Yesterday we talked about modesty and bikinis. Today we talk about summer vacations in general. The summer vacation season has begun in the United States, and a listener named Ryan writes in to ask: “Pastor John, I am wondering if you could discuss the theology of vacations? You often talk about not wasting your life, or any moment or season in it. Intellectually, I agree, but at times it just seems like I need to rest. Where do vacations fit?”
Well, you do need a rest. And the Bible provides some pretty significant foundations for rest and, I think, indirectly for vacations. Let me just mention a few of those foundations that I think give us some guidance.
1. God created us in need of daily sleep.
I have always found that quite frustrating. I hate sleep. I find sleep boring. So, why did he make me like a helpless baby that must go unconscious one-third of my life? I mean just think of it. What is the message in that? There has got to be a message in that. And Psalm 127:2 says: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved” — some translations say “in his sleep,” — “sleep.” I think the gist in the context is pretty much the same. According to this text, sleep is a gift from God and the gift is often spurned by anxious toil. Peaceful sleep is the opposite of anxiety. God does not want his children to be anxious, but to trust him.
“Sleep is a gift from God, and the gift is often spurned by anxious toil.”
So, I conclude that God made sleep as a continual reminder that we should not be anxious, but should rest in him like a little baby. Unless you turn to become like a child, you can’t even enter the kingdom (Matthew 18:3). He created sleep to make sure we would have a daily reminder we are not God. Our work is not decisive in running the world. God’s work is decisive. “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). So, we sleep. God never sleeps.
Sleep is foundational. It is a pointer. And I think the big picture there we take away is: Don’t get a big head about your work that you think you can run the world or make everything happen. You are like a little baby a third of your life, and God meant to tell you something.
2. God established a Sabbath principle.
However you relate the Old Testament law to the present, the Sabbath remains a gift with wisdom in it. I remember reading C.S. Lewis’s wife’s book on the Ten Commandments and seeing her point out the wonder and the glory and the incredible gift of telling an ancient, agricultural people whose lives depended on working the land not only you don’t have to go to work today, but you may not go to work today. Mandatory weekly vacation. And it was stunning. I mean I just had never seen it in that light.
“God made sleep as a continual reminder that we should not be anxious, but should rest in him like a little baby.”
That is exactly the way it would have landed on people, at least at the beginning. You may not work seven days a week. I won’t let you. You must rest. And then he consecrated it to himself as a sign of his own creative power and holiness, but the underlying issue of its gift nature to us — a worn out, finite, tired, and agricultural people — remains. And so I say: The rhythm of work six, rest one, work six, rest one, work six, rest one would probably spare a lot of heart attacks and give longevity to many lives prematurely taken because they never unwind the spring. They’re always working. They are working at home and they are working at work and they are working in their play and they can’t stop working. And I don’t think that is what one in seven means. This spring that we live by, especially for some of us, it needs to be unwound not just two weeks a year, but one day a week.
3. Work is good and it is not a curse.
So, “we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day” (John 9:4). Jesus called for work and we ought to work. And Paul said, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). And I love 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” That means, be doing a lot of it, abounding in the work of the Lord.
And Paul said, Don’t be weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13). So, here is the rub: How do you not grow weary? He says: Don’t grow weary in doing good. But we get physically depleted, we get mentally depleted, which raises then the question of vacations — and here is the last thing I would say.
4. God’s Son took special times to rest from labor.
Mark 6:31, “He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’” It is interesting that he said that right after these brothers buried the chopped-off head of John the Baptist, which meant probably not only did you risk your lives to go get that head or the body, at least. I don’t know which they buried. They got his body. They buried it. You risked your lives. This has been a high stress time for you. Come away and rest a while.
So, my summary would be: It seems that the issue of vacations becomes a matter of wisdom. We should try to know ourselves, know our families. It seems to me in this fallen age where the focus is on redemption, the final rest that we are promised is only tasted incrementally and as a means of more productive labor in this redemptive age. Play and recreation in this age is not the main way we glorify God. It is secondary, I think, and it is a means of refreshing us and inspiring us for productive labor.
We work to advance God’s saving kingdom in a fallen world, and that is true whether we are in secular work or so-called Christian work. Vacations and sabbaths and days off and nights of sleep are recreations of creative, happy, fruitful labor for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world, whether you are in a secular work or not. And, of course, there is no clear line — I feel this especially — for many of us between vocation and recreation. Many of us so love what we do and find so much pleasure in it and are so energized by it that the concept of taking time for recreation for the sake of creation is not so clear. For those folks, we need to make sure that we know not only ourselves, but we need to know those around us. Because our wives may not feel the same and our kids may need us when we are just super energized by our reading or our study. And that is not what they need at this time and vacation can count for that as well as for us.