Breaking the Idol of Entertainment – Michael Youssef

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Breaking the Idol of Entertainment – Michael Youssef

You aimlessly unlock your smartphone for the what might be the millionth time today and scroll through your Facebook feed. After twenty minutes you ask yourself, “What was I even looking for?” Then later in the evening you finally sit down and relax in front of the TV. You know you need to catch up on sleep, but before you realize it, you’ve already watched 3 episodes of the top trending series (half of which you missed because you were scrolling through feeds on your phone). And Netflix is launching you directly into the fourth as you think, “Just one more.”

Before you start to sink into guilt about every moment of entertainment you’ve enjoyed or simply dismiss the rest of this article to avoid the discomfort of impending shame, let me adamantly assert that entertainment in itself is not sinful. There is plenty of entertainment to be found in the Bible: Jesus attended parties and enjoyed food and drink; the psalms are filled with music and dancing; Paul was expertly knowledgeable of secular poetry and theatre. And 1 Timothy 6:17 assures us that God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” That is how good, loving, and creative He is. And ultimately our greatest joy is found in Him. That’s why the Westminster Shorter Catechism declares at the outset: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

But if we are not careful, good, enjoyable things can become ultimate things, and our priorities can become disordered. To make matters worse, there’s a terrifying number of forces working against us. Not only do we fight against our own sinful flesh and the unseen forces of the spiritual enemy, but an entire economy exists in our culture in which whole corporations grapple for our attention 24/7.
In her article “The Binge Breaker” featured in The Atlantic, author Bianca Bosker captures this struggle through the words of Tristan Harris, founder of the Time Well Spent movement:
“You could say that it’s my responsibility” to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.”… Harris learned that the most-successful sites and apps hook us by tapping into deep-seated human needs. [1]

Glorifying and Enjoying God
But don’t panic. Though the world and the devil are working to monopolize your thoughts and keep you attuned to their message, you are not alone in the battle. The forces working against you are strong, but you have a yet greater power living within you: Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 1:18-20). You see, the blood of Christ has the power to break every chain that endeavors to enslave you, every addiction, every idol that seeks to seduce you down the road to destruction—even the idol of entertainment. Though this idol works to entice you into believing life is about your own diversion and pleasure, the Bible shows us life is about God’s glory and your enjoyment of Him who is your Master, your Father, your Redeemer, and your Resurrection.

Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace…. Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:13-14, 16-18)

Though free from the bondage of sin, we often forget that we are yet slaves—slaves to righteousness. So, instead of truly enjoying something deeply creative or beautiful or thought-provoking, we spend our time mindlessly consuming a variety of entertainments. Instead of analyzing our entertainment before the light of Truth to praise what is noble and good and uplift what is lacking through the Gospel to the glory of God, we simply use entertainment as an escape from the troubles of the world or turn them into a habit lacking meaningful blessing. But every aspect of our lives—even our entertainment—can and should be submitted to God, just as His Word exhorts us, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

You may be thinking that your entertainment is about to get agonizingly boring or prudish, but that’s just what the world and the devil want you to believe. For actually, immeasurable joy and fulfillment are only found in the holy presence of God, and pursuing that holiness in every part of our lives will yield happiness. So we need to be slaves to righteousness. If we really grasped how glorious the gift of righteousness truly is, we would be unabashed holiness junkies.

Analyzing Our Entertainment
We can start pursuing righteousness in our entertainment by asking ourselves some important questions and answering them with honest discernment through the power of the Holy Spirit (see 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Corinthians 2:10-16; John 16:13; Galatians 5:16-18).

1. Is this entertainment leading me to deeper enjoyment of the Lord? Or am I sacrificing the pleasure of time spent glorifying God for an hour or more of unfulfilling screen time that leaves me restless?
2. Am I using this entertainment as a means of stress-relief or escape rather than finding comfort in the character and promises of my Father in heaven?
3. Is this entertainment holding sway over how I order my life, or is it taking the place of something that is more important?
4. Is this entertainment increasing or hindering my fellowship with the body of believers?

Once you have sincerely plumbed the motives of your heart towards your entertainment, it is time to take action.

Fighting Against the Idol of Entertainment

Whether you need to make a change in your pattern of entertainment or you feel confident that your entertainment is submitted to your Savior, here are some practical means to shield your heart and preserve your attention for the only one deserving of your focus—the only one who promises boundless joy.

#1  Recognize that there are whole teams of people, an entire industry, working to seize your attention in addition to the forces of Satan and our flesh that endeavor to draw us away from God (see Ephesians 2:1-3).
We must exercise humility and discernment so that when we mix up our priorities, we can readily confess and repent and be lifted up by the love and forgiveness of Christ.

#2  Discipline yourself to disconnect. We must guard against the addictive nature of modern entertainment. Our smartphones are decidedly difficult to control when it comes to distraction; we are constantly inundated with alerts and notifications that prevent us from forming focused and thorough thoughts—the kind of mindfulness we need to glorify God. So to counteract the colorful apps and brilliant bings designed to win our attention, here are some tips:

1. Turn off notifications on your phone.
2. Limit the visibility of your apps by relegating those most likely to send you down a rabbit-hole to folders so that your phone screen can be clear of clutter. (If you have trouble finding apps with this method, you can take a little extra time to type in a search for the app making your use of it more intentional.)
3. Consider implementing apps that can help you stay aware of how frequently you are using your phone and for how long, such as Checky or Moment.
4. Keep your phone stored away or at least screen-side down when you are interacting with people.

Your phone has a Do Not Disturb option—use it.

#3  Determine what are some healthy habits for your entertainment consumption. What do you want to get out of the variety of enjoyments that the Lord has provided for you in your life? Look to the Word of God for direction about how God wants you to spend your time. Perhaps make a plan, such as setting an alarm to make you aware of the time you have already passed bingeing the latest Netflix series.
Once you have thought through the purpose and place of entertainment in your life, share your goals for entertainment with other believers that can hold you accountable so that you can together seek righteousness in all things—the sure road to joy (see Psalm 1:1-3).

#4  Most importantly, find fulfillment, belonging, and acceptance in Christ alone. For when your identity is firmly rooted in your adoption as a son or daughter of the Living God, you can defeat any and all means that the idol of entertainment hurls your way to enslave you and draw you away from the light of Christ.

The more deeply satisfied you are in Jesus Christ, the freer you will walk in this world. The more you relish the Gospel, the quicker you can silence the condemnation of the enemy (see Romans 8:1; John 3:16-18). The more focused you are on your Savior, the easier it will be to keep your priorities in order not because you are forcing them (though God does call us to obedience), but because, as you mature in Christ, this order brings you the most delight.

Delighting in God

May God grant us the wisdom and discernment to delight in entertainment that points us to Him, for in Him alone will we find abundant joy.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” so that your life can be marked by the holiness of God that brings abiding happiness (Philippians 4:8).