I recently read a panicked message from the communications director of a large church that the senior minister had announced that he was giving up social media for forty days and wanted everyone in the congregation to do the same. The communications director noted that the great majority of the congregation’s in-house communication and a large amount of outreach takes place through the church’s social media pages. The communications director heard the preacher saying that he wanted the church to stop doing evangelism for forty days.
In the weeks before Easter, many people who follow Jesus fast to some degree. Most do not go without food entirely. They will pick a food, chocolate or asparagus for example, and not eat it for that time period. In a comparatively recent development, some, like the preacher mentioned above, decide to stop engaging in a specific behavior they consider negative.
I’m very much aware that the Bible says absolutely nothing about a forty-day period of fasting and prayer before a feast that remembers the resurrection of Jesus. It actually says nothing about such a feast either (The one mention of “Easter” in the King James Version should have been translated “Passover” as it is every other place the word occurs). Fasting, usually connected with prayer, is mentioned in both Old and New Testaments. Acts 13:1-3 informs us that the prophets and teachers of the church in Antioch fasted and prayed before sending Saul and Barnabas out as missionaries. Jesus warned his disciples that when they fasted, they should not do it so that everyone would see their privation and consider them super-spiritual people (Matthew 6:16-18). In Isaiah 58:1-12, God responds through the prophet to worshipers who question why their fasting and prayers seem to have no effect. God rebukes them, saying that they fast, but still quarrel and fight. He makes clear that “spreading sackcloth and ashes” is not what he desires from a fast.
What kind of fast does God choose? The passage in Isaiah 58 continues: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” God wants fasting (going without food) to be balanced and accompanied by positive helping behaviors towards other people. My sense is that Christ would not have ordered a fast from social media, but would have counselled his disciples to use Philippians 4:8 as a guideline for their posts, and to use social media to help and encourage rather than to slander and criticize, to evangelize rather than to politicize. He would have said, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, what ever is pure, whatever is lovely…think about these things.” If you are going to fast, use your newly freed-up time to do good. Spend the money you have saved to help others. Enjoy the beauty of the world God has created. Sing with joy to the Lord.
- Quotations from the Bible are from the American Standard Version.
Lord God, we bow before you, aware sometimes that our fascinations and desires sicken you. We humble ourselves before and strip away that which distracts. Give us wisdom to discern what will help us to concentrate more fully on you without hindering the spreading of your message into the world. Heighten our awareness of our own pride so that we will sense when we do something to be seen or heard by others rather than to please you. Our society and culture changes quickly. We want to discern those changes we should adopt, those we should adapt, and those we should abhor more clearly. Guide us so that our fasts will be pleasing to you. In Jesus’ name, amen.