Out of a light-hearted reaction to a question I’m asked quite often, I posted an update on my FB status that indicated the next time someone asks me what I plan on doing after seminary I might just go postal. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing this week. Then I added “pray for me”. Of course its not always obvious in the one dimensional on-line format when when is serious or just being silly. In this case, it was the latter….pray that I don’t go postal on people. It was kind of a joke. Though I appreciated the people that indicated they were praying, it felt a bit hypocritical of me to send that out since I’ve come to the conclusion to not send out prayer requests on Facebook or Twitter.
On a more serious note, let me explain. I have come to the increasing conviction of how we utilize social media for pray requests. And when I say social media, I mean the feed that everybody sees, not private messages. Now, I want to be delicate here because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m downplaying the importance of prayer, that I don’t want people praying for me, or that we should not pray for others. Please don’t go there. In fact, it is the significance of prayer that leads me to believe how blanket prayer requests on FB can actually undermine it.
For all the good that social media has done in connecting people and ideas together, it has also burdened us in a way. If you are an active social media user like me, just thinking about how much of the information you are exposed to now you would have been exposed to a decade ago. Its a pretty big difference. This exposure has an overwhelming effect, which has actually created a greater superficiality. Just because we have a snippet of information does not mean we have substantial information. But more importantly, we have an expanded amount of superficial information through which requests come.
So what does that have to do with prayer requests? We are finite beings with limited capacity. When you consider the Scriptural mandate for prayer, there is only so much and so many people that we can pray for in a meaningful way. Just think about the people on your prayer lists with whom you have some kind of relationship, including church leaders and our local congregations. Add to that the mandate to pray for leaders and the concerns of life affairs. Unless you’ve had you’re head in the sand, there are some serious issues circulating that need our prayers. On top of that, there are personal prayers for yourself and immediate family. Then you have those random situations and people you encounter through the course of life and being witnesses to Christ that compel you to pray on top of those who the Lord brings to your mind.
I fear that throwing out prayer requests in this vast amount of superficial information highway on top of our prayer bucket can weaken our prayers in two ways; 1) It can desensitize us to the actual concerns and fears of the one requesting prayer and 2) It can discourage us from actually praying because the barrage of prayer requests become overwhelming.
I often wonder too if prayer requests are often a spiritualized way of passing off information. It’s what I call the 411 prayers. Of course, I can’t judge anyone motives nor would I want to. But it seems to me that when we are quick to throw out pray around an event, it might be more about the event. I don’t know, but it is soliciting prayer from people who are far removed from the situation that makes me wonder.
Again, my concern is not to minimize prayer but to stress its importance. And it is too important for us to treat it in a superficial manner. We can only intentionally pray to the extent of our knowledge about the people and situations involved. For me, I’ve come to the conclusion that my prayer requests should be reserved to my more personal spheres of people who know me and have a better understanding of what I’m requesting prayer for. But its also because I’m mindful that people can only handle so much.
Listen, I get that when issues press on us, our social media feed becomes a convenient platform to vent and ask for prayer. I’ve done it plenty of times. But the more I encounter the barrage of prayer requests in my feeds, the more it has made me aware of how this might actually circumvent prayer and God forbid, turn a cold ear to those who request it. Now I am aware some live in greater isolation and need the occasional vent. But what I’m referring to is the more prolific “pray for my [situation/family member/sermon/school assignment, etc.]” just because the platform is so easily accessible. That’s not undermining the importance of the need only the avenue through which we solicit prayers for it. Re-thinking FB prayer requests has made me aware of the significance of relationships and need to keep prayer requests in more confined and relational circles. In reality, these are the folks that will ultimately care enough to carry your burden to the Lord.
Love this thoughtful and cogent blog about prayer and social media. I found it when I googled the terms last week while researching technology and social media during a fit of pique over postings from family and friends. This is an important line of inquiry and I hope you continue to explore its significance. Take your time deciding what to do after graduation from div school — I received my MDiv 15 Years ago and my DMin 13 years ago and still have not decided what to do! I teach religion and philosophy at a local community college and love what I do while I try to figure out the next step!
I really enjoyed this. I have been researching it based on a bit of a tiff I have gotten into with an old friend about “hangnail” prayer requests on FB. God hears all prayers of course but we have to be very conscious of how we are showing up as Christians on social media. I don’t have an issue with people posting about their first world problem (I do, all the time.) But asking for prayers for them is a bit crossing the line to me. The volume, like you said, is overwhelming. It’s difficult because it’s not like you want to “save” your prayers for certain things–but it’s really been irking me on FB lately. Thanks for your thoughts!
My issue with Facebook prayer requests is that so many of them are just…well, I’d say “silly” but that would be judgmental, wouldn’t it? I just have a hard time taking requests like “Pray we get an extended honeymoon because we REALLY need a chance to relax!” or “Pray that we can buy the car we want!” seriously when there are innocent civilians being killed in Israel right now, and other unspeakable tragedies. Call me insensitive, but save your prayer requests for your close friends and family, because I have too much on my plate to care.
This sounds horribly bitter, I know. I’ve had a lot of negative experiences with Christians lately (and I am one).
I think that you may have the wrong impression of prayer and what you see on the social media network. This seems very critical of the concept of prayer. It is as simple as this, if you do not choose to use the social media network then just do not do so. It is not as philosophical as you are making it. That is simply just one medium. Making a request before the church, your family, or friends is simply a matter of choice. However, intercessory prayer is super important. Intercession is prayer that pleads with God for your needs and the needs of others. But it is also much more than that. Intercession involves taking hold of God’s will and refusing to let go until His will comes to pass. Intercession is warfare — the key to God’s battle plan for our lives. But the battleground is not of this earth. The Bible says, “We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and spiritual powers in the heavens above” (Ephesians. 6:12). Intercessory prayer takes place in this spiritual world where the battles for our own lives, our families, our friends and our nation are won or lost. So the medium by which we pray is not as important as what we pray and the reasons why we pray. Never spend so much time attempting to examine and determine a person’s motives behind a prayer request based upon a short written message. Especially when you have no idea about whom you have challenged the validity of their prayer requests. Such actions then place us in contempt.
Also prayer does not have to be long at all. The shortest prayer in the Bible occurs in the verse Matthew 14:30. Peter is attempting to walk on the water as the Lord bid him to do so. As he sank, he said, “Lord save me!!!”
It is well to assemble with God’s people for prayer if you can; but if you cannot go up to his house, it matters very little, for prayer can arise and reach God from anywhere all over the world. It is well to have a special spot where you pray at home; probably most of us have a certain chair by which we kneel to pray or a private little spot, and we feel that we can talk to God most freely there. We may pray to God when engaged in any occupation if it is a lawful one; and if it is not, we have no business to be in it. If there is anything we do over which we cannot pray, we ought never to dare to do it again. “Where ever we seek him, he is found and every place is hallowed ground.”
Pastor Darren, Thank you so much for your response. I felt this blog to be a little critical. I recently posted a vague “pray for my family” on my page. I sincerely need an army of prayer warriors to help me fight a continuing spiritual battle. Does requesting prayer mean I have to tell my private battles on a public platform? NO! It just means I am facing a spiritual battle that I can not fight alone. It is my hope that once I find breakthrough this battle will be my testimony but it can not be my testimony while I am living it. If a person needs prayer it isn’t my concern, nor should it be, what they need prayer for. We do not always pray for specifics but just say The Name of Jesus and He hears our silent cry. He knows the desires and woes of our heart before we even ask him Matthew 6:8 I believe….
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them Matthew 18:20
If a person is truly bothered by a fb friends request for prayer then maybe they need to look with in and ask God to forgive them for judging others. We can never know what lies beneath the surface. Even if a person is “using” prayer as a form of seeking attention then pray for that desire in them and also pray that God gives you a clear vision of what they need prayer for.
Thanks for the comments. I think you all have missed the gist of what I’m saying. It’s not about being bothered by prayer request or undermining the importance of prayer. Surely, we can say quick prayers. But prayer is too important to trivialize it, which I fear that blanket FB requests do. That is my concern. We all need people praying for us. What better than those who know and understand what is going on in our lives?
I’m one of the overwhelmed ones! There are so many needs just for those around me that I know and love. I have become caught in a couple of “prayer groups” that have evolved into multiple daily requests for people I don’t even know in places I’ve never been for things that, while important to the people they concern, are small in my world. I know that sounds callous, and I don’t mean it to, but I just want OUT! So how do I graciously remove myself? At this point, to EFFECTIVELY pray for every request, would require no rest, no eating, no working!!! As I said… OVERWHELMED!