Or “Teams that practice at 6am win games at 7pm.”
“Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial for me.” The Apostle Paul
Now when Paul said that, I’m sure he wasn’t referring to what TV shows or movies were accepted to watch. Probably not, since they didn’t have TV and internet in those days.
I originally wrote this post in 2006, but as my blog has grown, and it was buried in the archives, I thought it would be worth re-visiting (and re-editing). This past week after beginning a book by Mike Bickle called Growing in Prayer, I reached a point in one of the early chapters that basically said the same thing as I’m about to here, so it confirmed for me it would be worth recycling and updating this post.
Plus, I haven’t ever disliked a Mike Bickle book.
There is nothing inherently wrong or sinful with watching TV or movies in and of themselves. You could even be watching “clean ones”, but if it is at the expense of alone time with God, I’ll encourage you to give it up. I don’t mind a show or a movie here and there in my own life. Lili and I have come to believe that a Netflix account is something all married couples should have. But if you’re spending more time in personal entertainment than you do in personal commune and intimacy with God, trust me, it’s not a spiritually healthy place to be in.
Try making the shift and see if I’m being “legalistic”.
One time I was driving to a place in my hometown of Peterborough that was going to replace my van’s battery for me. As I was driving on a parkway to that location, I just barely saw a billboard as I was driving past it, but enough to see its catch phrase. I had missed what the advertisement on it was for but I saw what it said.
“Teams that practice at 6am win games at 7pm.”
And I thought there’s an amazing truth to that.
How about we “Christianize” it and make it say “Christians who pray in the morning are ones that win battles in the evening“.
Or “Short public prayers are always preceded by long private ones.” as my teacher Bob Gladstone used to say.
If two hockey teams had it out on a rink, and one team practiced several hours a day together, and their opponents didn’t, but played video games and watched TV all day while eating pizza and drinking lots of soda, and didn’t even come together until it was time to put their skates on and play that match, which team do you think would win?
If you’re honest, you’d realize it would be a total fluke if the couch potatoes won, but otherwise most of us expect it would be the well-disciplined team.
Discipline That Pays Off
Now, let’s spiritualize this and add what I see happen in Christian circles all the time: Imagine the game is over, both teams are exiting the rink and walking to their locker rooms, and fans are lined up outside the entrance of the winning team’s change room, and only a few dedicated fans are at the losing team’s door. A little boy asks one of the star players of the winning team how he prepares for these games. The player starts listing off his morning routine, including practicing with the team several hours, and gets into his own personal workout regimen and talks about how many push-ups and sit-ups he does, and what his diet is like.
The boy is then fascinated and challenged about his own self-discipline in comparison to his hero’s. Inspired by this testimony, he leaves encouraged to start eating less junk food and exercising more, among other things.
Meanwhile, the opposing team’s locker room door is not many feet away from the winning team’s (I know this is not true in real life, and they’re usually on other sides of the arena, but bear with me for this imperfect analogy). The team’s captain is standing within earshot or this conversation– since there are practically no fans standing around his team’s door waiting for an autograph.
For about thirty seconds he listens to the other player as he shares his morning routine with this little boy, and he balks at it in disgust and mumbles “that guy is soooo legalistic.” In fact, he’s bitter listening to the other player because deep down he knows all that strict discipline has paid off in this man’s physical strength, accompanied with the group effort causing the team to be consistent winners.
He knows the team dynamic is stronger as a result of practicing together, and his commitment has paid off.
However, instead of this defeated athlete changing his own lifestyle, he just scorns the winning athlete for his success.
Getting Rid of Obstacles
Hopefully you’re chuckling a little bit as you think about that. I laugh too when I hear some, if not most, Christians throw around the word “legalistic” in description or reference to some others’ lifestyles or convictions. OK, I doubt hockey players would use the word legalistic in describing self-discipline, but I wanted to replace it with that word to make my point.
Discipline in the Christian life is not legalistic.
Try it some time: Try praying in tongues for an hour and then start watching TV and see how your spirit feels. Or, try watching TV for a prolonged amount of time, and then pray in tongues for at least 15 minutes, and tell me if it’s any harder. Tell me the difference your stomach feels between eating a banana and eating a slice of pizza.
I’ll never forget when I was sixteen years old and my friend Matt was on my high school’s rowing team. He was in incredibly good shape and got to school by 7am every morning for rowing practice before school started. I remember one time he told me that on one occasion before a morning practice, he smoked just one cigarette. He claimed to have never done this before in his life. Then he went to his practice and used one of the rowing machines, and he said in mere moments he felt a tremendous difference on his lungs, and was out of breath way faster.
He looked me in the eye when recounting that and said something to the effect of “I’m never smoking another cigarette again if that’s the difference it makes to my performance.”
He was focused.
He was not going to let the slightest thing hinder him from his goals.
The author of Hebrews told us to do this when he said,
“let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb 12:1).
Yet if my experience in life and in useless internet debates tell me anything, merely suggesting ways this applies to the Christian life will get you labeled with the “L” word the instant you give examples, however specific or general. Or if you even so much as indicate hindrances to a spiritual walk with God. Nevermind if you were to, I don’t know, call actual sin “sin”.
I imagine professional athletes scoff a little on the inside when they hear lay couch potatoes in much worse physical shape than they are talk about how “exercise isn’t necessary”, and that “all hockey players are equally good hockey players”. OK I’ve never heard anybody say that last one about hockey players or any athletes, but I have heard many a Christian seem to believe we are all on equal footing in the kingdom of God. Which is true — God loves us all equally and we all have the same access to him. But that doesn’t mean we’re all producing the same fruit in our lives or or that we are all equally strong in our spirits.
I know many Christians who are entertainment pushers. When you get around them all they talk about is the latest movie or the latest episode of this TV show or what they thought of this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love a few good TV shows myself now and again myself (again, thank you Netflix!), but if that’s what dominates your fellowship with other people, or dominates enough so as to replace anything in your walk with God, something is wrong. Seriously wrong.
I know many people for whom if you even SUGGEST something is unwholesome to watch, or even listen to, then man, you are just being judgmental and legalistic and “out of touch with culture”. You will be told you can’t minister effectively if “you don’t know what’s out there” and how are you going to reach them? You won’t be “relevant”.
Tell that to revivalists of old who didn’t own TVs and yet God used to start great awakenings. I have heard the late Smith Wigglesworth wouldn’t even allow newspapers into his home. I may not go with him on that particular conviction, but I can’t argue with the fruit produced in his life. By the way, I have a news app on my Kindle Fire tablet I check every morning over breakfast, but anyway.
It’s sad to me that in getting a greater understanding of grace, some of my brothers and sisters have slipped into an extreme that there’s no room for the possibility of improving ourselves and casting off hindrances that hold us back. Leonard Ravenhill used to say that entertainment is the devil’s substitute for joy.
Healthy Roots = Healthy Fruits
One time, a friend of mine, very angrily and with a lot of cussing told me that he doesn’t fast or speak in tongues and he’s “just as close to God as anyone”.
There’s a mixture of truth along with tragic misconception to that statement.
Yes, all believers have the same access to the Father, but are all on the same level of intimacy with Him? Of course not.
Do each one of us USE that access all the time accordingly? Do we all spend the same amount of time alone in prayer with Him or have the same personal history with Him?
Of course not.
Fasting, prayer and speaking to ourselves in tongues doesn’t get us closer to God than someone who doesn’t do any of those things at all. But I guarantee you there’s a difference produced in the lives of those two people. I liken it to removing layers of our flesh and crucify it so that there are fewer obstacles in the way in our relating to God.
Prayer, fasting, and praying in tongues don’t change God or make Him become closer to us, they fix us. A fruit bearing tree is one that has its roots sunk deep in good soil and gets proper refreshment–all of this is demonstrated in the kind of fruit we bear in our lives.
I can tell you from being a ministry school student and from serving in ministry now, that I have seen firsthand the difference between ministering out of the place of intimacy vs. spending my time entertaining myself in my spare time, and having seen a remarkably obvious difference in both my lifestyle, and my ministry fruit.
I heard someone preaching on this once, and I started getting angry on the inside at him when I heard this kind of teaching, because I knew what the “non-sinful things” in my life were that I didn’t want to avail myself of
…until he said the reason he didn’t watch TV or a lot of movies, was because he used to see large crowds during altar calls, and he operated dramatically in the prophetic giftings. But he told me the difference came when he let his prayer life slip, and he found himself doing more foolish things with his time such as video games and TV. Then when he went to preach he had less results.
When he re-calibrated these things in his life, so to speak, and he started communing with the Holy Spirit more again as well as cut out of his life the junk he’d let in, he saw the Holy Spirit move powerfully in his life.
If you try helping people with their obstacles, you’ll be called the L word too
Friends, we need a relationship with God on an ongoing basis more than we need correct doctrine about what is allowed and what isn’t in the Christian life.
Am I negating the importance of correct doctrine? Nope. But I have seen something over the years that shows me many people who over-zealously study doctrine are some of the more critical and mean people I know. Some of them will blast you with their assessment of what’s wrong in your life, but have no idea how to do so with gentleness and grace–the kind that come from being alone with the Father.
Adding a little personal self-discipline is one of the best things you could do, and is hardly legalistic. Give it some thought. What could you stand to axe from your life?
Do you want to win your battles?
Recommended Reading For Growing Strong in the Inner Man