Recently I attended a minor league baseball game with my wife out of state. As we walked into the stadium and started heading towards our seats, something caught my eye. It was a small booth set up with glass cases surrounding a middle-aged man with a baseball cap. Behind him was a large shelf containing posters of various athletes and sports stars. Being quite the sports fan, I took my wife's hand and walked over to the booth. The glass cases contained a multitude of baseball, basketball, and football cards.
I was amazed.
The collection instantly brought back memories I had as a young boy spending all of my allowance money on sports trading cards. I would collect, buy, sell, and trade cards for years as a child and found a great deal of pleasure in doing so. In an instant, I was overcome by a desire to take back up the hobby of collecting sports cards.
As my wife and I walked to our seats in the stadium, I began wrestling with a question many of us wrestle with when thinking about pursuing a new hobby: is it wrong?
Maybe to frame it another way: is having a hobby wrong? When does a hobby become sinful? How can we know the difference between a God-glorifying hobby and a sinful hobby?
A Theology of Hobbies
God is not a cosmic killjoy. In fact, God is the ultimate source and giver of pleasure (Ps. 16:11). God's delight is in you making Himself your supreme delight (Ps. 147:11, Ps. 37:23, 1 Chron. 29:17). God gives us pathways or things through which we can delight in Him more by accepting them with thanksgiving and gladness (Ja. 1:17, Col. 3:17, Eph. 5:20). Your delight in bacon sizzling on the stove, spending time with your kids, taking your spouse on a date, watching your favorite team play, working out, reading a book, going on a walk, driving in the car, your routine, and more are designed to be things that you delight in with thanks to God knowing that He has given you those things and experiences to delight in Him through them. This is an important foundation to have laid in our theology. God is for your utmost delight in Him through everything He has given you. Therefore, the hobbies that you and I have are not designed to be ends in and of themselves. They are designed to be ways through which we delight in God more in our everyday lives. All hobbies are meant to be vehicles through which you are carried to greater and stronger delight in Him.
Hobbies are designed to be ways through which we delight in God more in our everyday lives.
So here is the question: how can I know if am delighting in God through my hobby?
Hobbies, like all things created, can become things that we worship instead of use to worship God (Rom. 1). As John Calvin is noted for saying, "Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols." In other words, you and I are skillful in turning things into gods. Hobbies are no exception. Things that were created to be avenues through which we glorify and delight in God can quickly be used as ends of themselves. The hobby of working out that is designed to be a way for you to delight in God more as you steward your body well to have more energy and health to serve Him can be used as a functional identity. You being to determine your self-worth with numbers on a scale and an image in the mirror than by the Lord and His love for you.
So how can we know when a hobby is an idol and no longer a way through which I can delight in God? When you look to your hobby to give you what only God can give you. When you begin to look to your hobby to be your greatest source of delight and joy, your hobby is no longer a hobby. It is an idol. You no longer use a hobby to delight in God, instead the becomes the god you delight in. So ask yourself, what am I looking to to give me what only God can give? Hobbies make great servants, but awful masters.
How Can We Master Our Hobbies?
This is the question we need to answer, isn't it? How can we master our hobbies and not allow them to master us? The answer is simple: do all things for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Our hobbies subtly become idols when we neglect to use them to delight in and praise God. The person that uses their hobbies to delight in and glorify God understands that everything is the Lord's (Ps. 24:1) and that he deserves glory from all of it. What does this mean for us? That we need to have our eyes fixed on God in the midst of all the delights God graciously gives us to enjoy Him.
Our hobbies subtly become idols when we neglect to use them to delight in and praise God.
So when you mow the grass, keep up the garden, go on a run, grill up a steak, or collect baseball cards, do it all to the glory of God by knowing that all good things come from Him (Ja. 1:17) for us to enjoy Him more.