What does the word leisure conjure up in your mind? These are some of the words that used to come to my mind: Unspiritual, worldly, lazy, idolatry, selfishness, nonproductive.
I said “used to” because I no longer view leisure through these lenses. By God’s grace, I have come to realize that my understanding of leisure was wrong. These words may describe sinful forms or excesses of leisure, for sure, but they are not accurate and true descriptions of leisure.
Here are some dictionary definitions of leisure:
“Freedom provided by the cessation of activities, especially time free from work or duties.”1
“Time free from the demands of work or duty, when one can rest, enjoy hobbies or sports, etc. . . ”2
And some synonyms: decompression, ease, relaxation, holiday, respite, rest, breathing space, peace, quiet.
These are more accurate descriptions of leisure, the vital kind of leisure that God intended for you and me: “time,” “freedom from demands,” “rest,” and “enjoyment. Perhaps we can sum it up as “holistic,” leisure which benefits our bodies, minds, emotions, and souls.
As Christians, we perhaps struggle with the concept of leisure, because we have seen its excesses. We may even believe it has no place in the Christian life. I hope to show you that it is in fact vitally important if we are to live a healthy, balanced, grace-paced Christian life.
What are some of the common myths we may believe about leisure?
Myth #1: Caring for my body is not a spiritual matter.
Although the secular world has often emphasized the body to the exclusion of the soul, the church has sometimes veered to the opposite extreme of emphasizing the soul to the exclusion of the body. In some circles, any attempt to care for the body is viewed as unspiritual.
The Bible, however, finds the balanced path between these two extremes and guides us to care for both the body and the soul. The apostle Paul presents his theology of the body in 1 Corinthians 6:9–20.
He starts by admitting that the human body has been damaged by sin (1 Cor. 6:9–10). However, that doesn’t mean we just forget the body. No, Paul says Christ’s redemption is not just for the soul but also for the body. It’s a full-body and a full-soul salvation. “The body is . . . for the Lord,” insists Paul, “and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13). He made it, saved it, and maintains an eternal interest in it.
More than that, your body is a member of Christ (1 Cor. 6:15–17). It’s not just our souls that are members of Christ; so are our bodies. That should have a huge effect on how we care for them. And even more than that, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). It’s the Holy Spirit’s house. He’s taken up occupancy there. Think about how much you look after your own house. How much more should you look after the Holy Spirit’s house?
And, if possible, there’s an even greater motivation. Your body was bought with the price of Christ’s blood (1 Cor. 6:20). He bought it with the greatest ransom ever paid. Try to think of the most expensive thing you ever bought. Was it a car or a house? How much did you protect it and maintain it? Now think of how much Christ paid for your body and consider how you are managing this blood-bought property.
“You are not your own,” says Paul. “You were bought with a price”(1 Cor. 6:19–20). We have a new owner who has paid a huge price for his property. He claims our bodies as his own and calls us to manage them for his glory. That’s why his concluding appeal is “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). Paul’s logic is simple. He bought you, body and soul. Therefore, serve him with body and soul. We will have to give an account to God for how we have used, abused, underused, or overused his property. That should make a difference not only to our view of our bodies but the way we manage them.
Myth #2: DAILY leisure is not a necessity.
Every Christian wants to know God more; few Christians fight for the silence required to know him. Instead, we spend our days smashing stillness-shattering, knowledge-destroying cymbals on our ears and in our souls. These are the cymbals of guilt, greed, anger, controversy, resentment, vanity, anxiety, worry, self-pity. The repetitive and unstoppable jangle of expectation comes from all directions—family, friends, employer, church, and especially from ourselves.
And smashing into our lives wherever we turn, we collide with the giant cymbals of the media and technology: local and international, paper and pixels, sound and image, audio and video, beep and tweet, notifications and reminders, and on and on it goes. Is it any wonder that we sometimes feel as if we’re going mad? Clanking and clanging, jingling and jangling, smashing and crashing, grating and grinding. A large, jarring orchestra of peace-disturbing, soul-dismantling cymbals.
Then: “Be still and know that I am God.” Leisure time is how we obey that call.
That can simply be mental stillness, but often it involves both mental and physical stillness. I try to build some still moments of leisure into different parts of my day—times of silencing the cymbals. Ideally, the first one is my devotional time–even before the clamor of email, housework, social media, and the news has even begun. This is when my mind is most quiet and I can find my bearings. Without it, the rest of my day tends to be less productive, often frazzled and chaotic, like taking an unfamiliar journey without first checking my GPS. This is when I deliberately connect with God through his word and ask him to guide and bless my day. It’s my spiritual GPS, where I get perspective on my eternal position, on life, and on my daily priorities.
Other daily leisure times vary, but simply put, they are short breaks in the workflow. I may use this to exercise, read, or listen to Moody Radio. A quiet coffee is very helpful, too. Alternatively, I may to go outside and simply listen, watch, and wonder at God’s creation. Or I will meet up with a friend. Whichever it is, it involves deliberately putting my multitasking, work-focused mind into “Park.”
Without these daily mental and bodily leisure times I struggle to have revitalizing soul-connection with God. Of course, on some days, we barely get time to breathe, but daily leisure should be our aim.
There are seasons of life when this is more challenging, such as when we are home with little children. Even then, and even more so then, we need these leisure breaks. Ask God to help you figure out when you can carve out these moments in the day, or even that hour in the day, when your kids are napping. Leave the task list and relax for a few minutes with something totally different. Too often in the past I mistakenly maxed out on housework during my kids’ nap times and neglected the physical, mental leisure that would have saved my mind from spiraling into burnout and depression.
Yes, daily leisure is a necessity!
Every Christian wants to know God more; few Christians fight for the silence required to know him.
Myth #3: WEEKLY leisure is not a necessity.
One of the most common deficits in the lives of people I’ve counseled with depression is the absence of a regular weekly sabbath. By sabbath, I mean a joyful day of rest and refreshment centered on the worship of God, the fellowship of his people in the local church, and the renewing of family relationships. I firmly believe that one of the greatest causes of stress, anxiety, burnout, and depression in our modern culture is a failure to receive the sabbath pattern (six days of work, one day of rest) as the gift of a wise and compassionate God.
As Jesus himself said, “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27)—and that includes women! Observing sabbath rest is especially important in the New Testament era since the Sabbath moral principle has been shorn of the temporary trappings of Israel’s ceremonial and civil law.
Even secular sources are increasingly recognizing the need for a weekly sabbath even if God has nothing to do with it by promoting the social, psychological, and productivity benefits of a weekly day of rest. How much more beneficial is a weekly sabbath if we put its Maker at the center of it. It’s a gift, not a threat. It’s a time for healing the body, the mind, the soul, and our relationships with God and others. It’s God’s way of providing us with a spiritual and eternal perspective on our lives. It’s God’s gift of margin in our lives, and therefore we need to feel no guilt in embracing that one day in seven in its entirety. Just like our muscles need a rest after working out, so our lives become more productive if we take God’s provided rest.
It’s the day we can focus entirely on God, his public worship, his people, and at home with family. It’s the day we can forget the whirlwind of work, money, taxiing kids, and grocery shopping and not feel the gut-wrenching “to-do-list” tension. It’s a day when we get to eat together as a family and no one is rushing anywhere. It’s the day we get to talk about the sermon, review the previous week and thank God for His work in our lives. It’s a day when our minds, bodies, souls, and emotions are recalibrated and refreshed for the working week. It’s the day that God has made for especially for me and for you. Let’s honor him by using it as he intended.
Yes, weekly leisure is a necessity!
Myth #4: ANNUAL vacation leisure is not a necessity.
Do the words vacation and leisure in the same sentence sound weird? For many of us, it seems like a contradiction. We feel guilty leaving our work undone for a few days. It seems easier not to go on vacation because of all the preparation and all the catchup on our return. Those of us with families perhaps look back on previous vacations when the kids got sick or had accidents.
But despite these difficulties, I wouldn’t miss our annual vacation, because it’s another key element of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual refreshment.
This is true not only for me but for my whole family. Vacations make memories, memories that you cannot make at home. Vacations bind friends and families together in a unique way. Vacations take you to churches you never knew existed and Christians you never met before. Vacations make you pray for these other Christians. Vacations show you more of God’s world and the power of the gospel in other people’s lives. Vacations enrich your spiritual life. Vacations make you laugh together. Vacations make you reminisce together. Vacations show you God’s protection on strange roads in strange places. I heard of one Christian couple who decided to have a staycation one year, staying at home and doing absolutely nothing for a whole week. They found it to be an utterly miserable experience. So get away!
Myth 5: I don’t have time for leisure.
Without leisure, we get chronically tired, we get sick, and we will likely die sooner. Many studies back this up. Inflammatory disorders, cancers, heart disease contribute to this risk. Also, without refreshing leisure, we suffer spiritually. Frazzled body, frazzled mind, frazzled emotions, and a frazzled soul.
If we really believe that our bodies belong to Christ and that he lives in us, we will make time to nurture our bodies, for our physical, mental, emotional, and, above all, our spiritual well-being. To deny ourselves time for leisure is to deny our frail humanity with its uniquely human needs.
If we never prioritize rest, relaxation, and stopping from the frantic daily pursuits of promotion, making money, GPA, friends, fame, popularity, or pleasing others we will never stop long enough to know God daily as our Creator, Savior, Friend, and Lord. Instead, we will live as if we are our own savior, others’ savior, and our own lord. No believer wants to be that, surely?
Ironically, even excessively long hours in church work, seminary work, family work, and mission work can result in this estrangement from God. As we pursue our “calling,” we can neglect the pursuit of God himself by neglecting silence and stillness. Then the body we thought was of no spiritual relevance may become immensely so if we catastrophically fall into sin with our bodies.
To embrace God’s gift of leisure involves faith, faith that God does not need me to be on call for everyone and everything 24/7. It means trusting God that regular times of quiet are more important than frantic hours of unending productivity. Trusting God that it is not my works that save me, but him. Trusting God that he will multiply my labor and provide for all my needs, my family’s, and his church’s. Embracing Gods’ gift of leisure is to say, “My business and productivity don’t secure my day or my future. God does. I will follow my maker’s instructions, I will care for my body, his temple and enjoy my maker’s blessing.”
Yes, I NEED to make time for leisure.
No longer do I view God’s gift of leisure through the false lenses of unspiritual, worldly, lazy, idolatry, selfishness, nonproductive. Instead, I view God’s gift of leisure through the true lenses of time, freedom from demands, rest, and enjoyment.
So, put down your tools, put down down the mop, shut off your laptop. Stop what you are doing. Take some spiritual minutes, daily minutes, weekly minutes, annual minutes, and necessary minutes to refresh your body, refresh your mind, refresh your emotions, and refresh your soul.
Be still and know that I am God. —Psalm 46:10
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