I quit Facebook for a month, and what I discovered as a result can be illustrated in a quote from Douglas Wilson (in reference to a scandal of over a decade ago, link since removed): “If you don’t know anything about the situation, then that is just great and your world remains a better place.”
During the period of my de-Facement, my world was free of vitriol, boasting, virtue signalling, taunting, shaming, self-promotion disguised as news, politicization of sorrow and commercialization of the sacred. And it was a better place.
I had stirred up a very unhealthy abundance of cynicism about the situations of the world; I was reading evil intentions into the most innocent postings -- even a congratulations expressed for an accomplishment became an avenue for comparison! And, of course, the election merely intensified the already hyperbolic rhetoric.
But, as I became less aware of situations, and less able to speculate or presume, the poison slowly ebbed away. The Lord’s antidote was his making space to hear him and him alone. And now that I think about it, maybe a better name for the service would have been Selfbook, because the deactivation de-Selfed me.
James says whoever is friends with the world makes himself an enemy of God (4:4), but this world, the part we live in and interact with, involves people with souls, events that evoke joy or sorrow or awe, and conversations and worship and service -- what Jonathan Edwards refers to as the affections -- this part of the world that weaves itself into our hearts for better or for worse. I learned that unless I consciously assign those affections their proper place -- beneath devotion to God, his person and all his ways -- it will be for the worse. I am too easily entangled in their allure.
That’s a funny word to use about the draw to interaction with fellow believers, the desire to worship, or to serve the church, but even the good of gifts and services can rise to such a level within our hearts that they begin to tease away our love for God. Suddenly worship becomes a work, or a conversation with a sister in Christ becomes less about my hope to hear her well and walk alongside her in a challenge and more about my esteemed role as her Titus 2 woman and my perception about others’ inability to serve her as well as I do.
So how do we distinguish between doing business as needed in this journey through the marketplace of the world, but not buying the counterfeit wares it displays so enticingly? Deactivating my account provided a good break from a front row seat to what others’ were saying and doing and writing and uploading; it was a necessary step toward realigning my affections. I knew less about “situations” that threatened to stir me up, but for my world to become a better place for it, there needed to be more than just a negative action. There needed to be a positive action. Supernatural tempering is the only remedy for affections that are out of alignment.
Not unlike today’s crop of bloggers, the Puritans had a way of making lists in their writing (usually, however, each point lasted several paragraphs or even chapters of a treatise). Edwards was no different, and throughout the pamphlet he wrote on Religious Affections, he compiled a list of signs that the work the Spirit performs in the heart of a believer is a true and supernatural work -- involving both soul examinations and practical displays. Here is a synopsis.
A gracious and holy turning of the affections from the world to the Lord will
have a divine source
be caused by the nature of God alone, not self-interest
focus on the beauty of God’s righteousness
be based on an intellectual understanding of what is godly
have a reasonable basis for a belief in the reality of the divine
is not proud, but humble
change our inner being
express the gentle temperament of Jesus Christ
create a tenderness of spirit
is balanced in expression
move us to be godly
cause us to be Christ-like.
The grace that awakens us to the light of Christ also stirs in us affection toward him, but such affection requires guarding and tending with the winnowing work of the Word and the Spirit. Clearing the debris, carting away the distractions, rooting out the diseased undergrowth, hewing down the idols. Blaming the world is an easy out. I was the problem.
The temptation is to think the world is ours to manipulate and sculpt into a shape that still pleases our affections while we posture and preen as Christians who disdain it, covertly tasting and savoring of the culture of autonomy and rebellion, engaging in its commerce of lies, pride and self-possession. I won’t even pretend that it’s because I think I am able to be a better witness. I know it is because I perceive my virtue and cleverness is so remarkable that I am able to travel the streets of Vanity Fair without taking heed that the warnings of Scripture apply to the weakling that I really am. I love myself more than I love God. There, I said it. It is my face that I admire, and not his before whom I bow. My affections, wrongly placed, were on me. It wasn't the situations that were the problem. It was me. Thankfully, I know from experience -- yes, this is a regular journey of mine -- that love to self leads to a broken heart, and a broken heart leads to humility.
I, too, was once an enemy with God, alien to his love, a wayfarer in the world, satisfied to dwell in Vanity Fair, but he interceded. He reconciled me to him by the death of Christ, and I am saved by his life. “While were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly." We have peace, Paul says, through our Lord, and “access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God … because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-11)
Edwards describes this glorious -- eye-opening -- work of the Spirit:
"But that is the nature of true grace and spiritual light, that it opens to a person's view the infinite reason there is that he should be holy in a high degree. And the more grace he has, and the more this is opened to view, the greater sense he has of the infinite excellency and glory of the divine Being, and of the infinite dignity of the person of Christ, and the boundless length and breadth and depth and height of the love of Christ to sinners. And as grace increases, the field opens more and more to a distant view, until the soul is swallowed up with the vastness of the object, and the person is astonished to think how much it becomes him to love this God and this glorious Redeemer that has so loved man, and how little he does love. And so the more he apprehends, the more the smallness of his grace and love appears strange and wonderful: and therefore he is more ready to think that others are beyond him.”
Social media platforms provide just such an opportune venue to engage with those who are enemies of God who may be yet called to him, and with those who used to be enemies of God but with whom we now rejoice in the hope of glory. With every post, we can acknowledge the wonder of God’s creation, marvel and tremble at his governance of this world, praise his attributes and give him glory as we reflect his mercy, kindness, and gentleness. We can spotlight the infinite excellency and dignity of the person of Christ and his love to sinners. If we don’t do it, who will? On a personal level, I might become “more ready to think that others are beyond me”, lift their lives and hearts and work to God in prayer, love the brethren, weep with those who weep, live in harmony with others, instead of projecting on to them my own pride and sinful motivations.
I think we underestimate what power there is in a people who live in the Spirit. Edwards describes the outward effects on the world when Kingdom citizens live Christlike:
“In the soul where Christ savingly is, there He lives. He not only lives without it, so as violently to actuate it, but He lives in it, so that the soul also is alive. Grace in the soul is as much from Christ, as the light in a glass, held out in the sunbeams, is from the sun. But this represents the manner of the communication of grace to the soul only in part; because the glass remains as it was, the nature of it not being at all changed; it is as much without any lightsomeness in its nature as ever. But the soul of a saint receives light from the Sun of Righteousness, in such a manner that its nature is changed, and it becomes properly a luminous thing; not only does the sun shine in the saints, but they also become little suns, partaking of the nature of the Fountain of their light. In this respect, the manner of their derivation of light is like that of the lamps in the tabernacle, rather than that of a reflecting glass; which, though they were lit up by fire from heaven, yet thereby became themselves burning shining things.”
So, I reactivated my account. Pouring onto my newsfeed every day are opportunities to weep and mourn, rejoice and encourage -- and the Book calls me to love in the Spirit of Christ. But so are temptations to be contentious and discontent, judgmental and seething -- and my Idol the Self whispers demands for attention. This reactivation must be accompanied by daily pleading that the Lord will keep my heart stayed on him, as well as daily journeying in his Word, so that my world -- my soul -- might prove to be a better place. (Proverbs 4:20-23)
Perhaps it could be said this is what I need to focus on: Less face, more Book.
*****Thanks to Montgomery Paul Webb for his synopsis of Edwards’ Religious Affections, and Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Idols of the Heart for her excellent application of the work for today’s Christian, both of which contributed significantly to my thinking through the lessons learned and applied during my Facebook withdrawal. And, of course, much gratitude to Jonathan Edwards.
Laura Miller aka mrsdkmiller
Looking for a list of articles published around the web?
Looking for posts written in response to 5-Minute Friday prompts? Click here:
Her March Isn't Over
Across the River
When God Pries My Fingers Off My Children
Life's Defining Moments
To the Christian Wife Who Berated Her Husband in Front of My Daughter
Zeal and Grace in France
An Unconventional Love Story
Seeing What's in Front of Our Eyes
Remembering Why I Called You Hannah
Love Your Sister.
Because He Came Home
Go Valiantly! A Prayer for New Homeschooling Moms
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