Christian Psychics: Cold Reading to Get Likes
As of late I have heard pastors and Christian influencers say things like:
God wants you to follow your dreams.
God wants you to take big risks.
God wants you to follow your passion.
God wants you to be you.
If you have big dreams, it’s a God-given dream.
When I first started hearing and seeing these things I did not think much of them. Mainly because these kinds of statements mean nothing to me. More specifically, they often aren’t relevant to what I am going through. Just like any motivational post, I’d scroll past them like any other inspirational quote.
However, as of late, they are increasingly becoming more common in my feed. People are sharing these kinds of posts and videos and, unfortunately, some of my friends are making this kind of content.
And while there is nothing wrong with inspiring people, I think some thought needs to be put into how we inspire people. Especially since pastors are increasingly calling themselves “motivational speakers” and building brands around specific modes of communication that are intentionally fashioned after TED talks.
My problem with these kinds of posts is that, whether we realize it or not, they are a type of psychic reading. And I do not mean “psychic” in a superstitious way, but in the scam that it really is.
There are generally two techniques psychics use to get people's attention, the first is called “cold reading” which is high probability guessing. The broader the generality, the more likely it is to resonate with somebody. The second is hot reading which is doing research prior to a meeting to ensure it resonates with someone.
Saying things like “God wants you to______” is a form of cold reading. Think of all the things you have ever heard people say God wants, needs, or desires from people. It is always generic and speaks to the desires most people have, which means that there is a high probability that it will resonate with somebody.
And sometimes these posts are very targeted, based on something that is already on the social conscious. In which case, they are hot reads. The person strategically knows what everyone is thinking about, speaks for God, and everyone feels affirmed.
These kinds of posts are, what I am calling and hereby desire credit for, “Christian Psychic reading.” And it makes sense why these kinds of posts are so popular considering a recent poll in 2017 that shows roughly four in ten Christians believe in psychics.
I am not saying that all people who say and post things like this have ill will (although I believe there are many taking advantage of people to gain influence in the Christian world), but I am saying we can do better.
At best it is lazy. It is lazy because it requires no Scripture, no rigor, or wrestling with the Holy Spirit. All it requires is a cold read that sounds vibey and says God wants it for them.
At worst it is manipulative. It is manipulative because if you can get people accustomed to accepting “God wants you to chase your dreams” without any Scriptural basis, you have primed them to accept “God wants you to give us money to receive your blessing.”
Even at its best, we do not bring glory to God by being lazy (Proverbs 6:6).
I know some might say I am overstating my case and would object by saying “what is the harm if good is coming from it?” To that, I would respond with a reminder that speaking on behalf of God is not something to take lightly. We do not know what God wants for others or what he has placed in others' hearts and minds. John Knox famously said, “I have never once feared the devil, but I tremble every time I enter the pulpit." The problem with many pastors and Christian influencers today is that they do not tremble before the pulpit, they tremble before being liked.
Unless you are a prophet, our responsibility is to relay what God has already revealed through his word and direct people to the Word, and allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate in everyone what God wants from and for them individually.
There are two ways of thinking about what God wants. The first is what God wants from and for us as a people. What God wants for us as a human race is plain and simple in Scripture: To bear spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23; John 15:2), to obey his commands (John 14:15), to walk humbly and love justice (Micah 6:8), to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Peter 2:2), and to grow in wisdom (2 Peter 3:18; James 1:5). The second is what God wants for us as individuals. But what God wants for us individually must be revealed by the Spirit, not a cold read on the internet.
In the end, I understand why pastors and Christian influencers fall to the lure of Christian Psychic reading: because it works. It gets likes, grabs attention, and motivates people. My observation is that the reason it is so successful is because it is easy for the author and easy for the recipient. Easy for the author to put together, and easy for the recipient to accept without any actual discipleship.
However, spiritual growth cannot be about taking the path of least resistance or that is most pragmatic. Just like the path that leads to all things that are meaningful in life is difficult, so is the path that leads to holiness and righteousness. Let us not try to make the way of Jesus attractive, but rather, show the world its worth.