Paul Miller got paid to spend a year fasting from the internet. His was a noble quest:
I wondered what else there was to life. “Real life,” perhaps, was waiting for me on the other side of the web browser… I’d find the real Paul, far away from all the noise, and become a better me.
Ultimately (and unsurprisingly), it didn’t work out too well…
I’d learned how to make a new style of wrong choices off the internet. I abandoned my positive offline habits, and discovered new offline vices. Instead of taking boredom and lack of stimulation and turning them into learning and creativity, I turned toward passive consumption and social retreat.
Much of the rest of this post has little directly to do with Paul’s story – which is well worth reading.
Paul’s honesty got me thinking about how it illustrates two really helpful spiritual principles.
Firstly, it’s important to carefully consider what you choose to surround yourself with. What we choose to surround ourselves with can help or hinder us to live lives full of self-control. If we choose to surround ourselves with tempting things, we will be tempted! I’ve noticed that if I spend a lot of time with friends who are more wealthy than me – and have the possessions to prove it – my levels of dissatisfaction increase and my desire to buy new shiny things becomes difficult to handle. If I am surrounded by good friends who are striving to live simply I find it easier to be thankful for all that I am blessed with. What I am surrounded with and by is an enabler for good choices.
But this only gets you so far. Paul chose to step away from the internet and this helped him – for a while – to change his lifestyle and look at life in new ways. What he was powerless to do was to make that change stick.
Secondly, the one ‘fruit of the Spirit’ you can’t fake is self-control. Self-control doesn’t grow in us automatically – it needs to be practiced. A fruit tree needs tending and pruning to bear good fruit. In order to live in the Spirit you have to choose to walk in line with the Spirit (Gal 5:25). Growing in self-control is the result both of the work of God the Spirit in us and conscious choice and hard work. This hard work looks like clothing ourselves in love – ‘putting on love‘- every day. It looks like prayerfully choosing to make godly choices every step of the way, knowing that without God’s help you haven’t got a chance.
I’m not very good at that. I’d like it to become more like my natural behaviour. Just like a bike feels like an extension of your body only after many hours of cycling.
There is nothing wrong with good old fashioned effort. It doesn’t earn us anything but it is part of what it means to live a life transformed God’s Spirit.
The fierce fight for self-control is a fight of faith. “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:12).