Other than Jesus, the Apostle Paul is probably the most significant figure in the NT. He was a highly educated Pharisee, a Jew with Roman citizenship, and he launched on the scene of Church history as a hired thug who tortured and killed Christians. But then, he encountered Jesus, and everything changed for him. He became, arguably, the most prolific missionary ever and was inspired by God to write two-thirds of what we know as the New Testament.
During his ministry, Paul experienced all sorts of highs and lows. He performed great miracles, saw countless numbers of people hear and receive the Good News of Jesus Christ, and planted dozens of churches. He also knew persecution, abuse, rejection and pain. From a prison cell, chained to a guard 24 hours a day, Paul wrote these words in Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV): “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Paul found contentment through learning that a relationship with Jesus is the source of true contentment. We live in a world today where we are constantly inundated with people telling us what we need and how to have true peace. We are constantly faced with advertisements and media outlets selling us on the next thing – the next device, the next place to vacation, the next show to watch or movie to go to, the next app, the next hashtag. We have more information and more “stuff” at our fingertips than any generation before us. And yet, I would argue we are more discontent, more relationally starved and less authentic and compassionate than any generation before us.
Here at Rez, as each new year begins, we promote a fast to begin the year. We do this because fasting is a great way to remove the clutter from our lives (the stuff we tend to depend on at the expense of depending on Christ) and draw closer to Jesus. This year, I want to challenge you to consider a media fast. Many of us are too tethered to our devices and social media. We watch too much TV and spend way too much time staring at screens and devices. Not that social media, devices and TV are bad in and of themselves. The problem is that many people become addicted to them.
Recent scientific studies are revealing the negative effects media and technology are having on our ability to relate, be compassionate, and be content. In our embrace and “need” of social media, I’m afraid we have lost more than we’ve gained. Some losses I think we are experiencing include the following:
Our ability to concentrate and contemplate. In his book “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains” Nicholas Carr says, “Media outlets aren’t just channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.” In other words, the tools we use shape us. God doesn’t have a Twitter account, nor does He speak in sound bites. What did He give us so we could understand and know Him? He gave us a Book – a very big Book! We can’t skim the Word and expect to understand the Gospel and experience increasing relationship with Him.
Our ability to be compassionate and empathetic is being lost or weakened. We become desensitized in our rush to skim mounds of information each day, several times a day. In our rush to get the latest output, do we stop to pray for needs or check, in person, on someone sick or in need? Our society tends to place the highest value on the latest information. We are being trained focus first and foremost on what’s new at the expense, in many cases, of what’s important.
We’re losing intimacy in our marriages, our families, our friendships. While media often helps us stay somewhat connected to those we care about and love, it should never replace or be a substitute for a self-sacrificing, heartfelt, loving relationship, where we meet face-to-face to pray, laugh, help and encourage each other. There’s a difference between posting on social media that you will pray for someone and actually meeting in person to pray with that person or praying even by phone with them. Face-to-face and one-on-one is where we can really minister and be “Jesus” to those the Lord places in our pathway.
We’re losing sight of Godly contentment. One of the hazards of social media is that of comparing our lives to the “edited lives” presented online. Pastor Steven Furtik states, “Through social media, we compare our behind the scenes with other people’s highlight reels.” Filtered, edited and cropped. Suddenly we feel inadequate for no obvious reason or depressed by the seemingly perfect lives of others. We head down the dangerous road of seeing ourselves in the image of others, instead of in the image of God.
Look back at the scripture I mentioned above. Paul is essentially saying that the barometer for his contentment is not whether he has a lot or a little. Rather, his barometer is his treasure in Christ that strengthens him. Pastor Craig Groeschel says, “It’s when you come to the place where Christ is all you have, that you finally realize He’s all you need.”
We need to unplug and refocus. I am hoping our church body, and others who may read this, will take some time, as we begin this new year, to rediscover our joy, rest, strength and contentment in Jesus. We need to reevaluate the culture of our lives, homes, marriages, relationships. I know many of us need to be honest with ourselves and with God. We need to draw a line in the sand. We need to recognize how distracted and disconnected we have become in pursuing the false illusions of contentment and rest that media and technology seemingly provides.
This year our new-year fast begins Jan. 3 and ends Jan 24 – three weeks to unplug from recreational, non-essential media and technology. If you missed the Dec. 27 message on this topic, it’s available on Vimeo. If you have any questions, please contact us and let us help you. Most importantly though, begin praying right now and ask God to guide you by His Spirit, during this fast. Let’s begin this year with a holy determination to rediscover the secret of true contentment – Christ who gives us strength!