Does It Matter How We Spend Our Free Time?

We have to look at our lives as a window of opportunity, because none of us has unlimited time. Everyone, no matter who they are, has 168 hours a week, and we’re supposed to spend about a third of it sleeping, and then another large amount of that likely goes to work. But in terms of what we call discretionary time, how much do we actually have? And how are we spending it?

Scripture tells us to redeem the time and make the most of the time we’ve been given by living in light of eternity. We’d be wise to take these verses into account as we choose how to spend our time:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Be self-controlled and vigilant (1 Peter 5:8, PHILLIPS).

This doesn’t mean that there’s no time for exercise, fun, hanging out with friends and family, barbecues, or watching a good movie. Our leisure time can be used in ways that please God—by studying and meditating on His Word (see 2 Timothy 2:15), by resting in Christ (see Matthew 11:28-30), and by recuperating from life’s busyness, as Christ commanded His disciples (see Mark 6:31).

Scripture also says that God provides us with material things “for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17, NLT). I’m so grateful for that phrase from Scripture, because it allows me to spend reasonable time and money enjoying God’s creation without guilt and doing things like playing tennis and riding my bike. Nanci and I sometimes go out to dinner or watch a movie together, enriching our relationship. These things contribute to my physical health and my mental and emotional refreshment.

So the answer isn’t believing that spending time doing the things we enjoy is automatically wrong. Hobbies and God-honoring entertainment can be an enriching part of an abundant, satisfying, and happy life. But leisure time can also deteriorate into hours and days wasted watching mind-numbing television, endlessly browsing the Internet and social media, or indulging in fantasies, whether through pornography, explicit romance novels, or video games.

If our approach to free time is just the television is always on because we’re watching this or binging on that, then we’re likely neglecting other important things God calls us to do. Are we building relationships with our neighbors and the people God has brought in our lives? Who are we serving or reaching out to? What great books are we reading? How deep are we going in reading and studying God’s Word? All of these things can bring us great refreshment and joy.

I know people who say I don’t have time to do a weekly Bible study, but they’re actually spending the evening at home watching television or scrolling through their phone or playing video games. So we have to ask ourselves, What kind of a person will all these things make me? as opposed to What kind of person will reading God’s Word and great books, meeting with Christ’s body, and serving other people, make me?

One thing I encourage people to do is to keep track of how they spend their time for one week. (You can use a time management sheet like this one). You can keep track of everything, but most specifically your discretionary time.

When we understand how we spend our time, it makes us better stewards because we become aware of what we otherwise don’t really know. Becoming aware is the first step of stewardship, which puts us in a position to decide, “I want to spend more time reading some great books and God’s Word, and talking with my wife and reading to my kids, and to steward this time I can reduce my time on electronics by five or ten hours each week.” Again, we won't do this without a clear picture of how we’re currently spending our time.

When I was talking to my wife Nanci about this, she reminded me that when she had food allergy issues, she was supposed to write down each and every thing she ate for several weeks. She found this very helpful. As with eating, when it comes to how you spend your time, simply knowing what you're actually doing makes a huge difference in your ability to evaluate and make positive, God-glorifying changes.

I admit sometimes I really do struggle with how quickly time runs out each day. I try to focus on the Lord and His Word and figure out the few things in life He really wants me to do. Every day—including this one—offers me a hundred distractions, not just bad things, but good things. I tell myself that I must say no to the vast majority of good things that I might be able to say yes to those very few things God really has for me, including during my free time.

Jesus says to Martha in Luke 10: “Few things are necessary, really only one. Mary has chosen the better portion and it will not be taken from her.” May that be true of us too, and may we redeem the time God has given us, for His glory!

Photo by Jessica Delp on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries