Redeem Your Free Time

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There are a handful of sermons I can point to that were genuinely life-changing for me. One of those wasn’t a sermon I heard but a sermon I read some 280 years after it was first delivered.

In my first semester of seminary, I was assigned the reading of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon on Ephesians 5:16. It was entitled “​The Preciousness of Time and the Importance of Redeeming It​” and completely transformed the way I think about time and productivity.

The sermon’s final section struck me afresh as I was re-reading it this week. And I wanted to share it with you, along with a few thoughts of my own. Here Edwards is sharing some application points for how to redeem the time better, and I found this third point most interesting.

Third, improve well your time of leisure from worldly business. Many persons have a great deal of such time, and all have some.

Though we have differing amounts of leisure time, every believer has an opportunity to steward this part of our lives better, which isn’t dedicated to work or sleep. But how might Christians better redeem our leisure time in this digital age we find ourselves in?

Where the Time Goes

I recently watched ​this TED talk​ where the presenter shared a fascinating illustration to demonstrate how much time, in months, an 18-year-old had and how that time is spent on various activities.

The part that was most striking was the section at the bottom labeled “Free Time.” Statistically, the average young person’s free time will be spent almost entirely on screen-based entertainment (312 out of 334 months).

The Battle for Your Time: Exposing the Costs of Social Media | Dino Ambrosi | TEDx Talks

This is why ​46% of U.S. teens​ weren’t exaggerating in a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center when they said they are using the internet “almost constantly.” It’s not hyperbole. It’s literally true.

But it’s not just kids. The average digital media consumption by an adult in the U.S. is ​over 8 hours a day​. Just do the math. After accounting for 8 hours of work and 8 hours of sleep, that’s literally the entire remainder of a 24-hour day given to entertainment.

We might not all be that bad, but we all have the sense that we are spending too much time on entertainment. And I would submit that we need Edwards’ encouragement to redeem our free time, perhaps more than any people in human history.

More Profitable Leisure

Edwards’ point was not that we should never rest or enjoy leisure activities at all. But rather that our leisure time is a massive stewardship opportunity.

We often complain about not having enough time for the things that matter—relationships, rest, hobbies, or time with the Lord. But we’re sitting on a time gold mine in our leisure hours. And spending almost all of that time on mostly unprofitable entertainment is a choice.

As Edwards says:

If men be but disposed to it, such time may be improved to great advantage. When we are most free from cares for the body, and business of an outward nature, a happy opportunity for the soul is afforded.

We can’t do much about the time demands of sleep, work, school, eating, etc. These things must be done. But the time we have control over, what we often call “free time,” is called free precisely because it is unaccounted for by other obligations. We are free to spend it how we like. The problem, however, is that we treat free time like it is our time. When in truth, it’s God’s time. We are just stewards of it.

The solution, of course, is not to abandon leisure time, not to rest, or not to do things we enjoy. Edwards isn’t saying to give up this time but rather to redeem it. To put it to better use. To “spend not such opportunities unprofitably, nor in such a manner that you will not be able to give a good account thereof to God.”

So what should we do? I would submit that there are more profitable leisure activities, more profitable both in the enjoyment and rest they provide us and in their potential to produce works of eternal value. And, in my experience, these more profitable leisure activities are rarely attached to a screen.

As someone who has dramatically reduced his own screen time, I can speak from experience here. The idea that I need all that entertainment to unwind is a lie. I’ve actually found the opposite to be true. The less time I spend on devices in my free time, the less busy I feel and, therefore, the more rested I feel.

And more importantly, spending less time on digital entertainment has opened up my schedule to other types of more profitable leisure.

  • Spending time talking with friends and family
  • Taking long walks in creation
  • Reading for myself or to my wife
  • Studying God’s Word just for fun

As stewards of these brief lives, our free time presents a massive opportunity. It’s our choice whether we invest that time in wholly unprofitable leisure or in things that have eternal value.

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