What are you living for? Don’t answer that. Instead, take this short assessment and then let’s talk.
Part A. In the blank before each statement, write in the number of hours in the average week (including your weekend or days off) you do the following activities:
_____ Watch television (including news) and movies
_____ Read fiction, magazines or the newspaper
_____ Surf the Internet for leisure/social reasons or for non-essential shopping (clothes, accessories, electronics, etc.)
_____ Play sports or work out
_____ Hang out with friends, including going out to eat with them or talking on the phone with them
_____ Work on hobbies or pursue activities like dance or theater
_____ Play video games or other games
_____ Just chill (take a drive, sit on the porch, sunbathe)
_____ Listen to the radio (exclusively or while you drive, but not while you do other activities)
_____ Sleep (outside of your normal sleeping hours)
_____ Hair, nails or other spa appointments
Part B. Now fill in the blanks before the statements with the number of hours each week you do these activities.
_____ Read non-fiction or study the Bible
_____ Attend church activities or meet with someone for the purpose of counseling (giving or receiving)
_____ Pray, meditate or journal
_____ Work on an income-generating or money-saving hobby or interest (not your job)
_____ Study (for a class or test or to learn a skill or language on your own) or helping someone else study
_____ Work in charitable activities (planning or implementing fund raisers, helping others, volunteering at an organization, etc.)
_____ Playing an instrument
_____ Write (letters, short stories, poems, etc.)
_____ Cleaning house
Add your hours from Part A and Part B of the above, and compare the scores. I suspect that a good many completing this brief assessment clocked many more hours in Part A activities than they did in Part B activities. Some exceptions might be serious students taking challenging courses or… people like me, whose families think they are odd birds for not kicking back more.
I used to be a queen of leisure. When I was in high school, I spent as much time as I could in Part A activities and almost none in Part B activities. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (I Cor. 13:11).
“Live to work,” goes the saying, but in fact, many of us are simply working to afford to live and what we actually live for is what we do outside of the J-O-B. In fact, the trend of the last few decades has been to hold on to child-like ways all the way to the golden years. It’s become the new American dream: a life of leisure and entertainment.
In contrast, there are those who are passionate about their work, seeing their job not only as a means of sustaining the rest of life, but meaningful in itself, and perhaps even a joy. That’s a blessed place to be in life, but also another subject. What we want to hone in on today is what we are doing with life outside of the money-making, bill-paying work.
If you look at the official statistics, Americans don’t actually spend all that much money on leisure and entertainment each year ($2,699 for the average household in 2009, according to Bundle.com). Yet that figure doesn’t include eating out (which would more than double that figure) nor non-essential shopping (like for most clothes and home décor, etc.) And, this figure has actually decreased during these last few economically depressed years. However, analysts found that people are using those leisure dollars to do more at home, rather than take expensive vacations, and so they are likely getting more leisure time out of the same or fewer dollars. For example, many used their dollars to upgrade their television and gaming equipment, and with the average American spending 28 hours a week with the television on, that’s an amazing return on investment of those leisure dollars.
The bigger concern, however, is not whether we are getting our money’s worth, but whether we are getting our life’s worth out of our leisure time. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” How often do we apply this test to determine God’s good, pleasing and perfect will to the areas of our lives we think are just fine? After all, there’s nothing sinful about hanging out with friends, reading a novel or playing soccer on the weekend. Sin or not sin? Not sin! Passed the test, right?
In a simple analysis, yes. But a person who wants to live like Christ lived has to go deeper. Among the very many non-sinful choices, are there some that are wiser than others? Some that imitate Christ better than others? Don’t think that a God who has your hairs numbered on a moment-to-moment basis doesn’t care what you do with your down time. He does and He has provided examples for us to emulate.
First, if we would care to really search the scriptures in this regard, we might be shocked to see that the Bible doesn’t profile in a positive manner any people who live for leisure. You will be hard-pressed to make a case that any Bible hero spent his down time playing bocce ball or horseshoes. Instead, our Bible heroes are people on missions or who are mentioned in tandem with their industry. Even David took advantage of his relatively inactive periods watching sheep and hanging out in a cave writing psalms.
Secondly, we have specific examples that indicate that God values industry over entertainment and leisure. Starting in Genesis when he placed Adam “in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Oh, you thought it was for Adam’s pleasure? And then God made woman as a what? A helper to Adam. So both men and women were there to work – not lay naked all day in the daisies. And that, folks, was before the fall!
After the fall, God told his people “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest” (Exodus 34:21). And in Bible times, as well as in modern times in many less developed countries, a work day does not consist of just eight hours. It was often as many hours as the sun shone, and then whatever could be done by candlelight. And thus it was the world over until about 100 years ago when modern conveniences made our workload so much lighter.
Think of stories you may have heard from your grandparents, or books like Little House on the Prairie. Thank God we don’t have it that hard anymore, but should I also say, “Thank you, God, that I now have time to watch four hours of television a night”? Television is an easy target, and a broad one, but please know that the other forms of time-passers listed in Part A can be every bit as deserving of attack as television.
On the other hand, many of the Part A activities (excepting video games) can be a healthy and fulfilling part of a life well-lived, a truly abundant life. The deciding factor of whether they detract or add to your abundant life in Christ may be the priority and amount of time you are giving these activities. We have the weekly day of rest and we have God-sanctioned extended periods of rest as well. These are the times to fill with Part A activities. And I believe God takes joy in seeing us relax and play.
However, on the average day, I believe it is more pleasing to God to be about industry, not leisure and entertainment, in our downtime.
My first clue that this is true is that it is counter-cultural. We are not of this world, and if the world’s idea of an abundant life is a relaxing evening after work and weekends on the lake, that is probably not God’s idea of an abundant life. My second clue is found in Proverbs 31. If you’re like me, it’s exhausting to even read the list of things that woman masters. In and among her waking early, cooking, mulling over real estate, planting, spinning and sewing, note two things: 1. There is no record of leisure activity and 2. Further, it specifically says she “does not eat the bread of idleness.” And my third and strongest clue is that Jesus Himself was a work-aholic. He worked to the point of exhaustion, so much so that one time He slept right through a squall on a small boat. The scriptures mention that He withdrew to places of solitude and we have the record of Him attending a wedding and dinner at some peoples’ houses. However, the gospels from beginning to end manifest that Jesus was all about His purpose. He had three short years of ministry and He made the very best of it.
How much time do we have before the Master demands to see what we have done with our talents? Do you think He’ll be pleased when we tell Him we were able to answer all the bonus questions on Jeopardy? What a stellar use of our intellect! The psalmist said, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” In other words, if we were to accurately reflect on just how little time we have in life, we would make wiser choices about how we spend each moment.
Need a concluding sentence…
According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year). In a 65-year life, that person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube.
I. FAMILY LIFE
Percentage of households that possess at least one television: 99
Number of TV sets in the average U.S. household: 2.24
Percentage of U.S. homes with three or more TV sets: 66
Number of hours per day that TV is on in an average U.S. home: 6 hours, 47 minutes
Percentage of Americans that regularly watch television while eating dinner: 66
Number of hours of TV watched annually by Americans: 250 billion
Value of that time assuming an average wage of S5/hour: S1.25 trillion
Percentage of Americans who pay for cable TV: 56
Number of videos rented daily in the U.S.: 6 million
Number of public library items checked out daily: 3 million
Percentage of Americans who say they watch too much TV: 49
Approximate number of studies examining TV’s effects on children: 4,000
Number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful
conversation with their children: 3.5
Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television: 1,680
Percentage of day care centers that use TV during a typical day: 70
Percentage of parents who would like to limit their children’s TV watching: 73
Percentage of 4-6-year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV
and spending time with their fathers, preferred television: 54
Hours per year the average American youth spends in school: 900 hours
Hours per year the average American youth watches television: 1500
Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000
Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000
Percentage of Americans who believe TV violence helps precipitate real life mayhem: 79
Number of 30-second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child: 20,000
Number of TV commercials seen by the average person by age 65: 2 million
Percentage of survey participants (1993) who said that TV commercials
aimed at children make them too materialistic: 92
Rank of food products/fast-food restaurants among TV advertisements to kids: 1
Total spending by 100 leading TV advertisers in 1993: $15 billion
Percentage of local TV news broadcast time devoted to advertising: 30
Percentage devoted to stories about crime, disaster and war: 53.8
Percentage devoted to public service announcements: 0.7
Percentage of Americans who can name The Three Stooges: 59
Percentage who can name at least three justices of the U.S. Supreme Court: 17
Compiled by TV-Free America,1322 18th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036