Solomon wrote thousands of proverbs. So when he writes, “Above all else…” – that should get our attention. What is “above all else” from Solomon’s perspective? In Proverbs 4:23, he tells us: “guard your heart.” That is huge. He recognized that the heart is the governor of all our activity, but strangely he did not simply say, “control your heart.” If we could just control our innermost desires, then we would have no problem living holy lives (or even being successful in any other pursuit of our choosing). Perhaps at the core of our being, we are responsive to external stimuli and not simply responsible free agents who can consistently choose whatever is best. The wise advice in this section of Proverbs is profoundly important for us as we head into another year.
In Proverbs 4:20-27, Solomon urges the reader to pay attention to his wise words – looking at them and keeping them in our hearts (v. 20-21). He underlines the critical role of the heart and the need to guard it (v. 23). He urges the reader to protect themselves from careless speech or from letting their eyes get drawn aside so that they should step away from their path (v. 24-27). Above all else, in 2023, we need to guard our hearts. I believe a great place to begin is with a prayerful eye evaluation.
I have been pondering a scale to help me take stock of what is getting through my eyes and influencing my heart. It is a scale that runs from -2 to +3.
Distractedly Entertained – Level 0? Long ago, this might have involved some children playing a game in the town square or an animal behaving amusingly. It was a break from the norm. Nowadays, we have entire industries actively targeting you with entertaining distractions. Scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, watching random YouTube videos about cats, men throwing CDs into a CD player, the most bizarre incidents in professional sports, and this list is designed never to end. Then there are video games, an endless Twitter stream, etc. Distracted entertainment has become a staple part of our cultural diet in recent years.
I think we can make a case for calling it Eye Level 0 entertainment because there is implicit moral neutrality to some of what distracts us. But once we consider all factors, is there really moral neutrality? Could we be hurting ourselves by believing that we can stand still in a world that is relentlessly moving away from God? Perhaps we would do well to call this entertainment Eye Level -1. The Bible does warn us about time-wasting, which can involve things that are not wrong in themselves. The average weekly consumption of distracted entertainment in our culture is stunning. Perhaps we have become more entangled than we realize. Let’s confess that entanglement and prayerfully take steps away from Eye Level -1 and the regret of lost time as we head into this new year.
So we have Distractedly Entertained – Eye Level -1.
Sinfully Entertained – Eye Level -2. Any of the above activities can easily slide into sinful entertainment – where we seek satisfaction for sinful desires through what we watch. The classic example is pornography, an industry that has made its content far easier to access than ever before. But even without the things that a good filter will stop on your device, we can also fall into “pornographying” non-pornographic content. Perhaps we think of it as a more sanctified type of lust that does not rely on overtly provocative material – on social media, TV shows, movies, etc. And then there is envious window shopping or jealously obsessing over what the rich and famous wear and drive. There are so many contemporary forms of idolatry. “Search me and try me, O Lord…” – prayerfully ask God to show you where your distracted entertainment has morphed into something even more harmful than time-wasting.
Let’s get back to the positive end of the scale:
Intentionally Entertained – Eye Level +1. There are legitimate uses of entertainment media. We need to evaluate prayerfully so that we don’t get sucked in by what our world is pushing us to think. However, there is a place for finding a TV show refreshing, a favourite movie can be restful, a shared football game can be social, a good book can be helpfully engrossing, etc. Where Eye Levels -2 and -1 leave us guilty, ashamed, worn down, frustrated, and empty, Eye Level +1 entertainment can be good for us.
Informed – Eye Level +2. In the old days, this might be found by listening to a report from a friend who has been travelling, reading the newspaper over breakfast, or watching a helpful documentary on the television. The rarity of access to information placed a premium on this commodity, but today, the situation has changed. We are bombarded with information. A well-chosen news subscription, a select list of Twitter accounts to follow, some helpful YouTube subscriptions, or a select set of blogs, etc., can be beneficial. The key seems to be planning rather than scrolling, or else we end up back in Eye Level +1 intentional entertainment, or even more likely, in Eye Level -1 distracted entertainment, or worse.
We are bombarded with the enticement to fritter away hours in Eye Levels -2, -1, +1 and +2. As we get used to and dependent on technology and social media, we may even start to think that our mental health, knowledge and spirituality are to be found somewhere in Eye Levels -1, +1 and +2. Perhaps we even think that our ministry is helped and built up in Eye Levels +1 and, especially, +2. But let’s remember that there is another level.
Enriched – Eye Level +3. There is something different about Eye Level +3. In the old days, time spent in the Book or good books was an obvious option in a world with a relatively limited range of alternatives. The significance of good reading was especially true for a serious-minded Christian, and even more so for a minister of the Word. Nowadays, this can be so easily lost. We live in a tidal wave of evil, distractions, entertainment, and information. But even if we avoid the worst of that flood, there is still a qualitative difference between being informed by a screen and being enriched by the page. Personally, I find that even reading the same author on a blog does less for my soul than spending time reading their book – is that just me?
We live in an age of hyper-distracted, entertained, and even a few well-informed, but largely unenriched people. It shows in our world today. Are we also living in a time of well-entertained and sometimes well-informed but largely unenriched believers? It shows in our churches and pulpits. So let’s do something radical. Let’s value that which enriches our souls and takes our relationship with God and others to someplace deeper than the norm.
As we head into 2023, let’s take stock of how God would want us to use our eyes this year. After all, they are an essential gateway by which we can guard our hearts.
In 2023 I am planning to release short videos related to Bible study. God has given us a great treasure. How can we read and study it for maximum understanding, enrichment and life impact? Please subscribe to this playlist to see the videos as they are released. Please like, comment, and share any that might be helpful to others. Thank you!