According to a new “Video Consumer Mapping” study by Ball State University, Americans aged 65 and older spend an average of 420 minutes per day in front of a television screen. 420 minutes per day. Let that sink in for just a moment. That is seven hours; seven full hours. Every day. On average. That means that half of the days it would be more than seven hours. Is that three hours in the morning, perhaps 8 until 11 and then four more in the evening, maybe 7 until 11 PM? How is it even possible? It is unbelievable. And it does not even include time spent watching DVDs or Tivo.
But perhaps it should not be that surprising considering that the average American of any age spends just over five hours per day watching TV. Older Americans, those who have retired, simply add a couple of extra hours onto the television they have already been consuming. America is obsessed.
I read this study and had to think about my life and whether I am on the kind of trajectory that will lead me to a useful, profitable, godly “retirement,” or the kind of retirement that will leave me spending endless hours in front of the tube. Some day I do hope to retire from the day-to-day money-earning responsibilities I have now. If God wills it, a time may come when I can dedicate more time to other things. But I hope and pray that it is something better, more spiritually-profitable, than television.
This was on my mind as I went to church yesterday. At Grace Fellowship Church we had the privilege of recognizing the hand of God in the life of one of our brothers as he was set apart as a pastor and elder. He is a man I’ve come to know well in the past few months and one I’ve come to respect a great deal. The gifting and call of God on his life is so clear, so obvious, that it was a joy to recognize it and to celebrate it together. Our pastor preached a sermon that, while it was directed specifically at this new elder, had application to all of us. He preached from 1 Timothy 4. There were a few words from that passage that stood out to me and resounded in my mind. “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.” The pastors’ charge revolved around this: “The greatest gift you can be to our church is to be full of God.” In other words, “Be godly!”
“Godliness is of value in every way,” said the Apostle, “as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” And surely if it has value for now and value for eternity, it also has value for the time between now and eternity! So it must be that godliness will protect me from being a senior Christian, a gray-haired retired old man, who has nothing more to do with my time than to spend seven or eight hours of every day in front of the television screen. This passage was speaking to me, challenging me to be a godly man, a godly Christian. In his commentary on these verses, Philip Ryken says, “The word “godliness” (eusebeia) occurs fifteen times in the New Testament, but nine of them are in this epistle. If someone had asked Timothy what Paul’s letter was about, he might well have said, ‘Well, I suppose it was mostly about the life in God’s household, but the thing that impressed me was my personal need for godliness.’” And like that Timothy of so many years ago, I want to be godly.
Ryken says as well, “Above all else, God wants his people and his ministers to be godly. This is why Paul did not give Timothy seven steps to boost church attendance, or helpful tips about becoming a better administrator, or a thorough critique of his preaching style. Instead, he gave him the most practical instruction of all: a good minister is a godly minister.” And, of course, a good Christian is a godly Christian. Though this letter is directed at Timothy as a pastor, it is directed as well at all of us as believers. “When it comes to physical conditioning, it usually helps to have a trainer. These days, if people want to get their bodies in top condition, they hire a personal trainer. The trainer’s job is to set up a schedule of exercises to get the client into shape. There is a sense in which every Christian has a personal trainer: the Holy Spirit, speaking in Scripture. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to produce the life of God in the soul. What makes people godly is reading, hearing, studying, and meditating on the Bible. As John Stott points out, ‘We cannot become familiar with this godly book without becoming godly ourselves.’”
John Piper has recently released a little booklet called Rethinking Retirement. This is what he says about finishing life to God’s glory: “So finishing life to the glory of Christ means using whatever strength and eyesight and hearing and mobility and resources we have left to treasure Christ and in that joy to serve people—that is, to seek to bring them with us into the everlasting enjoyment of Christ. Serving people, and not ourselves, as the overflow of treasuring Christ makes Christ look great.” I suppose it is obvious that taking eight hours of every day to watch television would radically reduce a Christian’s ability to live that kind of a life. It is difficult to make Christ look great while basking endlessly in the glow of a flickering 37-inch rectangle.
In Piper’s booklet he quotes Ralph Winters of the U.S. Center for World Missions who says this: “Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement. I read somewhere that half the men retiring in the state of New York die within two years. Save your life and you’ll lose it. Just like other drugs, other psychological addictions, retirement is a virulent disease, not a blessing… .Where in the Bible do they see [retirement]? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?” Piper says, “millions of Christian men and women are finishing their formal careers in their fifties and sixties, and for most of them there will be a good twenty years before their physical and mental powers fail. What will it mean to live those final years for the glory of Christ? How will we live them in such a way as to show that Christ is our highest Treasure?” Will that involve seven or eight hours of television every day?
Just a few more words from Piper: “When I heard J. Oswald Sanders at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School chapel speaking at the age of eighty-nine say that he had written a book a year for Christ since he was seventy, everything in me said, ‘O God, don’t let me waste my final years! Don’t let me buy the American dream of retirement—month after month of leisure and play and hobbies and putzing around in the garage and rearranging the furniture and golfing and fishing and sitting and watching television. Lord, please have mercy on me. Spare me this curse.’”
I was convicted yesterday that to avoid this kind of a retirement, this kind of a curse, I need to be and to become a godly man. I need to continually recommit to godliness, knowing that godliness will profit me now and in eternity, but also in all of those periods of time between now and eternity—and perhaps especially in those years when so much else is being taken away. Godliness is of value in every way.