It is a question that civilized societies have grappled with from the dawn of time… an ancient mystery that has stumped ancient philosophers and continues to boggle the minds of our most academically gifted scholars to this very day. And today we are here to answer this age-old question once and for all… “If a gamer plays a video game and nobody watches them, did it really even happen?” Okay, fine… it is highly unlikely that Socrates or Plato ever conducted a lengthy discourse on the act of gamers streaming their games online or the implications of that on society. Also, I am just blatantly ripping off the “if a tree falls in the woods” philosophical debate for my premise, just in case that wasn’t abundantly clear. But an interesting aspect of the “social media” generation has emerged that impacts the way we game, and it definitely warrants a closer inspection. While the gaming realm has lacked any consistent method of supporting socialization after the decline of video game arcades, streaming services such as Twitch have permanently altered the gaming landscape and added an additional layer of challenge to the games we play. Beating the game and defeating the villainous characters contained inside of it only represents a portion of the battle gamers are choosing to fight… the larger mission is to gain enough clicks, views, likes, subscribes, and followers to hopefully go “viral” and gain the credibility that comes along with it.
The desire to achieve “viral” success is not limited to the realm of gaming… and it is not simply an invention of social media, either. In many ways, as a society we tend to measure both quality and success by pointing to quantifiable measurements that indicate a “viral” level of popularity. And for many gamers, the ability to achieve a large following and build a healthy subscriber base to watch their virtual exploits is about more than simply fame and recognition… the ability to potentially turn this hobby into monetizable income has set many gamers off in pursuit of the rewards that only come from seeing those numbers rise. But along the way, a concerning trend is emerging from this obsession with “going viral”… the tendency to believe that the number of clicks or likes that we receive not only validates the value of what we have created, but that the lack of “engagement” that we see for our creations somehow invalidates and devalues them.
I have a feeling most of us have done it… we have posted a picture, a thought, a video, or post somewhere into a social media account and then make the mistake of watching it to see if it gains “traction”. Perhaps it is a poem we wrote, a drawing we sketched, or a song we recorded. We upload it with excitement and then we sit and wait in the hopes that others appreciate what we have shared… hopefully a LOT of people. But nothing happens. A couple of family members give us a thumbs up, some random person throws up a heart… like a pot of water that stubbornly refuses to boil while we are staring at it, the item we poured so much labor and passion into just sits there waiting to be received, loved, and appreciated. Maybe it gains a handful of “likes”, so we decide to head off to bed and see if it catches on overnight… but the next morning, our post is still as flat as a 2-liter bottle of Dr. Pepper that was left open all night long. And rather than celebrating the handful of souls who were genuinely appreciative and touched by our creation, we stare dejectedly at that single-digit number on our interaction counter and wonder where we went wrong. And if you have ever been there or are perhaps there right now, I have some encouragement for you.
As followers of Christ, the desire for our efforts to reach others in both quality AND quantity typically comes from the right place… when the Lord gives us a message to share or places a burden on our heart for souls, it can be easy to measure our impact in terms of the number of reactions and responses we receive rather than finding peace in simply obeying the call. But the reality is that the Lord who left the ninety-nine in order to save the one doesn’t view our impact through a lens of quantifiable metrics and viewership data… as a matter of fact, He routinely walked a lonely path for the singular purpose of reaching just ONE hurting soul (John 4, Luke 8, Luke 19). And in the Lord’s economy, even if our faithful obedience to the Lord only reaches ONE soul, the heavenly celebration that this unlocks is beyond our comprehension.
Luke 15:4-10 What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
One of the best examples of this level of commitment is found in the mission to reach ONE soul that the evangelist Philip was given in the book of Acts… he was given a general idea of which direction to walk (straight into the desert) without any additional context added to this itinerary. How far did Philip have to walk without additional guidance? We don’t know the exact amount, but the road he was sent down was FIFTY miles long. I don’t know about you, but the difference between walking ONE mile for the Lord with a clear idea of where I am going and FIFTY miles without ANY clue when I get to stop is kind of a big one. During his lonely pilgrimage of indeterminate length towards an unknown destination, Philip experiences a divine interruption as his path finally intersects with a soul in search of answers… answers Philip was in the perfect position to provide. The Lord sent Philip deep into the desert for the sole purpose of bringing enlightenment to ONE soul… and upon the completion of that journey Philip literally disappeared from the area and this Ethiopian official disappeared from the story. While there are certainly occurrences in which the Lord’s message was proclaimed and received by large amounts of individuals at the same time (Acts 2:41), the message here is clear… the Lord doesn’t just leave the ninety-nine to seek and save the one, He expects those who follow Him to go out of our way to do the same.
Acts 8:26-39 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.
So, let’s answer the question we asked at the very beginning of this article… does the size of our viewership justify our activity? Is what we do on Twitch or any other platform of greater or lesser value simply because of the quantity of subscribers we possess? Was our mission any less successful in our game simply because there were only a few people who watched us complete it? The reality is that I successfully defeated Ganon and saved Hyrule regardless of the size of my “audience”… if one person watched me do it or one thousand. And the question we must ask ourselves in EVERY endeavor we take on for the Lord is simple… are we willing to go out of our way and do what the Lord has placed on our heart regardless of the reception we receive? Do we ascribe the same value to a single soul that our Father does, not only in our words but also in our actions? Can we find peace in our service even if we never achieve the level of following or viewership that this world equates with success? Are we seeking viral victories to validate our vision, or are we still willing to sing that song, share that poem, send that video, or write those words even if it only reaches an audience of ONE? As Christ and Philip both demonstrated, success is not measured in the number of viewers or followers we achieve… but in our obedience to the calling of the Lord regardless of how small or large our specific mission field is. For Jesus, one soul was worth coming for… one soul was worth going out of His way to seek out… one soul was worth dying for.
The size of our audience does not define the quality of our service or even reflect on the level of our obedience… as His followers, we are held to one simple standard. We carry the signal wherever He chooses to send us and to whoever He puts on a collision course with. In a world obsessed with validating value by measuring quantity rather than substance, we are not on a mission to go “viral”… we are simply called to be a “vessel” (2 Timothy 2:21). It is the Lord who gives the increase to our efforts (1 Corinthians 3:6-7) … whether we are the ones planting, watering, or reaping the harvest. So, if you have a song that the Lord has placed in your heart, SING it. If you have been blessed with a written or spoken word, SHARE it. If you have a video that you have labored on creating, STREAM it… no matter how seemingly small your appreciative audience is. If our only audience is the Lord Himself, let’s lift up the light He has given us with the joy and confidence of a toddler placing their home-made art on the refrigerator door. We are not measured by our following, but by WHO we are following. If we only reach ONE, that one beautifully immeasurable soul we touch still sets off a heavenly celebration beyond our comprehension. Let’s be an encouragement, even if we only see the impact on ONE person today. Let’s share His light and love, even if it seems our level of effort doesn’t quite seem to equate with the level of response we receive. If Philip was sent to walk up to fifty miles out of His way through the desert just to reach one soul, then I suppose I can push through writing these words and clicking “send” from the comfort of my living room today… even if the only person who ever reads these words is you 🙂
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