Life isn’t meant to be one endless treadmill of work, study, chores, grind … Everyone needs to take some time to relax, unwind, and recharge their batteries.
But regardless of what we’re doing – whether working hard or relaxing in the evening – all of our time is supposed to be spent in a way which honours and glorifies God. As we know, ‘man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever’.
However, this principle seems much easier to apply in a context of purposeful, productive activity compared to relaxing and taking things easy – and things become even more complicated when you consider some of the things that people normally do in their free time. Is it acceptable to spend your free time reading novels? in the pub? playing football? listening to music? watching a film? There may be something which you don’t do habitually, but if you’re invited by friends someday, is it acceptable to go along with them as a one-off?
Some things are clearly wrong. You don’t need to spend a long time agonising about them. The Bible and your own conscience will tell you clearly. This is a question of obedience rather than guidance.
However, with many things it may not be so clear cut and even serious Christians can differ quite widely about where to draw the lines between acceptable and unacceptable forms of recreation and entertainment. Different Christians will prayerfully and sincerely come to different conclusions before God about how to spend their time.
Nevertheless, there are certain guidelines that we can use when weighing up whether a particular activity is truly a good use of our time.
- Is it profitable for our souls? Does it allow us to retain serious impressions about sin and salvation? Does it allow us to hate sin, and love holiness, and be brought nearer to God?
- Does it make us more fit for spiritual activities, like prayer? Is there an easy transition between this activity and (say) family worship? Does it help us to relax and unwind so that we can turn away from it (to our work, or to something spiritual) with a fresh mind and new energy?
- Or does it actually weaken our interest in religion and commitment to religious activities? Does it make us think that so much prayer, or church-going, or Bible reading, isn’t really necessary after all? Does it make us feel that religion is a burdensome chore, and believers are too joyless and strict?
- Are there other activities associated with it which are more obviously risky or sinful? Is it extravagantly expensive, does it expose you to temptations to break the seventh commandment (yes – think about it)? If not wrong in itself, is it likely to be a gateway to things that you know in advance aren’t just questionable but are obviously wrong?
- Is it something that may become an idol?
- Does doing a certain activity give a good witness to our family and friends, or does it send mixed and confusing messages about how seriously we take our Christianity?
Individual consciences will sometimes give different responses to these questions in relation to one form of recreation or another. Many things can be perfectly innocent when considered in one light, but can equally be portrayed as dangerous and wicked from a different angle. We should not use this as an excuse to do whatever we want, but also we shouldn’t go to the other extreme and live in a monastery.
God has given us a beautiful world to enjoy. Most of us are blessed with health and strength, with interests, hobbies and skills. We are at liberty to enjoy these, to follow our interests and to use our skills. We are not called to shut ourselves away from the world, but equally we are not permitted to be worldly.
God sets a very high standard and we have very wicked hearts by nature. Remember this.
Christians are new creatures (1 Corinthians 5:17). Our home is no longer this world. Our affections should be set on the things of God (Colossians 3:2), our focus should be Christ – pursuing a greater knowledge of him, and ever-closer union with him (2 Peter 3:18). Paul tells us, ‘For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.’ (Romans 8:5-6). The difference is stark – death or life. We should live accordingly even in our leisure time.
All the time we have is a gift from God – precious and limited. We need a lot of wisdom to use it wisely and for the glory of God. Pray about this and seek the Lord’s help.[A00145 – 18/12/2020]