Let’s jump right in with what Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.” — Matthew 16:24
It’s true that every good and perfect gift is from God, but until Jesus restores all things, every good and perfect gift is still corrupted by sin and evil. Have you ever heard the story of the children who exuberantly greet their father every day when he comes home from work…until he buys them each a Nintendo switch? They trade the joy of the giver for the distraction of the gift! We are the same exact way. We prefer our gifts from God over God Himself, which is why it’s so hard to lay our gifts down – even for just a season.
A gift can also be a distraction
God wants us to live as a community in covenant relationship with Him. Sacrifice is always involved in a covenant relationship, which means God’s people must be willing to deny themselves. Denying ourselves means periodically putting down the good gifts God has given us in order to allow extra time and space to focus on the Giver. Traditionally, Lent has been a time when Christians deny themselves in order to prepare their hearts to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
The practice of a 40-day preparation period before Easter has likely been observed since apostolic times, and was formalized by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The number forty carries biblical significance based on the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness and Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness. In modern times, a 21-day fast has been a popular way for Christian communities to focus on prayer together. No matter when or what form your fast (aka, denying yourself) takes, fasting is an opportunity to deepen your relationship with Christ. It’s an invitation into the wilderness. We can deny ourselves a variety of things that usually serve to distract us:
- Food (please stay healthy and drink lots of water)
- Sugar/desserts or other decadent foods
- Snacks or other non-nutritious foods
- Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube)
- Digital Entertainment (TV, streaming services, video games)
- Take a screen break and fast from your phone/laptop/TV for a few hours each day/one full day per week
- Delete non-essential apps from your phone and do not reinstall until after Easter
Fasting without prayer is not fasting at all
As you fast, you might be surprised at how often the thing you’ve given up comes to mind! Each time that happens, see those thoughts as a call to prayer. Fasting opens up our time, so focus on filling that time with family, friends, and Jesus. For example, if you decide to give up one meal a day, spend time in prayer, Bible study, and meditation instead of eating at that time. If you decide to fast from an evening Netflix habit, lead your family in an evening devotion instead. Fasting can also provide more time for serving others! Fasting gives us an opportunity to change our relationship with the things we fast from so that nothing masters us (1 Corinthians 6:12). Whatever you give up, you will appreciate it all the more at the end of your fast. God is good, not because He gives us all these things that we enjoy, but because of Who He is. When we deny ourselves and follow the Spirit into the wilderness of fasting, we can learn about the character of the Giver apart from His gifts.
My Fasting Story
While I’ve found many forms of fasting helpful through the years, fasting from social media has made the greatest impact on me. Years ago, I battled a destructive Facebook habit. I wasted hours mindlessly scrolling. If I posted something, I would compulsively check to see how many likes my post received. One year, I gave up Facebook for Lent. I felt so much better, I never reinstalled it. I know there is a healthy way to interact with Facebook. It is a morally-neutral tool, after all. However, I have not yet the self-control to maintain a healthy relationship with Facebook, which is ironic, since you might be reading this on Facebook!
After my 40-day Facebook fast was over, I switched to a variety of apps trying to fill the void. I found that Candy Crush really wasn’t much better for my mental and spiritual health. I now focus on the Bible Memory app and a Spanish learning app when I need a brain break. I also find the YouVersion verse of the day story/guided prayer and the Lectio 365 app are great ways to get my “phone fix” in a limited and non-destructive way. This year, I felt led to delete the YouTube app. It was the last bastion of social media in my life. It was a great step-down from Facebook because I never post videos and I disabled my ability to comment years ago, but it still too easily became a time-sucking vortex. I originally planned to give up YouTube for Lent, but the conviction was too strong, so I deleted it early, but I still watch The Well’s YouTube channel from my laptop and my phone’s browser. Just saying.
I’ve replaced my social media habits with subscribing to podcasts and borrowing audiobooks on Hoopla. I’m also attempting to teach my brain to withstand silence. With ADHD, that is a significant feat, but Jesus is teaching me that when I work toward renewing my mind, He meets me there.
Again, social media isn’t intrinsically bad, but if you need to change your relationship with social, here are some suggestions:
- Use your phone’s time limit setting to help you see how much time you’re spending on social media, and then set a limit.
- Clean up the algorithms.
- Unsubscribe, unfollow, and un-everything that is not nourishing for your mind and soul. There are a lot of entertaining things on the internet that aren’t necessarily bad, but the waste of time is epic (Ephesians 5:16).
- Be the master of your phone vs. allowing your phone to be your master.
So? Will you join me in a fast? If you venture into the wilderness, I promise, Jesus will meet you there.