These are the words spoken by missionary Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, the Austrian nobleman who in 1731, together with the intrepid Moravians, sent out the first Moravian/Protestant missionaries of the modern era, antedating William Carey, often known as “the father of modern missions”, by more than 60 years. (For more of the Austrian nobleman’s quotes, please click here.)
In this digital age of ours, Count Zinzendorf’s words are entirely counter-culture. Afterall, we live in a world dominated by technology and social media, where the emphasis is on self-assertion, self-projection, self-promotion and self-affirmation. The idea is to see and be seen – to be recognised, applauded, adulated and followed. The dopamine-driven feedback loops offered by social media platforms keep us going. We find that we simply cannot let up or drop out of the picture – even momentarily – for we detest the idea of going unnoticed, unmissed, unanticipated…or forgotten.
Yet there is increasing evidence that social media is like a dangerous drug, and many have developed an unstoppable addiction to it, preferring digital engagement to actual human interactions. We are not just talking about “computer addicts” who are glued to their smartphones, tablets, laptops and TV screens, actively engaging in every waking moment. It is now also a known fact that passive scrolling and reading of posts on social media platforms such as Facebook actually causes depression (millennials using Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter will say Facebook is passé). This is not surprising at all, considering how underneath all the perceived sense of perfection in captioned photos of smiling faces is a myriad of often vacant and empty lives trapped in what a former Facebook executive has aptly termed “fake brittle popularity”. Nobody can be that happy all the time. In fact, some might say that there is so much sadness, disappointment, frustration, meaninglessness and hopelessness in their lives that all of this is simply a sentimental and vain attempt to capture brief moments of happiness. Yet there are those who would passively scroll and read, and lap it all up before promptly getting disillusioned with their own boring, mundane lives.
So, as in the case of any other addiction, if we know something is harmful, why do we keep indulging in it? Could it be loneliness? Or athazagoraphobia – the fear of being forgotten? Or pure escapism? Or simply the modern fear of silence? Afterall, silence forces us to face and confront ourselves. It strips us of our facade and bravado, and exposes our weaknesses, insecurities, fears and anxieties….and that can be really scary. Suddenly without anything or anyone to distract us, we are forced to face uncomfortable truths about ourselves and our lives. But what is even scarier perhaps is when we are forced to be with God…and to listen to what He has to say about our lives.
Let us look at Philippians 2.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (verses 3 & 4)
Then it goes on to say, in verses 5 – 11:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.”
If this is our humble LORD Jesus, then why are we spending so much of our time trying to impress and be impressed? While we know and appreciate that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1: 17), perhaps we should ask ourselves why it is so important that we constantly inform everyone else other than our closest and dearest how and what we are doing. We might want to consider the fact that while we are elated (and inflated), rejoicing in our circumstances, there are many others out there who are totally deflated, defeated and in despair, trying to cope with grief, trauma, war, tragedy, poverty, illness and/or persecution.
It is still January in a brand new year, yet at the time of writing, there have already been several terror attacks around the world, especially in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria, with the 15 January 2018 Baghdad suicide bombings that led to about 40 dead and 105 injured being the deadliest so far. Every day, there are deaths, life-threatening injuries, displacements, hardships and/or traumas caused by neverending civil and proxy wars, widespread famine and drought, debilitating diseases or incurable illnesses and natural disasters such as earthquakes, mudslides, snow storms (or “bomb cyclones”/Bombogenesis), tropical cyclones, floods, heatwaves and forest/bush fires, as well as modern day slavery/human trafficking, discrimination, sexual abuse and harassment, religious persecution, “ethnic cleansing”…and the list goes on.
This is the world we live in. We can safely say that these people do not have the luxury of enjoying a nice meal or holiday, let alone the chance to snap a photo of their latest indulgence with their loved ones. Let us pause just for a moment to reflect on this. Let us embark on the occasional fast from technology and social media, and seek solitude, which is an intentional, self-chosen, self-imposed silence.
To help us do that, here is a lovely prayer from an article by Tony Reinke entitled “Why We Should Escape Social Media (And Why We Don’t)”:
Lord, search me, know me, and deliver me from any social-media habits that treat digital media as a cocktail of emotionally stimulating drugs I mix for myself. Cure me of this appetite to be seen by men. Kill in me this desire for endless digital acknowledgement. Draw near to me. Confront me. Comfort me. Equip me to love again. Make your presence known to me again, as I learn what it means to embrace becoming completely forgotten by this world, yet in Christ, always fully known and loved before your eyes.
So, friends, let us pray and be open to what the LORD is saying to us. Let us check our hearts for stubbornness, pride…and false humility. And let us really take the time to intercede for those the Holy Spirit brings to mind…those who are ill, those who are grieving, those we come to hear about through the grapevine, as well as those we have come to know about in the news. And of course, let us not forget our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church.
This is not the time for finger-pointing or condemnation. This is the time for Christ-centered soul searching, repentance, heart-felt prayers, a godly response and genuine love in action. “Dying” might involve physical death or dying to self, or both, exemplified by our Saviour Jesus Christ and all His faithful followers through the ages. As we consider this, let us honour and give thanks to God our Heavenly Father for His precious gift of life in Christ, praying with faith and in quiet confidence for His wisdom, guidance and grace to help us forget ourselves and focus more on those around us. May Abba Father help us be more like Jesus, be salt and light, humble instruments of His word and love, and a blessing to those around us. May our Heavenly Father help us run our race of faith well…and finish it well.