The moment I walked into the dorms, I was greeted by a barely clothed 19-year-old guy with an Xbox controller in his hand. He looked at me and asked, “You play Halo?” So began my undergraduate degree at a Baptist university. I had come to study the Bible and philosophy, but it seemed that many of my peers had come to enjoy four years of practicing and perfecting the art of hobby. Dedicated intramural teams, obsessive gaming, competitive fantasy football brackets, and weekends to shoot skeet or play golf were just a few of the options that college opened up for myself and hundreds of other young men. When I graduated, the hobbies just got bigger and more expensive. With salaries and full time jobs, young men are given the resources to take their hobbies and obsessions to new levels. They often have a hard time being able to enjoy their hobbies in a restful way, without immersing themselves headfirst in a world of distraction. The young seminarian might obsess over his blog, the undergraduate student might be chest deep in video games, the father is dedicated to watching every game or being out on the links every weekend, and the grandfather is hoping to re-read all his favorite Grisham novels this spring at his lake house. Like Aristotle might have said, had he had the chance to update the slang in his Nichomachean Ethics, “It’s hard to fiddle in the middle.”
Are hobbies evil? Absolutely not! But when hobbies become obsessions they flip the created order, where man exercises God-given authority and dominion over creation (Gen 1:27-31), and instead place man in subjection to the creation (Rom. 1:21-25). So, the question before us is, how do you enjoy God’s goodness in creation without making your hobby a hindrance to your faithfulness to God’s mission in your home, church, and community?
I want to state three things that we must do, truths we can’t abandon in enjoying hobbies, and two things that we can do to shape our practice of hobby.
What We Must Do
In order to be faithful men of God while enjoying God’s creation, we must:
1. Be Self-Controlled
Paul tells Timothy that those who aspire to the office of overseer “desire a noble task.” These men, the overseers, are to set an example of the lifestyle of a Godly man. Paul exhorts Timothy that these men, the standard set before the men of the church, should be “sober-minded” and “self-controlled" (1 Tim. 3:2).
What is self-control? It is the ability to restrain oneself from one thing so that one might be cast headlong into something better. Paul goes on in 1 Timothy 4:12-15, saying, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid theirs hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”
As C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “We are far too easily pleased.”
We refrain ourselves from immersion in hobbies so that we can immerse ourselves in communion with God. We practice self-control in our hobbies so that we can practice reckless abandonment in our pursuit of Christ.
2. Redeem the Time
Above my desk, in my office, I have a framed picture that my wonderfully creative wife made for me that has pictures of books, coffee beans, and a few quotes. Knowing that my hobbies are reading, writing, and the quest for the perfect cup of coffee, in the middle of that picture is a quote from Jonathan Edwards. The quote from his “Resolutions” says, “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.” Underneath this quote is Paul’s admonition to the church in Ephesians 5:15-16, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making he best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
Is it lazy that I occasionally enjoy reading fiction while I watch a rack of ribs smoke on my pit? Is it sinful that my brother and I have fun attempting the maddening challenge of placing a small white ball into a hole 400 yards away? No, but there is a difference in delighting in the good gifts of God and engrossing myself in the realm of distraction.
If I look to use the “first fruits” of my time for any hobby or practice other than advancing the Kingdom in my home, church, and community, then my hobby has stolen my heart.
One way that I would encourage you to “test your hobbies” is to ask the question, “Where do I run in times of crisis?” In times of crisis, struggle, or fear we run to the functional hero of our hearts. After that argument with your wife, do you flee to tinker in your garage? After that bad news from the boss, do you escape into a fiction fantasy?
Where you run to spend your time when your “time is up” is where your worship is directed.
3. Possess a Gospel Urgency
While Paul encouraged Timothy and others to “Practice these things [scripture reading, teaching, exhortation, etc.], immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15). Paul goes on, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Our hobbies should be practiced with a gospel urgency. Vacations, hobbies, and rest does not exempt us from the ongoing mission of God in our home, church, and community. If your hobby is an escape from living under the Lordship (authority) of Christ, than your hobby is a remnant of your sinful desire for autonomy. When you are enjoying fishing on the lake…you belong to Christ, the water belongs to Christ, and the fish belong to Christ. Like Abraham Kuyper once proclaimed, “There is not one square inch in all of our human existence over which God does not cry, ‘Mine!’”
Yet the world and the spiritual forces of evil at work in the lives of unbelievers oppose Christ’s Lordship over all of creation. Your hobby must become a platform upon which you stand to proclaim “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:1).
If our hobbies are lacking an urgency to know and enjoy Christ and to make him known, than they are becoming less than they were created to be.
What We Can Do
To encourage and challenge ourselves to remain faithful men of God while enjoying our hobbies we can:
1. Serve Our Wives
I love writing, so I operate a blog. My wife knows that I love to write and that if I am not blogging, I will be working on a sermon, book, article, or paper. What does it say about my heart if I write a thousand blog posts and never once use my gift of writing to honor, serve, or celebrate her? It says that I believe my hobby is from me, through me, and to me. Does that phrase sound familiar?
So I attempt to serve my wife with my writing. I write her poems and “choose your own adventure story-dates.” I am also sure to speak well of her in my writing.
Maybe you love to cook; cook her a meal. Maybe you love to work with your hands; make her something. Maybe you love to golf; take her out to her Putt-Putt. Be creative, put as much thought into including her in your hobby as you do in practicing your hobby.
2. Include Others
You are not the only guy who likes playing Madden 2013. There is a high school guy in the student ministry at your church who can destroy you, invite him over and let him teach you a few things. You are not the only man in your church who enjoys watching the games on Sunday afternoon, so invite them over and mute the TV during the commercials. You would be surprised at how excited that young man would be to get invited to your senior adult men’s domino game.
Bring other people into your hobby. Use your hobby to develop relationships with your neighbors and church family. When you see a gift as a gift, and not as an entitlement, than you will share that gift.
The real question is, “Is your hobby gift or god?”
Kyle Worley is the author of Pitfalls: Along the Path to Young and Reformed, an editor at CBMW, and serves as Connections Minister at The Village Church Dallas Campus. He holds a double B.A. in Biblical Studies and Philosophy from Dallas Baptist University and an M.A.Th. in Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also pursuing an M.A.R at Redeemer Theological Seminary.
*This originally appeared at CBMW.