President Obama was ridiculed in August for taking his third family vacation to the affluent island community of Martha’s Vineyard since his inauguration. The wisdom of taking such a lavish vacation while America is in the midst of a financial crisis was questioned by many. The President’s approval rating of his handling of the economy hit a new low at 26% en route to his vacation destination. Failure to unveil a plan for resuscitating the economy and creating jobs coupled with his excursion possibly contributed to the DOW plunge on August 18th. Why is this significant? There is a shared, unspoken sense of appropriateness in how one approaches their leisure time. This appropriateness should be carefully considered by Christians through the lens of God’s word.
Getting away to recharge your batteries, bond with family and see the world are important, taken-for-granted blessings. In fact, such blessings are no longer special treats for many, but the major cogs on which life turns, even for Christians. Careers, salaries and family schedules are positioned to accommodate and maximize hobbies, weekend trips, multiple weeks of vacation and all the toys needed to enjoy every minute. How we spend our spare time and money communicates a great deal about our passion for the gospel of Christ and His kingdom. Assuming that because we have the time and money we can do whatever we like whenever we like is failing to bring everything under Jesus’ lordship. While you cannot find “vacation” and “leisure time” in your concordance, these are not forgotten issues in the Bible. Are vacations and leisure activities sinful? No. What must be considered is the purpose of and approach to them.
Vacations and leisure are composed of time, money, rest and entertainment. Jesus taught clearly about the first three but spoke very little about entertainment…it seems He didn’t have much time for it. He preached about money more than any other topic:
“Any of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
“One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
“Sell your possessions and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags…in the heavens” (Luke 12:33).
Jesus’ focus in these verses is holding money with loose hands, being ready to bless others and to seek personal treasure in eternity. Scripture also speaks to how we use our time:
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:15-17).
“How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man” (Pr. 6:9-11).
“For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies” (2 Thess. 3:11).
Time is a resource given to all Christians. God’s desire is that we use all of it for Him. Idle hands and pleasure-seeking detract from God’s glory while rest does not. Jesus Himself communicated the value of time away during His earthly ministry:
“And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31).
Clearly it is vital to the health of the Christian to rest physically, mentally and socially, but we should not get too comfortable. In Acts 6, the apostles were concerned that serving widows would tear them away from time spent preaching the gospel. If they were concerned that one act of godly service would steal time and energy from preaching the gospel, it’s hard to imagine they spent lots of time entertaining themselves. Sure they rested, but they valued kingdom work and eternal rewards over temporal earthly pleasures.
The author of Ecclesiastes addresses entertainment and pleasure. He tells of his pursuits of land, possessions, servants and gold. At the end, he was left wanting. None of it satisfied. He laments:
“I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure.; enjoy yourself.’ But behold, this was also vanity…And whatever my eyes desired, I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and striving after the wind , and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:1, 9-11).
In defense, we might be tempted to say, “But God has blessed me with this money and this time. I’ve worked hard and earned it.” Just because He’s given it to you doesn’t mean it’s for you. “Well, I give generously to our church, so God must be okay with how I spend the rest of it.” Jesus never taught this. “I attend church way more than most people and am very committed to certain ministries. Being gone isn’t such a big deal.” When our leisure consistently pulls us away from the body of Christ and kingdom service, we demonstrate the true treasure of our hearts is pleasure and not the gospel.
God doesn’t want to be King over some of your money or time. If the question is: “what can I do to get by and still do all the fun things I want?” we are approaching God, His purposes and resources unbiblically.
President Obama is in need of time away now and then, but he would be wise to consider the timing and nature of his vacations as President. Christians must approach leisure time as Christians, not Americans. Are vacations wrong? No. Weekend trips? Absolutely not. Only when our lives sing a greater, louder song for leisure time than the gospel is there an issue: constant vacations and constant play sing the song of “Jesus Isn’t Enough For Me.” John Piper puts it well in his book, Don’t Waste Your Life:
“In other words, if we look like our lives are devoted to getting and maintaining things, we look like the world, and that will not make Christ look great. He will look like a religious side interest that may be useful for escaping hell in the end, but doesn’t make much difference in what we live and love here. He will not look like an all-satisfying treasure. And that will not make others glad in God.” (pg.108)
“Why don’t people ask us about our hope? The answer is probably that we look as if we hope in the same things they do. Our lives don’t look like they are on the Calvary road, stripped down for sacrificial love, serving others with the sweet assurance that we don’t need to be rewarded in this life.” (pg. 109)
Why are non-Christians so unimpressed with Jesus? Maybe because Christians don’t live like we need Him, want Him and don’t seem all that impressed ourselves. Christians can be thankful for the gifts of rest and leisure, realizing they are blessings from God given for refreshment and enjoyment. However, Christians cannot allow these gifts to take the place of the Giver.