These days, it seems like there are fewer things that unite us than divide us. But there is one thing we share in common: we all hate the thought of missing out. We hate the thought so much that we had to come up with an acronym to identify the feeling—FOMO. An acronym for Fear of Missing Out, FOMO is a shorthand way of expressing our fear of being forgotten or ignored. For example, for pastor-nerds like me, FOMO is the anxiety I get when I miss a big parachurch conference everyone’s posting and tweeting about. FOMO affects the places we go, the people we engage, the things we purchase, the media we consume—everything.
But what if I told you that FOMO is simply fear misplaced? And that missing out is actually a good thing for your spiritual life?
HOW MISSING OUT IS GOOD FOR YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE
To understand how missing out is actually a good thing for your spiritual life, we first have to know what the aim of spiritual life is. When someone places their faith in Christ, they are saved and called “to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:9; cf. 1 Thess. 4:7). For the Christian, their “new self” in Christ is to be characterized by holiness (Eph. 4:24). Remarkably, we have been graciously invited to “share in his holiness” (Heb. 12:10).
J.I. Packer has said, “The nature of holiness is transformation through consecration.” Two things happen when Christ makes us holy: we are transformed and consecrated. But transformed into what, exactly? And consecrated from what?
One of the undeniable implications of pursuing authentic, Christian holiness is doing without certain things—missing out on some of what we used to enjoy as we set aside ourselves for honorable use in the Kingdom (consecration), so that we can be transformed into the image of Christ (transformation). The apostle Peter explains that holiness is not only a personal transformation to a new self (1 Pet. 1:14-15) but also a communal consecration to a new people (1 Pet. 2:9).
FOMO is one of the most urgent holiness problems facing us today. It causes many of us to participate in things that belong to our old self or our old environment. We’re tempted to chalk it up to “sin nature.” We explain away our being “of the world” as really an attempt to be “in the world” for Christ. When we cave to the fear, it interrupts the process of our transformation.
The Christian’s life simply cannot look the same as it once did, but missing out on the things that caused us to sin before Christ is good. Missing out on the destructive things the world tells us we need is good.
THE FOMO YOU SHOULD REALLY FEAR
There is a FOMO that's far more haunting and serious. The worst FOMO of all is thinking that we’ve been living the Christian life when we haven’t. It can be startling, horrifying even, to read Jesus’ final words of warning in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:21-23).
What greater horror is there than realizing you've bought the lie that new life in Christ means your life doesn’t have to look that much different? That salvation in Christ is only theoretical and not practical?
We’re all afraid to miss out on the next big thing or that cool experience everyone else is having. But these are simply misplaced fears. Instead, we should fear missing out on the Kingdom of God.
HOW TO KILL FOMO AND ENJOY MISSING OUT
How do we move past the temporal fears of missing out and start to enjoy the process of transformation Jesus is doing in us? Here are some ways we can kill FOMO.
Realize that being out of “the know” isn’t always a bad thing
None of us likes to feel uninformed. But I’m afraid we (myself included) are so immersed in the world’s happenings that we are hopelessly entangled in the “craving for controversy and for quarrels about words” (1 Tim. 6:4) that defines our daily news. This is one of the reasons social media and FOMO are so dangerous. We lament the hot-takes on Twitter yet we choose to throw ourselves into it every opportunity we get, doing the very thing we hate (Rom 7:15)! Start a routine of taking extended time away from social media or whatever puts FOMO in front of you. Doing so will refresh your soul and put out any growing fires of “envy, dissension, slander, and evil suspicions” in us (1 Tim. 6:4).
Fill the empty space
Just like removing fatty foods and sugary sodas from our diet and replacing them with healthy alternatives leads to physical health, choosing to miss out on what’s spiritually “unhealthy” and replacing it with what’s nourishing and strengthening will be to our long-term benefit. Imagine being more enraptured by the narrative of Scripture than, say, the latest episode of Game of Thrones. And imagine what it could do for your soul to make the switch.
Remember that your spiritual heroes did without
Do you admire the example of your lead pastor, an elder, your mentor, Charles Spurgeon, or another hero of the faith? Look closely and you’ll find that they have chosen to miss out on some things for the sake of Christian holiness. If they’re alive, ask them what steps they took to be in the world and not of it. Learn from their example. Ask for accountability. And ask what they gained in return.
IS IT WORTH IT?
When you do without, people notice. As mentioned above, we should not pursue holiness for the sake of people noticing us. But a natural byproduct of being set apart is being a city on a hill. This is most effective when in close proximity to people who get to experience our habits up close and personal, who get to see a transformation right before their eyes. And oftentimes, they want what you have.
In the end, missing out for the sake of Christ isn’t missing out at all. That’s because Jesus is satisfying and in his Kingdom, there is no missing out because there is no better place to be. Each of us will one day face the holy God of the universe and be called to account.
Until that day comes, I pray I won’t miss out on the riches of knowing him, following him, and sharing in his holiness in these days—even if that means I may miss out on something else.
Zach Barnhart currently serves as Student Pastor of Northlake Church in Lago Vista, TX. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University and is currently studying at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, seeking a Master of Theological Studies degree. He is married to his wife, Hannah. You can follow Zach on Twitter @zachbarnhart or check out his personal blog, Cultivated.