“You are what you eat.” This is a phrase that most of us have heard, either in passing or because we are its target audience (usually spoken by a parental unit). Whether or not we like it, it’s true. Our bodies take the good in the food and use it, and if there aren’t the proper nutrients in the food then our body is forced to make do with what it has been given. It’s limited in how well it can grow and maintain itself, and the effects of a poor diet can definitely be seen over the long haul.
In a similar way, the things we take into our minds and hearts in the everyday activities of life determine the kind of disciple of Jesus Christ we are. How a person chooses to spend his or her time in seemingly unimportant situations impacts the development of his or her character and how much he or she is like Christ in this world.
Practically speaking, what do you consistently do with your time? Popular culture gives us a variety of entertainment options. However, today’s entertainment does not do much to encourage us to grow. Instead, it tells us to sit back, relax, and enjoy whatever it is that’s going on in front of us. It generally requires very little interaction with real-life issues, and very little real thought. The person participating in popular entertainment spends a lot of time in activities that do not really build his or her faith and character, and definitely do little to build the faith and character of anyone else.
The concept of “free time” is one that I believe is abused in both secular and Christian cultures. I often hear people speak of free time as time in which they have a “right” to do whatever helps them “unwind.” However, Paul said to “make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:16).” I don’t believe that all modern entertainment is a great waste of time, but I do believe that we ought to pay attention to the quality of the entertainment we take in. There are certainly shows, movies, music and books that can build us up in our faith and in our ability to live as a Christian, but there are also those that can undermine the faith of the unaware, either all at once or slowly over time. Reading books that are challenging, watching movies for more than entertainment purposes, intentionally discussing great ideas with friends – these are things that develop our minds and enable us to walk with God in this world. A person who pays attention to things going on around him or her, and who wrestles with the truth in light of a given circumstance, is going to better at living in that circumstance as a Christian than will the person who just lives for the pleasure of the moment.
The small decisions you make today about what you spend your time doing will determine the character of the man or woman you will become. A small act of faith, showing kindness to someone you cross paths with during the day or holding your tongue when you’d rather say something mean are the building blocks of godliness. On the other hand, dwelling on impure or unkind thoughts or choosing to just look out for yourself instead of helping someone else are things that damage character. “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” The world gives quick, cheap fixes. Godliness takes more effort and persistence, at least until we are in the habit of it, but it leads to a life that is incomparably happier than that of a person who doesn’t care about what’s right, wrong or best.
So, be wise about the way you spend your free time. There are plenty of activities out there that are both entertaining and mentally or morally stimulating at the same time. Be discriminating. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you are considering what to do with your free time:
- Does this activity help me to develop my mind and my ability to interact with the world as a Christian?
- Does this activity help me to connect with someone else, or give me something encouraging to share with someone else?
- Will this activity put thoughts, images or ideas in my head that will distract me from fellowship with Jesus Christ?
- Does this activity challenge me to be a better man or woman?
As you think about what to do with your time, I have two words of caution to consider. First, be careful about evaluating someone else’s life and choices. You are not in their shoes, and they are not in yours. Each of us must make the daily decision to let God build godly character in our own hearts before we can begin to think properly about how He might be building faith and character in someone else’s life. Even then it’s tricky business. Matthew 7:1-2 says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Second, don’t take yourself so seriously as to give legalism a foothold in your life. If you’re being critical of others, there’s a good chance you’re being legalistic. The humble heart knows that it is capable of every sin it sees in others. The way we live flows directly out of our relationships with Jesus, who is our true life. The life of Jesus isn’t formed in us by strictly adhering to certain rules or principles. Rather, it’s formed by continually bringing everything in our lives to Him and in learning to rest contentedly in His loving care.
Here are some alternatives to quick-and-easy popular entertainment:
- Read a book that challenges you spiritually or exposes you to new ideas
- Listen to music that inspires you to grow closer to the Lord
- Watch a movie that causes you to grapple with current issues in the world
- Spend some time in God’s word
- Go for coffee with a friend
- Take some time to pray (you can be creative about how you do it!)
- Go for a walk
- Call a friend
- Take up a hobby (such as photography, a sport, drawing, playing an instrument, etc.)
My point here is that there are better activities for rest and relaxation that what the world typically offers. Learning to rest in constructive ways pays off. You will be more refreshed, you will be building the kind of character that is more like God and you will be more useful to Him and satisfied with the life He’s given you.