Likes, stories, hashtags and DM’s: they’re the currency of our culture. For many of us, our eyes, our hearts and our hands are admittedly glued to a device that grants us a front row seat to the lives of our friends, family, celebrities, artists and influencers. And quite frankly, we can’t get enough.
Popular social apps like Facebook and Instagram have allowed us to have more connectivity then we ever have had in history.
And though there are a number of ways that these social mediums have increased our ability to share meaningful stories and shed light on urgent social issues, among other things, they have also created the capacity for us to live in discontentment and a skewed vision of what God created us for.
“Many evenings, when I put my phone down, my heart is not met with a feeling of peace, calling and contentment, but with a subtle whisper of, you need more.“
In an article recently published by Relevant Magazine entitled, A New Kind of Prosperity Gospel, writer Ian Harber argues that through social media outlets like Instagram, fame and comfort have become the new Prosperity Gospel. Harber writes:
“With our iPhones in our hands and demanding our attention, we’re an Instagram post or a YouTube video away from some of the most beautiful places in the world and the best of our country’s culture. With filtered photos and unfiltered access to the images of the ‘good life’ that we could be living, it makes sense that we would want to be a part of it. The Prosperity Gospel is no longer houses, cars, money and health. The New Prosperity Gospel is a hip city and a follower count that ends with a ‘K’.”
More and more, the draw to a life of fame and comfort feels like the perfect escape from our problems. We see carefully curated pictures of lush green landscapes and snapshots of delicious food at top-rated restaurants, and find ourselves yearning for a taste of the ease.
But how much of this draw is from Jesus and how much is sewn into our cultural narrative?
Recognizing our cultural narrative
What is a cultural narrative in the first place?
In itself, a cultural narrative is the kind of story a people—a nation, a generation or a peer group—tell about their past, present, and future.
When I scroll through Instagram, the common narrative of my generation seems to tell me that success is found in a beautifully decorated home in a thriving city, a couple thousand followers, a nomadic lifestyle with a new landscape every day, a few visits per week to the coolest new restaurants, or an early morning at spin class followed by a superfood smoothie.
The narrative seems to say that fame and the “millennial good life” are just a few carefully curated photos away.
Though in healthy doses these types of stories we tell are not inherently wrong, a consistent stream of them bends our desires slowly. Many evenings, when I put my phone down, my heart is not met with a feeling of peace, calling and contentment, but with a subtle whisper of you need more.
Remembering Jesus’ narrative
To recognize the subtle bending of our cultural narrative, it’s helpful to place it on the backdrop of the narrative God calls us into as new creations. Here are a few reminders of what we are called to as Christ-followers:
- To live a life of simplicity, without an abundance of possessions (Luke 12:15)
- To live for God’s approval, not man’s (Galatians 1:10)
- To chase “kingdom things” (Matthew 6:33)
- To live in contentment (Philippians 4:11-13)
- To commit to living simply and seeking what’s just (Micah 6:8)
- To be satisfied in Him alone (John 6:35)
- To not fixate over material things (Hebrews 13:5-6)
- To live sent, intentional, and rooted (Jeremiah 29:11)
If these are the ways in which we’re called to live, we should be quick to protect them, not allowing the narrative of our culture—of new thrills, more comfort, and more attention— to drown out the Christ narrative of rootedness, simplicity and contentment.
Relearning Kingdom-contentment is not easy in the face of such a loud social narrative, but it is, above everything, worth it.
Living out Kingdom contentment in everyday life
Living out a different story is a daily heart-rewiring. The journey will look different for everyone.
For me, it has looked like stepping away from social media altogether, though the pullback to it seems constant. It looks like pushing myself to stay rooted in a place for more than a quick splinter of time, and fighting the urge to find the next best thing. It looks like asking for God’s eyes to see the beauty in everyday, mundane life—from morning coffee to a moment in the evening to sit down and strum my guitar.
I believe too, that as we ask God to realign our vision to find deep kingdom contentment, He will creatively and happily show us. He will put ‘little graces’ in our lives—like a new friend or mentor—who’s life displays radical Kingdom contentment.
One of these little graces for me is Mariza – the young woman I sponsor.
Mariza is a beautiful 15-year-old girl who has become my global pen pal through sponsorship. Every few months I receive a letter in my mailbox from her. It always excites me to see her handwriting—to picture her sitting in her Compassion centre, smiling, responding to pieces of myself that I have shared with her.
When she writes to me she always mentions at least once or twice how grateful she is for life itself and for the love of God in her life.
She shares about how she wakes up early before school to make her family tea. She goes out to the fields and helps grow beans on her family’s farm—a simple food she is proud to both grow and eat.
She adores learning and tells me about the meaningful connections she is making with other girls in her school. She prays for me to find connections like the ones she has found.
She tells me about how she sets time aside each day to pray, and about the latest memory verse she has set out to place upon her heart.
There is a joy that radiates from her handwriting. I can feel it as I read her cursive words.
She sees her life—the big and the small—and sees one thing: God’s hand of blessing. She fills the gaps of her day with meaningful activities. They are simple, but they are abounding in value. She has dreams and goals and focus, all which allow her to glorify God with her life. She does not seek out the “the good life,” but a simple life pleasing to God.
She tells me that she is, “grateful for the gift of life.” I think to myself, what rich contentment and profound wisdom in this beautiful friend of mine.
Going against the ‘New Prosperity’ grain
Sponsorship is one of the little graces that God has given me to remind me of the way he calls me to live. There are many other ways God gives us the grace to walk this out.
Our challenge in the Western world is to recognize the cultural narratives vying for our affections. To take the photos and captions that live at the palm of our hands with a grain of salt. To resist the pull of “our best life now” and recognize that how we choose to spend our days has eternal meaning. To fight against the urge to build personal branding, to instead build the Kingdom.
To daily remind ourselves of who we are called to be—Kingdom people who live sent, rooted and simply for the good of others and for the glory of our good King.