“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” (Genesis 2:2 ESV)
Most of us do not rest well. And not just at night, not just when we try to sleep and can’t. In general. Most of us do not know how to vacation, to relax, to the glory of God. Our—my—misunderstanding of rest as men takes two forms in our modern lives.
On the one hand, we make an idol out of leisure. This is a favorite idol today. Nearly every advertisement, television show, song on iTunes, and podcast makes it a point to hold up leisure as the chief reason for work. This idol tells us to endure jobs we dislike so we can steal a couple of days on the weekends to pack in all the fun stuff we couldn’t do during the workweek. As with all idols, though, the idol of leisure cannot deliver on its promises. We end up on Mondays where we left off on Fridays: exhausted, unfulfilled, and downing yet another cup of overpriced coffee to face a week we don’t want to face.
On the other hand, we make an idol of work. This is the opposite of the first idol. Our reasoning, especially as men, runs like this. I’m busy. Therefore, I’m important. And, again, as with all idols, there is a grain of truth in this kind of reasoning. As men, we are called to work hard (Prov 10:4, 12:24; Eccl 9:10; 2 Thess 3:10; 1 Tim 5:8). However, if we’re honest with ourselves, we love to feel needed. We love to feel important. We judge our worth by how full are our color-coded calendars on our phones. Once more, this idol is a hard master. It promises success and wealth and enjoyment. But what the idol of work actually provides is nothing of the sort. Instead we work long hours at jobs we don’t like, to take vacations we can’t afford, in order to save for a retirement that comes too soon or not soon enough.
Both of these idols leave us hopeless, helpless. But the gospel changes everything. It changes our understanding of work and, as a result, vacations. So as you prepare to head off to the beach, the lake, or the staycation this summer, take a moment to consider with me how the gospel changes our vacations.
First, the gospel teaches us that we can enjoy vacations, without needing them. Or, put another way, we can enjoy them without making an idol out of them. Our identity is not in what we do or where we vacation, but in who Jesus is. Our identity, therefore, is not a what or a where; it is a who. Since Jesus has finished the most important work—our salvation—we are free to enjoy his good gifts, like vacations, without loving them more than Him who gave them to us.
Second, the gospel teaches us that times of rest are necessary. So often, as men, that’s hard for us to hear. Moreover, it’s possible to be on vacation now and not really be on vacation. Here’s a question to illustrate this (and one that makes me swallow hard): can you do without your phone on vacation? Isn’t it possible, in our age of constant connectedness, to be on vacation and never really getting away from the daily grind? There it is, always in your pocket, in the beach bag, on the boat. The daily grind comes in a four inch screen that beckons us away from Jesus, family, and rest with its constant bleeps and dings and buzzing.
But rest is necessary. God made us to live in a weekly pattern of work and rest (Ex 20:8-11). Therefore, to apply the gospel to our vacations, rest for some of us will mean putting our phones away while we’re on vacation so that we can truly rest. For others, rest will mean that we spend one day less on the golf course to refresh ourselves with time with our sons and daughters and wives. For all of us, rest means more of Jesus and less of all the stuff which distracts us from him.
Don’t get me wrong. Phones are good things. Connections are good things. Golf is a good thing. But we will never stop saying, “I need a vacation from my vacation,” until we see rest in the light of the gospel. Because Jesus gives us everything we have by his sheer grace, we can enjoy his gifts without turning them into idols. And because Jesus finished the most important work in history—living and dying in our place—we can see our work for what it is: a calling, not an idol. So the next time you hit the beach, the golf course, or wherever you relax, remember the gospel.