Why Hobbies are Better When They are Not Idols

August 18, 2011

John Calvin famous said our hearts are great “idol-making factories.” A good, wholesome, beneficial pursuit can quickly become an idol. For me, I find that my pleasurable hobbies can often lead to idolatry. Sports is perhaps the biggest threat. I’m a big time fan of team sports. I love the NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball (when our Chicago teams are competitive.). Sports is a terrific way to enjoy leisure time, great way to occupy creative and emotional parts of our minds and to find common ground with others. But it can also become an obsessive pursuit. Let me explain.

There are seasons when I’m so completely locked in on sports. For instance, last NBA offseason and the season were terrific, perhaps one of the best in many years in the League. During that season I was checking Twitter constantly to see where LeBron might be signing. I watched many regular season games and most playoff games. And I was constantly listening to sports radio in the car. None of those are wrong, but they began to consume my time. In increasing amounts.

And do you know what was interesting about this newfound idol? It didn’t satisfy. When I began to look to my sports addiction as something that can fill me when I’m discouraged or distract when I’m convicted by the Spirit, it became a lousy friend. The reason for this is simple. Sports was never created to satisfy me. It can only bring temporary pleasure or enjoyment and provide a prism thru which I may appreciate and glorify God more.

I’ve found something else interesting. When I unplug from sports (or whatever my idol is that season) and dive deeper into the Word through prayer, preaching, and good reading, I find I still have an affinity for sports like the NBA, but I tend to enjoy my limited exposure to it. Do you understand what I’m saying? Too much of a pursuit/hobby I love not only becomes a bad thing, it becomes a terribly object of worship. But when sports is in its rightful place in my life, I find my limited moments indulging become true enjoyment. The expectations for satisfaction are way lower. Sports becomes what it was supposed to be for me: a time to rest, relax, reflect, unwind. But not my Master and my source of delight.

Only God gives this. And our hearts are wired only to find pleasure in Him. So the answer, I guess, is not to completely abandon all good things that can be turned into great, but it is to keep them in their place. When our pursuits begin to look like worship, we should scale back, dive back into the Word, and then realize we only find life in Jesus.