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.