I was intrigued with the headline, “How Can I Break Free From an Addiction to Entertainment?” I was engaged when I read the author’s name, John Piper. But I was disappointed with the answers. I should offer a few of my own.
To begin with, Piper’s right, this is a serious problem for Christians (and everyone else), and it cannot be addressed by turning God and His word into one more (competing) form of entertainment:
Today we carry in our pockets radio, television, internet, and games, and anything that would be titillating, fun! And “fun” is a word in the church today that’s just rampant! It’s an adjective, it’s a noun, it’s a verb, because we do ministry in order to fit this mentality.
I’m deeply concerned about that. I want to stand for seriousness about God, instead of making him palatable by making him “fun”! Turning him into another piece of entertainment.
Then come Piper’s remedies for breaking this “addiction” to entertainment:
- Recognizing it is a huge step in the right direction.
- Seek the Lord earnestly about it. Pray like crazy that God would open your eyes to see wondrous things out of his law.
- Immerse yourself in the Bible, even when you don’t feel like it, pleading with God to open your eyes to see what’s really there.
- Get in a group where you talk about serious things.
- Begin to share your faith. . . .
He adds a sixth: “One last suggestion: think about your death. Think about your death a lot.”
I, of course, have no problem with these things at all, in general. But do you see any problem with this scenario?
Perhaps it sounds normal. It’s the type of “Sunday school” answer we would expect from many pastors.
The problem is, it’s also the answer we would expect from a Pietist.
Christianity, after all, is a religion of the heart. Worldly things don’t pertain to the church. Therefore, most pastors are not trained to give advice (or even encouragement) in regard to this-worldly things. Therefore, when asked how to stop wasting time, they can do little more than advise people to pray, read the Bible, and hang out with other people who pray and read the Bible.
And then prepare to die.
I am sorry, but there is more to the Christian life that praying, reading the Bible, and contemplating death. I’m sorry, but it is simply inconceivable to think that someone would use their personal “free” time—likely dozens of hours per week for average people, probably more for young people, and definitely so for people who are already wasting too much time with entertainment—doing nothing but praying and reading the Bible.
I will go further: it is irresponsible before God to do so. Consider where such thinking leads, logically: the growing sect of Haredi Jews: the men of this sect believe it is their duty to do nothing but study Torah and pray all day long. These guys have no job, seek no jobs, but have lots of children. They leave their wives and children to fend for themselves, and usually end up living at least partially off of welfare (especially true in Israel, I am told). To them, this is holiness, nearness to God.
While most Christians would disavow this extreme, unfortunately the advice many of them give sounds too much like it. This is because they don’t have a full-fledged biblical worldview.
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Christianity—the Bible—is about every area of life. It is about excellence, progress, learning, building, networking, socializing, helping, . . . working. Hardly any of this is ever preached on in modern churches, and yet these things, and things like them, are by far the most powerful tools to break the very addiction Piper was asked about, as well as many other problems like it.
Here are my recommendations:
First, this is not an issue of personal preference. Indulgence in too much entertainment is a sin: it’s a sin of laziness, a sin of apathy, a sin of indulgence (lust), a lack of self-control, a failure of vision.
God did not design you to be a passive loaf absorbing the airs of the environment until you’re stale and molded (common after-effects of too much entertainment). God created you to take dominion over what He puts in front of you: your work, your family, yourself, your community. You are created to contribute, to work, to help.
God created Adam and put him in the garden “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Get that: mankind was created for work. This is one reason I have written elsewhere about Work “the forgotten sermon topic.”
As sin, laziness (or idleness) is to be repented of and thus turned away from. This part is very simple: Turn off the TV, internet, etc. Put down the IPhone. Turn off the Xbox.
Let’s be honest here: there is nothing—and I mean nothing—that comes through either the TV or a video game console which you cannot live without.
You may “need” to read the news and be informed, true, but you don’t need TV for that. A single internet site for 30 min in the morning and evening will update you better than any news reports available on TV.
You may even consider getting rid of the things completely. Imagine, no TV. If not, at least turn them off and make a commitment to yourself to keep them turned off.
And when you feel the urge to turn it back on again—the moment you feel the urge—immediately divert yourself to that which is more productive (more on that in a second).
Unlike drug addiction, entertainment addiction has no physical withdrawal symptoms. (Except one. You may experience the sound of unfamiliar noises: but relax, it will probably only be a spouse’s or child’s voice you previously missed because the TV was on. This is freedom.) I can assure you from personal experience, the actual pain of that “turn off and turn to something else” moment lasts for about two seconds. This is especially true if you already have a plan in place to transition to something more productive. To wit,
Second, you need a productive alternative. If you are young, or have wasted your time in entertainment addiction for a long time, you will probably need to learn an alternative. No sweat. This in itself—an educational process—is taking dominion over your life. It is way better in itself than any entertainment.
So, get a book. What interests you? Don’t know? I found a random list of hobbies, first hit in a list from a Google search: there are 238 options to choose from. I would not recommend all of them, but it’s a starting place for ideas. The point is to find something productive—something with which you can help people, make a product, improve your self-discipline, manners, character. Preferably, find something that does not cost you much money.
Better yet, find something with which you can make money. Then you can turn your wasted time into profitable time. Instead of wasting and sinking, you’re profiting, helping, and building a legacy.
There are two steps to this second point: education and application. They should not be perceived as mutually exclusive—you learn more all the time even after beginning to apply what you’ve already learned.
A guy across the street from me builds birdhouses from scratch. There was a time when he had no idea how to do it. But he got interested in woodworking, learned, and is now a master who sells his products for a nice little added income. He got educated, then applied it.
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A couple I once knew were gifted in music. The husband learned how to build small flutes out of wood. People bought them. The wife could read music She began to transcribe simple melodies for the flutes. They sold little packages on eBay and sent their children to college on the extra income. They got educated, then applied it.
A lawyer I knew had a gift for singing. When he was not practicing or singing with the church choir, he joined a classical men’s chorale. Both choirs would often sing for retirement homes—a great ministry. I never saw that man ever wasting time.
You may find two or three things which interest you enough to pursue. The point is to get at least one important one in place, and then begin reading more about it. There is probably enough online about it for free that you could get started for nothing.
(Note for entertainment addicts: the “turn off and turn to something else” rule applies to websites and YouTube videos just as much as to TVs. Don’t get distracted with entertainment when searching the web for educational info.)
Once the education is advanced enough, you may seek out forums or try to connect with other locals who practice. The point here will be to move from learning to applying. To go from study to mastery, expertise, excellence.
The lesson is simple:
1) You were created to be productive
2) You can be productive
3) You are commanded to be productive
4) There are hundreds of ways for you to be productive
5) There’s nothing stopping you from educating yourself on “how to . . .”
1) Turn off the entertainment
2) Choose a productive hobby, interest, business, etc.
3) Educate yourself (reading, listening to lectures)
4) Apply what you’ve learned as you become able
5) Repeat steps 3 and 4.
Education in something you’re interested in will further inspire you to apply that knowledge to real-world situations. Once you begin to apply, keep learning as well, and strive for excellence.
As the classic Anglican parson George Herbert once wrote, “Let there be no kind of excellency which it is possible for you to attain, which you seek not.”1
This is called “making the best use of time” (Eph. 5:16). To avoid it is “evil.”
Pastors who cannot lead their flocks in this regard, at least in some initial stage, are not knowledgeable enough to be good pastors. I have discussed this in my article: “What does your preacher know?” Note:
Look at our Savior Himself—the original Parson (Person, Man)—who knew something about all walks of life: agriculture, business (Matt. 20:1–16), investment (Matt. 25:14–30), government (judges and judgment), sailing, fishing, travel, geography, etc. His foreshadowing in Solomon presents us a picture of a preacher (Eccl. 1:1) that knows something about biology, botany and zoology (1 Kings 4:29–34), as well as building, business, finance, labor, government, and much more. Paul, as well, had working knowledge of classical philosophy and literature (Acts 17:28; Tit. 1:12), history, sports, soldiery and war, business, and more.
In the face of all these dozens of areas of life ripe, begging, for the influences of godliness and righteousness, the best advice some pastors can give to someone wasting their time with the idols of false vicarious substitutions (TV shows, reality TV, video games, spectator sports) is to pray and read the Bible. These are no doubt vital things for Christian life, but you can’t seriously expect creatures who were created for work and dominion to spend all hours of every night and weekends like that, and for the next what, twenty years? Or fifty?
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It’s no wonder something so pitiful as modern entertainment lures people (and most men) from churches at alarming numbers. Many churches offer them very little beyond incessant prayer and Bible reading, and the ones that do can’t think of kingdom-building or worldview endeavors, so they turn to entertainment themselves.
(Meanwhile, with Tim Tebow, the NFL has a lock on millions of Evangelicals’ free time from August to January. And now, the NBA has Jeremy Lin. That takes us up to June. If the MLBA finds an Evangelical superstar, the professional sports world will have a captive audience all year round.)
I have a better idea. At the very least, take up one of those balls yourself, and get some exercise.
But more important than all of this: find a productive hobby and master it. Make an Eden out of your back yard. Learn how to can food. You may need that skill in the near future.
And yes I believe we should pray and read the Bible, too. Pray like the Bible: “thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Then get real: get busy actually doing that will.
- George Herbert, The Works of George Herbert: In Prose and Verse, ed. Robert Aris Willmont (New York: Appleton and Co., 1869 ), 222n.(↩)