Following the Way | Spending Your Free Time
To start the New Year at Melbourne Heights, we have been talking about how we can follow Jesus all year long. But we’re not doing this the way that we typically do in church. Typically, when we talk about following Jesus at church we talk about following Jesus in the churchy areas of our lives. So we’ll talk about following Jesus when it comes to worship, or Small Groups, or reading your Bible, or saying your prayers. But what we’ve been reminding you of throughout this sermon series is that Jesus isn’t just the Lord over the churchy stuff. Jesus is Lord over every area of our lives.
Jesus is Lord over every area of our lives.
So we’ve spent the last few weeks talking about how we can follow Jesus in different areas of our lives. Last week we talked about how we can follow Jesus with our finances, and we saw that God wants us to have a plan for our money so that we’re able to provide for ourselves and for our families. And two weeks ago, we talked about how we can follow Jesus with our health, and we saw that God wants us to be as healthy as we can be so that we can worship him and serve others.
Well, today, we are wrapping up this sermon series. But there is still one area of our lives that we need to talk about...and it’s a pretty big area of our lives. Just how big is it? Well, according to a study conducted by the RAND Corporation, which is a government think-tank, this area makes up about 20 percent of our lives. That means that, on average, we spend five hours a day in this area of our lives.
So what area is it? It’s your free time. That’s right, in spite of how busy you may feel, the average American has about five hours of free time every day. So let’s talk about how we can follow Jesus when it comes to our free time. And I do have some specific guidelines that you can use to think about everything you do in your free time.
But first, we need to take a few minutes to talk about something. And we need to talk about this because I’m afraid that you may have some ideas about what it means to follow God in your free time that just aren’t accurate. And these ideas stem from the ideal that we all have about what it means to be a Christian.
That’s right, we all have this ideal image of a Christian in our minds. I know I do, and I can actually remember doing an activity in a Bible study when I was a college student where we were asked to draw a picture of our idea of the perfect Christian. And I still remember sitting down with several of my friends to start brainstorming and talking about what our ideals were.
And then we started drawing. And in our picture, we decided that our perfect Christian needed to be wearing an Oral Roberts University t-shirt, and that they were wearing a baseball cap with a Jesus fish logo on it and had a cross pendant hanging around their neck. We also wanted our ideal Christian to have a well-worn Bible that was falling apart at the seams in their hand. We also figured the knees of his blue jeans needed to be worn out from all the time he spent in prayer, and the soles of his shoes needed to be worn through since he had been telling the good news throughout the nations.
We also wanted our perfect Christian to be wearing headphones that were blasting out “Amazing Grace” with “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” next in the queue of his MP3 player--remember I did this when I was in college, so it happened before we all had smartphones and AirPods. And we wanted his ringtone to be the Hallelujah chorus.
We wanted his eyes to be fixed on the heavens, but the wall behind him was covered in awards and certificates for all the good work he was doing on earth—like serving as a volunteer firefighter, making regular donations to the Red Cross, and helping little old ladies cross the street. And it was about that time that our Bible study leader asked us to wrap up…but I have a feeling we could have gone on for hours.
Next, we were asked to stand up and explain our illustrations, highlighting all the details we included. After everyone had a good laugh at our bad artwork and our ridiculous ideals, the Bible study leader got to the point. She asked us, “How do you measure up to your perfect Christian?”
If your perfect Christian has worn out the knees on their blue jeans from all the time they spend praying, then how is your prayer life? If their Bible is about to fall apart from all the time they’ve spent studying it, then what does your Bible look like? If your ideal Christian takes their faith seriously enough to choose a college or career based on it, then how seriously do you take your faith? If they’re always listening to classic hymns or contemporary Christian music, how does that compare to your playlist?
And with every question and every comparison, the realization set in that I didn’t have much in common with my ideal Christian. So there was a part of me that left that Bible Study feeling like God wanted me to spend all of my free time reading my Bible, or praying, or singing hymns.
And, as we start to think about how God wants us to spend our free time, there is probably a part of you that feels the same way. And although you should spend some of your free time reading your Bible, and you should spend some of your free time saying your prayers, and you might want to spend some of your free time listening to your favorite Christian music; I don’t think God wants all of your free time to look like a worship service.
As a matter of fact, in John 10:10 when Jesus is talking about why he came to earth, I think he makes it clear that he wants more for our free time. In John 10:10, Jesus tells us:
10 I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.
What Jesus is saying here is that he wants your life to be full of life. And your life can’t be full of life if you always do the exact same thing every single day. So believe it or not, as we talk about what God wants for your free time, I’m not going to give you tips on how you can read your Bible, I’m not going to teach you about different types of prayers, and I’m not going to tell you what Christian songs are on my Spotify list.
Instead, I want to give you three guidelines that you can use to figure out if you are spending your free time the way that God wants you to or not. And to find these three guidelines, we’re going to turn to Matthew 22:34-40.
But before we take a look at this passage, let me give you a little background information on this book and on this passage. Now, Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, and we call the first four books of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—gospels. We call them gospels because the word “gospel” means “good news,” and these four books tell us the good news of Jesus. They are essentially biographies of Jesus.
So in the book of Matthew, you can read about Jesus’ parents and his birth. You can read about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and his most famous sermon—the sermon on the mount. You can read how Jesus taught and ministered across a region of ancient Israel called Galilee. And you can read how Jesus’ teachings threatened the status quo, and how the religious leaders started turning against him.
Now, as the scripture that we’ll be reading today picks up, the religious leaders of his day had already started turning against him. But instead of happening in the rural region of Galilee, Jesus has gone to the political and religious capital of Israel: Jesus has gone to Jerusalem.
Many of Jesus’ followers thought that this meant Jesus would soon be overthrowing their existing government and taking his rightful spot on Israel’s throne. So the religious leaders were doing everything they could to try to get people to stop following Jesus.
So they’ve found Jesus teaching in the Temple, surrounded by people, and they’ve been trying to trick Jesus. They’ve been asking him questions about politics and religion…but Jesus hasn’t been fooled at all.
And as Matthew 22:34 starts, the religious leaders are going to take one last shot at getting Jesus to stumble. So let’s look at this story together, and see what the religious leaders try to do. In Matthew 22:34 we read:
34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
So here we have a religious leader and expert in the law--that is the religious law, as in the law of Moses--try to trick Jesus by asking him what the most important commandment is. And this leader had to believe that he had Jesus trapped. No matter which of the commandments Jesus picked, he would be de-emphasizing another part of the law.
But what that religious leader didn’t realize is that he wasn’t asking Jesus a question that would trip him up. That religious leader was asking Jesus a question that let Jesus reveal what really matters to God. He asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is, the greatest law that God wants us to live by, the most important thing to our life and our faith. And Jesus told him.
So I want you to really listen to what Jesus tells him because what Jesus tells him will help us form our three guidelines for using our free time. So let’s pick back up in verse 27. Here’s what Jesus says:
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Matthew 22:34-40 (Common English Bible)
Now, if you have spent much time around the church over the years then you have heard this passage of scripture before. And because this passage is so familiar, you may have missed out on the guidelines that Jesus gives us in this passage for our lives. So let’s slow down a little, and look at this passage section by section.
So the first thing Jesus tells us in this passage is, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” So, whether you’ve ever realized it or not, Jesus has given you a guideline for your life--and that includes how you spend your free time. And the first thing that Jesus wants you to think about is if what you’re doing helps us love God more. When it comes to how you spend your free time, the first thing you need to ask is does this help me love God more?
Does this help me love God more?
Now, obviously, there are some things that you can do with your free time that will help you love God more. You can use some of your free time and join us for worship on Sundays. Or you can use some of your free time to read a book on Christian living. Or you can use some of your free time to listen to your favorite Christian music. And of course, you can spend some of your free time reading the Bible and praying.
But those aren’t the only things that you can do to help you love God more. You might feel closer to God when you’re outside enjoying God’s creation. So that could mean that you spend some of your free time taking a long walk or going camping. And that’s just one example. And I’m sure that there are plenty of other things that you do that help you feel closer to God. But you do need to spend some time thinking about them. So when you’re thinking about how you’re going to spend your free time, start by asking: does this help me love God more?
But that’s just one guideline for how you spend your free time. Let’s go back to Matthew 22 and see what else Jesus has to tell us. And here’s what he says in verse 39, “And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
So Jesus tells us that the second most important thing we can do is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So when it comes to how we spend our free time, the second thing we need to think about is does this help me love my neighbor more?
Does this help me love my neighbor more?
Now, there are some things that we do in our free time that absolutely help us love our neighbors more. Just picking up the phone and spending some time talking with one of your friends or family members will help you love them more. Or, whenever we’re all vaccinated and able to spend time in bigger groups, going to birthday parties or backyard barbeques can help you love your neighbor more.
But there are also things that you might do in your free time that don’t help you love your neighbor more. For me, it’s driving. I have no problem admitting that I would be a better Christian--I would be more like Jesus--if I didn’t have to drive. But traffic drives me nuts. So I’m not the kinda person that should go for a long drive in my free time. Instead, I try to spend the least amount of time in my car as I can, so that I can do other things with my free time.
But I wouldn’t realize that without this second guideline. So we need to ask ourselves, does this help me love my neighbor more?
And that brings us to the last guideline that Jesus gives us in this passage. And it’s one that’s easy to overlook. But did you notice what Jesus said at the end of verse 39? Jesus tells us that we are to love our neighbors like we love ourselves...like we love ourselves. So the third thing we need to think about when it comes to how we spend our free time is does this help me love myself more?
Does this help me love myself more?
So, if you think back to what we talked about a couple of weeks ago, this is where exercise probably fits in. Going for a run, or hopping on your bike, or spending an hour at the Y helps you take care of yourself...it helps you love yourself more. Or maybe you’re the creative type. So maybe painting a picture, or doing a jigsaw puzzle, or building a Lego set helps you destress and unwind. That makes all of those things great ways to spend some of your free time.
So those are the three guidelines that will help us understand how God wants us to use our free time. God wants us to use our free time doing things that help us love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves more. So let’s think about one of the most common things we do with our free time and see if it meets God’s guidelines.
So let’s talk about something that a lot of you are doing with your free time right now. Right now, a lot of you are worshiping with us on Social Media. And on average, we spend about 2 hours a day on Social Media. So is that a good use of our free time? Well, let’s use our guidelines.
Does social media help you love God, love your neighbor, or love yourself more? Well, the honest answer to that is: it depends. Yes, there are things that you can do on social media that will help you love God, love your neighbors, and love yourself more. But there is plenty that happens on social media that falls outside of these guidelines.
In the last couple of weeks, there have been plenty of posts on social media that have challenged people’s relationships with God. From rioters storming the Capitol building while waving Christian flags and wearing Christian clothing to a minister right here in Louisville praying for God to curse his enemies, we have seen things on social media that have pulled people away from God.
Now, let me detour here for just a second because this needs to be said. The actions of these individuals do not reflect who our God is. Our God is never a God of violence. Our God is never a God of hatred. Our God is a God of love and our God is a God of peace. But, with that being said, there are plenty of people who use social media to paint a different picture of God...a picture of God that we must denounce, a picture of God that we need to call out as heresy.
And that’s just the loving God side of social media. Social media can help us love our neighbors and love ourselves. But social media can also make us jealous, and social media can make us angry at our friends and family members.
So does that mean we need to stop getting on Facebook, or Instagram, or YouTube? No. But it does mean that we need to think about what we’re seeing when we’re on social media. It means that we need to think about who we’re friends with or who we follow. It means that we may need to mute some posts or unsubscribes to some channels.
But that’s just social media. There are plenty of other things that you do in your free time that you need to think about. From watching TV, to reading a book, to playing video games; we need to think about how we spend our free time. And we need to ask if we’re using our free time to help us love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves more. Because that’s what God wants you to do not just with your free time but with your entire life. God wants you to love him with everything that you’ve got. And God wants you to love your neighbor like you love yourself.
And if you’ll commit to doing those three things, you won’t have a problem following the way of Jesus all year long.