It was a big adjustment when I moved to Chicago right out of high school. Among the many changes was a disappointing discovery that it was nearly impossible to see any stars at night. I had grown up in the country and spent many nights staring at the sky. I would gaze at the Milky Way, locate the Pleiades, point out the Northern Cross, watch Orion on the horizon, and catch sight of a meteorite. I even had the rare opportunity to see Halley’s Comet in 1986. In Chicago you were unlikely to see the moon unless it happened to be standing over your street.
Why couldn’t I see the stars at night in Chicago? Because of light pollution. There are so many man-made lights in a city that they drown out the view of the stars. The stars haven’t gone away, but they are clouded by a blanket of artificial light. When you get out of the city and away from the lights, you can see the stars again.
In the same way, we can see God more clearly when there is less polluting our souls: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). The stars at night are not the only things in life that can seem to vanish. I am reminded of the times in my life when I think that God has disappeared. It’s not that He isn’t there; it’s just that I don’t see Him.
What keeps us from having a pure heart? One of the biggest factors today is entertainment. The hours spent each day in front of various electronic screens can appear harmless. But just as the artificial lights in a city are welcome at night until you have a desire to see the stars, so it is easy to get used to a constant stream of media until we realize that we are having trouble seeing God. Media pollution blocks out the light of God shining into our lives, and the person who longs for intimacy with Him must choose what is more important.
Have you ever struggled with your relationship with God in a similar way? Does He ever seem distant to you? Do the things of the world seem much more attractive and interesting than the things of God? Have you ever been uninspired in prayer or felt that reading the Bible was just a chore? Do you have a tendency to fill your life with noise because you are uneasy with silence? We are a generation that is addicted to entertainment, and we don’t know what to do with ourselves when it’s quiet. Silence makes us nervous, and when we have leisure time with no plans, we tend to gravitate toward the TV, a movie, or the Internet out of habit.
Having spent many summers working at youth camps, I have often marveled at the impact these camps can have in the lives of young people. I have a good hunch that much of their effectiveness is due to the fact that campers have to unplug from media for a few days. During that short time, the artificial light that has previously blocked their view begins to dissipate, and they begin to see God more clearly than before. It is not that they haven’t heard the same messages before at church or in their homes—but oftentimes, the messages don’t get through to the heart because it is experiencing a spiritual form of light pollution.
If my hunch is right about the effectiveness of such a short break from media, imagine the growth we might experience if we began to unplug some of those distractions for longer periods of time. If we would choose to undergo a media fast, I’m convinced we would begin to see God more clearly.
What is a media fast? It means going without all or some portion of media for a set time in order to seek God. Do this as an individual or organize a group of participants to keep each other accountable. You will discover your cravings and how strong they are during this time, but it’s not like fasting from food, which your body actually needs. You don’t physically need media in your life to survive! Thomas Edison didn’t invent motion pictures with sound until 1913. The first television transmission was not until 1927, and the first regular broadcast was in 1936, both in England. Prior to that, society survived just fine, and so will you if you take a break from entertainment.
Be serious about your fast and use the time you would have spent on media to seek the Lord in prayer and Bible study. Take a real plunge and commit to forty days at least. I promise you that you will live through it and will likely emerge with a new perspective on life.
Fast from whatever is most distracting in your life right now. Maybe it’s television, or video games, or spending too much time on social media. You might need to put the smartphone away for a while or turn off the radio at home or in your car. Whatever it might be, don’t be a chicken. Learn what it means to pursue Christ at all costs.
Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick [i.e., entertainment] brought before him: and his sleep went from him. (Daniel 6:18)
Abstain from all appearance [or every kind] of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. (2 Timothy 2:19)
What are some of the media choices you make that might be distracting you from your relationship with God? Maybe it’s time to consider switching from prime time to quiet time (Psalm 46:10). From vegging out to crying out for wisdom (Proverbs 8:1). From being taken captive to taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). From idol time (oops, I meant idle time) to redeeming the time (Ephesians 5:16). From the light pollution of the world to the authentic light of Christ.
Phillip Telfer has ministered to youth and families for over twenty years. He is the founder and president of Media Talk 101, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching media discernment in the light of following Christ. Phillip produced and co-directed the award-winning documentary Captivated, and is the author of Media Choices: Convictions or Compromise? He also serves as a co-pastor at Living Water Fellowship in Bulverde, TX. He and his wife Mary have been happily married for twenty-three years and have been blessed with four children.
This article is adapted with permission from Phillip Telfer’s book Media Choices: Convictions or Compromise?