Reflections on Media Fasting
And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing. (Acts 19:19-20)
One troubling thing I see in my heart is that I love conviction and hate change. It’s not to hard to find a convicting sermon to listen to. But when all the words have flowed past me and it’s time to walk out the doors of the church, it’s tantalizingly easy to believe the lie that my feeling of conviction is true holiness and unqualifyingly pleasing to the Lord.
We’ve been moving through Acts at Cornerstone, and travelled through chapter 19 a couple of weeks ago. It’s most famous for a bunch of cocky itinerant Jewish exorcists getting the smack-down put on them by a demon and a mindless riot in which people wind up chanting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for two solid hours without knowing why. But the centerpoint of this passage is the dramatic conversion of many of Ephesus’ practitioners of black magic. They burned the bridges to their former life by destroying everything they owned that was associated with the occult. From this, my pastor asked a question of our congregation: “What bridges do you need to burn in your own life?”
Now, there isn’t a direct connection between what the new Ephesian believers did and what most of us in the congregation needed to do. The Ephesians were involved in a profession that was completely incompatible with their newfound love for the Lord. You cannot practice Satanic arts and love God.
Some bridges need to be burnt. There can be no going back now that the new nature has taken hold of my heart. Other pathways only need to be forsaken every once in a while, so as to prevent them from becoming too important. If our happiness or our growth in the Lord has become dependent upon those things, their path has become overgrown and needs a good slash-burning to clear away the deadwood.
Immediately “espn.com” flashed into my mind. I didn’t try to think of anything. The knowledge that it had become a hinderance was just there. I love sports, and the NFL playoffs are an provide an endless smorgasbord of opinion articles to read and videos to watch. The next thought after the minute answer of espn.com was a quick denial of “That’s not true, Nate. It’s not an idol and it’s not something you need to get rid of.” The first thought is divinely-sent Spirit-produced conviction. Before I could think, before I could try to hide behind my invented complex reasonings to justify how much of my time away from work was spent reading transitory, fleeting opinions about things that don’t even really matter, the Spirit struck. And that was immediately followed by a self-protecting reflex that would try to justify whatever pattern I was living.
But understanding the problem isn’t enough. And imagined change isn’t holiness. That’s like joining the “1,000,000 strong against abortion” Facebook group and calling yourself a pro-life activist. As we talked about the sermon and “burning bridges” at my Community Group that night, we discovered that everyone’s overgrown pathway was media-related. And then we resurrected an assignment I had at TMC–a total fast from media for a week. No television, no movies, no internet apart from work-related emailing/research, no music, no recorded sermons.
It’s so ingrained in me by habit to wake up, turn on my computer, and check Gmail and Google Reader that I had to stick a note on top of my computer to remind myself of the fast. Instead I’d pick up my Bible and read or just sit and think. And that’s the purpose of doing a media fast. Silence and stillness were the rule of life for the first 6,000 years of human existence. Laborers in the fields worked without iPods, with only their own thoughts and the sounds of nature to keep them company. Pastors studied in absolute quiet as they wrote out their sermons without the aid of a movie score in the background. The Lord works in stillness. He brings clarity through quiet. And in the constant business and noise of media-driven life, it’s hard to hear what He’s saying.
All of us were surprised by what we learned by media fasting. I was surprised to discover how much more I can actually do that I thought I could. It is amazing what the mind can still absorb, even when it’s tired. Redeeming the time means redeeming all the time, even that tired hour before bed. And the funny thing is, I was a lot happier working harder longer than when I formerly grasped the easy entertainment offered to me.
It’s one thing to fast from media for a week, it’s another to work to keep the path clear of debris that naturally wants to build up. Media isn’t a bridge to be burned, it’s an enjoyable footpath that needs tending. Just like stopping at conviction instead of following through to change, it’s easy to modify my behavior without ever touching the heart. I feel like I should make some insightful point here about what rules and limits I’ve put on myself to make sure I don’t slide back again. I don’t have one, because I don’t have any rules and limits. Instead, I’m going to assume that the Holy Spirit and my love for the Lord is enough to keep things in balance. Some bridges need to be burned permanently. But others, others just need a little watchful tending.