just keep talking to him–and that’s good. I’ve met people who share wisdom solely to bless others, who post truth because that’s what they’re full of, who can’t help but proclaim faithfulness because it is the natural outpouring of their lives. It’s beautiful, powerful, and real.
But the great horror of the perverted is not that it’s so very different, but that it’s so very like. You can’t quite pinpoint the difference, but it drags truth into the uncanny valley, and the imitation becomes but a mockery.
But Jesus is never satisfied with a forgery, however alike it may be.
He tells us to serve him, and him alone. So when we pray, do it in our closets (or room, or somewhere alone), for there are no admirers to applaud us there. When we give, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, for then we will have no desire to post pictures of the smiling children we helped for our own praise. When we give up or put away things, let us smile and be ourselves; for then we can’t post and boast about our own spiritualness and goodness to all the world. For if we did, that’s all the reward we would get anyway.
So before you post, before you share, think. Am I doing this to share God’s love and glory? Or am I doing this to gain myself love and glory? The point is not to never share or never post (and that’d be rather ironic, considering the entirety of this post consists of me sharing what God’s been teaching me). God Himself tells us to “[d]eclare His glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.” (Psalm 96:3) But when we share for the praise of men, the faint applause of men is all the reward we’ll ever get. And he wants to give us so much more than that.
All we can earn is likes and shares and tweets. But he can give us life and glory and a mansion along the golden streets. So don’t feel like you have to Instagram your godliness to win the favor of men. Because the favor of God is worth so much more.
“[A]nd thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:18)