I long and pray for revival in the church today. Yet when I look around at the state of the Western church—especially at how Christians act online, which is largely as decadent and worldly as anyone else—I struggle to imagine revival taking place.
There are many reasons for our compromised witness and deteriorating spiritual health. The headwinds of secularism are real. The corrupting effects of comfort and consumerism are significant. But a big reason I’m skeptical that we’ll see revival in my generation is related to our technological environment—and how we’ve passively cowered to its conditioning. In short, we’re too distracted for revival.
Of course, revival is God’s initiative. The church at its best does not guarantee revival, nor does the church at its worst preclude it. God can choose to do a mighty work even in the most wayward generations. Indeed, revival often begins in the low ebbs, when internal combustion or external persecution (or both) bring the church to its knees. But “brought to our knees” implies repentance, which happens when we’re aware of our sin and intentional to seek God’s deliverance. It requires us to be unplugged for long enough to reckon with our spiritual sickness and fervently seek God’s precious remedies. But we’re too distracted for that.
Here are three dynamics of distraction today that might make revival in the Western church unlikely.
1. We’re too distracted by #trending words to savor the timeless Word.
How much time do you and I daily spend scrolling through endless words on our devices—whether Twitter rants, partisan pundit diatribes, podcast ramblings, YouTube lectures, Instagram hashtags, TikTok vaudeville, Wordle puzzles, articles like the one you’re reading now, or any number of other things? Now, how much time do you and I spend soaking in the nourishment of God’s Word?
Auditing our intake of words in this way is devastating, especially when you consider the comparison. Scripture represents the eternal Word that created and upholds the universe (Heb. 11:3; 1:3). Our smartphones mostly represent ephemeral words that will be forgotten in a day (or an hour). Central to the great revivals of history is the Bible preached, studied, and treasured; the “better Word” of Christ exalted above the inferior words buzzing around us.
Do we have ears to hear this Word above all the noise? Do we have the discipline to mute or reduce the volume on the multitudes of speakers clamoring constantly for our attention, even as we turn up the volume on God’s speaking to us in Scripture? If we’re to be shaken loose of the spectacles and numbing consumerism around us, such that true revival is possible, God’s Word must occupy a much larger portion of our information diet.
2. We’re too distracted by algorithms to pray to the living God.
The social media algorithm is a menace to healthy Christian formation. Has Satan ever delighted more in any human technological invention? He doubtless cackles in delight at how easily Christians today voraciously gorge on digital junk food ingeniously concocted by AI in Silicon Valley eager to commandeer our attention. Is there a better strategy to undermine Christian mission, formation, and holiness than to fill up every open second in a Christian’s life with ceaseless content, such that we have no free space left in which we might pray, seek, savor, and commune with God?
Is there a better strategy to undermine Christian mission, formation, and holiness than to fill up every open second in a Christian’s life with ceaseless content?
If revival often coincides with a collective return to fervent, desperate prayer (what Mark Sayers calls “contending prayer”), what would revival look like in a church increasingly too distracted to pray? In a world where the dopamine rush of notifications, likes, and insta-feedback is intoxicating, the more patient discipline of prayer (especially private prayer) can feel like a slog. Is anyone listening? Do I even have the energy or motivation to speak if there’s no immediate feedback loop (RTs, likes, comments) to validate my thought, petition, or plight?
Prayer is a struggle for every generation of Christians, but it’s harder than ever in our stillness-averse age. We’re simply too distracted by ever-present media to long for God’s presence. But if we want revival, we need to want God’s presence. More than we want anything else.
3. We’re too distracted by grievance to repent of our sin.
The Western church today sometimes feels like the New Testament Corinthian church. We’re fraught with division and internal bickering, breaking fellowship over this issue or that, even as our relationship with the pagan world is too cozy and our morality consequently compromised. Social media amplifies our fleshly tendency to spend more energy decrying the other guy’s “speck” while ignoring the “log” closer to home (Matt. 7:3–5).
One day observing Christian Twitter is case-in-point. Everyone is raging about the other side, assigning blame for the church’s malaise on whatever guilty party we loathe most (Trump evangelicals, Never Trumpers, Big Eva, progressive Christians, complementarians, egalitarians, Southern Baptists, and so forth). But is anyone raging about their own sin? Is there a palpable sense that personal holiness—and tending to our own wicked hearts—is at all something that motivates us today? Not really.
If we want revival, we need to want God’s presence. More than we want anything else.
Because social media constantly feeds us a litany of egregious things that should anger us—injustices all over the world, the idiocy of the sexual revolution, racism, “woke” extremes, hypocrisy, abuse, political tribalism, and so forth—we naturally attend to this glut of external grievances while leaving our own sin rather unattended. But revival is unlikely if we’re too distracted by the sins of others to care about our own holiness. It’s not that we shouldn’t decry injustice and call out foolishness when we see it. But we dare not preach, tweet, and lament the errors of others without auditing our own hearts. A church that demands the repentance of others without bothering to repent itself is not a church likely to see revival.
Long for Revival? Make Space for It.
Few Christians today would say they don’t long for revival. But if we really, truly, long for revival, the patterns of our lives would be different. We’d make changes, and space, in our hyper-distracted lives for the Spirit of God to do a renewing work. You can desire something earnestly in theory, but it probably won’t happen if the dynamics of your life in practice don’t change. A 31-year-old single man might earnestly long to be married, but if he lives in his parents’ basement, plays video games all day, doesn’t have a steady job, and doesn’t take care of his physical health, marriage might be an unlikely prospect.
Revival is unlikely if we’re too distracted by the sins of others to care about our own holiness.
The same is true of our spiritual lives. If we truly want growth—even revival—we have to get serious about putting off the old self (Eph. 4:22), mortifying our sin, and seeking the Lord’s presence with our full, undistracted, undivided attention. The less we’re conformed to the pattern of this world (including the pattern of our fingers constantly swiping, scrolling, and flicking through our phones) and the more we’re transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2) through Scripture, prayer, worship, and Christian community, the more fertile becomes the ground for revival. Yes, revival is a gracious work of God and God alone. But we can live and pray for it.
May our prayer in the bondage of digital distraction echo that of Ezra and the exiles: “that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery” (Ezra 9:8).