By Craig Groeschel
A friend of mine who visited a remote, impoverished village in India told me a story. He saw a woman sacrificing a chicken as an act of worship to her god. My friend was shocked to see such blatant, modern-day idolatry. After striking up a conversation with the woman, he was impressed with her. She was well-spoken, kind, and educated.
When he learned that she had visited New York City three years earlier, he asked what she thought of America. She explained that she hated it. She had never seen more idolatry anywhere in her entire life. When my friend pressed her, she described three areas of idolatry that she saw.
First, she said, not so gently, that Americans worship their stomachs. Her eyes wide as she talked, this woman from a simple village described the massive stores overstocked with food to sell to people who already had too much to eat. Evidently this woman was offended by people who are overweight when so many people in her village go hungry.
Second, she described how Americans worship television. From her perspective, they design their homes around the television. It takes the most prominent place in the most important room, and the furniture is arranged not for talking to people but for watching television. It was almost too much for her to comprehend that some people even allow a television in their bedroom—of all places!
Finally, she said the worst form of idolatry was in the relationship people have with their phones. She was deeply offended that people use them while driving. Even worse was that no one (at least in her experience) could have a full conversation without reading something on their phone.
Kind of gives a new meaning to American Idol, doesn’t it? My friend didn’t try to disagree with the Indian woman. He knew he couldn’t. Everything she said was true. And she hadn’t even scratched the surface.
Without getting into our obsessions with food and media, I’m simply raising the question about what we worship when we click. You are probably not putting a statue of a turtle ahead of God, and you probably aren’t a star worshiper, but is your obsession with your phone getting out of hand?
Some of us can honestly answer no. We are already using technology with good boundaries. We control it. It doesn’t control us. We might have a healthy view of social media and how we interact with it. If so, I’m thankful, and you should be too!
Yet I know many well-intentioned followers of Jesus who are being seduced, sucked into, and consumed by the virtual world. They think, “I just want to help my business.” Or, “This will give more exposure to my ministry.” Or, “I just love staying in touch with so many friends and family members.”
My teenage daughters showed me the Instagram accounts of their friends and explained how some of them set up fake Likes. One teenage girl had only 112 followers. Her pics usually got thirty to forty Likes. But suddenly she would have four hundred or more Likes—with only 112 followers! Evidently she had an app that helped her obtain fake Likes. This makes absolutely no sense to me, but then, I’m not a sixth-grade girl. She certainly feels pressure that I don’t know anything about. But I also know respected leaders who didn’t have the number of Twitter followers they wanted, so they bought fake followers to give the illusion of success. Seriously.
And I’m not above all of it. About an hour before writing this, I Tweeted. It had been awhile since I had said anything on Twitter, so I thought I should say something—you know, something short, memorable, catchy—of course connected to this book. So I typed, “At the end of your life, it won’t matter how many LIKES you got but how much LOVE you showed.” I added a hashtag to it, just to make it complete.
Nearly an hour went by before curiosity got the best of me. I wondered how my less than 280 characters of spiritual brilliance had transformed the Twittersphere. So I checked to see how my tweet had performed in that first hour. Did people Like it? Favorite it? Comment about it? Retweet it? Drumroll, please . . .
The results: 134 likes and 167 Retweets.
If you have only 80 Twitter followers, you’d say that’s out of the park. If you’ve got tens of thousands of followers, you might think that’s about what you would expect. Not bad. Not great. If you are @mileycyrus, you’d think that was a slow minute. Something must be wrong with Twitter if that’s all the action a Tweet of hers got in a 60-second period.
What if I had never sent a single Tweet? What if Twitter didn’t exist? Just a few years ago, it didn’t. Humanity did fine for centuries without Twitter. When I look at it from that perspective, it really isn’t that important.
Yet I felt compelled to check on my Tweet. Curious. Had to know.
I’m still not quite sure why. I’d like to tell you that I don’t really care about what my Tweet did or didn’t do. Part of me really thinks I don’t care. But I still checked. I must #CareAtSomeLevel.
The last thing I want to do is make light of anyone’s struggles with social media. Peer pressure is crazy tough to deal with. But let’s take an objective step back and ask ourselves, Are we being seduced? Are we placing too much value on something that’s not that important? Are we bowing down and worshiping something besides God? Have we fallen into a new dimension of sin? Are our souls being seduced?
Jesus asked the question, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36). We can adjust the question to today’s culture: what good is it to get more followers, more Likes, more comments, more Pinterest pins, and yet forfeit our soul?
Is anything worth more than having a growing passion for our loving God? I don’t think so.
And neither does God, who clearly doesn’t pull any punches. With ultimate directness, he says, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:3–5).
That’s pretty straightforward.
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
God wants to be first in our lives. Second place is not acceptable. It’s not sinful for God to be jealous in this way because for him, this is a holy jealousy, a righteous longing for our whole heart.
Why is it wrong to put other people or things before God? First, we need to realize that God is holy, eternal, omnipotent, and sovereign. He’s . . . well . . . God, and we most definitely are not. Because he is God, he must be first. We need to understand that we are not a body with a soul. We are a soul with a body. Our bodies will die, but our souls will live forever. Our souls were created by God to be in intimate relationship with him. Our souls are created to know God, love him, worship him, and do life with him. That’s why we must guard the affections of our soul and put him first.
Our souls can be seduced. We can be distracted. The pollution of this world can poison the purity of God’s presence, making it harder to find him and be in relationship with him. That’s why so many have to search so hard and why we try to meet our need for God with other things. But money, or things, or friends, or Likes, or followers, or whatever we think will make us happy never does make us happy. Our news feeds can be full, but our hearts and souls empty. Anytime we allow our souls to be consumed with anything other than God, we will never be satisfied.
Adapted from Liking Jesus: Intimacy and Contentment in a Selfie-Centered World by Craig Groeschel. Click here to learn more about this title, previously published as #Struggles.
In Liking Jesus, a timely and life-changing book, New York Times bestselling author and pastor of Life.Church Craig Groeschel helps put Christ first again in today’s maxed out, selfie-centered world.
The more you compare, the less satisfied you are. The more we interact online, the more we crave intimacy. The more filtered our lives become, the harder it is to be real.
It’s time to refresh and rediscover what it means to be “like Jesus” and find true authenticity, a healthy self-image, and compassion for others in an age when we relate to each other so differently than ever before. Groeschel taps into some of the most leading-edge studies on the effects of social media on our emotions and friendships. He offers real-life examples of how we struggle with screens and likes, how these things mask our struggles with who we really are, and how we can reclaim a Christ-centered life.
Packed with helpful topics like the “10 Commandments of Using Social Media to Strengthen Your Faith” and “Creating Safeguards for Your Digital Devices,” you will find Liking Jesus to be just the guide to bring balance and real-world engagement to everyday life.
Craig Groeschel is a New York Times bestselling author and the founding and senior pastor of Life.Church, an innovative and pacesetting church meeting in multiple locations around the United States and globally online. Life.Church created the popular and free YouVersion Bible app. He is the author of several books, including Daily Power, Divine Direction, Fight, The Christian Atheist, and It. Craig, his wife, Amy, and their six children live in Edmond, Oklahoma. Learn more at www.CraigGroeschelBooks.com.