How to Be Smart and Intentional About Our Media Consumption
Art says a lot more about God than we realize. We are made in the image of the original Creator. This means he made us to love beauty, enjoy glorious sound, and be moved by poetry. He wants us to be storytellers. He wants us to be deep and abstract and colorful. We reflect parts of him and his character when we create art. And when we experience art, we get the chance to understand things about this world and him.
In today’s world, art can instantly reach millions of people while making some of the most powerful statements about society and culture or about the deep longings in our souls. It can inspire us into action and make us think deeply about our own perspectives. It should expose something in us: emotion, biases, new passion.
However, our abilities to create and to be moved by art tend to be buried under the all-access pass we have to all things media. There’s no end to the music, TV, cinema, and images that we can consume. Like with most things, we have taken a good thing and made it an idol. In this age of binge-watching and mindless scrolling, we have become numb to the ways art influences us.
Now more than ever, there is a prophetic call on our lives as children of the Creator God to be set apart from the ways technology can turn art into an idol. It’s so easy to give in to hours of mindless media consumption and detach from the content itself, especially when it’s sexually explicit or violent. After a while, our senses grow more and more dull, and we can tend to justify consuming music with degrading lyrics or TV shows where murder and selfishness drive the plot lines. But that is not our call.
I am not advocating that we as Christians walk away from the art of this world in order to be set apart. But I do have some suggestions for how we can live responsibly into this call.
1. Let art have an impact. Engage with it deeply.
If you find yourself brushing off violence, profanity, and sex in the media you consume, take a moment to slow down. Turn your heart and your mind back on, and let what you consume move you. The increasing amounts of sex in media should grieve our hearts; we should lament that producers and musicians feel it necessary to tell their stories by selling sex along with them. Sex is sacred and private. We are not meant to revel in the lusts of others’ flesh or watch others engage in sexual activity. Violence and profanity are realities of the world we live in, but they too should turn us to lament that we are a truly broken people who hurt each other and harbor deep anger—people in need of a Savior.
Note, though, that what you take in will affect you, even if you’ve turned your heart and mind back on while watching it. Pay attention to what’s going on inside you when you’re consuming that award-winning Netflix show. Is it edifying your life? Or does it lead you to sin—even if just in the confines of your mind? Does it change your attitude about life, people, and God for better or for worse? Is it changing you?
Let art have an impact on you—and pay attention to how it does! Art should elicit a reaction, not complacence. Engage deeply with the art and media you consume, both internally and externally. Talk to your friends about what they think and how they feel about the shows you watch and the literature you read. You’d be surprised how often themes of sacrifice, forgiveness, and redemption jump off our screens. Bravely go to the places that our culture avoids, empowered by the Holy Spirit within you. Preach the gospel all the time!
What this looks like for me is writing a blog or Facebook post about the most recent blockbuster in theaters or asking my network of friends to engage with me around the themes that pervade our media culture like love, belonging, desire, purpose, and hope. It’s okay for us to be unsatisfied with the way the world has twisted art to reflect not God but our sinful hearts. Speak up! Engage.
It is so important that we take breaks from our constant consumption of media and art. The impact it has can only be countered by prayer and fasting. We need to let our hearts and minds rest sometimes. This is a normal act of spiritual and mental health. Cutting out media for a time will help you quiet yourself and hear more clearly from God. We have to give ourselves a fighting chance in this world that fights desperately for our attention! Try taking a weeklong fast from television and movies to start and see the difference it makes in your spiritual walk.
Earlier this year, I took a break from Facebook and watching television for six weeks. It was a really smart time for me to be without the distraction of my newsfeed or my favorite sitcoms. I was going through some important spiritual transformation that I think would have been slowed down by the way I use media to ignore or cope with my internal pain. During my fast, I felt less burdened, and I had more space to hear the voice of the Lord! I had needed to hear a lot from him about my personal suffering. He showed me once again that he is the treasure of all treasures. For me, fasting from media has always been worth it.
God calls us to be incarnate in this world, not to assimilate or alienate ourselves. He wants us to courageously interact with our cultures and also run to him for truth and life. You will need to figure out what rhythm is best for you, since everyone is different when it comes to how to intentionally engage with what the world offers. If you tend to work better with accountability, see if your roommate, best friend, or significant other will help you create healthier patterns—chances are, you’ll be helping them too!
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.