Saving the Soul from Social Media

Saving the Soul from Social Media

At its best, social media provides opportunities to grow, think, and even worship God. At its most routine, it is a quick prescription for boredom and a crutch for procrastination. At its worst though, social media can be soul fracturing. I personally find no rest with the constant influx of channeled outrage pinned on my Facebook wall and lining my Twitter feed. I often walk away tired, jaded, and exhausted.

If you haven’t experienced this yet, just keep scrolling.

Each declaration of indignation or pronouncement of injustice has an effect on our inner life. Every time social media raises its bullhorn to reject, start, or follow a new movement our spirits are thrown in the spin cycle. In a sense, we have all become pinballs in social media’s game of outrage and empathy—and I feel like the game is close to over. I’ve grown tired, overwhelmed, discouraged, and apathetic. Not because I have nothing to live for, but because I am living too much and for everyone else’s causes.

I would guess that many of us—especially the empathizers and people pleasers—feel their souls being horcruxed as well. Conviction gives way to fatigue and so we just wait for our social media to update so things might become more manageable or simply go away. But they never are; they just multiply. By the time we put down our phones, we are empty. We have nothing to give to our family and those we love, which is ironically the central place where activism and empathy can make a change.

Now our impulse in all of this could be to throw our phones away and delete our accounts, but this won’t help. We certainly don’t want to give up. But perhaps there is a better way, one that calls us to change and also leaves us with energy to fight for it. To pave a way ahead, here a few suggestions that might help put some of the pieces back together:


1.  Unplug from the Outlet

Be judicious with your time on social media. Know yourself and your temptations. Like all forms of cultural engagement, recognize when it has become an idol or when it is gently leading you off the narrow path. One of the best ways to do this is by unplugging from your social media outlets for a designated amount of time. One helpful test: stay away from social media long enough for you to stop blindly reaching for your phone every time there is a lull in your day. More importantly, replace your social media with real relationships, spiritual disciplines, good works, and acts of service. One of the ironies of virtual diatribes on social media is that, for each moment we spend posting or reading them, we could have spent that time working to solve the problem in the real world.  


2.  Bend the Knee

Slow down and align yourself with God’s providence rather than the false providence of your Twitter feed. One of the best ways to do this is through prayer. Every time we pray, we bow before the real and true king. Prayer is the declaration to the world, and to our own hearts, that we live in joyful submission to God’s righteous reign. The world needs to hear this. And so do we. Constantly. Everything in the world is vying for you to crown it king over your life; prayer says only the Lord deserves the crown and that we rejoice under his generous sovereignty.  


3.  Drink the Words of Life

We are drowning is a sea of words and, yet we still thirst for words of life. How often have I reached for my cell phone before I reached for my Bible? I remain empty because of this choice. Allow the Lord to filter every aspect of your life through the gospel of his crucified and risen Son—including your social media. Drink deeply from his word, for whoever drinks of the water that he gives will never thirst again, because this water gives eternal life (John 4:14). Social Media does not.


4.  Get Real Advice

Reach out to others to help you understand yourself. This is one of the main reasons for the church. So, as you contemplate ways to infiltrate the world, talk to those who love you and will be honest with you. Take your pastor to lunch; get coffee with your wife; ask your friends real and important questions. Get their take on your strengths and weakness. Be open to hear your weaknesses and bite your tongue when you want to share theirs with them. Ask them to help you understand your gifts. Get their opinion on how and where you might use them to bring about real change. Try to talk with them in person too, or at least not on social media.


5.  Attack the Root

There is nothing more frustrating than fighting a fight you can’t win. In many ways, this is what social media is. Wave after wave, refresh after refresh, you are rolled over with movements and ideas, causes and demands to the point that you are running out of breath, pinned to the ocean floor. So do this instead: pick one or two problems to engage and then study their core issues, not their consequences. Social media is like a jungle; you can machete your way through it for a while, but eventually you will grow exhausted and everything grows back even faster than before. So instead of dealing with the branches in your face take a second and deal with their roots at your feet. When you do, you deal with the real problem and can finally see the way ahead.


6.  Parts and Limitations

Know your part and know your limitations. This is one of the hardest things to do because it requires self-awareness and self-critique, both of which are largely absent from the platform factories of social media. Regardless, they are incredibly important for your soul. First, we must recognize that we are part of the problem. Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. As sinners, we leak sin in the world’s water supply; as saints, we have the antidote. Don’t overlook your sin to highlight opportunities to affect change. When you forget why you needed change in the first place, everything becomes about other people needing to change. Second, and connected to the first, recognize that you are limited. You are not the answer to every injustice but you can be a part of the answer. You can’t change the world by yourself (just ask Moses, David, etc.)—but you can help those find the one who already has. Finally, though you can give your time, thought, and actions to only a select few issues, you can help support other movements and causes with your resources.


7.  Fight like Hell for Heaven

The best way to fight apathy is to know that what you are doing matters. If you lack motivation or are just overwhelmed, remember that God is using you to win the war he has already won. Your work is for the advancement of his kingdom—one he is silently expanding across all creation through your hands. This means that if anything we do is uncoupled from God’s kingdom, it will not last. So fight against the world’s injustices so that the final justice of heaven will come down.


Give your life away, but not to the ever flowing tide of causes and movements that rolls across your screen. Give your life to God’s kingdom work and where the two overlap, fight to usher in the kingdom of true and eternal justice. Where you can’t fight, give generously to those who can. When we lose our lives in this way, we actually find it, our advocacy lands in the right place, and our souls remain intact. In fact, they flourish, like the world we are helping to make anew.


Ryan Lister is a husband, father, blogger, author, and professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives. He is also the Director of Doctrine and Discipleship for Humble Beast and co-creator of The Canvas Conference. Follow him on Twitter!



It really doesn’t take much.


It might happen when you hear your parents’ favorite Christmas carol. Immediately the song transports you out of your sterile workday back to your childhood, to a living room bursting with tinsel, gifts, and anticipation.


Or maybe it happens when you smell the spices of cider moving through your house this Christmas and you half-expect the memory of your grandfather to be standing in your kitchen, bragging about his perfect recipe, through his playful grin.


Worship with All Five Senses


Of course, the memories aren’t always that idyllic. For some, they’re unwelcome intrusions into a life under construction. Good or bad, sweet or bitter, the memories still come each Christmas. Just one small trigger, and everything we’ve loved, lost, and treasured seems to swell up in our hearts.


Nostalgia arrives through our senses. What we hear, see, taste, touch, and smell is the ink we use to write our mental autobiographies. We cannot escape our memories, because we cannot escape our senses, just like we cannot escape ourselves.


This is beautiful because we were created this way for a purpose. God gives us five senses to help us worship him: the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes testify to the diversity of God’s gifts and to the depth of worship God deserves.


But in our pursuit to conform our hearts and minds to Christ, we often forget the physical elements in worship. When we lose this dimension, we often lose what it means to be altogether human, and ironically we lose a principal way God means to transform our hearts and minds. Our Lord consistently builds worship around our senses.


Remember the Passover


Standing on the precipice of Israel’s chaotic redemption, God commands his people to sit down for a meal — a directive that may seem slightly out of place and misguided. But when we see this scene in light of the whole drama, God’s instructions are perfect. The exodus is not just about God leading Israel out of Egypt; it is about God leading Israel into lifelong worship.


Passover is theological nostalgia. It defines the redemptive experience of a whole generation, so much so that God commanded an encore performance every year (Exodus 12:14). With every lamb, they smelled redemption. When they tasted bitter herbs, they tasted God’s goodness. When they fastened their sandals, every step reminded them of his grace. Every time they dipped hyssop into blood, they painted their theology.


Remember the Temple


The temple is the instrument God uses to overwhelm his people from the outside in. Its worship patterns shock each of the physical senses to press his purposes into his people. God tuned Israel and her priests to his presence and praise through the taste of showbread, the heat of the burnt offerings, the scent of cedar and incense, the gloss of gold, and the echoes of prayers. The temple’s multi-sensory experience brought the whole person before the presence and glory of God (2 Chronicles 7:1–2).


Like the Passover, every visit to the temple etched smells, touches, tastes, sounds, and sights into the worshiper’s consciousness. After leaving the temple, when a familiar scent or sound broke their routine, they were pulled back in memory to the place where God was present, where their sins went to die, and where God’s promises were on full display.


Remember the Incarnation


In Christ, God took on flesh and tabernacled in the midst of his people (John 1:14). In Christ, we see God and, simultaneously, what it means to be truly human.


This is why Jesus’s ministry invades every part of us, including our senses. Through mud-caked eyes, the blind can see. Through a touch of his garment, he heals the broken. Through voicing a simple prayer, the multitudes taste bread and fish without end.


In Jesus, the one who created our senses entered his world to redeem them. He comes to touch, smell, hear, see, and taste death for his people so that you and I may do what we were made to do: worship him with every part of our being (Romans 12:1).


We were made for this. God calls us to taste this Bread of Life, to drink this life-giving water, to see this light of the world, to smell the sheep on our Good Shepherd, to hear his question, “Who do you say that I am?” We were made to touch his nail-scarred hands and see him standing outside the empty tomb (John 20:27).


Remember the Good News


We need to hear and experience the gospel over and over again. God has made a way for this. Jesus gives us new-covenant nostalgia in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. And through the waters of baptism, we see, taste, hear, smell, and feel what it means to move from death to life.


God saves all of us — redeeming and reinterpreting our senses, too — so that we can worship him more fully. So, taste and see — and touch, hear, and smell — that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). You were made for this — every part of you.

Editor's note: This was originally posted on Desiring God's website here.



Ryan Lister is a husband, father, blogger, author, and professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives. He is also the Director of Doctrine and Discipleship for Humble Beast and co-creator of The Canvas Conference. Follow him on Twitter!


10 Things You Should Know About the Presence of God

10 Things You Should Know About the Presence of God

1. God is immanent because he is transcendent.

The Lord is “God in the heavens above [transcendent] and on the earth beneath [immanent]” (Josh 2:11). But to understand God in full we must recognize that his drawing near to creation stems from his being distinct from creation. In other words, there is no deficiency in God that creation satisfies. The Lord doesn’t relate to this world because he lacks something within himself. No, God draws near out of the abundance of who he is.

God’s transcendence distinguishes him from the created order and puts things in their right perspective. God does not come to us needy and wanting, but rather he comes to “revive the spirit of the lowly and the heart of the contrite” (Isa 57:15). It is the holy and righteous One above who restores the broken and needy below.

Lest We Forget.

Lest We Forget.

In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:41-43, NIV)

Looming large over these words is a question. This question hovers over every section of Scripture, hangs over our heads every day, and especially on Good Friday.  

What does Babel have to do with Portland?

What does Babel have to do with Portland?

Innovation is at the heart of creativity.

Paint-by-number kits and cover bands typically don’t change the world.  Rather, these exist because we replicate what we love, because we can’t get enough of the original.

And we love the original because they are . . . well, original.  

This is why artists are in constant pursuit of the unique, the distinct, and the novel.  They seek to alter culture through brushstroke, pen, and arpeggios.  Creatives, by definition, set out to create, and, more often than not, set out to create one specific thing: a name for themselves...  

God & Suffering: A Prepositional Study (After)

God & Suffering: A Prepositional Study (After)

Suffering makes us covet. We are tired of the tears.  We long for a better world inoculated from the pain.  And God has made this possible through the suffering, death, and resurrection of his Son.  

This place we call home, then, is not our final home.  We are sojourners and exiles awaiting a better, heavenly city (1 Pet 2:11; Heb 11:13-16).  The world as we know it is not the way it was supposed to be and, in God’s unfathomable grace, this world will not be like this forever.  This place of suffering, shame, and shortcomings is but a dash on the timeline of eternity.

God & Suffering: A Prepositional Study (Through)

God & Suffering: A Prepositional Study (Through)

Suffering, for the Christian, takes on a new identity.  For one who has been delivered “from the domain of darkness and transferred . . . to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13), suffering often becomes a teacher, an instrument by which God prepares us for the world to come.  This is why the gospel puts every aspect of our lives under the discipleship of Christ.  We are to become like Christ in all things: in his resurrected life and also as we walk with him on his march to Golgotha (1 Pet 4:12; cf. 1 Pet 2:21).  Sharing in Christ’s sufferings is a very real part of the Christian life (Phil 3:10; Matt 16:24; cf. 10:38), no matter what the preacher with the glistening white smile and toll-free number tells you.  

God & Suffering: A Prepositional Study (In the Midst of)

God & Suffering: A Prepositional Study (In the Midst of)

Undergirding our trust is the fact that God is no stranger to suffering. Rather, God the Son knows suffering and the powers of evil and temptation far better than we do. Christ faced all of these but never capitulated to them. Where we give in, Christ held out. He overcame evil, sin, and temptation by fighting them for the duration of his life and winning through his suffering, death, and resurrection. 

Christ’s acquaintance with grief is at the very heart of the gospel. God the Son enters the world in all of its turmoil and catastrophe. He feels heat, cold, thirst, and hunger. He walks into the wilderness to come face to face with evil itself.  He teaches, heals, and ministers to an arrogant people marked by fists clutching stones rather than open palms reaching out for their Messiah. And all along, the Gospels wind slow and steady up the hill of despair where the divine Son will hang from a tree, covered in his own blood, suffering for the sins of sinners.  

God & Suffering: A Prepositional Study (Before & Over)

God & Suffering: A Prepositional Study (Before & Over)

We do not find pain and suffering in the first two chapters of our Bibles. All we have is God and the good world he speaks into existence. This tells us that there is but one God; he alone rules. God does not have to wrestle his authority from another. There is no deity or power equal in control and influence with whom he must square off in a cosmic battle for the ages.  Scripture makes clear that Yahweh is the one, true God who creates and rules with an authority that is his alone.  

Pain and suffering make their debut in the third chapter of our Bibles. They are introduced as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s divine usurpation experiment.  They tasted the fruit and found it laced with guilt, shame, and death.  Our post-Eden world makes this clear day in and day out: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is still producing a lethal harvest for all the sons and daughters of Adam, you and me included...

God & Suffering: A Prepositional Study (Introduction)

God & Suffering: A Prepositional Study (Introduction)

Suffering makes our true theology known. When the whirlwind comes, nothing is sacred.  It exposes our real doctrine, the one that often lies beneath the bleached-whited veneer of our biblical jargon and Christian platitudes. Suffering demands our theology get real; it bullies us into reevaluating our assumptions about God and ourselves. 

No one knew this inner dissonance better than C.S. Lewis.  In his lofty academic treatise, The Problem of Pain, Lewis penned these well-worn words about suffering: