It will probably come as no surprise to anyone to hear that I have an obsession, namely with the work of Jon Foreman and particularly his band Switchfoot. I’m not alone – I’m friends with a whole community of fellow megafans who can all testify to the importance of this band to so many areas of their lives. But I’ve had conversations with many of these wonderful friends recently in which the difficult subject of idolatry has arisen. Whilst we love this band and know they do us good, so many of us at the same time worry we place them before God at times. It’s an important question to consider, however difficult; no human is worth our worship and devotion the way God is, at all. We need to get things the right way up; but how?
I wrote this a couple of years ago after a particularly obsessive spell got me seriously asking this question myself, and resulted in me fasting completely from both social media and all things Jon Foreman for the whole of Advent. These are some of the lessons I learnt from the experience. I’m sharing it here because it was eye-opening for me, and very helpful in how I treat my obsession. I’m hoping it helps for you too.
First – God is the source of every good thing, love comes from God and love in itself is always good. But we must hold every good thing lightly, enjoy them fully but be prepared to eventually surrender all things back to their Maker. Fasting is a good way of practising this, kicking down anything that could become a false god and breaking our hold on the things we enjoy by removing them from our lives from time to time.
I found it was unambiguously good spending a little time away from social media, though I missed my facebook-only friends! But fasting Switchfoot for that amount of time – less so. It was good for my sense of perspective for sure, showing up how God is enough for me and so, so much more than any mere band could be, that God is always good and can always be followed, whereas I don’t always agree with these guys on everything and sometimes will have to go a different way to them; to recognise that all the good I see in them comes from God and that it’s God who is at work in my life there, and also that God has power over every addiction.
However, it also showed up how God is using Jon to shape me and make me more the person I was made to be. As a result, I found that fasting for so long was slightly harmful – I found I was fighting myself after a while and trying to be someone I’m actually not by supressing that part of me that has been inspired by (God through) Jon. Without his influence I found I was less myself, less who I was made to be, and less creative!
So since then I’ve embraced the fandom, as far as I feel God at work in me through it, and have seen the most incredible positive changes in me as a result. I needed that perspective from fasting to tease apart the healthy good influence and God at work, from the unhealthy overreliance on the guys themselves. I’ve begun to look on Jon as my saint – which is actually a lot healthier than it sounds – not someone in any way perfect (as maybe I had been at risk of thinking) but a fellow Christian a little further along the journey in most respects than I am, and therefore someone whose example I can look up to and follow. But that has to be in the context of a good relationship with Jesus so I can see where they sometimes diverge, or where maybe I am further along than he is so he doesn’t bring me down. I have to follow Jesus first – but sometimes Jon is a good guide to my efforts. And of course, we’d hope to not just follow but surpass a saint eventually and leave them behind for Christ.
And then this, which has been a lesson learnt since: opening myself up to fandom has mostly improved me, but my obsession has also grown. It’s a weakness and character flaw for sure, and I have to be honest about that. But, surrendered to God, God can use a weakness and turn it to His strength. It keeps us small and humbly dependent on God’s grace if we are constantly seeking God’s help with it, and it opens us up to God working in us, He can use it to shape us.
So: I’ve realised that fasting regularly for short times is a very good practice, but for long periods isn’t healthy (probably the case for many good things). Fighting against ourselves is bad. Embracing fan-love and going for it wholeheartedly but humbly and reverently before God has (for me) opened me up to being more the person God wants to make me, and He’s done incredible things in and through me. And I’ve learnt to always look beyond Switchfoot to see God at work behind them, to acknowledge that’s where the good comes from, be thankful and keep my eyes on Him.
Let’s keep encouraging one another to ask the difficult questions of where our priorities are, who has our heart and how tightly are we clinging on to created things.