Coloring books for adults are a recent, unexpected phenomenon. This genre came out of nowhere to dominate the bestseller lists so that in March three of the top-ten Christian books were coloring books, closely shadowing their success in the mainstream market. Coloring apps are appearing now as well, offering a digital variant of this paper-based activity. Ever since these books and apps appeared I have observed that women tend to be the ones enjoying them and men tend to be the ones mocking them. I suppose we are all prone to believe that our hobbies make perfect sense while other people’s are an embarrassing waste. For myself, I see coloring as a harmless hobby that is not substantially different from so many others—a means to pursue an activity that has little obvious value beyond itself.
I use adult colouring books as a segue to a question sent to me by one of my Patreon supporters: “How should Christians look at hobbies as a way of glorifying God? Is it possible to glorify God by having hobbies that might not have real practical purposes, other than the actual enjoyment of them? (For example, building model planes.) Or should our hobbies always be more practical and purposeful? (For example, reading good theological books.)”
This is an excellent question and one many Christians grapple with at various times. We know that we are responsible before God to faithfully steward our time and money. We know that we have important and unfinished business in this world. And we wonder if there is any value in committing time, energy, and money to our hobbies, and especially to hobbies that are not clearly connected to spiritual growth and maturity.
I believe God is pleased when we pursue hobbies. I also believe that we can confidently pursue them and do them for the glory of God even if there is no obviously redeeming value in them. Computer games do not have value only if I play them with my son; coloring books do not have value only if they have a Christian theme; reading does not have value only if I read Christian books. Hobbies are good in and of themselves.
There are two reasons I believe this. The first is that God created us to be limited beings. None of us can work full-out all the time. None of us can be fully engaged with people all the time. We need downtime, we need activities apart from the ones that dominate our lives. Hobbies provide an important means through which we rest, through which we gain refreshment not through the complete cessation of activity but through pursuing a particularly enjoyable activity. In this way, hobbies are a means of rest, relaxation, and refreshment. They help us live better in the rest of life.
The second reason I believe this is that God gives us the gift of enthusiasm. I believe that it is God himself who makes each of us enthusiastic for different interests and activities. We can embrace these and have no reason to fear them or be embarrassed by them. We can experience joy—God’s own joy, I think—when we follow this enthusiasm to activities that bring us pleasure and satisfaction. Hobbies give us the opportunity to pursue interests apart from the ones that consume the rest of our lives.
But even as we pursue hobbies we do well to ask ourselves a couple of questions (apart from the obvious questions of whether this activity harms others or whether it delights in what God says is evil).
The first question is the question of priorities: What has the best of your time, money, and attention? God’s gifts are meant to be enjoyed with self-control and moderation. Food is wonderful when enjoyed in moderation but makes an awful master if self-control is jettisoned in favor of gluttony. Hobbies are much the same. They are not meant to be the main thing in life, but to be a welcome break from the main thing. By definition, a hobby is something done in the context of leisure and for the purpose of pleasure. But like all pleasures, a hobby will threaten to infringe on the main thing. The money you spend on a hobby needs to come as a lower priority to the money you give to the Lord and the money you use to pay your bills. The time for your hobby cannot be prioritized ahead of the time set aside for work, family, and worship. If your hobby is dominating your thoughts, if it is threatening to displace family, church, or vocation, the gift has become your god.
The second question is the question of purpose. What is the purpose of this hobby? What do you gain from it? Can you thank God for it and can you confidently say, “I can do this for the glory of God”? A hobby should provide a means for you to unwind and relax from the activities that otherwise consume your time and dominate your mind. It is for good reason that so many hobbies are quiet and meditative, whether fishing, coloring, or model-building. A hobby can even feed your soul in some way, helping you to grow in love for God and the world he has made. At its best, a hobby increases your joy in life and in the God who created your life.
I believe hobbies are a gift to us and that we can joyfully, confidently pursue them, provided they take their proper place in our lives. If you would like to think more about hobbies, John Piper addressed them in an episode of Ask Pastor John. Kyle Worley addressed them at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and so too did the editors at Got Questions?.
This post is in response to a Patreon supporter. What does that mean? It means that I have committed to interact at varying levels with those who choose to support me (you can see more details towards the bottom of this page).