A reader wrote me this note with a question:
“I loved reading Heaven. It has really opened my eyes up so much to what we can expect from the New Earth and it has really encouraged me to see all of God’s (uncorrupted) Creation as ‘very good’ and not all ‘worldly.’
I do have one question. What are your thoughts on more ‘leisurely’ activities (like our hobbies, cooking, stargazing, reading, etc.) and how our works will be judged at the Judgment Seat? It seems like 2 Corinthians 5:10 seems to say that our deeds will either be ‘good’ (and be rewarded) or ‘bad’ (worthless) which won’t be rewarded. I would imagine that time spent reading a good book wouldn’t necessarily gain someone a spiritual ‘reward’ at the Judgment Seat but neither would I ever consider our (non-sinful) hobbies to fall under the category of ‘worthless’ (bad). Would this mean that any deed that we ever did that won’t gain us a ‘reward’ (crown, etc.) be considered ‘worthless’ as per 2 Corinthians 5:10?”
This is a really great question!
First let me say some general things about hobbies and leisure activities to create a context for answering it. When we worship God as God, everything else falls into place—and hobbies, sports, music, reading, and entertainment can all enrich our lives as intended. Scripture gives us this command: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Eating and drinking are basic human activities. They are not only necessities but also physical pleasures that we’re to do for God’s glory. I ride my bike to God’s glory in this life. And I worship God while joyfully playing tennis and snorkeling, just as I worship Him while enjoying music, reading God’s Word, and playing with my dog. We can certainly worship God as we eat, drink, work, read, and enjoy hobbies, nature, and art.
God is the source of all lesser goods, so that when they satisfy us, it’s God Himself who satisfies us. We should reject any view that seeks to divorce our experience of God from life, relationships, and the world—all of which God graciously gives us. Such a view sees the material realm and other people as God’s competitors rather than instruments that communicate His love and character. It fails to recognize that because God is the ultimate source of joy, and all secondary joys emanate from Him, to love secondary joys on Earth can be—and in Heaven always will be—to love God, their source.
Scripture says we are to put our hope not in material things but “in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). If He provides everything for our enjoyment, we shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying it, should we?
In my book Money, Possessions, and Eternity, I write about how Scripture says we’re at war, and therefore we should make sacrifices commensurate to this crisis, that we may win the war. So yes, an unhealthy obsession and focus on things that won’t last isn’t our goal. We can’t forget that “Only one life; will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
But seen properly, even hobbies and leisure activities can draw our hearts to worship Christ and be part of what’s done for Christ’s glory. A wartime mentality can be taken to such an extreme that we feel it’s unfaithful to enjoy any possessions, pleasures, or special activities. That’s why I’m so thankful that in the midst of his command that the rich be generous, in 1 Timothy Paul reminds us that God provides everything for our enjoyment! Even in wartime, it’s important to have battle breaks. Soldiers need rest and recreation. Life isn’t just utilitarian. There’s nothing wrong with spending time on pleasures that renew and revive us, especially considering that our battle will last a lifetime.
I’m grateful to have fun possessions, such as a bicycle, tennis racket, and mask, snorkel, and fins. They aren’t necessary; yet they contribute to my physical and mental health. Our family spends money on vacations that aren’t “necessary,” yet they bring renewal and precious relationship-building opportunities. My wife and I sometimes go out to dinner, enriching our relationship and renewing our vigor to return to life’s battles. We can give away much or most of our income and seek to use our time wisely, yet still have breathing room for legitimate recreational spending and leisure time.
Paul says it is demons and liars who portray the physical realm as unspiritual, forbid people from the joys of marriage, including sex, and “order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:3-5). God is a lavish giver. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
Because of the current darkness of our hearts, we must be careful not to make idols out of created things. But God isn’t displeased when we enjoy a good meal, marital sex, a football game, a cozy fire, or a good book. He’s not up in Heaven frowning at us and saying, “Stop it—you should only find joy in me.” This would be as foreign to God’s nature as our heavenly Father as it would be to mine as an earthly father if I gave my daughters a Christmas gift and started pouting because they enjoyed it too much. No, I gave the gift to bring joy to them and to me—if they didn’t take pleasure in it, I’d be disappointed. Their pleasure in my gift to them draws them closer to me. I am delighted that they enjoy the gift.
Of course, if children become so preoccupied with the gift that they walk away from their father and ignore him, that’s different. Though preoccupation with a God-given gift can turn into idolatry, enjoying that same gift with a grateful heart can draw us closer to God.
God welcomes prayers of thanksgiving for meals, games, books, relationships, and every other good thing. When we fail to acknowledge God as the source of all good things, we fail to give Him the recognition and glory He deserves. We separate joy from God, which is like trying to separate heat from fire or wetness from rain.
Every day we should see God in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the friendships we enjoy, and the pleasures of family, work, and hobbies. Yes, we must sometimes forgo secondary pleasures, and we should never let them eclipse God. And we should avoid opulence and waste when others are needy. But we should thank God for all of life’s joys, large and small, and allow them to draw us to Him. My taking pleasure in a good meal or a good book is taking pleasure in God. It’s not a substitute for God, nor is it a distraction from Him. In the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, it’s what I was made for: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
Now I can return to this specific question about reward: when we use hobbies and leisure activities as an opportunity to worship and glorify and thank God, we are acting in faith. Faith is what pleases Him, and our seeking Him is what He will reward (Hebrews 11:6). So yes, I believe hobbies done to God’s glory could be something He might well reward. Either way, when done to honor Him, they certainly won’t be considered worthless in our gracious Father’s eyes!
God is the one who gives us our gifts, abilities, and resources, all of which we are to steward well, seeking to please our Master. The first person Scripture describes as “filled with the Spirit” wasn’t a prophet or priest; he was an Israelite craftsman (Exodus 31:1-6). God gifted and called Bezalel to be a skilled laborer, a master craftsman, a God-glorifying artist. The gifting and calling were from God (Exodus 35:30-35). He created each of us as individuals, with different interests and skills and talents, and using them to His glory is part of being a good steward. Different activities may even be a means of connecting with people we might otherwise never meet and provide opportunities to share about the God we love and serve!
Of course, if we participate in activities that don’t honor our Lord, or have pride in our abilities, or use them as excuse to neglect the other things God has commanded and called us to do, then yes, hobbies can become sin, and something God wouldn’t reward us for at His judgment seat.
If what you otherwise would have done with an hour spent on a leisure activity is pray, read the Bible, feed the poor, gather with your church, or share Jesus with your neighbor, then sure, just say “no” to the hobby! But if you would have spent it doing a number of other discretionary things, then feel free to say “yes” to it. Do it wisely, do it God’s glory, and do it with joy and thanksgiving, knowing “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).