Doest thou Twitter?*
As is my way with internet fads, I greeted the Twitter craze with a world-weary "What's the big deal?" ... only to try it and find myself rather instantly hooked. I particularly like the fact that 3rd party apps allow me to enter a Twitter update and have it appear on my facebook, myspace, and newsblog pages, keeping my presence on the internet fresher than it has been historically.
Doesn't that sound all marketing-ish and sensible? The truth is, it's really fun. Trying to sum up what's going on in your life at any given moment in a pithy 140 characters or less is an entertaining challenge. And watching your friends do likewise is enjoyable too.
I've gotten so into Twitter that I've even read a few blogs on how to do it well, from hardcore tweets like Third Day's Mark Lee and Thomas Nelson's CEO Michael Hyatt. Blogging guru Darren Rowse even has a new blog (TwiTip) entirely devoted to the tweeting art.
Most of the discussion revolves around exploiting Twitter's marketing potential. But I'd like to put forth an alternate raison de' twitter etre (with my apologies to the French language): Twitter can be a great discipleship tool. Seriously.
I'll be honest, I didn't sign up for Twitter in order to grow spiritually. Such a possibility never occured to me. Let's call my Twitter adventures "The Accidental Disciple". But I have discovered that the discipline of regularly accounting for both my physical and mental whereabouts has been remarkably useful spiritually, in at least the following 4 ways.
1. Twittering forces me to attend to the moment.
As one who is chronically distracted by the worries and wanderings of my interior world, I've found Twitter surprisingly helpful in anchoring me to the here and now. The basic Twitter question is "What are you doing?" Essentially, that's one of the questions any spiritual advisor (from monks to pastors to your bible study buddies) should be asking: "What are you doing?" It leads rather naturally to some other important questions, like "Is that what you should be doing?", "Do you mean to be doing it?" and "Are you doing it well?"
2. Twittering forces me to detect the good in my day.
I'm in the midst of the most challenging season of my life to date. Both of my parents are critically ill, and I've had the great honor of trying to serve them by helping with their care. It's the least I can do--they are terrific parents and it's nice to have an opportunity to give back a little--but it is very wearying to watch people you love suffer.
Occasionally, I mention what is happening with my parents in my Twitter updates (more on that in a minute). But if every update was on this consuming aspect of my life, my tweets would be dreary indeed. So, very often when I open my laptop to post an update, I have to sift through my life for something funny or interesting to post. I almost always discover that, lo and behold, funny and interesting things-- even joyful and moving things--are still happening in the midst of my dark time. In this way, Twitter helps me focus on the sorts of things Phillipians 4:8 suggests we focus on. (I think it's OK to add "whatever is goofy" to the Phil 4:8 "whatever is lovely" list -- especially if it helps me to "consider it all joy".)
3. Twitter forces me to engage in community.
I know that in this net-driven age there is plenty of concern about cyber-community replacing real relationship. But I must confess that Twitter has kept me more connected with many of my friends than I have been in ages. And, in the midst of my aforementioned difficult season, knowing I can post a prayer request or an honest revelation about the state I'm in and be instantly prayed for and supported is extraordinary. It doesn't replace real time in a real church or coffeeshop, but it sure is a nice bonus.
Twitter also keeps the lives of my tweeting friends before me, helping me to extend the boundaries of my world beyond my own burdens and reminding me to pray for them as well.
4. Twitter forces me to think of my life as a story.
I recently heard Donald Miller give an excellent talk in which he challenged each of us to ask: "If my life were a movie, would it be worth watching?" His idea is not so much that we all need to be in more car chases or torrid romances, but rather that our lives need to have God-sized quests, directions and purposes.
Posting regularly on Twitter challenges me to take stock of how I am spending my time, thoughts and emotions. Is there anything going on in my life worth mentioning? Am I staying alert and vigilent for the hand of God and reporting on it? Am I, to paraphrase Eph 5:16, redeeming the time I'm given?
Twitter can, like all other things, be simply a waste of time, an avoidance tool, or a mindless distraction. But it doesn't have to be. God has a long track record of using most anything for His purposes, and I can testify that the One who made the birds that tweet outside my window can use Twitter for His glory. Go figure!
*For the un-twitterpated, here is Wikipedia's definition: "Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service, that allows its users to send and read other users' updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length." It is currently sweeping the nation(s) and is particularly popular amongst internet marketers and techno geeks. (See The Newbie's Guide to Twitter for more info.)