Social media is like dynamite.

Both are morally neutral tools – neither good nor bad. And both are incredibly powerful, for good and bad. If you need to bust up a rock, dynamite is helpful. But if you use it carelessly, it will harm you. As will social media.

Social media can keep friends and family feeling connected even when they’re far away. That’s awesome. But social media can also hurt you. Several studies correlate social media use with mental health problems. Facebook use has been directly linked to depression. One study reported in the Harvard Business Review says that “exposure to the carefully curated images from others’ lives leads to negative self-comparison, and the sheer quantity of social media interaction may detract from more meaningful real-life experiences.” An excess of social media, therefore, is bad for your mental well-being.

Those two problems alone should compel us to rethink social media. But the list of harms go on: it enables stalking, virtually every major app is used to distribute pornography, and cyber bullying on contributes to teen suicide. It helps propagate fake news and thus inappropriately influences elections and contributes to the demise of intelligent and civil political debate in America.

It’s dynamite, and it’s powerful.

I’m not condemning social media. It’s a fact of life in our culture. We must, however, figure out how God’s word applies to it – how to follow Jesus on social media.

We aren’t always intentional about evaluating new advances in society. We just take technology as it comes. As a result, we get the bad with the good. But I want to be deliberate and apply biblical principles to social media, so we can use it wisely.

Here are 7 practical action steps that will help us follow Jesus and avoid social media pitfalls:

 1. Be wise with your time

In a 2017 Ted Talk, it was revealed that the way we allocate our time between sleep, work, survival (eating, dressing, paying bills, etc.) and personal free time has changed very little in the past 10 years. How we use our personal time, however, has changed a lot. The amount of time we spend in front of a screen hoards our personal time, which means we’re spending less time on other important things – especially face-to-face interaction.

This is leading to more depression, social anxiety, isolation and loneliness. For some, the fear of missing out, also known as ‘FOMO’, causes anxiety, and being offline seems unthinkable. Others struggle with compulsive and addictive social media behavior.

Studies performed by the Bank of America show that 39% of people sleep with phones on their nightstands, 16% sleep with a phone in bed or in their hand, 55% of millennials text during meals and 49% text during conversations.

Our devices are getting in the way of real life.

Ephesians 5:15 (ESV) tells us to: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Time is a nonrenewable resource – once it’s past, you can never use it again. So look carefully at how you spend your time and dedicate yourself to spending the minutes and hours God has given you wisely.

Some practical suggestions to limit your time on social media:

  • Don’t allow phones in certain rooms, like your bedroom. Charge them silently in another room.

  • Ban devices from meal times. One person said that when he eats out with friends they all stack their phones in the middle of the table and if someone grabs it before the meal is over, he or she pays the check.

  • Practice a weekly sabbath – rest from social media one day a week.

  • Put time limits on social media use.

2. Prioritize time with God over social media

Your seriousness about your relationship with God should be reflected in how you allocate time. If you say that God is important to you – act like it. Spend quality time with God in prayer and read His word. Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God.”

Make quiet time with Him the first thing you do every morning. And if it makes you anxious to have quiet God time before checking social media, you might have a problem you need to address.

1 Corinthians 10:23 says that “all things are permissible for you as a Christian, but not everything is good for you.”

3. Carefully guard your purity

It’s estimated that 10-25% of internet traffic is porn.

Romans 16:19 states: I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.

Your innocence is something to be valued and protected. You’re the only one who can do that for yourself. One way to accomplish this is to create personal boundaries and firewalls to keep you from what is not good for you.

Psalm 101:3 (NIV) says: I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it.

Some practical ways to protect yourself:

  • Unfriend Facebook friends freely and quickly. You have permission to unfriend or block anyone who posts anything that’s not good for you. Unfriending is not unkind – it’s a smart and healthy way to guard yourself.

  • Be accountable to someone for your purity. Try to meet regularly with trusted friends and be open and honest with each other. It’s a myth that women don’t need accountability in this area. (Statistically, about a quarter to a third of American women look at porn.)

  • If porn is a problem for you, get a filter or internet browser that will prevent its access.

Guard what you view.

4. Post to love, not criticize

One of the worst parts about social media is how it is used to criticize, bully, and tear people down. Critical comments about what people do, or believe, or look like accomplish little, but stir up fights. One flippant comment can bring someone to tears.

Two internet features facilitate a culture of unkindness online: anonymity (where no one knows it’s you) and the perception that the other person is far away. These two factors lead people to write things they would never say in person.

If I could pick one guideline for social media use, it would be – love one another. Love should be your filter. That is how you should be known online.

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) states: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up….

Some practical suggestions include:

  • Practice the “five minute rule.” Wait five minutes before sending any post. Haste leads to unnecessary harm.

  • During that five minutes, think of the consequences of your post. Does it build someone up? Is it loving, wise and good? If it’s a photo, would you want your kids, grandkids, future spouse and potential employers to see it – since they likely will?

  • Finally, ask yourself: why do I want to post this? God sees and cares about your motives. Be honest with yourself – are you trying to be right, feed your ego, or stir up an argument? If your motives are wrong, it’s sin. Don’t send it. After five minutes, if you still want to send it – go for it.

The point is – use social media to bless others. If you have constructive criticism for another person, do it in-person or by phone in a loving way. Don’t text, post, or email critical or negative things.

5. Practice contentment, not comparison

Social media is home to self-promotion, bragging and false identities. After all, real conversations with friends don’t usually involve busting out trophies and marathon finishing times complete with pictures and graphs. Yet on social media, people do this endlessly. And in reality, they’re generally projecting a carefully crafted story that doesn’t match their day-to-day life.

When you scroll through Facebook or Instagram, you see the highlights of other people’s lives: the Smith kids are memorizing an entire chapter of the Bible, Bill is bringing his wife breakfast in bed for no apparent reason and here are all your friends at the beach (“wait – was I invited?”). Meanwhile, you’re sweating in summer school or changing diapers. And suddenly you feel small, boring, weak, poor, left out, ugly, fat, or whatever. You’re robbed of your contentment.

Envy drives Facebook depression.

1 Tim. 6:6b (NIV) states that: Godliness with contentment is great gain.

Contentment is one of the secrets to happiness. When you’re viewing social media, practice being thankful for what you have and rejoicing in other people’s blessings. Trust God with your life and post humbly and honestly about it. “Everyone does it” is not a good reason to exalt yourself. Remember – God humbles the proud.

And again – unfriend people who cause you to stumble. Comparing yourself and your life to others is guaranteed to bring you down. It’s not good for you, so don’t do it.

6. Get affirmation from God, not from likes

Our brains are hardwired to enjoy social affirmation. In real life, it feels good when someone hugs or compliments you. The same is true on social media. Social affirmation via likes, followers, and comments provide a reward. The resulting tiny and pleasant dopamine squirt in your brain can drive people to social media addiction.

Consider this: a regular, nice girl discovers that some of her photos get noticed more than others. A gardening photo might get 10 likes, a bikini photo results in 300 likes, a tiny bikini photo garners 500 likes and 100 new followers, and that same bikini photo with a margarita in hand gets even more.

The aforementioned Bank of America study found that 55% of American women check their phones before they get out of bed. A female psychologist honestly relayed that she checks her phone before getting out of bed because she just wants to know that she’s ENOUGH – that someone sees and likes her and thinks she’s pretty or funny.

But here’s the problem. That affirmation is empty. Because it doesn’t meet the underlying need. You always want more.

The Bible talks a lot about craving the approval of man. Jesus rebuked Jewish religious leaders for praying loud prayers in public just to be noticed and for boasting about fasting so people would think they’re holy. He called them hypocrites. Jeremiah says it’s like forsaking the living water of the Holy Spirit for a broken cistern that cannot hold liquid. The water just drains out.

The solution is to find your delight and satisfaction in God alone. Give God your affection, praise, and worship. It’s not about self denial – it’s about making God the recipient of your adoration. The need for likes and followers will naturally and easily fade as your focus on God pulls you forward.

7. Children need parental training, boundaries, and supervision

Many years ago, I was working in my yard when I needed my car pulled out of the driveway and parked on the street. My then 14-year-old son asked if he could do it. I said OK. He skillfully started the car, put it in reverse, backed out of the driveway, and rammed it  right into the neighbor’s car.

Who’s fault was that? Mine! When you hand your child a smart phone or give them internet access, you’re giving your child the car keys. Is he or she ready for the responsibility? Keep in mind that the average age of first online porn exposure is around age eight. Internet access is akin to sending your child out like a sheep among wolves, ready to be devoured, unless you protect him or her.

You can protect your children by:

  • Teaching them the above tenets before they have internet access.

  • Instruct them to immediately turn their computer off and inform you when they come across porn, and install filters or a program to keep it out.

  • Teach them to only converse with people they know personally.

  • Let them know the cell phone belongs to you, not them, and if it’s used irresponsibly they will temporarily lose the use of it.

  • In the beginning, ban dangerous apps.

  • Don’t allow phones in bedrooms.

  • Print and sign a “family media contract” that works for your family.

Remember that as long as your child is living off your dime under your roof, you make the rules. You have the right to look at his or her phone at any time for any reason. Don’t allow secret accounts or passwords, or hidden apps. I know parents who occasionally review their kids’ social media posts and conversations. You’re the parent, so act like it.

Social media is like dynamite – powerful, useful and dangerous. It’s important that we allow scripture to guide our social media use and yield this area of our lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Submit your use of social media to God. Make Him the director, the guide, the boss. And not just one time, but over and over again. Every post, photograph, like, and link.

Declare, “Jesus you are my Lord. This phone is dedicated to pleasing you. This app is for your glory only, not mine. This post is to love you and love others.”

That may sound odd or extreme, but that’s the reality of what it takes to follow Jesus online. He wants to be your Lord. He doesn’t want your heart and your affection stolen by media. He wants all of you, including your social media world.

Will you give it to Him?