“But,” says one, “are we not to have amusements?” Yes, such amusements as you can take in the fear of God. Do what Jesus would have done.” —Charles Spurgeon
We live in an unprecedented age of entertainment. The average American spends over ten hours per day in front of a screen.
Never before have we had so many options of TV shows, movies, music, blogs, social media, and books available through so many different mediums (TV, internet, Netflix, etc.). How can we make sure we faithfully follow Christ in this new entertainment age?
Discerning media consumption needs more than a litmus test of saying we shouldn’t watch excessive violence and sexuality (which is true). We need to understand the complex and often subtle effects of media on our lives.
Let me be the first to say that I love all sorts of digital media, and get much spiritual benefit from thinking through them in light of Scripture. My goal with this simple list is to help you think more Christianly about what you consume. As you read, ask the Lord how He may want you to change to make the most of your short life.
1. Does your entertainment choices add anything of value to your life?
For Christians, media consumption can range from a harmless diversion and relationship-builder to an idol-creating machine that wastes your life and effectiveness for the Lord. Think through how entertainment helps you achieve God’s purposes for you on earth. What value would be missing if you were to never flipped your TV on again or deleted the apps that most distract you?
2. What desires do my entertainment choices cultivate in my heart?
What impact does entertainment have on your desires for God? If I’m not intentional, my media consumption cultivates sinful desires.
I remember watching a movie I didn’t expect to be so raunchy at a friend’s house in high school and feeling distanced from God afterward. I realized my desires changed after watching the movie. I no longer desired to pray or read the Word like before. My flesh craved the raunchiness I saw in the movie and I had to confess my sin to God and feed on His word for a renewed mind (Romans 12:2). Chances are my example doesn’t sound strange to you. Psalm 1 describes the blessed person as one who both constantly meditates on the Word of God and doesn’t sit in the path of the wicked. That night at my friend’s house I was sitting on a sofa in the path of the wicked as the movie’s warped messages subtly shaped my desires.
Not every entertainment choice will have the same effects, however. We can train ourselves during more ‘neutral’ entertainment to direct our gaze to the Lord in worship and ponder entertainment through the lens of the gospel (read The Stories We Tell by Mike Cosper for how to do this). Here are four questions that can help us with this:
- How does this reflect the beauty and goodness of God’s creation?
- How does this reflect the sinfulness of humanity?
- How does this reflect our need for a Savior who changes hearts?
- How might this deepen our longing for the restoration, peace, and fullness of life we will enjoy for all of eternity?
3. Do you complain about wickedness in entertainment more than you pray for the people who make it?
Entertainment is filled with the silly, the sensational, and the sinful. It can be a temptation to complain about the dumb/wicked things people do more than seeing them as a sinner who needs a Savior. Instead of complaining, pray for the salvation of those you could easily criticize (1 Timothy 2:1–4).
4. Does my entertainment consumption help me redeem the time in these evil days (Ephesians 5:16)?
Kent Hughes writes in The Disciplines of a Godly Man, “It is impossible for any Christian who spends the bulk of his evenings, month after month, week after week, day in and day out watching the major TV networks or contemporary videos to have a Christian mind…A Biblical mental program cannot coexist with worldly programming.”“If most people would exchange their TV time for Scripture reading they’d finish reading the entire Bible in four weeks or less.” — Donald Whitney
If the world compared your entertainment habits to your habits seeking God through prayer and Bible reading, what would they see as most important for you? Life is a breath, a vapor, and grass that quickly fades. Don’t let the easy things in life steal from the more valuable.
5. Do I want my entertainment habits to be imitated by my children (or those I lead)?
If you are a parent or leader of any kind, be warned that you pass on your bad habits to the next generation. You are also susceptible to let your kids be discipled by entertainment and leave them as pleasure-loving materialists with dull hearts toward spiritual truth. Seek to set a godly example in your consumption of entertainment.
6. What does this entertainment glorify?
Every entertainer holds values and many entertainers promote their values through what they produce. Many times their values are purely financial; meaning they would make whatever would sell. Rarely do Christian values like wisdom, integrity, the fear of God, or exalting of Jesus Christ ever get airtime. Thus, we must ask ourselves what values does a certain TV show or movie promote? If we fail to discern this, the desires of our heart will be formed and pulled away from Scripture. (See #2.)
7. Does TV amplify my gossip?
Gossip looks different for different people. Gossip for many women might mean criticizing an actress’s weight or what they wore to XYZ awards show. For men who scoff at celebrity culture, they might not realize they do the same thing when it comes to the athletes they like or dislike. Just because we may not know someone personally doesn’t mean we have free reign to gossip.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29
8. What are you more willing to compromise: your Christian beliefs or your entertainment choices?
Again, this doesn’t assume that all entertainment is all bad, but this question should help you unmask an idol if one exists. Be careful if you often find yourself saying or thinking, “I know as a Christian I shouldn’t watch __________, but…” This could be a sign you love entertainment over God.
9. What entertainment can you sacrifice for a more God-honoring life?
My wife and I choose to live without cable TV and thus hardly watch any TV. This helps us not only save money but also steward our time by not getting sucked into shows (or games) that add no value to our lives. I also choose to not have Facebook or Twitter apps active on my phone to remove another temptation to waste time. Less is more and life is fuller when we make the right sacrifices to honor God.
10. Do your entertainment choices help you fulfill your God-given callings?
Entertainment used right can serve a great purpose: to help us enjoy the life God has given us, to bring us closer to those we love, and to have a greater understanding of the complex world we live in. It can also distract us from our God-given callings.
If entertainment is only about passive consumption and doesn’t motivate you to actively create or think deeply, your entertainment choices are unhealthy. If “fellowship” around entertainment is the main basis of relationships for you, your entertainment choices are unhealthy.
God wants more from us than amusing ourselves to death (to borrow a phrase from Neil Postman). He wants to be our greatest delight. He wants greater Christ-likeness and abundant lives for His children. He wants to lead and guide us with His still, small voice. Are you listening?
My prayer is that the Lord would use these simple questions to shape your mind and heart to love Him more in all you do.
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