Christian Pressure: Perhaps the Worst Kind

There’s something incredibly unique about growing up in a Christian environment, whether that be a home where your parents are believers, a church that preaches the Bible, a Christian school. There’s usually a steady dose of God and the Bible, a certain vocabulary that usually includes words like “saved” and “repent” and a certain pressure that can be either intentional or unintentional.

Pressure: the exertion of force upon a surface by an object, fluid, etc., in contact with it. Whoops, wrong kind of pressure. To force (someone) to a particular end; influence. Either way, you get a glimpse of what happens when there’s pressure on someone. It’s an exertion of force. Force is a negative word, unless you’re talking Star Wars of course. You might associate the word “force” with someone making someone else to do something against their will. 

I’ve observed in the Christian world, particularly the evangelical subculture, there’s often a pressure to be a certain way, to use a certain vocabulary. And it’s not necessarily an intentional pressure.

Let’s talk about a couple places where that pressure can be prevalent. By the way, this is from my perspective. I’ve learned recently that I feel lots of pressure in a few of these areas, pressure that’s not necessarily good.

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Social Media

The above video is quite poignant in its humor. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen those kind of posts on Instagram. Several times on my own, I’ve taken a picture of my quiet time layout and said something to the effect of: “I love getting in the Word outside/at Chick-fil-a/in the morning.” Those posts usually get a lot of likes and comments. And don’t get me started on the Bible verses! As the guy in the video says, “Because after all, what’s the point of having devotions if no one knows about it?”

I’m not saying that everybody who posts these kind of Instagrams/tweets/etc. has this approach. But for some, or maybe it’s just me, there’s a pressure to “like” it if 75 of my other friends have or I feel like I need to post something like that as well so 75 of my friends can “like” it too. I mean, if I don’t “like” it, am I denying that it’s truth? There’s almost a contest to be the “most holy” on Facebook. When I was younger and dating, it was making sure that people knew how awesome and godly my girlfriend was. When I got to college, I wanted to make sure I shared the most deep and thought-provoking theological truth so that people would know I was deep and thought-provoking in my theology.

Again, I don’t want to say that everyone who posts stuff like that is just trying to be super holy and get everyone to think of them that way. But there can sometimes be this unspoken pressure to be a certain way on social media so people know that you’re a Christian. Is that really the kind of pressure that we need?

The Most Popular Evangelical Conference/Book/Speaker/Musician/Retreat/Missions Trip/Internship

So what if I’m not a huge John Piper guy? What if I don’t want to watch the free livestream of the CROSS conference? What if I don’t particularly care if Hillsong releases a new CD? Does that make me not a Christian?

I’ve written about hero worship and how I think it’s a little too prevalent in the evangelical subculture, but I think it extends to more than just people. I’m talking about the posts like this on Facebook:

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I probably won’t watch any of the livestream. It’s an awesome conference with an awesome message and an awesome goal, but I’m not going to go out of my way to watch it because I genuinely have no desire to. But I bet I’ll see a bunch of my friends tweeting about it and talking about it. And that’s OK! I don’t have a problem with that whatsoever. Do it! But might there be an unwarranted push from a lot of the evangelical world to push things like this into the conversation in an unnecessary way?

What good does watching a livestream under pressure do? What good does reading Jonathan Edwards do if I don’t have an open heart for it? What good does any kind of pressure in this area do? Does it change hearts? Don’t think so.

How You Pray/Study the Bible/”Do Life” with Other Believers

There’s some good to being smart with spending your time. We’re instructed in Scripture to be consuming God’s Word, praying and encouraging other Christians. But how much time you are spent doing those things is a pressure I’ve experienced.

For instance, how much time should we spend in Bible study? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 30 minutes? An hour? I’ve heard different opinions. How should we study the Bible? Just read it? Use five commentaries? Original languages? I’ve heard different opinions. How long should we pray at a time? 10 minutes? 35 minutes? Three hours, like Martin Luther?

studying-the-BibleTo be honest with you, I wonder: does it really matter? As long as we’re growing in Christ and actively pursuing obedience, I don’t think it does. The last few months, I haven’t used a commentary in my Bible reading. I haven’t cracked open Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I’ve just read Scripture and taken a couple notes in the margins of my Bible. And I’ve learned and retained a lot.

We should not be pressuring people to do the Christian life a certain way because people are different and, for the most part, the Bible doesn’t spell out how we should do it. We should just do it! Arguing over the specifics is, in the long run, not as helpful as we make it out to be.

Politics

I saw a post on my Twitter feed today about an article asking if President Obama was a Christian and examining evidence for and against the contrary. Does it matter?

Some Christians are all about the politics game nowadays, and if you don’t agree with what they say, well, are you really a Christian? If you’re not passionate about stopping same-sex marriage from becoming legal, do you trust the Bible? If you’re not all about warning the world of the dangers of diminishing religious liberty, are you really aware of current events the way you should be? If you’re not about protecting the Constitution, do you really love America?1000509261001_2008586720001_BIO-Barack-Obama-SF-FIX-Retry

I feel like this is more of the older generation than mine that causes this pressure, often exerted on my generation. I’ve experienced this firsthand on a couple occasions, and if I had said what I really thought, I think I might have gotten a couple sideways looks.

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Here’s my answer to the pressure: There is nothing that makes you a Christian except the fact that Jesus was perfectly obedient on your behalf and you believe in and trust Him with your life. That’s it! You could be a Democrat who thinks gay marriage is OK or never read your Bible and still be a Christian! This is true! Because being a Christian is one of those things that you are not what you do, because we will never perfectly do what we are called to do.

There’s only one requirement to not be condemned: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So the pressure that is often felt, whether intentional or unintentional, is not warranted.

It’s something that I’ve wrestled with a lot in the last year as I graduated from college and moved back home. Outside of the pressures of being in school, I’ve had opportunities to evaluate why I do what I do. And I’ve learned that I’ve lived under far too much pressure. You can’t really grow under that kind of pressure. There’s freedom in Christ. Live it.

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Trying to Come Up with the Perfect Instagram

I was sitting in church this morning, Easter morning, trying to think, “OK, how can I get the perfect combination of pictures to stitch together for my Instagram?”

I was in the back in the sound booth, so I had a good vantage point of the choir up in the front. I snapped a quick picture of them while they were singing about Jesus’ resurrection. Seeing as how I was in the sound booth, I thought, “Why don’t I get a good picture so that my followers can experience everything I’m doing?” Snapped one of the sound board.hc-social-media-icons-istock-23515213

As soon as I did, a thought hit me. How silly are you, Zach? Why does it matter what you post on Instagram?

Holiday Fever

With holidays like this, I know I get tempted to try to post the best social media thing possible. Here are my attempts:

  • Good Friday: “Praise the Lord for this day so many years ago, when my Savior took the punishment I deserve for the sins I committed today, yesterday and every day until I die.”
  • My birthday: Instagram stitch, “Incredible 21st birthday with some great friends and family, great food and a great Elon soccer victory in PKs. God is good ALL the time. #PraiseHim#turning21.”
  • Election Day 2012: “Today, I pray America would not trust in a Romney or an Obama, but in Jesus, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace, whose Kingdom will last forever after the old heaven and old earth have passed away.”

Now, before I move forward, let me say that I think it can be good to post things like this on these days. I believe that we can use social media to lift up the truth in Scripture and point people to Jesus. But I want to challenge myself, and you who might read this, with something.

Do you try to make the best holiday-related status possible? Why? Do you try to be “more spiritual” than others on Facebook?

I do. Good gracious, I do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve posted a status that in some way attempts to bring glory to Christ, but I check my Facebook every two minutes for the next 30 minutes to see how many people appreciate my statement with a like or a comment.

I’m not writing this to bash those who might like or comment on my statuses or links or pictures or Instagrams or whatever. I’m just saying that more often than not, there’s a part of me that yearns for that social media affirmation like nothing else.

But is that how it’s supposed to be?

Who Are We Speaking to Please?

A week ago, I posted about speaking the gospel with boldness, pointing particularly to Paul’s testimony in 1 Thessalonians 2. I want to zoom in on one particular part of verse 4:

…so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

Paul was speaking specifically about preaching the gospel in the face of opposition, and moving forward in spite of the opposition because we’re ultimately accountable to God. I think the same thing can be applied when speaking about social media.

Writing about this for The Gospel Coalition, Dustin Neely says: “Social media offer us a glimpse into our worldly significance with such tantalizing immediacy as our blog and tweet stats. Many of us check our stats because we are more concerned with the applause of man than the affirmation of Jesus. We forsake justification in the gospel for seeking to be right in our followers’ eyes. In these moments, we are guilty of doing the exact opposite of what we set out to do in the first place—glorify God and serve others.”

I like the way Neely puts it. The temptation with social media comes when we are too concerned with people liking what we post and finding our affirmation and joy in that rather than in the fact that Jesus laid everything out on the line for us.

I’m there. All the time. I tweet, Facebook, Instagram to seek the applause of man. Ultimately, it’s a short-coming on my part, not relying on the satisfaction of Christ’s sacrifice and love for me to find my purpose and significance.

We Have All We Need

I love what Peter says about God in 2 Peter 1:3 –

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…

Peter’s saying that, through knowing God, who’s called us to know His glory and His excellence, we’ve got all we need for “life and godliness.” There’s so much in that, so much that you could probably write a whole book, but I want to focus on one thing. To live, we need affirmation and significance. We were created for that. We were created to find it in God.

crossjesusAnd He’s given it to us, by allowing us to know Him and love Him, by showing us His love for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That’s all we need to be satisfied. We need to be thinking on the truth that God has given us all the joy and satisfaction we need in the fact that we have a relationship with Him.

Much harder done than said, of course. But I would encourage those of us who struggle with seeking affirmation through our social media posts, or through anything that’s not God, to remember what God did to give us the opportunity to have a relationship with us.

He died.

Don’t waste that, especially for the sake of a few likes or a retweet. Those things are temporary. God is eternal.

As Neely aptly ends his blog post: “We are more excited about what strangers say about us that what the God of the universe has already spoken over us through the cross. We are stitching together a flawed coat of fig leaves out of followers, “friends,” and retweets to try to hide insecurities that can only truly be addressed in the gospel. But, by God’s matchless grace, if when we are tempted to go to the the fleeting approval of man, we instead go to the eternal approval of God that is ours in Christ—the approval unaffected by the abundance or absence of re-tweets—we, our followers, and the kingdom are better for it.