How do you spend your “free” time? I place that word in quotations because, although He does give rest to those He loves, as the redeemed of Christ and stewards of the time here on earth He gives us, none of it is genuinely our own. So, I ask–what do you do with your unscheduled minutes, hours–even days? Do you waste it on what can only be called unprofitable activities? Or do you make an effort, even if it is hard at the beginning, to make every second count for Him?
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV)
Why would understanding the Lord’s will be contrasted with being foolish if it were not, indeed, foolish to not understand the Lord’s will? And why is this command given in the context of making the most of every opportunity if there isn’t a wise and a foolish way of spending our moments? We might be tempted to take these two commands as disjointed separate issues did the second not immediately follow the first. Yet because they are consecutive, we have to assume being wise versus foolish–understanding the Lord’s will versus not understanding it–is given in the context of making the most of every opportunity. And it is precisely because the days are evil that it is important that we make the most of every opportunity.
Many times we assume that because we have been faithful doing something good–accomplishing a task, completing a homework assignment, finishing a project–we can now relax and do something we want to do, that we can “reward ourselves.” And while it isn’t inherently wrong to do something pleasant or fun–whether as a reward for a job well done, or simply as something to look forward to–we need to be ever-mindful of the fact that our lives are no longer our own, that we are just stewards of the time, talents and treasures our Creator, Savior and Sustainer God entrusts us with:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NIV)
Every free time activity we engage in must be weighed against the backdrop of eternal value–or detriment. There are many activities we need to do simply to keep our minds, bodies, and spirits healthy, such as scheduling a down-day Sabbath rest one day out of seven, enough sleep, meals that nourish our bodies’ cells, a quiet time in Bible study and prayer in the morning or at another opportune time, physical exercise to keep ourselves in optimal condition so we can be useful for as long as possible, fellowshiping with others who love and obey God for encouragement and spiritual maturation, even times of reading valuable literature that stimulates our minds to greater growth and usefulness for our Lord. None of this is a waste of the time He gives. Yet, there are other available activities that can genuinely be classified as unprofitable.
These include spending what I would call dishonest time with those who do not yet follow Jesus. Jesus Himself spent much of His time with those who didn’t really know God and He commanded us to tell everybody about Him and God’s kingdom–but He was not ashamed of the Truth, and He took every opportune moment to speak it and to teach. If we are not ashamed of Christ and can freely speak Truth to others, then rather than being a waste of time, we are making the most of our opportunities. But if we are more concerned with fitting into the ungodly standard of the particular group we’re associating with rather that helping them fit into Christ’s kingdom, our time is being unprofitably spent, and we ourselves need to go back to the drawing board of God’s Word to figure out why we value the valueless and are still ashamed of the Priceless Treasure who said: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38 NIV)
There are other ways to spend our time unprofitably in light of eternity. We can, for example, read literature or online material that does nothing to help us grow mentally and spiritually. I am not saying that we should not read our class’ required reading if it is not Christian literature, but in terms of what we do in our spare time there are definitely worthwhile books and online articles, and those which do nothing good for us–which actually model lust, other sins, or simply foolish living: that which lies to us.
On the other hand, there is so much good material we can read! The truth is that probably anything written by a real Christian (not merely someone of a particular denomination or even with a divinity degree, but one who has surrendered his or her life to Christ–you’ll be able to tell from the content itself!) is profitable. Do you like biographies? Read the biographies of men and women who were powerful for Christ. Do you gravitate toward self-help books? There are loads of them written by Christians. So you want to understand social structures, what makes people tick, or any other academic endeavor including biology, astronomy, or physics? There is a plethora of books and articles written by faithful and honest servants of Christ who are also respected academics in their fields. If you do have to read secular material, such as for a class, keep in mind that the most famous are not necessarily the most correct–some of the most well-known in their respective fields have had a genuine hatred for God and actively campaigned to eradicate any reference or credit to Him.
Probably the most common unprofitable way of spending our time is regarding our entertainment habits–the movies and programs we view. I am not advocating complete abstinence because there are good ones out there. But unfortunately, the truth, if we are rock-bottom honest with ourselves, is that much of everything out there lies to us. I was especially struck by this yesterday as I attempted to find something to watch.
I tried watching an episode of Criminal Minds on Netflix, but the arsonist was a young girl who repeated. “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” just before committing her crime. I then watched an episode of Madam Secretary which centered around mom and dad’s defense of their grown daughter’s extra-marital sexual relationship and ended with a scene of the three of them walking away with their arms around each other in a way that can only be described as prideful. Then I switched to HBOnow. The Intern was (perhaps) less offensive, although the heroes broke into a house and ran from the police, got drunk, and the main protagonist expressed doubt that a marriage could ever be the same after infidelity. I finished up with the MI-5 movie in which the hero does various questionable but seemingly justifiable actions, culminating in acting as judge, jury, and executioner of the bad guy. In the end, I recognized that I had done nothing but spend my time in a way that could genuinely be called unprofitable–that I had wasted time entrusted to my care!
I suspect that the pivotal issue with whether something we have spent time watching has been valuable is whether we have learned something good. The Lord of the Rings movie, for example, portrays the seemingly lost virtues of loyalty and duty, brings to stark light the power of temptation, and gives us Biblical insight through Gandalf when he says, “All we have to do is to decide what to do with the time given to us.”
So, how do you spend your free time? What do you do with your unscheduled minutes, hours–even days? Do you waste it on what can only be called unprofitable activities? Or do you make an effort, even if it is hard at the beginning, to make every second count for Him? Remember that, as J.R.R. Tolkien affirms through Gandolf, “All we have to do is to decide what to do with the time given to us.”
Help me be very careful how I live–help me not be unwise but wise, help me make the most of every opportunity because there is so much sin and misinformation in the world. Help me understand how You want me to spend my time–what Your will is for me in this regard! Amen.