Contemporary Issues

Giving Tuesday: The Biblical Principle Behind a Secular Holiday

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As a child, Christmas Day was the one time of year I would gladly wake up early. My brother and I would slide down the banister (against my mother’s persistent commands not to) and race toward the Christmas tree. While we waited for my parents to wake up, we marveled at all the gifts, and we'd nudge the boxes to see if we could guess what was inside. I just knew Addy, the American Girl Doll I wanted, was waiting for me.

If I’m honest, Christmas was exciting because we knew we would get a lot of toys. And if we’re all honest, this is probably where our hearts naturally lean. We’re prone to focus more on what we can get rather than what we can give. But when the Bible talks about giving, it almost always places a strong emphasis on the heart of the giver and the blessing it is to give.

Even the world recognizes this truth, in some respects. Giving Tuesday is known as a global day of giving that seeks to “connect diverse groups of individuals, communities, and organizations around the world for one common purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving."

It’s wisely situated the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and right in the mix of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It was started, in part, as a response to the consumeristic nature that marks the holiday season.  Though Giving Tuesday wasn't started as an explicitly Christian movement, it gets at the heart of Jesus’ words that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

THE BIBLICAL PRINCIPLE BEHIND GIVING TUESDAY

If that principle is true, then both giving and receiving are good things. But if you had to choose one, Scripture says it’s better to give.

Do we really believe this, though? Our natural inclination is to hold on to what God has given us. We may wrongly assume that because God has given us wisdom, wealth, or influence, those are ours to use for our comfort on this side of glory.

While our natural inclination may be to withhold, God has given us our time, talents, and treasures to be a blessing to others. When God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and that his descendants would be as vast as the stars in the sky, he ends his promise by saying “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through [him]” (Gen. 12:3).

God was not just blessing Abraham so that he would accrue wealth, status, and influence (although he did have those). God was blessing Abraham so that he would be a blessing to the world. God’s blessing Abraham was not an end in itself. It was the means by which God would bless others.

Giving Tuesday is beautiful in its attempt to fight against our natural inclination to get more during the holiday (and every) season. Instead of asking how we might get our children, spouse, or friends the latest and greatest gifts, maybe we should ask how we can give to those that can give nothing back to us? Perhaps we should be asking how we can serve, love, and care for those on the margins of our society? Giving Tuesday campaigns provide spaces to answer these questions and to turn our questions into actions in the context of community.

GIVING IN COMMUNITY

In the west, we often view giving as an individual act. In December, my husband and I write our end-of-the-year donations to the nonprofits we support, and we usually pray for their work during this time. This is good, appropriate, and necessary, but Giving Tuesday has challenged me in the communal effort and impact of giving.

Giving Tuesday emphasizes whole communities that are working together toward causes that impact their cities through their “community campaign." In Charlotte, NC, the SHARE Charlotte community campaign raised $7 million for 235 Charlotte nonprofits in 2017. There’s something beautiful about collaborative community efforts that seek to push back the effects of sin in small ways.

We see similar efforts in God’s Word. In 2 Cor. 8-9, Paul exhorts the churches in Corinth to continue to give their resources to the persecuted saints in Jerusalem. This petition was not an uncommon practice for Paul (see 1 Cor. 16:1–4; 2 Cor. 8:1–9:15; Rom. 15:25). Throughout his letters, we learn that Paul raised money among Gentile churches for Jewish believers. Paul's efforts were evidence of God’s grace to his people since they historically did not get along.

In the case of Paul’s letters, these were groups of people (local churches) that were giving together for the good of God’s people in other locations and the advancement of his Kingdom.

Furthermore, these examples show us there is more than one way to give. Some may provide financially, like the Corinthians church’s offering to the believers in Jerusalem. Others, like Paul, may give of their time by volunteering with an organization. And some may provide talents they have to offer.

Whether you are giving your time, talents, or treasures, what might it look like for our generosity to exceed writing individual checks at the end of the year to include tangibly working alongside others to help the weak?

WHERE GIVING TUESDAY FALLS SHORT

In the SHARE Charlotte Giving Tuesday campaign video, a woman said they wanted to give people an easy way to do good. Giving Tuesday is a good and noble cause, but it falls short where many good works that are done apart from Christ fall short.

God does not just care about what we do, he also cares about why we do it. It’s not enough to give our time, talents, and treasures. The motive behind our giving matters.

The motivation of the Christian’s giving should be different. We are generous stewards because Christ has been generous to us. The God of the universe, who was rich in every regard, generously made himself poor so that we might become rich. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9).

GIVING IS WHO WE ARE

If there ever was good work, this is it—Jesus Christ laying down your life for his people (John 15:13). So, when we give, it is not just out of a motivation to do good. When we are generous to others, it’s because the most magnificent and undeserved gift has been given to us—salvation in Jesus Christ. It is from this salvation that our generosity flows.

Because of what Christ has done for us, Christians give beyond Giving Tuesday. Giving is not just what we do; giving is who we are.

We give because of what, in Christ, has been given to us. We give because we know that it is better to give than to receive. We give because, he who did not spare his own Son will, in him, graciously give us all things (Rom 8:32).


SharDavia “Shar” Walker lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Paul. She serves on staff with Campus Outreach, an interdenominational college ministry, and enjoys sharing her faith and discipling college women to be Christian leaders. Shar is a writer and a speaker and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Christian Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Trick-or-Treaters as Image Bearers

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Growing up, I likened Halloween to banana-flavored Laffy Taffy. I didn’t love it or hate it—but if it were my only option, I'd reluctantly partake. My indifference to the holiday had little to do with the ethical debate Christians often have this time of year. I just thought it was strange. I didn’t like the idea of going to people’s homes asking for candy, or the jack-o-lantern’s taunting smirk. And I deplored the life-size inflatable replicas of my least favorite critter—spiders. I carried some of these sentiments into adulthood.

But every year, this holiday I once shrugged at leaves me in awe of God. When I look past the spider webs draped over bushes like cotton candy, and the thousands of tiny fingers swimming in bowls of sweets, I see kids imaging their Creator. Their imagination and creativity remind me that, in small ways, they are reflecting the likeness of their Maker.

Imaging Our Creator

It didn’t need to be Halloween for my brother and me to dress up. Growing up, we had active imaginations. We tied towels around our necks and pretended to be superheroes. We knew the world needed saving and assumed we were just the duo to complete the mission.

Sometimes our creativity frustrated my mother—especially when we used our “powers” to steal back “the holy grail” (also known as my mom’s favorite vase), only to break it when we returned to our “lair” (the dining room).

We loved to create—costumes, songs, paintings and more. At the time, we didn’t know we were displaying something about God.

If you only read the first sentence of the Bible, how would you describe God? You might say he is at the start of everything. He existed at the beginning. He is the main subject. But what is God doing? He is making things. When introduced in the Bible, God is creating.

Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (emphasis mine). In the beginning, God is making, forming and shaping the world with his spoken word.

On Halloween night, I wait to hear the doorbell ring. I find it hard to concentrate on anything else as I look forward to children arriving. Why am I excited? I want to see kids who didn’t buy their costumes from Party City. I’m excited to see what costumes they created with everyday household items.

One kid arrived at my doorstep as a washing machine made out of a cardboard box; his sister was a dryer. They glued an empty Tide detergent box and a few articles of clothing onto their "washing and drying machines."

Another girl, dressed entirely in red, stuck a bunch of colorful balls to her stomach and smiled as she held a bag of gumballs in her hand. The creativity amazes me because it shows what God is like. He is a maker and creator in a broader sense. They are like God in this regard, and many don't even realize it.

Making Something Out of Nothing

In Genesis 1-2, God creates the earth out of nothing. He speaks and nature exists. The Hebrew word for "created" in these chapters is bara’. It means to create, shape or form. The Latin phrase, ex nihilo, means to create something out of nothing. God does this in an ultimate sense.

While we do not create ex nihilo, we do create. We play a part in making, shaping, and forming things on earth.

When God gives Adam and Eve what is known as “the cultural mandate” in Genesis 1:28, he commands them to do what he does, but on a smaller level. They are to cultivate the earth. God calls them to develop and tend to the garden where he placed them. As one interpretation renders it:

“The first phrase, ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, ‘subdue the earth,” means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music.”[1]

While we develop and harness the social and natural world, we praise those that do so with excellence. We admire beautiful architecture and listen in amazement to our favorite songs and composers. We love innovation and imagination in kids and adults.

We acknowledge the beauty of creating in our everyday lives, and so do children. They paint, put on costumes, form animals out of clay, build cities with Legos, dress up dolls, pretend to be superheroes. Whether in a unique costume or a painting, as we praise our children for creating in their distinct ways, we must not forget to honor the ultimate Creator that formed our very beings.

This year, as you see children (and adults) dressed up, remember the image they bear in their creativity. In the little things, they reflect a creatively beautiful God who surpasses even their wildest dreams and imaginations.


SharDavia “Shar” Walker lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Paul. She serves on staff with Campus Outreach, an interdenominational college ministry, and enjoys sharing her faith and discipling college women to be Christian leaders. Shar is a writer and a speaker and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Christian Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

[1] Nancy R. Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2004), 47.

You Don’t Have to Be Busy to Belong

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One evening when reading our dinner devotional book, I read about the Feast of Trumpets, a once-a-year event when the Israelites were called (literally) to repentance. The trumpet would sound and they’d remember that their time was God’s gift and whether they’d spent it well or not. Nancy Guthrie writes, “God set up a yearly holiday called the Festival of Trumpets to blast the people out of their spiritual laziness.”

Sometimes I wish we’d get a trumpet blast to arouse us out of our spiritual stupors, so we’d be forced to see how we use busyness to block our ears.

Slowing Down

We need trumpet calls and wake-up calls. We need to say no to the things that lead us away from the story of God and lead us to follow a story of the suburbs. The suburbs keep us busy because we think the more we move, the more we work, the more valuable we will be. If we hope to nurture a life of faith, we’ve got to stop moving long enough to hear God’s voice.

The gospel says: come to the desolate space. Tantrum, scream, cry, face your fears of insignificance and irrelevancy there. Then find rest in a rest that is not of your own making. Find Jesus. And having found Jesus, we will be sent out, and he will ask us impossible things—not to test us but to show us (even in the food we eat) that he provides not only for our hungers but also for the hunger pains of our communities.

God will be found by us in the desolate spaces. Going to desolate places might look like recalibrating our time to fit what we say we value. It might be removing our phones from our nightstands and choosing to not document our lives on social media. It may be committing to read our Bibles even when we’re not sure if God will show up.

Our time is not our own to fill like an empty shopping cart—with whatever strikes our fancy and fits our budget. Our time (like our money) is a means to love God and serve others. Paradoxically, only as we give of our resources will we be filled. This isn’t American bootstrapperism where we muscle it out to be generous; instead it’s slowing down and acknowledging that we have a Father God who sees our needs and kindly answers them for our good and his good pleasure.

But if our schedules are packed too tight—like our closets—there will never be room to let in anything new, including God. Our daily habits, our weekly schedules, and our purchases all add up to how we spend our lives. Anything we turn to that dictates our daily habits also shapes our hearts. We hunger for good work and restorative rest, and yet we stay busy because we fear we won’t find anything in the desolate places. But what if instead of circling the suburbs or distracting ourselves, we simply stopped? What if we said no more often? What would happen if we slowed down?

We could begin to live ordinary time well.

Living Ordinary Time Well

When we live ordinary time well, we practice disciplines that increase our hunger for the right things—not the quick-fix chicken nuggets of the soul, but the nutritious meal. We pray. We read our Bibles. We give. We serve. We partake in the sacraments and dig our hands into the life of the church.

When we live ordinary time well, we choose to spend our time for God’s kingdom instead of building up the kingdom of self. When we do, we don’t have to force our days, plans, or even our memories to provide total satisfaction. In her book Simply Tuesday, Emily P. Freeman writes, “Part of living well in ordinary time is letting this day be good. Letting this day be a gift. Letting this day be filled with plenty. And if it all goes wrong and my work turns to dust? This is my kind reminder that outcomes are beyond the scope of my job description.”

When we stop moving, we realize time was never our own. Then, our days can be received as gifts.

If we slowed down and pruned our schedules, we’d begin to decenter ourselves. We’d practice sustained attention and even be bored. We could begin to imagine what finding holy in the suburbs would look like in our hearts, families, and neighborhoods. We’d give our children the tools to know how to be comfortable in their own skin without having to perform to feel loved. We’d give them (and us) a better way to live in a culture that says you have to stay busy to be seen. We’d show them a better way to belong than through joining a frenzied, success- and image-driven culture.

You Don't Have to Be Busy to Belong

The upside-down kingdom of God in the suburbs stakes this claim: you don’t have to be busy to belong. When we stop striving, we don’t have to hoard our time or treasure. God’s kingdom testifies that rest is possible, not just checking out from the rat race in your favorite version of suburban leisure, but more than that, we can experience a deep, restorative rest.

The gospel says that in Jesus we’re held, protected, loved, and valued simply because we are God’s children. But to imagine a vision larger than what our suburbs sell as success and productivity, we have to have the courage to slow down.

There we have the space to wrestle with all that our busyness hides and there, we pray, we will find God.


Taken from Finding Holy in the Suburbs by Ashley Hales. Copyright (c) 2018 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Ashley Hales is a writer, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother to four. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and after years away, she's back in the southern California suburbs helping her husband plant a church, Resurrection Orange County. She's the author of Finding Holy in the Suburbs and a contributor to Everbloom. Connect with Ashley at aahales.com.

Loving and Living in Kairos Time

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One of the most significant inventions in human history is something you’ve probably never heard of. It hasn’t received much press, even though it helped fundamentally define the way we now live. It’s called the escapement. First used in the 13th century, the escapement is the piece in the machinery of a clock that allows it to measure time in equally divided increments. It regulates the descent of weights or the unwinding of a compressed spring in a measured fashion, creating the distinctive “tick-tock” of the clock that so infamously vexed Captain Hook.

Take a moment and seriously consider what life would be like without clocks. How would you measure time? How would you know when to show up for an appointment? Or when the football game will be on TV? How would you know what time to take a lunch break—or when you need to come back?

Precisely measured time is such an ingrained part of our experience it is nearly impossible to imagine life without it. Even as I write this, I’m aware of the current time, my next appointment, and the looming deadline to turn in this article.

Prior to the escapement, time was understood more like a flowing river than a ticking clock. The sun, moon, and stars—mysterious heavenly bodies that lay beyond human control—were the base tools for measuring time in large units such as days, months, and years. Even so, time was elastic, as changing seasons ushered in longer or shorter days.

The invention of the escapement marked a radical paradigm shift from an elastic, rhythmic, flowing concept of time to a precisely measured, evenly divided, universal understanding of time. As historian Daniel Boorstin writes, “There are few greater revolutions in human experience than this movement from the seasonal or ‘temporary’ hour to the equal hour” (from his book The Discoverers, published in 1983).

All that to say, we have a complex relationship with time. But it doesn't have to be so complicated.

TOO BUSY MARKING TIME

The Greek term for this kind of measured time is chronos, from which we get the word chronological. We function largely in chronos time—making and keeping appointments, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and trying to fit as much as possible into the limited time we have. Type-A personalities are known for taking control of their time, not allowing one second to be wasted. “Time is money,” we are told, because “time and tide wait for no man.”

As helpful as the escapement was, giving us a sense of dominance over an uncontrollable part of life, it came with its own requirements. As Boorstin writes, man “accomplished this mastery by putting himself under the dominion of a machine with imperious demand all its own.”

In the area of relationships, when we function primarily in chronos time, people either fit into our schedules or they don’t. Our relationships are controlled by a scarcity of minutes and hours. To give our attention, time, or energy to another person is to sacrifice a limited commodity.

So we must decide, with every interaction, if the person before us—the one vying for “a unit” of our day—is going to be a drain to an already limited asset or a worthy investment of our time. We play a game of give-and-take based on what we can get from them in the time allotted. People become objects, defined by space and time, and their fundamental nature as persons who bear the image of God is devalued.

WELCOMING DIVINE APPOINTMENTS

However, there is another way—one more ancient and biblical—to view time. The Greek term that defines this understanding of time is kairos. Though a complex word, kairos can be understood to mean “a specific and decisive point” in time.

The idea of kairos time, in the Bible, carries with it an idea of divine appointment: that God is in control of time itself, and he has appointed times, seasons, and dates to fulfill his own purposes. Each moment is, therefore, pregnant with purpose above and beyond our own understanding.

Kairos time is purposeful, yet outside of our control. Our lives, therefore, are filled with a multitude of divine appointments, rather than a long line of annoying interruptions.

Scripture is full of divine kairos appointments. Take Philip, for example, who was on the frontline of a revival in Samaria (Acts 8:4-25), which included crowds paying attention to and responding to the gospel, exorcisms, and miraculous healings. People were being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit right and left.

In the middle of this, “an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place” (Acts 8:26). This is a kairos moment for Philip: a divinely appointed time for him to obey and respond to God’s leading, which he did: “And he rose and went” (Acts 8:27a).

STAYING IN THE MOMENT

For an angel to send Philip to the Gaza road seems a bit like benching a player who’s batting a thousand. Or ending a career right at its apex. “God is doing some amazing work through you … therefore, leave right away, go out to the middle of the desert, and hang out in the wilderness.”

Do you feel like you’ve been taken out of your sweet spot in life, and relegated to the side of a desert road? Perhaps life has been interrupted with a cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or a family member struggling with addiction.

It’s easy to get distracted by the wilderness and miss God’s hand in the midst of it. We get overwhelmed with the geography (the desert) and miss the moment (the kairos). What God calls us all to do is be attentive to how he wants to use us right where he has us, even if it’s a place we never would choose. Sometimes the time is more important than the place.

Will you respond to the perfect moment—for every moment is his—like Philip did? For Philip, obedience to God landed him in a chariot with a foreigner and religious outcast. For this man, Philip’s response to this kairos moment was the necessary piece of the puzzle that connected him with Jesus (Acts 8:27-40).

God is at work in every situation. So many times I’ve spoken to friends who have recognized and obediently acted on the divine appointments which came while sitting in a chemotherapy chair, speaking gospel truth and comforting other patients. Could God use something as bad as cancer to put you in the place where he wants to use you?

LOVING AND LIVING IN KAIROS TIME

When we live in the freedom of kairos time, people are no longer seen as time-sucking drains. We are no longer forced to view others as assets or liabilities, worthy or unworthy investments. Because people are not things, they cannot be reduced with such a myopic view.

Loving people in kairos time means no longer seeing time as a scarce asset under our control, but a gift to be generously distributed. It means viewing every person as worthy of our time, because not only are they created in God’s image, they are placed before us by a God who loves them and wants to love them through us.

Because of this, there are no interruptions. Only divine appointments.


Mike Phay serves as Lead Pastor at FBC Prineville (Oregon) and as a Staff Writer at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He has been married to Keri for over 21 years, and they have five amazing kids. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikephay) or check out his blog.

Happiness in High Fidelity

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Vanity of vanities. What’s the point? Nothing matters. How is this possible? How can things that initially seem so enjoyable and look so good end up being so unsatisfying in the end?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus helps us understand what lies at the root of Solomon’s unhappiness—and our own. “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” he says, “. . . but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In other words, the reason Solomon became dissatisfied with consumption, the reason we will also find it unsatisfying, is because it cannot offer the deeper, richer, sustainable goodness that our souls seek. When we invest our hearts in temporary things, things that John describes as “passing away,” we must constantly replace them to maintain our joy. And so we’re constantly looking for newer, better, faster, and flashier and will gladly pay for them even if we don’t need them.

Happiness: Made to Break

Understanding how our hearts relate to possessions helps explain cultures marked by consumerism and driven by the belief that new is always better. Giles Slade, the author of Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America, writes that part of what motivates consumers to keep purchasing is that they are in “a state of anxiety based on the belief that whatever is old is undesirable, dysfunctional, and embarrassing, compared with what is new.”

So in order to be happy, we keep consuming, keep buying, keep indulging—but the whole time, the things we gain leave us empty even as we crave them all the more. We’re not victims of planned obsolescence as much as partners in it.

In order to find lasting happiness, we must invest in things that last, we must store up “treasures in heaven.” Because what ultimately makes something good is not whether it brings us momentary pleasure but whether it brings us eternal pleasure, whether it satisfies both our bodies and our souls.

Unlike modern gadgets that become outdated on release, the technology that allows me to play my Sidney Bechet album is the same basic technology that Thomas Edison patented in 1878. To look at it, a record is nothing more than a hard, flat disk with thin concentric circles, but the circles are actually grooves with microscopic variations that the record needle “reads.” The resulting vibrations are translated into electric signals, amplified, and as if by magic, make my living room sound like a 1940s nightspot.

Spiraling Toward God

Another surprising thing about records is that while the record itself is spinning in a circle, the needle is actually moving closer and closer to the center with each spin. The circles that appear concentric are really one continuous spiral that begins at the outer edge and slowly loops toward the center.

We often think of life on this earth in a linear fashion, a road that leads straight off into eternity. Because of this, when we think about investing in heavenly treasure or things that last, we could easily assume it means forgoing anything but necessities here on earth, that we should only invest in things of an obvious religious or spiritual nature. But Solomon presents a different vision of our time on this earth—one that simultaneously complicates and clarifies the search for good things.

Having realized that seeking pleasure itself is not good, Solomon, began to understand that his problem wasn’t so much what he was pursuing as how he was pursuing it. He had been pursuing good things apart from God, the Giver of good things. But “apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” he asks.

This leads Solomon to an equally profound thought: “For everything there is a season,” he writes, “and a time for every matter under heaven. . . .”

He has put eternity into man’s heart. . . . there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

What Solomon realizes is that our life on earth, all the things we experience, all the work we do, all the good things we enjoy, aren’t simply a hurdle to the next life. They are designed by God to lead us to the next life. They are designed to lead us to him. Like the grooves on a record, God’s good gifts are designed to draw us closer and closer to the center, to draw us closer and closer to eternity and him.

A Broken Record

But sometimes the record is scratched. Sometimes debris gets lodged in a groove. And when this happens, a record can play on a loop, repeating the same musical phrase over and over and over again, never moving forward. This is what happens when we seek God’s good gifts as ends in themselves.

When we give ourselves to pleasure without acknowledging God as the source of it, we get locked in an earthly, worldly mindset. We begin to believe that this present moment is all that matters. And we run in circles trying to satisfy ourselves, never getting any closer to where we need to be. Never getting any closer to true goodness.

Instead of forgoing good things in this life, we need to let them do what they were designed to do: draw us toward God.

Keep Spinning

In 1 Timothy, Paul writes that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4). Paul is not suggesting that we can indulge in anything we want as long as we pray over it; he’s teaching how a posture of thanksgiving and submission to God’s Word puts us in a place to know God through his gifts.

From this posture, we acknowledge that all good things come down from him, that without him, we would have nothing. We submit ourselves to his plans and purposes for our lives, even if they run counter to what the world tells us will bring happiness. And we confess that he is our ultimate good.

So that by this turning, turning, turning, this always, only, ever turning toward him, we will come out right.


Excerpted from All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment by Hannah Anderson (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

Hannah Anderson lives in the haunting Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She spends her days working beside her husband in rural ministry, caring for their three children, and scratching out odd moments to write. In those in-between moments, she contributes to a variety of Christian publications and is the author of Made for More (Moody, 2014) and Humble Roots (Moody, 2016). You can connect with her at her blog sometimesalight.com and on Twitter @sometimesalight.

An Ancient Solution to Digital Weariness

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My college diet was deplorable. Many days, I saw Taco Bell’s “Fourth meal” less as marketing lingo and more as a privilege. I cherished ramen, fast-food, and freezer pizzas for their convenience and ease (and of course, their taste). Though the food tasted good, it left me feeling . . . not so good. My fat-saturated diet was served up with a side of regret and left me feeling bloated and weary.

These days it’s a tech-saturated diet that has me feeling weary. But instead of gaining weight, I’m losing meaning.

My eyes are dry and strained from endless scrolling on a brightly back-lit screen. My hand aches from forming the claw necessary to hold my phone all day. My brain is exhausted from trying to survive the information tidal wave it wakes up to each day. And my heart is discouraged at the frustration and the futility in it all.

Paul contends, “our outer selves are wasting away” (2 Cor. 4:16), and our devices used in excess certainly do not help. We are, as Neil Postman suggests, “amusing ourselves to death.” Half of our problems with digital devices would go away if we’d simply use them in moderation. But sometimes a hard reset is also appropriate. This is where fasting comes in.

FASTING: AN ANCIENT SOLUTION TO A MODERN PROBLEM

Fasting is an ancient practice designed to free us from what we hold most dear. Fasting provides an opportunity to routinely and starkly remind ourselves of who we are and what truly nourishes us.

Resolved to break free from my tech-saturated world, I considered my strategy. I felt like I was standing at the bottom of a long staircase holding several very heavy bags. I could see the top of the staircase, where I was master over my devices, and I knew it would take more than a few big steps to get there.

So I decided to take on two different forms of fasting; two small steps towards developing a normal rhythm of tech-fasting. These steps are small, but the tech-dependent baggage I carry is heavy. And there’s nothing wrong with taking the stairs one at a time.

A CLEANSING FAST

My first form of fasting was a cleanse. I decided to spend an entire day cleansing my palette of all devices and screens. No phone, no computer, no television. Only the baby monitor was allowed.

Before I started, I thought to myself, It’s only going to be about eighteen hours without devices. It’s not a big deal. Right?

But when you’ve been tech-saturated for years, the itch to sneak a look at your screen is much more tempting to scratch than you might think. While I didn’t feel quite like an addict having withdrawals, there were a couple of moments where I questioned my approach.

What if I miss something—something important? Is this responsible for me to do, as a pastor to people? What if someone depends on me to answer them and my phone is off?

I came to realize these were weak arguments for breaking my fast. But it’s an argument many pastors can relate to. We feel the impulse to be as available for our people as a fully-staffed 24/7 hotline.

Availability is not a bad thing, in and of itself, but if we aren’t careful, we will convince ourselves that ministry hangs on our shoulders. That God is not quite so sovereign apart from our ability, that we are somehow less in need of rest than our flock.

Shepherds watch over and sacrifice for their sheep, to be sure. But they sleep, too. In fact, a shepherd can’t effectively protect and guide his sheep without rest.

PUTTING CLEANSES ON THE CALENDAR

I’ve resolved to begin the practice of being device- and screen-free for three regular time periods: one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year. This kind of regular detox will remind me that the world can and will continue to turn without me. It will remind me that there is something far more worth my time than an infinite scroll of information.

After all, fasting is not just about doing without but replacing the emptiness with something we need. How could I regret replacing screen time with prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual disciplines? What if I devoted all that former screen time to face-to-face time with family or friends?

I’ve also resolved, thanks to the wisdom of Andy Crouch, to begin putting my phone to bed at night and waking it up in the morning. Too often my phone demands my late-night attention until I’m too tired to go on, and it’s there crying out for me the moment my alarm rings in the morning. But my phone is my pet, not the other way around. I need to take the leash back.

Disconnecting for one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year may seem unattainable for you. It will probably be uncomfortable the first time you do it. But it will be a routine reminder that this world and God’s plans are much bigger than you or anyone else. 

A SPEAKING FAST

My next fasting strategy had to do with talking less. Epictetus (and my mom) used to say we have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak. I decided to fast speaking, choosing to listen and observe instead. This kind of fasting doesn’t get nearly as much attention or exposure as the other, but it is arguably just as important for our souls.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve taken several-days-long periods away from saying anything on Facebook. Though still online, I have made it a point to stay silent. And silence is quite the teacher.

Every tweet, every blog post, every status update, every comment can be liked, shared, retweeted, affirmed, reacted to, analyzed, and engaged with. This means the whole of our online contribution is measured, evaluated, and scored by others. We know this. Yet we continue to justify the need to play the game.

Many of us in ministry see our online platform as a chance to share gospel truth with people in our sphere, but because of the inescapable metrics of social media, we also see it as a chance to be impressive. Do we wordsmith a theological statement and post it to the glory of God, or to the glory of self? Do we share a book quote because we want people to be sharpened by it, or because we want to be seen as the kind of person who reads that book?

If we’re not careful, we will mistake gospel proclamation for platform promotion. We will say with the migrants in Shinar, “let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4).

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE’RE SILENT

What does it do to our soul when we log onto social media and find no notifications waiting on us…again? During my fasting from speaking, I found out.

First, it humbles us. It reminds us that the world doesn’t need our platform. We are dust (Gen. 3:19).  It also reminds us that listening first helps us to speak wisely later, instead of being reactionary or presumptuous. It allows us to press into the right discussions at the right time, and helps us avoid getting caught in the “vain discussions” Paul warns against in 1 Timothy 1:6-7. Finally, fasting from digital speaking allows us to choose empathy without anything to gain from it (Phil. 2:3).

We need to empty ourselves of thinking the world needs our words, and more so, that God needs us. He doesn’t. His Word is sufficient. The fact that he speaks through us at all is a cosmic miracle. He does not need to use us, but he wants to use us. That’s what makes being a part of his mission so humbling and so shocking.

FAST FORWARD

“All things are full of weariness,” the Preacher reminds us in Ecclesiastes. Spend some time on social media, and you will agree. Each day is a deluge of debates and statuses and breaking news and sales pitches and memes and noise.

But Christ has the answer for our digital weariness: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Fasting takes our gaze away from our blue-tinted screens and turns them toward the only Shepherd who never sleeps (Ps. 121:4).

We will never be fully in the know. We will never say everything. We will never satisfy our deepest longings. Fasting reminds us of all these truths. You may not start with an extended, long-term fast. But start somewhere—for the sake of your soul.

Don’t be afraid of the emptiness, for it is there that you will find the Way to be filled.


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.