Clearing and Cleansing the Springs and praying for those who bring us news and information
May wisdom and knowledge be the stability of our times. (Is. 33:6)
Who and what informs our culture, beliefs and values?
It is so important to ensure that we are doing our best to think and live deeply from within the word of God. It is our sure foundation, and our guide book to all we need for ‘life and godliness’ as we seek Him who has called us by His own glory and goodness. (2 Pet. 1:3)
For most of us, understanding our times will also involve being aware of and digesting a certain amount of news. Where do we look for this information, and how does it affect us? And how can we pray for the people who brings us that news?
As spiritual and political commentators it must also be our desire to not just to absorb knowledge and information but also to have the wisdom, care and compassion to share it in such a way that it equips and enables people to apply what they come to know. In other words, ‘To develop a fuller understanding of our times and to live in what Jesus called the Spirit of Truth – meaning not just some general zeitgeist but the Person of our Heavenly Comforter and Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
It blessed me the other day to hear a major American news anchor quoting a passage from Isaiah, that ‘wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of our times.’ (Is. 33:6 KJ21) How we need to hear such things in these days of shaking! Isaiah goes on to say that it is ‘the fear of the Lord that is the key to this great treasure.’ I find it significant that the prophet received this revelation as he was praying. (Is. 33:2) So many are desperately craving stability in these ever more unsettling times; all the more important, therefore, to pray for trustworthy outlets and organs for truth to prosper in these days when trust in public institutions is at an all-time low ebb, and political policies of all colours tend to be lacking in depth and thought-out wisdom.
Adding to this rather toxic mix, there seems to be a tendency toward choosing to hear only what we want to hear, like the cobra that is said to stop its ears. While It is good to stop our ears against suggestions for adopting foul play, it is not good to be so partisan that we are unwilling to examine things from more than one perspective. Blessed are those who are willing to face uncomfortable truths. (Is. 33:15, Ps. 58:4)
Echo chambers and social media
In recent years, sociologists have begun to talk about ‘echo chambers’ – that is, an environment where a person only encounters information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their own.’ With the rise of social media, this has become and increasingly disturbing phenomenon.
It was interesting to hear David Dimbleby being interviewed the other night on BBC’s Hard Talk programme. He and Stephen Sackur discussed the way in which social media has become the primary source of information for many, so that traditional journalists now find themselves just one of many commentators, reporting against a background shaped by the idea that, ‘my truth is as good as your truth.’
Professional journalists are expected to follow certain codes of objectivity and fair reporting; at its best, bringing the news to people is an act of service and inclusion. But those who publish their opinions and perspectives on social media come under no such overt requirement, and often have no compunction in sounding forth accordingly. Anyone can tell things as they see them and fire off their opinions; it falls to the audience then to determine who they trust, and to discern any inbuilt bias that comes as result of their pain, sorrow, anger or prejudice.
Few, perhaps, would subscribe completely to the idea that all contributions are of equal merit and integrity, but we have slipped a long way down the slope toward such a day, especially when we consider that social media outlets are under no obligation to provide any other viewpoint.
Everyone would agree that we live in a season when attitudes have become polarised in really dangerous and divisive ways – particularly in America and Brazil – and none of us can assume that we remain entirely untainted by the ‘post-truth’ tendencies that feature ever more prominently in our societies. And in these days when countries such as China and Russia are making the most strenuous efforts to control and suppress their own media, and to project their beliefs beyond their borders to the rest of the world, how we need the discernment and the mental and spiritual alertness to distinguish fact from fiction. For ‘truth has indeed fallen in the streets.’ (Isaiah 59:14)
Pray for social media
When the issue of post-truthism first came to prominence, I wrote urging us to pray for the media in a post-truth era. May I encourage you to revisit that post for, although some of the names of national rulers have changed, the far-reaching trends that I highlighted remain entirely valid – and what a scale they are operating on! Relevant too are the those markers that indicate a false report, as I highlighted in another post: ‘Lovers of Truth and the Rise of Clickbaits’.
Social media has a wonderful and unparalleled ability to connect and draw people together, in a way that boosts morale, and brings some measure of fellowship. Praise God for many who are the making creative use of it – like our friend Carol Sampson, whose simple worship offerings during lockdown inspired so many. But there is a but. Rather as the rain falls on the godly and ungodly alike, the same platforms are used for the bad, just as for the good and godly.
At the time of writing, these problems look set to increase now that Twitter, the world’s most powerful social media platform, has been taken over by one of the richest people in the world, who makes no secret of his political leanings. To say the least it currently seems unlikely to be a podium for impartial discussion!
You might perhaps like to take a look at the following articles, and ask the Lord to lead you as to how He would have you pray into these things.
Concerning the negative effects of social media
Concerning the influence of China on social media
This concerning article, that considers the way in which most people value ease of access over the origin of certain apps, or the use to which they might be put. It was written in 2020, and two years on, we can see how hard the Chinese have worked to deepen and accelerate this trend. (And remember that the Chinese people have no access to the worldwide web, and that the nation employs millions of people to monitor what people do log on to and send).
Finally, this video from 2021, filmed before the recent problems experienced at Apple’s headquarters, raises deep concerns about the conditions under which labourers toil in Apple’s iPhone factory in China.
We need what good journalism brings us!
So many situations – good and bad – will never be known or exposed without dogged and inspired investigative journalism. But budget cuts and programme priorities challenge the continued work of these independent journalistic investigations. It is clearly important to pray not only for the direction that social media is heading in, but also to invite the Lord to raise up those voices which will declare things that are beautifully true, and to warn against those which are palpably false.
For there is a time to take a stand for truth based on God’s heart and revealed truth, and to confront ugly phenomena, just as Lyndall Bywater urged in her call to American Christians. It was a piece written in January 2021 in the aftermath of the contested American election, but the thrust of it remains entirely valid at this time when more and more believers appear to be indiscriminately confusing politics, patriotism and ultra-nationalism, with the authentic fullness of the Kingdom of God.
As one friend put it, responding to Lyndall’s article, ‘I like to think of the Holy Spirit as our immune system – and as our inoculation against this type of virus.’ All the more important therefore that we watch what we read and digest, lest such sickness enters in.
In these matters, we are called to represent the Kingdom of God rather than to become political lobbyists, but when we recognise the scent of truth in publications, and come across concerns that are just, then we are indeed likely to be seeing truly, and standing on and for God’s truth.
Pray, therefore, for informed and balanced reporting from the big American networks and news agencies, including CNN, ABC, NBC, Fox News. Pray people will think to check out the stories that extreme right-wing outlets such as Newsmax put out – especially because they feast on conspiracy theories, and thereby play their part in undermining both the cause of democracy, and people’s trust in it.
For the record, Newsmax finally did come clean in due time by apologising and withdrawing its claim that there had been voter fraud in the election, but by then, the damage had been done in so many hearts and minds.)
Democracy is by no means a perfect political system, but we do have certain freedoms to love and serve Him that other nations do not. It is a great sadness to me to have seen so many – if not all – independent sources of journalism closed down one after the other in places like Russia, Turkey and China, and journalists muzzled and imprisoned. Guarding democracy is part of our calling to be watchmen for the Lord in our times.
Even in the ‘free’ nations, many media outlets require people to toe the niche party line – rather as certain churches ‘dangle’ their pastor’s salary and position over them as a sword of Damocles to ensure they do not deviate from the approved doctrinal line. It can only make good sense, therefore, to be aware of the bias and agenda of the media outlets we draw our news from.
When a new editor was appointed at the Daily Mail some years ago, for example, the direction of the editorials changed overnight with regard to Brexit! Decades ago, by no means entirely humorously, I used to encourage people reading The Express, The Mail or The Telegraph to be prepared to make mental allowances from what they were reading because they are right-leaning journals, and to do the same the other way when reading papers such as The Guardian.
How can we grow in wisdom?
Believers need to ensure that they are grounded and building on the truth that is found in the Word of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes a telling point:
We have no proper understanding of the need for scriptural proof. We hear arguments ‘from life’ and ‘from experience’ put forward as the basis for the most crucial decisions, but the argument of Scripture is missing. (Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, SCM p39)
We need to be alert to the way in which so many of our contemporaries have rejected Scripture. Let’s notice and weigh the influences at work in our homes and workplaces, our society, our politics and, yes, our churches too. Discuss matters with trusted friends; dig into the Word and study what the biblical authors have to say about particular subjects, rather as our friend Tom has done in his important blog post on Injustice. [LINK to Tom’s article]# After that we are in a much better position to prayerfully draw our conclusions, and consider how they inform our beliefs and actions.
The willingness to receive from others, to listen and discuss, rather than assuming that we have it right, will help us to grow in wisdom. Debate and questioning have long been celebrated in Jewish culture, and I was blessed to discover this article on ‘how Jews make decisions.’ In a long and fascinating article that is well-worth the read, the author writes that,
We need to train ourselves to have open, flexible minds that truly listen to and learn from opinions other than our own. [Especially the Scriptures themselves!]
Open dialogue is among our best tools for truthful, good decision making. It allows us to challenge our own assumptions and to learn from the perspective of countless generations . . . who came before us.
It is a conversation to which we bring our own experiences and understanding, and through which we open ourselves to being changed by the understanding and experiences of others. It helps us to reveal truth and perceive the divine.
It brings us and our decisions into the context of an ongoing community.
It is good to be critical, but not to be dismissive unless we are dealing with something that is truly wrong.
We need to be open to the possibility of reconsidering and sometimes changing our understandings or practices . . . it lessens the prejudices that arise from our being shaped by the time and place in which we live . . . – else we are partly prejudging the outcome. We patiently wait until the conversation or study is over and then assert our own values. We want to reach well-considered decisions, ones that reflect the nuances of the issue.
May we learn how to evaluate what we hear and see according to the Truth revealed in God’s, word so that our understanding becomes as full informed as possible.
And then, when you have done that, determine that you will accept others, without passing judgement on their opinions, just as Christ accepted you, so that you may bring glory to God and so that non-believers may glorify God for His mercy, each one of us pleasing our neighbour for his good, to build him up. Who are we to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom. 14:1, 4; 15:1-2, 7, 9)
Praying for Truth in our land
Lord, although we remain privileged in the UK, we are certainly not immune from these trends and strains, and we need to remain sharply alert. Thank You that we have access to factually accurate and often inspiring perspectives from our journalists and media organs. In the swirling waters of these post-truth, anything-goes days, we pray for truth to be prized and upheld. Fill our land with justice and righteousness and a right and proper fear of the Lord, and an abhorrence of bearing false witness. For You are the foundation for our times; You are indeed a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge – and all other ground is sinking sand. (Is. 33:5-6)