A little while ago, I wrote about waiting and how, sometimes, prayers take a while to be answered. Today, I’m looking at the opposite extreme: those times when we make an immediate response with, seemingly, no pause for reflection.
The first few chapters of Mark’s gospel are action-packed. There is a lot of talk of immediate responses. In chapter 1, after Jesus’s baptism, At once, the Spirit sent him out into the desert. (v12) and then, when Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, At once they left their nets and followed him. (v18). There is a sense of urgency already, and we’re still only on Mark’s first page. The pressure is kept up when, As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John… (v29) and when Levi comes into the story, ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and he got up and followed him. (Ch2 v14) There’s no faffing about, is there?
Later on, in Chapter 4, another instant bit of action from the disciples comes when Jesus says ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind they took him away, just as he was, in the boat. (Ch4 v35) and chapter 5 includes accounts of the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak and Jairus’s daughter, both of whom were healed ‘immediately’. So it’s clear to me that Jesus himself often acted swiftly and decisively and expected his followers to make instant responses at times too.
Online, it’s very easy to respond immediately with a few, simple clicks – the media we use there lend themselves to this and the effort is minimal. We can tend to think of how we respond online as being quite a casual affair, simply because response is easy: a few clicks, or even just a share or retweet.
An immediate response doesn’t have to be casual or thoughtless though. There are different levels of response we can make in Twitter and Facebook, for instance. Let’s imagine an example of a campaign about the persecuted church in some part of the world. We see a link to a well-written news item about the campaign and want to support it. In a simple set of clicks, we can share the news item itself, maybe adding a little comment of our own beside the link. This is fairly casual, requires little effort and may make our friends aware of something which is an important issue. So, not a bad response in itself, but a little more care might make our response more effective. Maybe a bit of online searching reveals a better article about the same issue from a more credible source. Perhaps the story we read has a link at the bottom to the campaign website itself which carries an online petition about the issue. A more active response might be to sign the petition, since adding your voice to those of others (via an organisation which has researched the issue more thoroughly than you are able to) makes you part of a more credible, concerted response. Maybe sending on the link to the petition would be better than linking to the original story as it encourages others to show their support for the campaign more actively. And what of the people at the sharp end of this persecution? Chances are they will not know that you are supporting them and praying for them, but maybe they know about the campaign and by adding weight to that, you are encouraging them.
But maybe, if your Timeline and Twitter feed is full of links to lots of campaigns, lots of news articles and lots of things which require a response, none of your friends bother to click on any of them. If we respond casually to too many things, we’ll fail to communicate any of them. We’ll have made perhaps a superficial response ourselves, with some benefit to the campaign we are supporting, but the social aspect of sharing the message and involving others in things we feel called to act upon is blown out of the water. We should be seeking to use social media to encourage prayerful, effective responses which involve God’s people engaging the world in a way which is a sign and foretaste of the Kingdom. This is mission, in other words.
So should we make instant responses? Are slower, more considered, thoughtful responses always better? I don’t think it’s necessarily an either/or here. We can be both instant responders and thoughtful and – above all – prayerful responders. And, as we’ve seen in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus often made instant, decisive responses.
Imagine the case of reading online of a friend’s child being seriously ill, for instance. The friend has asked for prayer. An instant response assuring the friend of our prayers, and a passing on of the prayer request to appropriate networks is a way of supporting that friend, offering the situation to God’s care and involving the Church in its proper supportive role. Pausing to actually do the praying you have promised is also rather important! Practical help and support can also be mustered swiftly through social media. It’s probably easier to see the balance between the instant and the prayerful being worked out in this situation, but it applies to the previous example too. If a situation or story catches our eye and we feel compelled to act upon it, surrounding our response in prayer needn’t prevent us acting immediately, acting thoughtfully and acting effectively.
Thinking especially of how we react in that swift, decisive, immediate way using new media, then:
- is our response too casual?
- is it an effective response?
- are we surrounding our responses with prayer?
- if our response is immediate, is it also thoughtful, appropriate and prayerful?