We’ve all done it. ‘I’ll just take a break and watch an episode of [insert favorite show] and then get back to [whatever you should be doing]…’
Five episodes later, after another binge-watching marathon, you find yourself dazed, frustrated and wondering why the sun is up.
While TV can be a good thing, most Christians understand we need to keep Netflix (and other entertainment) in its proper place. And yet, we find that really hard to do.
Apparently, we’re in good company. According to one study, 73% of Americans now binge-watch shows, with binge-watching defined as three or more shows per session. However, the study discovered that people between 14-33 often watched for an average of 5 hours straight, with about 40% binging nearly every week.
Even Merriam-Webster has acknowledged our obsession by adding ‘binge-watch’ to recent editions of its dictionary.
I think we all know we’ve got a problem with the way we relate to entertainment. Whether it’s Netflix, Hulu, TV or just surfing the net, there are good reasons to be concerned with our consumption.
While it’s easy to get legalistic or setup artificially simple boundaries for ourselves, there’s a better, harder approach. The bible calls it wisdom.
It’s certainly not my place to tell you what’s wise for you, but here are seven questions we can ask before we binge.
7 Questions To Ask Before You Binge
We could talk – a lot – about the content of what we watch, and how that affects us. But the purpose of this post is more on the amount of what we consume. So, with that disclaimer, here we go.
- Are you making an intentional decision to watch (or surf) this amount? In Ephesians 5:15, Paul calls us to ‘look carefully… how you walk’. Many times my experience is that I drift into my decisions with entertainment, rather than carefully choosing them. And Netflix is right there to help us by queueing up the next episode.
- Is this a wise, or foolish, use of your time? Paul goes on to say that we should live ‘not as unwise but as wise’. Wisdom is not binary, right or wrong. Wisdom helps us make the best choice among many possible options. Like how many shows we should watch given our other responsibilities.
- Is this the best use of the time God has given you? Paul urges us to make ‘the best use of the time.’ Sometimes, it really might be best to watch an episode of The Great British Baking Show or a sporting event. God wants us to enjoy what he’s created, and we need rest. But, at some point, as the shows pile up, it’s no longer ‘the best use of the time’.
- Is this crowding out other, more important things God has called me to? I’ve had days where I don’t spend time with God because I became absorbed in Philadelphia Eagles articles or whatever catches my attention in the ‘trending’ sidebar on Facebook. It’s worth asking whether our entertainment habits are getting in the way of God’s top priorities for us: loving him, and loving others. Am I pursuing real friendships? Have I called my family lately? Is my apartment a wreck? Do I have healthy exercise and eating habits? Have I connected with my kids? These are the kinds of things that can vanish when Netflix becomes king.
- What am I escaping from? Sometimes our binge-watching is an attempt (conscious or not) to hide from something we’d rather not face. Like hard work, a difficult relationship, an area of failure, and even the Lord.
- Can I watch this amount with a clear conscience? Romans 14:23 says, ‘For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.’ I believe that this verse really means what it seems to: that if we can’t do something with a clear conscience, for us it’s sin. Even if it’s a ‘good thing’ in and of itself.
- Do I have a plan? As with every other area of our lives, we are subject here to the classic temptations of the world, our flesh and the devil. Which means it’s wise to have a plan for the specific areas that tempt you. As one example, during work I won’t allow myself to click on anything that’s trending on Facebook, lest the first article become a gateway drug to others. 🙂 When we don’t have a plan, we plan to fail.
One Way Forward
Rather than focusing on rules, safeguards or what we shouldn’t do, it’s way more powerful to put most of our effort on pursuing Christ. (See this excellent Ask Pastor John podcast, which gave me the idea for this post.)
When we want to eat better, we don’t tell ourselves, ‘Self, just stop eating ice cream, pizza and french fries.’ All that does is make us obsess over food and lead us straight to the fridge. A far better approach is to replace the bad stuff with better stuff so that, over time, our tastes are recalibrated.
We need to slowly, but surely pursue Jesus as our greatest treasure. Paul’s pursuit needs to become ours: ‘I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.’ (Philippians 3:8)
Practically, this means we might…
- spend time with God before we watch any shows or go online
- ask God for help when we feel tempted to veg out
- let a friend know about our struggles and ask them to join us in prayer
- pray daily that Christ would become more real, and appealing, to us than our favorite entertainment
- repent when we fail, knowing God loves to forgive us, and grant new power to obey (see 1 John 1:9)
- memorize scripture that helps us place our focus on God and how he satisfies us; for example, Psalm 63:3 – ‘Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.’
What other ideas do you have?
In summary, binge-watching and other entertainment-related temptations are bombarding us from every angle. Our culture tells us that Netflix will give us Life. But it can’t, and won’t. As followers of Christ, we should neither mindlessly give in to this pattern, nor beat ourselves up when we fail. As we show up and pursue God day by day, we’ll find ourselves developing a taste for him that surpasses everything else.
Questions for reflection:
- What are your biggest entertainment-related struggles?
- How would pursuing Christ begin to help you overcome them?
- What would pursuing Christ look like for you specifically?