Disclaimer: Opinions expressed by website attributed with the photo credit are their own, FSS does neither claim to advocate or disagree with them explicitly.
Note: An edited version of this article I wrote was originally found on www.bravemag.com.
Traditional Definitions courtesy of Google:
Habit: a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
Addiction: the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.
In my recent experience, I tested whether my Poker hobby had become an addiction. I decided to do this because it had become a normal part of my life to play about 4 hours per day. I wanted to test whether or not the game was controlling me, or I was able to avoid playing. If I so desired, I wanted to be certain that I was capable of quitting. If the game ever became a higher liability than a potential for blessings in my personal experience, I wanted to be able to reflect back on a recent break from the game. A break that would reaffirm to me that it could be let go of whenever it was needed. One that helped me assure myself that I wasn’t in idolatry. Instead I would use it as a mission field for evangelism, long-term monetary profit, and leisure activity. If one day I became a Pastor and decided it wasn’t worth my time, got married and realized I didn’t have the time, or thought it was more eternally valuable to greatly minimize my time behind the felt or quit – I needed to know.
That’s where the test came in.
So in order to prove this to myself, I decided that 21 days was a reasonable break time-frame. It takes about 21 days to establish a habit, so if I was able to concede playing Poker for this duration, I believed it meant that I was not mastered by it. It’s important to note that because I am profitable in the long-term, and view it as an opportunity to evangelize, I don’t believe that playing Poker is intrinsically sinful. That debate left to itself, as it would likely take its own article to elaborate on, can be summed up in a couple of brief sentences. I don’t use it as a vehicle to merely gamble, so as long as I am not operating under a spirit of covetousness, greed, or compulsively gambling – I don’t think there are too many arguments against it. That said many people do use it as a vehicle to gamble, so I wouldn’t recommend the game to my worst enemy.
Suffice it to say I was able to avert playing for the full 21 days. I did make a small break because of a Las Vegas trip that my friend invited me to (for a total of 3 days after about 17 days had elapsed), but I decided I would finish the remaining 4 days on the return. Although this isn’t concrete proof that there is no compromise at hand, it’s a solid sign that this hobby of mine that I am fond of, isn’t an addiction. It’s safe to say that it’s a habit, but as long as I don’t allow it to dominate my life and impose on my valuable time spent attending to matters of more prominent importance, I believe it is currently a blessing for me personally due to the aforementioned logic. Due to the nature of the game, and the variables that life brings on its own accord, I would also add that it’s something worthy of a consistent evaluation. If I still had opportunities to evangelize, but I didn’t remain a profitable player, then there are certainly many more things I could do with my time to replace Poker. What’s the point of indulging a hobby where hard earned money was being spent? If it remained self-sustaining, and at least didn’t cost me any money, I could see myself keeping it if I was still able to enjoy it responsibly and evangelize. Ultimately if God commanded me to quit it, or substantially lessen my play, I would desire to pay very close attention to that and adhere to His instruction/correction. Regardless of my perception of its fruitfulness, in the end it’s God’s will that I desire to abide in.
I don’t play Poker, how can your experience apply to me?
Many of the activities we enjoy doing are things that tend to release certain chemicals in our brains that solidify our desires. This is particularly true of dopamine when it travels down the mesolimbic pathway. It has other distinctive roles in the brain, but it provides salience. In other words it encourages us to pay attention to something. While it’s an over-simplification to consider it the sole reason for addiction, its role in the symphony of chemical action that occurs in our brains during potentially addictive behavior, is most certainly an undeniable and scientific facet. (Reference below article.)
When you eat chocolate, have sex, or put money at risk there are certain elements that combine to form the potential for addiction, habit, and consequences of various sorts. These pleasure hormones indicate that it’s a rewarding experience to you, and your desire to reinforce that reward leads you to partake in said activity. Of course, depending on what activity we’re talking about here, it can lead to blessings or tragic consequences.
A chocolate addict could damage his liver or cause him/herself significant weight gain, but consuming chocolate isn’t intrinsically sinful. A social media addict can find themselves compulsively checking their phone routinely when they have idle time. Their desire to check is reinforced by this reward mechanism they find attached to their perception of updates, likes, information, and comments. Sex can be the glue that holds a Godly marriage together, or it can be the destructive allure of promiscuity that brings men and women to yield to fleshly desire. Outside of God’s design and blessing it can cause anxiety, depression, insatiable desire, irritability, and a host of other temporal problems. In a grander sense it can, perhaps most consequentially: grieve the Holy Spirit, cause us to sin against our future or current spouse, cause us to sin against our own souls, and cause us to sin against our own bodies. Pornography alone can be the culprit of many of these terrible consequences, but the strong chemical impact it has on our brains wires us to seek out more when we entertain it. Furthermore, the more frequently we indulge in the sinful behavior, the deeper our craving for more perverted content to attempt to satisfy that appetite for sin. Gambling is an escape for many who lead high stress or fast-paced lifestyles of various sorts. The wins and losses can inject adrenaline to a compulsive gambler, but they can also cause an adjustment in mood that helps them to briefly forget their current problems. All the while creating a new potential problem related to the risk of financial ruin, if they aren’t exercising discretion. Furthermore that money that could have been used to invest in the growth of God’s kingdom, feeding the poor, clothing the hungry, or administered for eternal value is squandered in the name of entertainment or fun.
“23 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.”
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (NKJV).
We need to do everything as it were unto the glory of God. This is a good test to determine whether a habit or addiction is worthy of aggressive removal from our lives, if it is tolerable, or if it’s a significant potential for an EROI (Eternal Return On Investment). Everything we say, think, do, invest in, and all that we are capable of is worthy of some level of evaluation. Some things may not do much damage, but if they’re not redeeming the time from an eternal context, that means that there’s an opportunity cost associated with entertaining them. An opportunity cost that isn’t replaceable, as we know our time here on earth is finite. Likewise, being human, we know that a certain level of allowance in terms of fun, leisure, and rest are necessary in order to avoid harmful consequences as well. We desire to serve God, evangelize, and answer His call in our lives by all means. Yet, we also desire to be certain that we don’t over-exert ourselves in the process. We can continue to do everything as the grace of God propels us by avoiding burn out or excessive stress too.
“17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,”
Ephesians 5:16-18 (NKJV).
When should I cultivate a habit, and when should I avoid it?
If you can bring God glory in the midst of it, I would suggest you are fine. It needs to be genuinely asked, and as in the case of hobbies that have some sort of potentially detrimental impact, I would ask myself on a regular basis. For instance, I believe I can eat an ice-cream to the glory of God. That doesn’t mean I should eat as many as I sometimes do. If I have to choose between either having a pint of ice-cream or having no ice-cream, chances are I should probably choose having none. If I abuse the privilege, and I cannot handle lesser quantities for the perception of not being satisfied by that amount, then I should aim not to have any.
I would pray that God gives you discretion, and helps you to determine whether something has become an idol or has the potential to. How much time do you spend on the activity? Can you bring God glory through what you do, or does spending time on it further your potential to delight Him in other ways?
For example, if I enjoy playing Basketball (which I do), the redeeming value is quite simple to figure out. I find leisure activity in enjoying the game, and it’s exercise so I am improving my physique. My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit so physical maintenance is important, and the quality time spent with friends can be a place for both fun and opportunities to evangelize!
Is any addiction a good one?
Apart from being addicted to following God’s will, abiding in Him, following the lead of the Holy Spirit, Bible study, and prayer – I would venture to say no. I can’t think of anything else that’s really worthy of the fullness of our focus, or that would bless us to completely surrender to. Such a comprehensive focus in other things would be idolatry, and would not be in accord with the will of God. Whatever it is we’re addicted to, we’re ultimately in service and slavery to. If I am addicted to God’s grace, mercy, love, and justice I am happy about it. I can’t say that about anything else, because every other addiction I can think of is associated with bondage, sin, and the wages of death. If I am a slave to Christ that means I am also his ambassador. (Romans 6:22, Ephesians 6:20). If I am God’s ambassador, and I obey Him, that means I am also a friend of God. (John 15:15). If I am a friend of God, that means I am one of His adopted children. (Ephesians 1:5).
Even drinking an excessive amount of water can damage your body. Too much of a good thing, apart from God and His Word, can truly be dangerous. Even idolizing the ministry at the expense of your first ministry at home could be problematic. Over-emphasizing your marriage, at the expense of teaming up in order to find valuable opportunities that bring God an E.R.O.I., are also susceptible to a lack of life balance. Love God, focus on Him and His Kingdom first, and everything else will fall into its proper order.
“33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
Matthew 6:33 (NKJV).
Extrapolation on the role of dopamine in triggering salience as it pertains to addictive behavior: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/07/what_is_dopamine_love_lust_sex_addiction_gambling_motivation_reward.html
A couple of parting comments from Jim Sager:
I also play poker, but I’m not sure if it is a sin or not. We don’t want people reading this and thinking Victor and I are endorsing poker as not being a sin for some. Obviously poker is a sin for some. But is it okay for others? I don’t know.
Matthew 18:6 “If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the deep sea.”
There are many dangers in poker. There are more dangers in poker than I would want to get into. I just don’t want all of you to think we approve of poker for everyone. We don’t want to stand before God someday and be the reason you figured it was okay. This is a big concern of mine. Get addicted to serving God instead. Go out and tell people about Jesus. We can’t obsess about anything unless we first obsess over God, or what we obsess over is an idol.
– Jim Sager III