Entertainment is often an expression of God’s gifts of creativity, storytelling, and beauty. But it can also provide mindless amusement, or damage our souls. How should Christians handle rapidly multiplying entertainment options in a God-honoring way?
Here are five questions to ask about your entertainment choices:
1. What purpose does entertainment serve?
The other night I came home from work, Costco, and the grocery store, put away the food, cleaned the bathroom, did a load of wash, and started dinner. After dinner, I was done. I just wanted to zone out in front of television.
It wasn’t wrong to watch television, but it wasn’t helpful either. I needed to rest. I needed God to revive me. Instead, I turned to the television.
Contrast that scenario with the following: my husband and I are going to dinner and a play in Chicago in a couple weeks. We are looking forward to the art and shared experience.
Entertainment serves completely different desires in these cases. In the first, entertainment is escapism, allowing me to turn off my brain and retreat from the responsibilities of life. In the second event, entertainment is engaging with life, art, and people.
God wants us to enjoy life, and I don’t think he is opposed to good entertainment. Entertainment should be life-giving—a means of engaging with our world rather than retreating from it. Entertainment should not be a substitute for life.
Before you turn on the television or retreat to your iPad, ask yourself what you are seeking. To engage life in enjoyment or to escape?
2. How much time do you spend with entertainment?
Years ago, I wrote down the number of hours I spent watching television every day for a week, and I was surprised by the total. I hadn’t thought that I watched too much—just a show now and then—but it added up to a fair amount.
This is a worthwhile exercise.
Compare your time spent with entertainment to your time spent with spiritual input in your life. A couple hours at church on Sunday, maybe a small group meeting, and fifteen to twenty minutes reading your Bible, or a devotional every morning, might be normal for you. Maybe you invest more; maybe less. Let’s say we average five to eight hours per week receiving solid biblical input.
According to a Nielsen Company Audience Report (CNN article), the average American adult spends over 10 hours a day in front of a screen and about four and a half hours a day watching television or movies. Using these averages, entertainment consumes 32 of our hours per week.
Of course, those are averages, and entertainment is not always devoid of positive or godly influences, but those numbers give me pause. Ephesians 5:15-16 offers helpful guidance when examining your time:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
How much time are you giving to entertainment? Are you making the best use of your time?
3. Is what I’m watching true, honorable and commendable? Is the novel I’m reading excellent, praiseworthy?
God’s Word gives us some guidelines for choosing entertainment wisely. These qualities are taken directly from Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
That’s a pretty high bar for entertainment choices. Your definition of what is excellent and praiseworthy may be different from mine, but we must submit our ideas of what is appropriate to God’s Word.
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I memorized this passage years ago, and I found it helpful when evaluating television or movies for my children and for myself.
My husband and I look for story lines of redemption, transformation, and truth. We don’t like watching stories that make evil look good and good look evil, and we have rejected a number of series because, in my husband’s words, they are not good for our souls.
Take some time to examine your entertainment choices considering God’s Word to us in Philippians 4:8, and establish some criteria that your family will use when choosing entertainment.
4. How is this affecting my heart?
What we allow into our eyes and ears affects our heart and soul, probably more than we know. And what we allow to influence our hearts will direct our lives, as Proverbs 4:23 points out:
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
Jesus also said that what our eyes take in will affect the rest of us:
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:21-23)
These verses are preceded by the command to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven; and, they are followed by the caution that we can serve only one master. Right in between are these verses about our eye being the determining factor of the light or darkness in our bodies—and our hearts.
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If our hearts are the wellspring of life, and if our eyes allow either light or darkness to fill our hearts and influence our loyalty, then it is important to pay attention to what we permit our eyes to absorb. If we watch enough television we will find ourselves adopting unspoken—but very clear—messages of worldly loyalty.
Take an honest diagnosis of what you allow into your eyes and ears and ask the Lord to help you discern how it is affecting your heart.
5. Jesus, will you help me?
Jesus came to save us from the darkness of our sin. He is our light and he offers us life that is truly life (John 8:12, John 10:10, 1 Timothy 6:18-19). He submitted to the punishment of death that was ours because of sin, and offers us his resurrection life when repent and believe in him. Only by the grace of God can we believe that Jesus would do that out of his great love for us.
Once we repent and believe, God begins the process of transforming us into the likeness of Christ. Years ago, when I surrendered to him, he started changing my interests and desires, and they are still undergoing metamorphosis. Suddenly what once looked like light, now looks dark.
When we need the Lord’s help to make godly entertainment choices, he is ready and waiting to assist us. Jesus couldn’t watch television, but he knows that we are in a constant battle to choose our entertainment wisely. We’re told in Hebrews 4:15-16 that Jesus will help us:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Talk to Jesus about your entertainment choices, and ask these questions:
What am I seeking from my entertainment?
How much time am I investing in it?
Is it true, honorable, and praiseworthy?
Does what I read, watch, or do fill my heart with light or darkness?
Ultimately, ask the Lord to direct your choices; He will.