We come now to what might be the most difficult part of fasting: abstinence from the media. I can still remember, early on in my walk with Jesus, deciding not to watch television, listen to the radio or music, or attend movies for a period of time. In those days, that was about the extent of the media. I remember thinking after a day or two of that fasting how much of my time the media had been occupying.
Today the media, at all levels, is overwhelmingly pervasive, and the addiction power is almost beyond measure. For many, considering a media fast requires a calculation beyond their ability. Some will want to stop reading even now because the very thought of such a fast is so unpleasant.
For much of our culture, and I am sad to add, most Christians, the grip of the electronic world has fascinated us into a spiritual coma. We are as Neil Postman's book title conveys, "Amusing Ourselves to Death."
Imagine the lives of many people with the stress of their pursuits added to the advent of social media.
Checking the internet moment by moment with a fixation upon who has commented, liked, mentioned, or watched. Completely distracted by what others think, many are sinking into this virtual abyss, making what matters most to them what others think and like.
Then there is a life dominated by thinking about self, what self is doing, and what self is thinking. Further, how self can hit that alluring sweet spot in everyone else's interest, turning something self does into something many others will like, comment about, and watch. This cycle is endless and numbing and imprisoning.
Continuing on, how about the soul devoted to spending hours a day poring over text, surfing the net, shooting a photo, creating a story, all for the much-to-be-envied "post." The same person never has time to read a book, make a hospital visit, work with children, or engage in some selfless act. But if they do happen to find themselves in a selfless act, they, even there, search for that coveted "post." This is a description of narcissism, making what seems to be about others really return and be about me. In the context of social media, it is being obsessed with what I have done, whom I have seen, with whom I have been, who is paying me, and my interest's attention.
Researchers continually conduct studies to see if empirical evidence will demonstrate whether habitual social networking is addictive in nature or just problematic.
The "Computer World" website notes that social network companies and social content creators are seeking to make their networks so habit-forming that they are irresistible. The article goes on to note that people cannot easily quit social network sites due to a disorder labeled "social media reversion." The article relates a study where some people who made a 99-day commitment to go off of Facebook could only make it a few days. Imagine not being able to withdraw from an Instagram network because you suffered from “FOMO": fear of missing out.
The entire social media phenomena is likely problematic because it is addictive.
From notification numbers to clickbait headlines such as, "You won't believe what people are saying about you," everything imaginable is being used to keep users addicted. If we understood the algorithmic filtering used to figure out how to keep you on a site longer, I think we would deem it criminal activity.
Just the simple power of the "video clicking" of a YouTube post makes that site more addictive than compulsive channel surfing on TV. The number of YouTube views is staggering, especially among those in their 20s, and makes what is comparatively viewed on TV quite small.
When cigarette companies were putting chemicals in tobacco to make smoking more addicting, they were sued. Social media websites and network creators are doing the same thing, and the effects are devastating; there are at least millions upon millions suffering from a compulsion, if not an addiction.
I write all of this at the close of 2017. Who knows how laughable all this will be to someone reading this twenty years from now, with human inventiveness descending to new lows with every creative height they summit.
Anyone who spends much time on electronic devices has the great potential of having formed a compulsion.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do you put your device away from you during meal times?
2. When having a serious conversation with a friend or family member or while at an appointment, do you completely cease using your device until the appointment or conversation has completed?
3. Do you turn your device off and refuse to text, surf, game, or look at notifications during a church service?
4. Do you limit operating your device on vacation to an intentionally small window of use every day and concentrate on relationships, activities, and books to read?
5. Do you cease using your device, talking on the phone, or texting while riding in a car with another person or family member when the trip is less than thirty minutes?
6. Do you switch off your phone and electronic communication for the first ninety minutes when you wake up and the last ninety minutes before you go to bed?
7. Do you turn your device off when you go for a walk?
8. Can you experience many events or circumstances without thinking about clicking a picture and turning it into a post?
If you were to say "no" to any of the above, it is possible you may have developed, unawares, a compulsion or addiction.
In considering taking a seven-day fast from the digital world, how uneasy is it making you? Does the thought of it make you anxious or even angry? All of these are subtle symptoms of potential digital compulsion. One of the greatest gifts your soul may receive is a fast from media, which could be used by Jesus to begin to break you away from digital compulsion.
But against all illusion and fantasy and empty talk there’s always this rock foundation: Fear God! Ecclesiastes 5:7 The Message
A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out. Proverbs 25:28 The Message
I will not look with approval on anything that is vile.
I hate what faithless people do;
I will have no part in it.
The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil. Psalm 101:3-4 TNIV
So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. James 1:21 The Message
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Galatians 5:13 The Message
While the Bible obviously does not forbid use of digital devices, Jesus does encourage wisdom as we encounter our culture. When Peter preached his first sermon, he urged followers of Christ to "be saved from this corrupt generation" (Acts 2:40). Every generation has its own corruption, its own influences, seeking to corrupt the purity of devotion to Christ. The call of wisdom is to be saved from that corruption. To be unaware of the corruption in the world and what the world seeks to corrupt is to be naive.
The culture Jesus is seeking for His followers to establish is in complete opposition to the one the world is shaping. Jesus said we are certainly "in" the world but were not to be "of” it (John 17:16-18). Thus, our position is we are in this world, but we are standing guard that the world not be in us.
The digital universe is not only an opportunity for good, but it is also a force for evil. The digital world will, if it hasn't already, become the new currency, the love of it the root of every imaginable evil. The digital world will become very much like money— not evil itself, but the love of it being the root of so much evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
With all this in mind, let me make some observations concerning the above Scriptures.
Ecclesiastes 5:7 The Message
No matter what everyone else is doing, all the falsehood, all the marketing and branding and fame-building, there is One Who is absent of insecurity, Who is full of perfect virtue and a rock-solid foundation for living. Deep reverence and honor of Yahweh will break every addiction and compulsion.
Proverbs 25:28 The Message
To be without self control in any area of life is to be a person without doors and windows. An undisciplined life is a life that gives open access to every intruder and vile thief. An undisciplined life welcomes everything in and then presumes it will be powerful enough to remove anything unwanted.
From child to adult, any who do not exercise immense self-control over their digital world will give way to the intrusion of demonic forces, which will be humanly impossible to remove.
Psalm 101:3-4 TNIV
The Psalmist made within himself two commitments:
First, he would not look on what was evil with an approving wink or an endorsing stare. Second, he would learn to hate activities not birthed in the hearts of those in absolute allegiance to God.
The Psalmist was aware that his eyes were a door to his soul, and to look upon something evil with approval was a sure way to corrupt the soul. He made a determination to value self-discipline and build doors and window coverings to his life.
James 1:21 The Message
All rotted virtue and decaying morality are nothing more than unrighteous trash fit for the heap. Anything offensive to longings for Christ is not suitable for mental or emotional consumption. If God be our Gardener and our heart His garden, then the seeds planted there must be of a kind fit for the saving of our souls and not the defilement of our spirits. Some seeds should not be allowed to be planted, and the digital world is a seed-sowing enterprise.
Galatians 5:13 The Message
Those who follow Jesus are liberated, free to do anything they wish, even engage in the digital world. However, freedom to do anything has the potential to be turned into a compulsion. Paul warns us never to use liberty to promote a lust, for a liberty used to pursue a lust will always become a compulsion. To excuse any activity on the basis that one has the freedom to do the activity destroys the very liberty one claims to have in the first place. Christian liberty is found not in the right to have something, but in the true liberty to actually not need it.
If we want liberty in the digital world, we will also need to exercise caution and control.
All of these passages warn of trading the honor of God for a fantasy— of imagining oneself powerful enough to remove a demon from within; or dumb enough to grow poisonous fruit; or arrogant enough to claim a liberty at the cost of developing an addiction. Self-control is one of those Holy Spirit virtues which allows us to sense the nearness of the Christ Who loves us. Saying no to the digital world for seven days gives Jesus a chance to retune this essential habit into a wholesome tool.
This is a most simple decision: shut off your digital world for seven days, beginning after the next two days.
Today you will be thinking about and making the decision of what all it will mean for you to personally fast the digital world. Some work in a place where they must stay plugged in for work, so navigating this fast for them could take some time and thought to prepare for.
If you are reading this on January 19th, you will not begin the "Digital Fast" until January 22. If you are reading this on a different date, you would begin your "Digital Fast" on the third morning after the day you read this chapter.
Daily Journal Thoughts
On your "Prayer and Fasting Commitments” page, write down the date.
Next, write your commitment; it might be worded something like this:
“Jesus, I ask for You to grace me to shut down my digital life over a seven-day period. Give me the wisdom and the self-discipline to complete this task so I can more fully love and follow You.”
Finally, go to your "Daily Journal," and write the date at the top of the page.
Then begin your prayer and journal entry. It might begin something like this:
“Jesus, You love me so much You are leading me to fast from the digital culture by doing the following …"
Here is where you would begin to write down how you can disconnect from the digital world, and yet do enough to stay effective at your job.
Minimally, a serious "Digital Fast" should include abstinence from:
a) all television viewing
b) all web use that is entertainment and amusement-based
c) all video games and gaming
d) all video clicking
e) all web use for shopping or gambling
f) all posting on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the like
g) all social media use
There may be more based on your habits, but the goal is to rid yourself of the compulsion-friendly use of the digital culture. When you fast, you will begin to discover how much of a hold the digital culture has had on your life. You will begin to discover how much it has taken the place of Christ or time with Christ.
With the extra time, read a book, write some letters, re-engage a dropped talent, or finish your thank you letters or the decree you are writing.
Laying down the digital devices should not leave you lacking things to do, but should stimulate your mind to greater creativity, as well as creating more of that “white space” to hear the voice of God.