Hobbies and Idolatry

By Beth Hyduke

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How do we work hard at a hobby or potential career without turning it into an idol? How do we find joy in sports and other pastimes while keeping God first?

A lot of Christians see their lives this way, as a kind of precarious balancing act where you have to keep both your day-to-day life and your spiritual life going at the same time. It's almost like that guy you see on TV or in the circus who starts a plate spinning up on a pole and then another and then another and has to keep frantically running around to keep them all going. The problem with looking at it like this is that God doesn't see the various aspects of our lives as separate, individual entities or components that He only has partial rights to. God doesn't just lay claim to Sundays and devotion times. He doesn't want just a portion of us. He wants all of us, all the time, in all that we do (Mark 12:30). Colossians 3:23 says "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men..." Whatever you do, not just going to church or witnessing or reading your Bible or the other activities we tend to classify as "Christian," but everything that you do, you are to do whole-heartedly and put forth your best effort.

I think the lesson here is that time management for the Christian is less like balancing different sides of our lives than integrating all aspects of our life under the heading and authority of Jesus Christ. When we look at Christian living as an integration of all aspects of our life rather than a separation of individual aspects or components of it, the frenzy and friction we create for ourselves mostly resolves itself. It's no longer necessary to quit a job or a sport you love participating in so that you can free up more time for God, because all time belongs to God and you can honor, serve, and glorify Him through the everyday activities you do. That is why the Bible can command us to "do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).

As long as we keep that perspective, we can use all of our talents, whether creative or athletic or academic or administrative or whatever it may be, to serve and glorify God. Then it's not so much a detraction from God and your faith as it is just a channel through which we live out our Christian testimony before other people. When God is the ultimate focus of our lives — all our lives, every aspect of our lives — when we intentionally dedicate all our work and endeavors to Him, then everything we do is to Him and for Him.

You might want to check out Eric Liddell's biography. If you don't already know his story, it is a very inspirational one and is dramatized in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire. Liddell was an athlete in track and field, but he was also a Christian who was headed for the mission field when he qualified as a competitor in the 1924 Olympics. His sister advised him to blow off his promising running career in order to pursue his missionary work but he saw his passion for running as a gift to be used at that particular point in his life. In the movie he tells his sister, "God made me fast and when I run I feel God's pleasure." Eric Liddell embraced the talent God had given him, and used it to bring glory to God and to show others the joy that comes of living a life focused on the One who created speed and athleticism and all other good things.

In terms of the danger of making idols out of what we love to do, I think it's helpful to remember that it is not idolatry to love something that you do. What makes an otherwise amoral (neither moral nor immoral) activity idolatrous is when we start to love it more than we love God. When it starts to edge God out of our lives, affections, focus, thoughts, etc. and replace Him with itself, then we have made an idol for ourselves. Now, only you can tell if this has happened already with your hobbies or if things are heading in that direction, and that will involve some serious self-examination. I would start by asking yourself some basic diagnostic questions: 1) What would you lose if you didn't have your hobby in your life and why, specifically, would that be such a sacrifice to you? 2) What role does it play in your life, and how big of a presence is it? 3) What is its function in your life and what is it accomplishing or contributing? These questions can help clarify whether it has become an idol in your life and if it has, to what extent it has.

Sometimes, it's not the thing itself that has a hold over people as much as it is a byproduct of the thing. I am a personal trainer and I often find that when it comes to exercise and athletic achievement, it is not always the activity itself that attracts people as much as it is the payoff of the activity — maybe they want approval or fame or bragging rights over others (or even over themselves) by lifting more and more, going farther and faster etc., maybe they want to serve their own vanity and self-image by fitting into a dress size or looking a certain way or something like that. It's usually not the workout they are idolizing but something else they are getting out of the workout. Asking yourself why your hobby is so important to you can be helpful in trying to figure out where your heart really is in relation to it — is it merely a pastime you love or a sport you are passionate about, or is it something that goes much deeper, like being obsessed with performing perfectly or needing to feed your ego on your competitive or athletic ability and accomplishments?

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Published on 10-6-15