Can Christians Justify Leisure?

I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan. From her start as an American country artist to her current status as an international pop star, I’ve been there for every stage along the way. When it comes to windows-down, stereo-up, belting-music sort of road trips, she’s my top pick.

Now, my husband doesn’t quite share in my enthusiasm. He patiently tolerates it occasionally; but mostly, he limits his music intake to Christian artists who have fiercely meaningful and reflective lyrics. Without intentionally trying to, he challenges me to reconsider the amount of time I spend listening to, memorizing and supporting this secular artist’s music.

Naturally, my consideration leads me to question whether, instead of listening to Taylor Swift, I should listen to Christian music, or an enlightening podcast . . . or at least something constructive.

It’s a tough question, and I haven’t found a black and white answer. Instead of clawing for that answer (which I’m not convinced actually exists), I’ve accepted the reality of analyzing the choices I make for my time on a case by case, day by day, and hour by hour basis. I’ve grown accustomed to asking myself a lot of questions.

And sometimes, instead of Taylor Swift, I do try the local Christian radio station, or I keep the radio off and pray instead. However, there are still times that I choose to turn on one of her albums and belt out the whole thing from beginning to end.

If you spend a lot of time engrossed in popular Netflix series, sports, video games, or novels, you might find yourself in a similar situation, debating whether you should really watch the next episode, tackle the next level, or read “just one more” chapter.

I think Christians can have hobbies and enjoy leisure. However, it’s important to really think through what we are investing our time in.

If we occupy our time with meaningless and worldly engagements, we get distracted from our main goal as Christians and lose focus. Our focus should be on living a life worthy of the Lord, and to please Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the knowledge of Him (Colossians 1:10). How are we to know what pleases Him if we fill so much of our time with watching TV, scrolling through social media, or playing video games, instead of seeking Him and yearning to hear His voice?

In Hebrews, we read the exhortation, “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

This passage compares the Christian life to a Jesus-focused race. We need to spend our time doing things that energize us to keep running forward in this race, things that help us to fix our eyes on what we’re racing to—Jesus.

Leisure Can Be Sinful

Hindrances and sin are the two things this verse in Hebrews instructs us to throw off. We have to be rid of them because they entangle us and prevent us from pursuing Jesus and the “race marked out for us”. If I ever doubt whether a certain TV show, music, or hobby is sinful—I tend to step back from it altogether, and take time to wrestle through that question with God and trusted Christians in my life. Possibly sinful leisure is leisure that’s worth finding a clear answer on—and it’s good to abstain from it until you find clarity.

I remember binge watching an HBO show called “Dexter” during a school break in high school. The show was complex, intriguing and very captivating. But it was also dark and twisted, and I quickly got uncomfortable with allowing it to consume so much of my time and thinking space. I still don’t know if it should be considered sinful indulgence, but it clearly had a negative influence on me at the time. Once I realized this, I simply stopped watching.

Initially, I missed the show, and I could no longer participate in my friends’ speculations on the show’s various plot developments. However, as time passed, I realized that I was actually relieved to be free from the show’s dark, captivating pull. I also found that by sharing with my friends why I stopped watching the show, I was able to refocus our conversations on significant personal developments, instead of just TV show developments.

Leisure Can Be a Hindrance

Hebrews 12 also mentions getting rid of hindrances, which delay, obstruct, or make it difficult to run the Christian race. Even when I discern that my interests or hobbies are not inherently wrong, I have found the following questions helpful in discerning whether they are beneficial:

  • Is this really a “side” activity, or am I letting it consume a significant portion of my time?
  • Can I give this up at any point, without a struggle? (If not, I really need to think about giving it up right away!)
  • Am I using this to avoid something else I should be doing? (Have I been neglecting to pray, read God’s Word, spend quality time with my family or friends, or stay active?)
  • Does this help me keep my eyes fixed on Jesus? (if not, give it up!)

The Christian life is a race. Even runners can’t sprint for an entire marathon and pacing is important. In the Christian life, I believe we need to take time to mentally, spiritually and physically rest. For me, sometimes this means watching an episode of a light-hearted comedy while snuggled next to my husband on the couch after a long week. For you, it might mean going on a run over the weekend, or spending some time to cook a meal from scratch. We all have different personalities and are wired to unwind, recharge and relax in different ways.

Even though these activities are often restful and beneficial to some degree, I increasingly find that many seemingly innocent activities do not make it through all of my filters.

I think leisure is necessary, but we should be careful how much time we allot to certain activities, what those activities are, and whether they contribute to building us up in any positive way (even if it’s simply to help us rest). If our leisure isn’t helping to build us up, it’s likely a hindrance that is distracting us.

Make the Most of Every Opportunity

 I am challenged by Paul’s warning to the church in Ephesus to really consider how they could better spend their time:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

In addition to making sure we keep ourselves in check, we should consider how to make the most of every opportunity. If I have a free afternoon, I could choose to watch TV. But I could also choose to search for new Christian worship music that can encourage my mind and heart to praise God. I could show appreciation for my husband by doing something he loves. Or I could volunteer my time with a local organization to serve my community.

By focusing on positive alternatives for my time, I am encouraged to make better use of it. This also keeps me from using “leisure” as an excuse to do whatever I want without consideration of its usefulness. Since the word “justify” means proving something to be right, I actually think all Christians should take time to justify their leisure.

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