Posted: Sep 05, 2023

“Seek ye first the kingdom of entertainment, and all these things will be added to you.”
1st Americans 1:11

In my early years as a believer, prayer was an intimidating enigma. I didn’t deal with being alone in silence well. Then there was the big question of how to pray. There were plenty of books out there with clever acronyms with the author’s structure on how to pray, but they never worked for me.

Today I know that prayer is an incredible blessing; the doorway to the throne room of grace, to God’s power, strength, wisdom and life. I don’t use these words lightly; I’ve experienced these gifts in tangible ways. I understand why St. Augustine said, “Entering silence is entering into joy.” My life and the lives of others have been radically changed because of prayer. I took my first solo trip alone to the desert 20 years ago and had a powerful encounter with God that brought me to tears. Today I love spending several days away alone with Him.

When I speak publicly or work with people individually, I’ll often encourage them to spend at least an hour in prayer every day and take a solo trip alone with God at least once a year. Responses have included blank looks, “What would I do during that time?” and “Maybe I’ll try 15 minutes a day.”

“I’m too busy” is the big one.

Yet… the average American will spend:
900 hours a year watching TV.
900 hours a year engaged in social media.
728 hours a year playing video games.
Plus, time at movie theaters, sporting events, and other forms of entertainment… like porn.
That’s more than 2,500 hours a year spent on entertainment for the average American. These are averages and won’t apply for everyone, but even if we clock in at half, 1,250 hours a year, that’s still a whopper.

One hour of prayer a day is 365 hours a year. That still leaves plenty of room for more than 2,000 hours of entertainment… that is, if it’s appropriate for a committed Christ-follower whose mind is set on making his life count for eternity. For many Christians, an hour a day with God isn’t a matter of time, but priorities.

Or maybe, we don’t love God as much as we say we do on Sunday morning and have allowed the world, and even some voices in the church, to choke our spiritual life.

“Over the epitaph of this generation it will say ENTERTAINED TO DEATH.”
– Paul Washer

“America is the first culture in jeopardy of amusing itself to death.”
– John Piper

“Never has there been a time when men tried so desperately to have fun as they do today.”
– Billy Graham

How is this glittering electronic amusement park we’re immersed in affecting us?

Within seconds after turning on the TV, the brain slides into a hypnotic state, caused by screen flicker. Brainwaves are lowered into an alpha state, which is normally associated with deep relaxation. (This is why it’s easy to fall asleep in front of the TV). In this anesthetized state, the information the viewer is exposed to is downloaded directly into the subconscious belief system. Marketing companies know this and exploit it. Your brain is more active when it’s sleeping than when you’re watching television. Conversely, reading a book exercises the brain.

April of this year, Harvard Medical School published the results of research showing that increased TV use leads to cognitive decline and risk of dementia.

Dr. Judy Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of the Psychological Healing Center in Sherman Oaks, CA, writes “When we substitute TV for human relations we disconnect from our human nature and substitute for the virtual. We are wired to connect, and when we disconnect from humans and over-connect to TV at the cost of human connection, eventually we will starve to death emotionally. Real relationships and the work of life is more difficult, but at the end of the day more enriching, growth producing and connecting.”

Which brings us to one of the major consequences of a screen-addicted society: screen addiction creates isolation, which opens the door wide to a host of other problems, including porn addiction, overeating, depression, anxiety and even suicide – or worse. Most of the serial gunmen were isolated loners. May of this year, the US Surgeon General published an advisory about the epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the US that included the following:

“The physical health consequences of poor or insufficient connection (with other people) include a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a 50% increased risk of developing dementia for older adults. Additionally, lacking social connection increases risk of premature death by more than 60%. In addition to our physical health, loneliness and isolation contribute substantially to mental health challenges. In adults, the risk of developing depression among people who report feeling lonely often is more than double that of people who rarely or never feel lonely. Loneliness and social isolation in childhood increase the risk of depression and anxiety both immediately and well into the future. And with more than one in five adults and more than one in three young adults living with a mental illness in the U.S., addressing loneliness and isolation is critical in order to fully address the mental health crisis in America.”

Our churches are filled with isolated believers.

When I speak in churches and other venues, I’ll often ask the audience to raise their hand if they meet with another believer or group once a week for the purpose of support, accountability, and prayer. Usually somewhere between 10-15% raise their hands. Most Christians are isolated, some, because they’re chemically, psychologically, and spiritually addicted to entertainment… and social media.

“We have observed that the reward system in the brain is more active and more sensitive in people who present symptoms of addiction to social media,” says Ofir Turel, Ph.D., associate professor at California State University. “What it means is that social media provides rewarding experiences that generate dopamine in the brain, the same substance produced when we eat cake or have sex. Over time, it trains your brain to want to check social media more and more often.”

Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, stated in an interview on Axiom that, “The thought processes that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them… was all about “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” That means we need to give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a post or whatever.”

Surfing a social media feed mimics the same routine those who are addicted to porn go through when they’re hunting for an image to masturbate to. Both are after a dopamine hit. Scroll, scroll… “Oooh, that’s interesting… Hey they liked my post!” Scroll, scroll, scroll… scroll…

Even though they initially told themselves they’d only scroll for several minutes, an hour passes until they’re stirred out of their coma and ask “How did I waste so much time on this??… Oh wait, someone commented on my post… gotta reply.”

Which is why so many are struggling with fragmented thinking and difficulty focusing on one thing for more than several seconds. It’s not hard to see why an hour of prayer alone in silence can seem like a daunting challenge.

“But I watch Christian programs,” some might say.

“We are not encouraged to forsake our sin by having our senses amused or our preferences coddled. The Gospel is inherently and irreducibly confrontational. It cuts against our perceived righteousness and self-sufficiency, demanding that we forsake cherished sin and trust in someone else to justify us. Entertainment is therefore a problematic medium for communicating the Gospel, because it nearly always obscures the most difficult aspects of it – the cost of repentance, the cross of discipleship, the narrowness of the Way. Some will disagree, arguing that drama can give unbelievers a helpful visual image of the Gospel. But we have already been given such visual images. They are the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper and the transformed lives of our Christian brothers and sisters.”
– Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church.

100 years ago, Amy Carmichael, a missionary in India, got into it with other believers about the use of pictures. In her telling of Amy Carmichael’s story, Elisabeth Elliot wrote:

“Amy Carmichael set the example and paid the price, sometimes in conflict with fellow believers. The matter of using pictures of Christ, a common practice among missionaries, was unthinkable to Amy. No one, she felt, had a right to presume to imagine God the Son. Who could possibly separate manhood from Godhead? She shrank in dread from such holy ground and reminded those who disagreed with her that the apostles had avoided all appeal to the senses, trusting in the power of the word of God alone. The Church, she said, resorted to pictures only when her power had gone.”

Does the church of today, which is saturated with sexual sin, (70% of men, one third of women, and 90%+ of youth viewing pornography), losing 75% of its youth, with many churches avoiding these and other critical issues, and few being houses of prayer, strike you as spiritually powerful? The early church had no Christian movies or programs, church buildings, megawatt sound systems, worship bands, conferences, or books, yet they changed the world. We have a glut of Christian entertainment and content, and the world (or really, Satan) has corrupted and distracted many believers. That should tell us that our focus is off.

The Christian life, which Jesus referred to as a “narrow way that few find” (Matthew 7:13), is meant to be one where self and its desires are put to death on an ongoing basis. 2,000+ hours of entertainment a year is like giving our flesh a daily feast to gorge on. Then we wonder why we feel empty all the time.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
Matthew 16:24-26

Can you picture any of the men and women in Scripture who made an eternal impact spending hours staring at a screen, playing video games, or frequenting movie theaters? How about a tough, desert-raised prophet like John the Baptist? (Imagine him in a modern, comfort-driven church where some of the faithful cruise in 15 minutes late while glancing at their phones.)
It doesn’t fit.

Oswald Chambers writes:
“Whenever our right becomes the guiding factor of our lives, it dulls our spiritual insight. The greatest enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but good choices which are not quite good enough. The good is always the enemy of the best.”

Until the 1920’s, there were no video screens. We don’t need entertainment. We won’t die without it, but it can cripple our spiritual life. I find myself reading the writings of saints who have transitioned to eternity because of their single-minded focus on the eternal.

“Film and television keep us from thinking. It’s the entertainment industry’s business, and entertainers have achieved remarkable success. They’ve kept us from thinking about things worth thinking about.”
– Vance Havner, 1901-1986

“Entertainment is the devil’s substitute for joy. The more joy you have in the Lord the less entertainment you need.”
– Leonard Ravenhill, 1907-1994

“A man may follow vanity as truly in the counting-house as in the theatre. If he be spending his life in amassing wealth, he passes his days in a vain show.”
– Charles Spurgeon, 1834-1892

“All great amusements are dangerous to the Christian life; but among all those which the world has invented there is none more to be feared than the theatre.”
– Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662.

The roll call of single-minded, eternity-focused saints of the past includes David Brainerd (who prayed and fasted often while struggling with health problems), EM Bounds, Charles Spurgeon, DL Moody, Oswald Chambers, Amy Carmichael, and Vance Havner, among others. These imperfect believers modeled giving everything to God without holding anything back, no matter how tough their circumstances. Amy Carmichael spent the last 20 years of her life in unbearable pain from a fall that resulted in a twisted spine, broken ankle, and other problems, yet she continued to write books that still minister to people today.

I can’t picture any of them playing Candy Crush.

For many today, suffering means the internet went down.

Screens do have beneficial uses. Many of us work on screens, as I do. Maps aps (like Google Maps and Apple Maps) are a blessing. I do research online. Our Blazing Grace Facebook page has ministered to people. You’re reading this email on a screen. We can learn a lot online. Zoom meetings are a blessing, which we use for groups, counseling, and prayer meetings. You can listen to or watch your pastor of choice online. I’m not advocating that we move into caves, but that, outside of work, we put as much of our focus and time on the eternal as possible while refusing to allow screens to seduce us into wasting our lives. We all will face the judgment seat of Christ to give an account for how we spent our time. I can’t imagine him saying “well done” for watching hours of TV, Christian programs or not.

“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
2 Corinthians 5:9-10

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Colossians 3:1-3

There’s that dead-self thing again.

I’ve made the same mistakes I’ve written about here. In the past I’ve wasted hours on movies, porn, rock concerts, video games, and social media, mainly in my teens, twenties, thirties, and early forties. I racked up thousands of hours of entertainment during those years. It’s been a process of pruning it from my life.

I haven’t been to a movie theater in 5 years. I don’t miss it. I haven’t seen Jesus Revolution, or The Sound of Freedom, or most of the Christian movies people are raving about. I’ve not seen an episode of The Chosen. I have no news aps, social media, or email on my phone. When I get home at night after work I stay away from social media and the TV. Most nights, I’m done with screens by around 5:30. I get news on my desktop PC. I’m constantly reading books. My mind doesn’t feel like it’s twitching for a dopamine hit like it used to.

Let me make a distinction between entertainment and that which restores. Time in nature, walks, a meal or coffee with a good friend, hobbies, reading books, learning something new, exercise, leisure or adventure trips, exploring new places, worship music, going to church, prayer meetings, naps, marital sex, and resting in silence with God are all good for the soul. I like to watch the sun rise in the morning to start the day, and wind down at night by watching the sun set. The God who paints the sky amazes me with His artwork, bringing my heart to a place of rest in the process. None of these things require screens. Many require connections with people, which we desperately need.

I will continue to scream this from the rooftops – every one of you should be meeting with another believer once a week for the purpose of support, accountability, and prayer. Turn your screens off and make meeting with other believers who you can walk the journey of life with a priority. We have 8 prayer and support groups going during the week, if you’re interested. People from all over the globe participate; all that is required is that you speak English and have a heart to pray.

Watching a video or live stream of a church service is not participating in a church service. You will never have a connection with your TV. Turn off your screen and go to church.

I’ll leave you with a quote from John Mark Comer’s book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, in a section titled “Kill Your TV”:

“What we give our attention to is the person we become, for good or evil. As my parents used to tell me, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Every… single… thing that we let into our minds will have an effect on our souls.

If you fill your mind with fornication and wildly unrealistic portrayals of beauty, or romance, or sex, or violence and the quest for revenge, or cynical sarcasm that we call “humor,” or a parade of opulent wealth, or simple banality, what shape do you think that will give to your soul?

Honestly, there’s very little I can watch as an apprentice of Jesus. Central to Jesus’ vision of human flourishing is a lust-free life (see Matthew 5:27-30, the sermon on the mount). I’m all for art, and even entertainment. But there’s very little cinema I can watch that does not incite lust, along with a parade of its ruinous friends. Since the 1920s Hollywood has been at the vanguard of the enemy’s quest to degrade sexuality and marriage and desensitize our society to sin. Why make it easier for him? Why not just get off the crazy train? Kill your TV. I mean, if you want, literally kill it. My friend threw his out the window.”

The early church was devoted to God’s word, fellowship, and prayer (Acts 2:42).

I encourage you to build your life on these three areas. Make the changes you need to make this happen, today.

And then:

“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”
Titus 3:8