One phrase sums up the 21st century American mindset—the pursuit of pleasure. It’s easy to see how the lost world is eventually imprisoned by the pleasures they pursue. We live in an addiction culture. Ironically, much of the addiction is fueled by a desire to escape the realities of culture itself. Many believers have a similar mindset when it comes to entertainment, leisure, and recreation. I ask you to consider how even a seemingly harmless distraction can become a kind of prison.
The Pursuit of Christian Happiness
American Christianity has somehow gotten the idea that God just wants us to be happy. (I challenge you to find this idea in Scripture.) So, many have turned to what Spurgeon describes as excessive amusements: “Amusement should be used to do us good “like a medicine.” It must never be used as the food of the man. Many have had all holy thoughts and gracious resolutions stamped out by perpetual trifling. Pleasure so called is the murderer of thought. This is the age of excessive amusement: everybody craves for it, like a babe for its rattle.” (Charles Spurgeon)
Some amusements may seem like harmless hobbies and activities, such as sporting events and vacations. While these things aren’t wrong in and of themselves, it’s dangerous to allow any momentary amusement to become a driving force in our lives or a primary escape mechanism. In a recent article, Andrew Brunson—a missionary who spent two years in a Turkish prison for his faith—points out how this dangerous trend is increasingly prevalent in American Christianity:
“I suggest that the pursuit of pleasure and self-fulfillment is, for many people, their controlling value. This basically means we do what makes us feel good. Our feelings and desires determine our path. When we encounter hardship, we retreat to a safe place because part of taking care of ourselves is the avoidance of suffering.”
Brunson goes on to say: “When pressure comes, we can throw ourselves into the pursuit of pleasure, which is often an attempt to escape or self-medicate. In fact, medical research has shown that our brains are hardwired to seek distraction when under pressure. When the brain is flooded with the stress hormone cortisol, the reward center of the brain looks for pleasurable stimuli. These can be chemical, like drugs, alcohol or sugar; or behavioral, such as sexual immorality, pornography, entertainment, social media, gambling, shopping—anything that allows us an escape.”
The Danger for Believers
I don’t think that Spurgeon or Brunson are killjoys. Neither do I think that believers should oppose all forms of amusement or entertainment. So, what’s the danger for believers? Well, the Bible warns us in 2 Timothy 3 that in the latter days, “men will be…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
You see, Scripture doesn’t tell us to escape from the pressures of life and pursue happiness, but to take our burdens to the Lord. The point is this—the more distraction we seek through the portal of pleasure and entertainment, the more dependent we become on those things. Over time, we get in the habit of turning to our escape mechanism before we turn to Jesus. And we eventually become slaves to whatever we give ourselves to (Romans 6:16).
So, when does a harmless distraction become harmful? When our pursuit of pleasure takes precedence over Jesus. Is it okay for believers to enjoy hobbies, entertainment, and outdoor recreation? Of course! But we should filter our fun by what is acceptable to Christ. True freedom isn’t in escaping reality but by grounding our reality in Him. Anything else will eventually become a prison.