When Can Hobbies and Recreation Be A Bad Thing?
Anyone that has spent time encouraging Christians to study God’s Word, serve their church and community, or grow in prayer has run into the main obstacle to such Christian duties: entertainment.
I had a conversation with a friend several years ago in which we discussed his decline in Sunday attendance during football season. He explained that he had season tickets to his favorite team and went to every home game during the season. Since most of the games started around 1 pm, and he needed time to drive, park, and get into the stadium, he couldn’t be at church on those weeks. Thankfully, this brother was bothered by this reality and was seeking some ideas on what to do about it. I told him to get rid of the tickets because they were a distraction Satan was using to keep him from being a faithful Christian.
If you were to talk to the average American Christian you would think that the beginning and end of Christian duty is Sunday between 10 am and 12 noon. Christians often see the morning church service as the primary time of “being Christian.” It is the time that shows everyone around us that we are Christian, the time that sets us apart from our neighbors.
When we can’t make it to church on Sunday, it’s not a problem because we “live under grace” and God’s okay with it. The end result is a Christian that sees Sunday morning as the primary time to “be a Christian” but doesn’t attend faithfully (which is okay) because of distractions and recreations.
This is an issue that stirs up all sorts of trouble with Christians. Accusations of legalism and judgment abound when someone starts stepping on toes regarding recreation. It’s hard to comprehend Christians getting angry over someone saying they should be faithful to their Christian duties. Welcome to modern America.
The intent here is to explain the good and right place recreation has in our life, while keeping it properly prioritized.
I found a response from JohnPiper to a person concerned that he was more interested in his recreations than in spending time with God helpful as I think through this issue. Perhaps Piper’s response struck a chord with me as I have often thought about my own interest in the meaningless recreations this world offers. Where do we begin to discuss this issue that will inevitably cause many to become defensive and hurl accusations at others? Piper offers a perspective that is perhaps (secretly) share by many:
“What should we do? What should we do when a focus on God and Christ and the Spirit and his saving work in the world feels boring or unsatisfying? What should we do when the excitements of TV and movies and video games and sports feel so attractive and so exciting — far more interesting than God? What should we do?”
If we’re honest, we will admit that Bible reading, prayer and devotional time are boring. Often it is not a lack of time that prevents us from engaging with God but a lack of desire. We find more enjoyment in watching our favorite shows or keeping up with our fantasy football team. Because we live in a culture that places such heavy emphasis on recreation and entertainment, it’s easy for us to forget that our loyalty is not to culture, it’s not even to ourselves. We have been “crucified with Christ” and “bought with a price,” the desires of our flesh are not supposed to dictate our lives anymore.
Piper addresses this issue with a frank and sobering remark that is worthy of consideration:
“Maybe we should tremble. And the reason we should tremble is because that preference for the world is the condition of the whole world. The natural man cannot receive or enjoy or be satisfied or find supremely interesting the things of the Spirit. They are foolishness to him (1 Corinthians 2:14). That’s the mark of the natural man. Therefore, if we feel that way, we should tremble because we’re acting like mere men — not like children of God.”
When we as Christians place anything and everything higher on our priority list than growing in our relationship with God, we have proven that we care more about the world than we do about God. When we make excuses for why we can’t read our Bible, or spend time in prayer, or serve our churches and communities, we’ve spoken loud and clear about where our heart is.
No one is saying that we should not enjoy downtime, enjoy hobbies and recreations and even a good television show. Good recreation and hobbies have a right and proper place in our lives. It’s when these things take priority over time spent with God that problems arise. If we find ourselves with time to watch television, keep up with our fantasy league, hit the gym, or read the latest Top 10 bestseller, but we don’t have time to read God’s Word, pray, or serve our local church, something is wrong.
For the true believer seeking to grow spiritually, this can be an easy adjustment. Carve out time in your day to spend with God and set your mind on the things above. This might be getting up 30 minutes earlier in the morning, or staying up 30 minutes longer at night to read and pray. Or maybe you can listen to podcasts during your drive to work. There’s some great theological teaching and expositional preaching podcasts that are well worth your time.
We can’t allow ourselves to become so busy that God is pushed to the side. Even something good, if it prevents us from spending time with God, is not truly good. I continue to think through this issue and make adjustments in my life. It’s certainly a struggle, but one well-worth engaging.