5 Lessons I Learned by Fasting Social Media | Influence Magazine


My wife Tiffany could tell something was wrong with me. We had just spent a day with the kids at the local amusement park, Silver Dollar City. (Tiffany calls it “Steal Your Dollar City.”) The weather was perfect, the ride lines were short, the food was delicious, and the kids had a great time. And yet, my face gave away my inner turmoil.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Tiffany asked.

“My emotions are off,” I replied. “I’m not responding emotionally as I should.”

The immediate cause of my unease was an exchange on Facebook. A friend posted about a national tragedy that had just occurred. Rather than grieving about that tragedy, I commented about how people were using that tragedy to score political points. A third person jumped all over me for my comment, going so far as to question my Christianity. It got ugly.

All this took place while my family enjoyed their day out. In the midst of an amusement park, I was angry and unamused. My kids were riding rides. I was on my iPhone arguing with a stranger.

My wife asked, “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to fast social media for a while,” I finally responded.

Right then and there, I resolved to fast social media through the month of November. When I got home, I announced on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that I was taking a break from social media — except for work-related matters— and then deleted those apps from my iPhone and iPad. I kept my resolution, except on a handful of occasions, for which my wife gently reproached me.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that my fast instantly solved the problem of my emotional out-of-whackness. It didn’t. I’ve still got work to do. But my fast did teach me a few lessons about myself and social media that I think are worth sharing, five in particular. Here they are:

First, I spend too much time on my iPhone. According to my most recent Screen Time report, I spend, on average, four hours, 7 minutes per day on my iPhone. And that’s after my social media fast. Evidently, I was spending even more timeon my iPhone before the fast.

In my defense, I do a lot of work on my iPhone. Plus, I usually stream TV shows on it when I’m at home. (At my house, Tiffany controls the remote.) Still, more than one day out of every week seems like an excessive amount of time to stare at a small pixelated screen. And yet, studies I’ve seen peg the average time Americans spend on smartphones at between three and five hours daily. So I’m average in my excessiveness. That’s not good.

Second, time is an exclusive commodity. Each day, God gives us 24 hours. Time doesn’t come with a pause button, let alone one for rewind or fast-forward. We use it; then we lose it.

The question I have to ask myself is whether spending more than four hours a day on an iPhone is the best use of my time. Just asking the question answers it. No, of course not!

Even granting that I need a smartphone to do smart work — which is true in a modern economy, to a certain degree — I’ve been reminded again and again that there are other things to do than stare at my iPhone. At the very least, arguing on Facebook with a stranger while my kids are riding roller coasters at an amusement park is a waste of time — mine, his, theirs.

Third, I have learned that I am easily distracted. In his Pensées— “Thoughts” — the Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

In other words, we long for the distraction of constant activity. If you don’t believe me, try sitting quietly in a room for an hour all by yourself. No TV. No radio. No book or newspaper or crossword puzzle. And definitely no smartphone or tablet.

It’s difficult. In my case, it’s difficult in large part because I have three kids, ages 5, 6 and 10, clamoring for my attention, as well as a wife who likes to unwind by watching reality TV. There’s not a quiet room at Chez Wood.

And yet, it’s also difficult because I don’t like being left alone with my thoughts. So, I unlock my iPhone and browse the web for news. I like and comment on friends’ posts on Facebook. I unleash a string of bon mots on Twitter. I look at pictures on Instagram. I stream a movie on Netflix.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Think about that for a moment. It implies that unless we can be still, we cannot know God. No wonder Pascal thought all of humanity’s problems stemmed from our inability to be still!

Fourth, I fear missing out. When I am still, I know God. I know that He loves me because of what Christ has done, not because of what I have done. This roots my identity in His grace, mercy, and forgiveness rather than in any accomplishment on my part. And this identity gives me a deep satisfaction with life, whatever my lot in it might be. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances,” Paul writes (Philippians 4:11).

Compare that statement with what social scientists call FOMO — the fear of missing out. One of the reasons I spend so much time on social media is because I fear missing out on the news, on the latest gossip, on the newest and best in online entertainment.

And yet, there is an irony at work on social media. Think of it this way: I present my best life online. I take (and retake) pictures to get just the best one. I write (and rewrite) posts to be the funniest or most insightful. What you see of me is the me I want you to see.

And that means what I see of you is the you that you want me to see. I’m not seeing reality online. I’m seeing filtered reality.

The problem is that when we view others’ filtered lives online, we get jealous. We think others are leading better lives than our own, and we want the lives they appearto be leading more the lives we ourselves are actuallyleading. Ironically, then, we end up fearing that we have missed a reality that is in fact fake.

No wonder studies indicate that people who spend too much time on social reality are depressed! After spending nearly a month off social media — with clearly defined exceptions — I found that my mood had improved considerably. As I said above, I’m still working on out-of-whack emotions, but I’m in a much better place than I was at the end of October.

That brings me to a fifth and final lesson: I need discernment and discipline. At one point, I considered trading in my smartphone for a dumbphone and deleting all my social media accounts.

I didn’t do that for two reasons. For one thing, my iPhone has become a helpful tool at work. For another thing, the real problem isn’t the tool; it’s how I use the tool. The abuse or misuse of a thing doesn’t destroy its proper use, after all.

So, after my social media fast, I’m trying to be more discerning about how I use my iPhone, starting with simply using it less. Less time on it is more time for my wife and kids, friends, coworkers, neighbors … and for God.

I’m also trying to be more disciplined. Instead of reaching for my iPhone to distract me from my boredom, I’m trying to sit quietly in that room, attentive to God and to how He might be leading me. That’s always more important than whatever is happening online.

P.S. This article is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Advertisements

Head, Heart, and Hands: Three marks of a holistic Pentecostal ministry


On any given day, an Assemblies of God pastor may read a scholarly commentary in preparation for Sunday’s sermon, counsel a church member who is experiencing an emotional crisis, and help a poor family in the community pay its bills. Pentecostal ministry is holistic, in other words. It encompasses what we believe, what we feel and how we behave — our head, heart and hands, respectively.

The biblical foundation of this holism is the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34–40). Asked to name “the greatest commandment in the Law,” Christ Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The Great Commandment is not the gospel, it needs to be emphasized. “This is love,” writes the apostle John:“not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as anatoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God’s love for us in Christ is the gospel. The Great Commandment merely summarizes our response to the gospel. God’s love for us precedes our love for Him and makes it possible.

And not only for Him, of course, but for others. John goes on to write: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20). Our love for others does not stop at our front porch or our neighbor’s front door, however. God commands us to love not only those who are like us — neighbors, brothers and sisters — but those who are unlike us too. This means that we ought to love the “foreigner” (Leviticus 19:34) and our “enemies” (Matthew 5:44).

A cool head that discerns truth. A warm heart that invites relationship. An open hand that gives freely to the poor. These are the hallmarks of a holistic Pentecostal life and ministry.

This is fundamental Christianity: God’s love for us calling forth our love for Him and others.

So, how do we grow in our love? How do we keep the Great Commandment in ever-increasing measure? Especially as pastors, how do we stay on the leading edge of love?

For me, this is where the head-heart-hands schema becomes important. That schema reminds me that my love for God and others must be characterized at all times by a cool head, a warm heart and open hands. Love cannot be a fraction. God does not want one-third of our love or two-thirds. He wants the whole of our love. Our lives and our ministries must be characterized by orthodoxy(right belief), orthopathy(right feeling) and orthopraxy(right behavior).

Head. I have quoted 1 John 4 twice already, but permit me to quote it again, for the chapter begins in an interesting way. “Dear friends,” John writes, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God … ” (verse 1).Notice two things right away: First, John assumes that God continues to speak to His people. There are “spirits” — which I take to mean “gifts of the Holy Spirit” — that come “from God.” A cool head, an orthodox mind will be open to hearing from God.

Yet, by the same token, that cool head will exercise discernment “because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (verse 1). How do we know the difference? John offers a doctrinal test focused on the Incarnation: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (verses 2–3).

Paul offers a similar doctrinal test focused on the lordship of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3). These are not the only tests, of course, but they are fundamental. My takeaway from these passages is this: In my love for God and others, my mind should be curiouswithout being credulous, and what helps me keep that dynamic is a constant focus on Christ, who is himself “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Heart. The heart is the seat of human emotion. Here is where our deepest loves and hates, hopes and fears reside. And these deepest affections and emotions shape our actions. Christ Jesus said: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). No wonder, then, Scriptures exhorts believers, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

A warm heart, an orthopathic heart, is fairly easy to diagnose, in my experience. In Galatians 5:19–23, the apostle Paul differentiated between “the acts of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” What’s interesting to me is that the acts of the flesh are fundamentally selfish and have the effect of pushing people away. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit describe a healthy self whose personality pulls people closer. A loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled personality is an attractive one. Like the sun acting on planets in our solar system, a warm heart pulls people into its orbit.

In my love for God and others, do my affections and emotions selfishly pushothers away, or do they pullpeople into a deeper relationship with me — and, through me, with God?

Hands. Orthopraxy, right action, is part and parcel of Christianity. In the apostle Paul’s immortal formulation of the matter, we are saved by grace throughfaith forworks (Ephesians 2:8–10). A deedless Christianity is a Christless Christianity — in other words, a contradiction in terms.

But while we ought to follow Christ in every area of life, the Bible emphasizes our duties to the poor, weak and powerless in particular. So, Christ Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). His brother James asks, “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:16). The apostle Paul writes, “Command [wealthy believers] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). This is why I like to describe orthopraxy as an open hand.

In my life and ministry, is my hand open to all, but especially the poor, the weak and the powerless in my community? Do I seetheir needs and take actionto meet them?

A cool head that discerns truth. A warm heart that invites relationship. An open hand that gives freely to the poor. These are the hallmarks of a holistic Pentecostal life and ministry.

P.S. This article first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com. It is reposted here by permission.