From the July/August 2014 issue of Discern Magazine

What Do You Do in Your Free Time?

How we spend time shapes our character, our happiness, our success and our future. What do you do in your free time? How does God want us to spend our time?

A few years ago an African friend making her first trip to a Western nation visited our home. She observed my wife working in the house and preparing dinner. She was amazed to see one labor-saving device after the other: an electric stove, a large refrigerator and freezer, a microwave oven, a garbage disposal, a dishwasher, a washer and dryer, and a vacuum cleaner.

Finally, she turned to my wife in astonishment and asked, “What do you do with all your time?” Most of our friend’s day, every day, was taken up with performing by hand the tasks accomplished by our appliances. She couldn’t imagine having so much free time.

All our free time?

It’s an interesting question to consider: What do we do with all our free time?

We may not feel like it, but people today have more free time than ever before. For most of human history, people had to spend almost every waking moment providing food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their families. It is still that way in much of the world.

Yet, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Labor, Americans over the age of 15 average more than five hours of free time a day. That’s almost a third of the time we’re awake! And, according to the same report, most of that unprecedented leisure time is used for entertainment: television, surfing the Web, video games and so on.

Free time: a blessing or a curse?

The way some people use their free time gets them into trouble.

Geoffrey Chaucer, in the 14th century, is credited with being the first to say, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” The more modern expression that someone has “too much time on his hands” usually indicates he’s done or is going to do something stupid or wrong.

How does God want us to spend our time?

It’s important to carefully consider how we use our free time and on what we should spend it. Our lives are composed of time, so how we spend our time is how we spend our lives.

How does our use of free time affect us? Are there leisure activities a Christian should avoid? Does the Bible give any guidance on how we should use our free time? How does God want us to spend our time—and not spend our time? 

What entertains us, changes us

Jesus corrected the Pharisees many times for their hypocrisy—attempting to appear good on the outside while their hearts were corrupt.

He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matthew 23:25-26).

We learn from this strong statement that what happens in our minds counts more with God than the way we appear on the outside.

Jesus also explained that desiring something illicit in our minds is a transgression of God’s law even if we don’t act on the thought: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

So it is vital to keep our minds and hearts clean and pure. This means a Christian should avoid any kind of entertainment that would cause him or her to desire to violate God’s law and way of life.

Bad company corrupts good character

In the first century, the apostle Paul corrected Christians in Corinth for, as we might say it today, “hanging with the wrong crowd.” He told them: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:33-34, New International Version).

These Christians were spending time with people guided by wrong values and acting in wrong ways; this severely and adversely affected them. Bad examples were crowding God out of their lives, and Paul said it was shameful.

Wise Solomon warned: “Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go, lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul” (Proverbs 22:24–25). The people with whom we spend time affect us. Whether we believe it or not, we come to resemble them.

Screen time and violent video games

How sad it would be to have God say, “That’s all you accomplished with the years of life I gave you?”Today people who wouldn’t dream of consorting with drug dealers, assassins and prostitutes spend hundreds of hours simulating that kind of life in extremely realistic games, movies or books. They listen to catchy song lyrics that unconsciously imprint their minds with wrong ideas about sexuality. Even bad virtual company can corrupt good character and habits.

Almost all the young men who have committed school shootings, from Columbine to Sandy Hook, were frequent players of graphically violent video games called first-person shooters, where the players practice shooting lifelike people over and over. This doesn’t mean everyone who plays such games will actually kill, but it does indicate the games have a definite and negative psychological impact on players.

Practicing an action over and over desensitizes us to it. So it is crucial to protect our minds. We must not allow ourselves to be desensitized to the destructive behaviors of sin: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23, New Living Translation). So we must make conscious choices about what we allow to enter our minds and affect our hearts. This directly impacts the kinds of entertainment we should choose.

Two traps: sex and violence

Two of the most destructive themes in today’s entertainment are violence and misused sexuality. Films, books and electronic games are portraying ever more graphic violence. Producers are constantly pushing the envelope to find new ways to surprise and shock audiences.

Sadly, many people have come to expect violence, even to insist upon it. Horror movies portray the sadistic and senseless torture and mutilation of innocent people. Video games have players graphically killing thousands of people, often without any moral framework. A whole generation of young people is becoming desensitized to violence.

Destructive sexuality is encouraged in music videos, in increasingly graphic movies and in video games. The blatant message is that sex is not something reserved for a loving marriage, but an uncontrollable animalistic urge to be indulged whenever the desire is felt and with whomever one wants.

The tragic results are becoming more and more evident in society: broken families, children growing up in dysfunctional homes, and the increasing acceptance of shocking perversions.

Destructiveness of online pornography

Online pornography is an especially loathsome scourge in its own right. According to the Focus on the Family website, among other issues:

  • Pornography is addictive, and the addiction is progressive. Once addicted, a person’s need for pornography escalates; the person grows desensitized to obscene material; and this escalation and desensitization drives many addicts to act out their fantasies on others.
  • Experts believe that a pornography addiction may be harder to break than a heroin addiction.
  • Pornography destroys marriages and families. Interest in online pornography strongly contributes to divorce.
  • Pornography plays a significant role in sexual violence. The most common interest among serial killers is hard-core pornography.

Christians must be aware of the terrible psychological and even physical destruction caused by pornography and make a firm decision to avoid it at all costs.

How should we use our free time?

Leisure time is what we have when we’ve finished working and recuperating from work. It is our most valuable time because we can use it to improve ourselves. How we use our free time shows our priorities (see our article “Christian Priorities: Putting God First”).

God set the pattern by mandating one day of rest time each week, the Sabbath day, for us to deepen our relationship with Him, with our family and with other Christians. (See our article “How to Keep the Sabbath as a Christian.”) This shows the importance of taking time to reflect on life, to take stock and to verify that we are pursuing what is most important in life.

Redeeming the time

The Bible tells us to use our time wisely and with great care. “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). To redeem the time means to make the most of it, to invest each minute in quality activities, not junk. It means to understand that our life is composed of time and we have a limited amount of it available to us during which we have important spiritual goals to achieve.

The apostle Peter wrote that we will “give an account” to God for the way we use our lives and what we accomplish (1 Peter 4:3-6). What will we be able to tell God in that accounting? Will we have to tell Him of hours wasted in mindless and destructive entertainment, or will we be able to show character development, spiritual growth and time spent in service to Him and our fellow man?

How sad it would be to have God say, “That’s all you accomplished with the years of life I gave you?”

Guidelines and constructive free time activities ideas

The Bible explains some guidelines that can help us decide what kind of entertainment to choose and how we should use our free time.

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

These qualities should guide us as we choose the ways we use our leisure time. This list would disqualify much that passes as entertainment today.

Suggestions for using our free time constructively include:

  • Talking with God in prayer and letting God talk to us through the study of His Bible.
  • Strengthening family ties and teaching our children important lessons and skills for life.
  • Serving those in need, including widows and orphans (James 1:27).
  • Reading educational and inspiring books, such as biographies and histories, and watching documentaries that help us better understand the world and life.
  • Furthering our education or sharpening job skills that can help us advance our careers.
  • Learning to appreciate good music and learning to play an instrument.
  • Engaging in stimulating conversation with friends about weighty and worthwhile topics.
  • Learning a new language.
  • Enjoying God’s creation by gardening, hiking, cycling, skiing, kayaking, star gazing, playing sports, etc.

What should a Christian do?

God tells us that one of the goals of the Christian life is to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5; see “Don’t Be Ignorant of Satan’s Devices” and “How to Put on the Armor of God”). This applies to every facet of life, including the way we use our leisure time.

We are privileged to have more free time than ever before. To use our time wisely and well is to spend our lives wisely and well, and to please our Creator.

What will you do with all your free time?

Learn more in our articles “Christian Time Management” and “Christian Decision Making.”

About the Author

Joel Meeker

Joel Meeker

Joel Meeker is a pastor, writer, editor and administrator. He serves as regional director for the French-speaking regions of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, and as chairman of its Board of Directors.

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