Every good thing we enjoy in life is a gift from God (James 1:17), including our hobbies. Whether that’s sports, music, fishing, reading, etc., we were made to enjoy God through the things He has made. However, due to the remaining sin in our lives, we also have to be on guard against turning our hobbies into idols. It’s all too easy to begin enjoying and worshipping the gift while ignoring the Giver. But how do you know when a hobby has become an idol?
Examining Your Hobbies for Traces of Idolatry
David Platt offers several ways to determine whether your hobby has become an idol, as well as some practical ways to use your hobbies for the glory of God. Begin by examining your hobbies in light of the seven areas listed below.
1. Examine your heart.
Hobbies are different for different people. The question to ask is when people look at your life, would they say that your heart is wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord or would they say that it’s a heart that is divided? (See Matthew 22:34–40)
2. Examine your mind.
What occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Does your mind go to sports when you don’t have anything else to think about? Does your mind go to other hobbies? Is your mind consumed by a video game? Tim Keller says, “The true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention.” (See Philippians 4:8)
3. Examine your conversations.
Remember, what’s on your mind and heart comes out of your mouth. What are your most passionate conversations about? In some places, people talk about college football all the time. It’s just everyday conversation. We’ve taken that which is a good thing and turned it into a god. (See Luke 6:45)
4. Examine your emotions.
Do sports or hobbies incite and ignite your affections in unhealthy ways? For instance, does a game cause your emotion to swing in such a way that you’re sad, grumpy, or even angry when your team doesn’t win? Or, on the other side, and maybe even more potentially dangerous, are you inordinately happy and fun to be around because your team won? When your emotions––happiness or sadness—depend on the outcome of a game, it may be that your heart is at least in some ways consumed and controlled by games and hobbies (See Psalm 63:1–8).
5. Examine your use of money.
Did you know that the combined athletic budgets of the twelve schools in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) is over $800 million? That’s more than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of twenty-four of the world’s poorest countries! What does that say about our priorities? (See Matthew 6:19–21)
6. Examine your use of time.
How much time do you spend on your hobby? We spend time on the things that we love most. (See Colossians 4:5)
7. Examine your perspective.
When you put all these things together, you begin to realize that we are so easily deceived by artificial battles on ball fields. We think they matter when the reality is that there are thousands of people groups and places that have little or no access to the gospel. We’ve completely lost perspective. (See 2 Corinthians 4:17–18)
Using Your Hobbies for the Glory of God
So how do we avoid losing perspective? How do we make sure to honor God with our minds and our hearts and our money when it comes to hobbies? Four suggestions are given below for practical application.
1. Use hobbies to draw attention to God’s greatness
I’m talking about something deeper than just scoring a touchdown and then kneeling down and you pointing up to the sky. Maximize hobbies for their intended purpose, that is, as a way to worship God. The goal in sports or hobbies is not winning. Rather, the goal in sports is worship—not the worship of an athlete, but the worship of God.
Hear this quote from Eric Liddell, a runner who medaled in the Olympic games and went on to be a missionary: “God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” In other words, he ran fast to the glory of God. That is the purpose of sports. In fact, Liddell even declined to run his best race at the Olympics because the race was held on a Sunday and thus conflicted with his conviction on this issue.
Some families spend the majority of their time at sporting events. Hence it becomes their family time. Men, ask your wife if sports is in any way a hindrance to your intimacy with her, and wait for her to answer. And if sports is a hindrance, consider what major adjustments need to be made in order to put it in its proper place behind loving and serving your wife. Moms and dads, if you’re carting your children all across town for various sports or other hobbies, ask yourself if they’re getting a healthy perspective on these things.
Where do sports fall on your priority list? Do they keep you from learning God’s Word, participating in things like family worship, and worshipping with the church? Or are you using them to draw attention to God’s greatness? (See 1 Corinthians 10:31)
2. Use hobbies to express appreciation for God’s grace.
Intentionally and continually offer thanks to God for your hobbies and sports. If you have something enjoyable happen in a sport you’re playing or watching, then let that just overflow in gratitude to God. Let the enjoyment of hobbies lead to ever-increasing affection for God. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).
3. Use hobbies to grow in sanctification.
As we discipline ourselves in different sports or in different activities, we’re cultivating humility. We’re also learning to demonstrate honor to other people, to other teams, to develop self-discipline in training. Sports are tools in God’s hand to help us learn to maintain self-control and to model self-sacrifice. At the same time, we need to make sure that we’re valuing growth in godliness over personal achievement. Every practice, every game, is an opportunity to lead our children. Therefore, prioritize what really matters in eternity over what seems to matter on earth. (Romans 8:28–30)
4. Use hobbies to lead others to salvation.
Sports and hobbies are oftentimes some of the most common and enjoyable means for bringing people together in our culture. Therefore, we need to ask how we can maximize this reality for the spread of the gospel. Who could you befriend and share the gospel with based on your interaction with them through a hobby or a sport? This would be an excellent way to use those activities for the glory of God. (Colossians 4:2–6)
–The following excerpt is adapted from David Platt’s teaching in Secret Church 14, “The Cross and Everyday Life.”