Christians are well aware of the biblical prohibitions against idol worship. But too many of us are unaware of our idle worship. Perhaps, like me, one of your biggest idols is idleness: the desire to have time to myself, doing not much. Technically speaking, this is also known as vegging on the couch. And while it’s not really doing nothing (I may be watching TV, or looking at my phone), my mind is not actively engaged at all. I am not being creative, I’m completely passive; I’m engrossed in being entertained.
According to the Puritans, spending an inordinate amount of your precious hours staring blankly at a screen would qualify as wasting time. They may not have had electronic devices, or even running water in the 17th century, but they knew how precious time is. That’s why they latched on to Ephesians 5:15-16, where the King James version reads, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Reflecting on these verses, the Puritan Thomas Watson wrote “Make conscience of spending your time . . . Time misimproved, is not time lived, but time lost.”
Jonathan Edwards, too, saw the importance of using time wisely. In his famous 70 resolutions that he composed to guide his conduct, he resolved “never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.”
We ought to redeem time, rather than waste it, for two reasons. First, because the time we have on earth is precious, a gift of God: “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). And since God is the author of time, and both the giver and taker-awayer of it, he will one day ask us what we did with it. Have you ever read the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 without thinking you couldn’t use your time a little more constructively?
Second, we ought to redeem our time because the time we have is short. Robert Murray McCheyne, the Scottish revival preacher, made this point a hallmark of his ministry. In a sermon on the brevity of life he urged: “Believers should sit loose to everything here. Believers should look on everything in the light of eternity. Value nothing any more than you will do then. Sit loose to the objects, griefs, joys, occupations of this world; for you must soon change them for eternal realities.” Because McCheyne saw his time on earth as short, he was able to accomplish a remarkable amount of work for God’s kingdom. He died at the age of 29.
God has built into creation both our need for rest and the time for rest, so how can we rest well without being idle? First, while we are free to use the things of this world for our enjoyment, Paul says we should use them “as if not engrossed in them” (I Corinthians 7:29-31). If your phone, tv, or other hobby is all consuming and engrossing, be sure that you are managing it, instead of it managing you. Second, rest in such a way that you are looking forward to the eternal rest we have in Christ. Hebrews 4:9-11 reminds us that “anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works.”
Since we have been granted eternal rest in Christ, I think I would do well to spend my leisure time here a little less selfishly than I am often tempted to. “Time misimproved is not time lived, but time lost” . . .
Am I really living when I’m completely idle? Are you?