This article is about leisure and how we should view leisure and work in Christian perspective.

Source: Reformed Perspective, 1996. 3 pages.

God's Stewards – At Work and at Play

It has been a busy month I'm sure, full of work, including reading about it. (See Rev. Agema's article in Clarion, "To Work is to Serve," August 23, 1996.) After one month of hard work, it's probably about time to talk about some rest.

The focus of September's article on the work we do as Christians was that our attitude toward our work must be God-centred. What we do for a living, and how we choose that as a vocation, should be based on how well we can use the talents given to us by God to serve Him and our neighbour in the very best way. The attitude toward work is the key. If we see work as a redeemed part of our life, we can approach it with the right attitude of service. The same can be said of what we do in our leisure time. If we approach our time of rest with the right attitude, it also will be time well spent in God's service.

To begin with, it is odd that we tend to view work as a curse, but we see our rest and leisure time as a blessing. Yet, if anything, the results of the curse of sin are more evident in leisure than in work. Just the number of different and incorrect views and approaches Christians have to­ward leisure time shows that leisure is far more problematic for Christians than work is. First, work is not something we have a lot of choice in. It is something we must do, and even done with the wrong at­titude, something is usually produced by it. Leisure, on the other hand, involves choices. Lots of choices. And it requires more and more effort to make good choices in a world where there seems to be an insatiable appetite for more leisure time, and more perverse ways to fill it.

Second, some consider leisure time to be their own time. They have adopted the idea that it is "free" time, that we have a "right" to that time, and we can choose to do, whatever we want with it. I state the obvious when I write that there is no such thing as "free" time. There is only God's time, time to do what God wants us to do.

Finally, there are those who have an imbalance in their view of work and leisure. Either they have turned their leisure into another work activity, and they half jokingly say, "It'll be nice to get back to work so that I can relax a lit­tle bit," or they will not accept leisure as an important part of their lives, because they are far too busy working to make use of leisure. In all of these types of atti­tudes, leisure is obviously cursed, and in need of being redeemed.

We need to develop a biblical perspective for leisure. As with work, we go to God's act of creation to start to understand what the Bible says about leisure. When God created the world, He had His purpose. It was not the whimsical act of a capricious god, out to make a toy for himself. God created the world to His glory, that He might be revealed in His creation. We see His power and majesty in His creation. We see His love and care in how we are so fearfully and wonderfully made. Then, after the fall, He continues to reveal Him­self in ways that the people of earth can see, such as the revelation of His mercy by having His Son come to earth to live as a man, and suffer and die an earthly death. What God also reveals is a need for rest, and the enjoyment of play and objects of beauty simply for the sake of enjoying them.

Now we all recognize right away that God wants man to rest. He rested the seventh day, and later He gave the com­mand for His people to rest on that day as well. (We will look later at how we re­act to that command today, and how this affects our perception of leisure time.) We should also see God's creation in light of the sheer pleasure it brings. Look for ex­ample at Psalm 104 and the description of Leviathan which the psalmist says God "formed to frolic there." In smaller terms, how many of us have not laughed at the playful antics of a kitten with a ball of yarn? In Job 40:20 we see that "all the wild animals play nearby."

Further, just a simple look at the world is a sign that God meant us to find pleasure in its beauty. (Perhaps no one is more aware of this than those who live in the beautiful town of Smithers, British Columbia.) As Leland Ryken states in his book Work and Leisure in Christian Per­spective,

God did not have to create a world filled with colors and symmetrical forms. He could have made everything a drab gray. He could have made trees whose leaves do not turn color in the fall, or a world in which all flowers are brown or the grass is gray. (But instead) God made provision for the quality of human life, not simply its survival (pp. 187-88).

So we can see that rest, play and en­joyment are indeed gifts from God. But, as all things from God have a purpose, we also need to try and understand why God gave us these gifts. First, we should look at the purpose of rest. Ryken examines the idea of rest very thoroughly, and he essentially arrives at the conclusion that "...the biblical perspective of rest pro­vides a space within which leisure can oc­cur" (p.187). Very quickly someone will question, "What is the difference between rest and leisure?"

To keep it simple, rest is the time that we are away from our work activities so that we can engage in leisure activities. So how should we define leisure?

Again, turning to Ryken, at the heart of the Christian faith is the experience of re­demption, the return to a state that was lost. Psalm 23 describes how the shep­herd (metaphorically God) restores the vitality of a sheep's life by leading it to noontime rest in a lush, shady oasis. Leisure is such an oasis in the world of work and duty. Leisure shares the re­demptive principle with Christianity. It aims to bring a person back to physical, mental and emotional strength and wholeness. We can perhaps regain the fullness of meaning in a word that has become somewhat trivialized in current usage by inserting an unexpected hyphen in recreation. The purpose of leisure is to recreate a person — to restore him or her to an earlier condition (p. 203).

This is where we return to our reac­tion to the command for a day of rest and how this affects our idea of leisure. It is again a matter of a false dichotomy. Many see the day of rest as a day of worship activities only, and they reserve their hob­bies, or what they consider their leisure, for other days. Now, this is not to start a big discussion about what should or should not be done on the Sunday. Paul said it best in Romans 14:5. "One man considers one day more sacred than an­other; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." What we do need to realize is the danger of seeing our Sun­day worship as something distinctly dif­ferent and totally separate from our other activities away from work.

One danger is that we over-elevate the Sunday worship to the point where we say to ourselves that we have devoted our entire day of rest to God, so now we are free to do something else with our free time. The second danger follows, that we do not give enough thought to our activi­ties which are outside of the realms of worship or work. What we need to realize is that worship is different from our other leisure activities only in the same way that reading a book is different than play­ing hockey. There is a different focus to the activity, but worship, reading and playing hockey can all be leisure in the definition of recreation.

Is that not what worship is? We go to church to be strengthened, restored and renewed by the word and the commu­nion of the saints so that we can go and face a new week of work activities. Read­ing a book or playing hockey, done in the right light, are also activities which also serve to renew us for our work activities.

In this perspective we can develop criteria for biblical leisure and give an­swers to the problems posed earlier. Can leisure become work? No, because an­other job is not going to renew us for our regular work activities. Ryken talks about the curse of affluence on leisure. He makes the point that people have the money to buy things they feel will help them enjoy their leisure time. The prob­lem is that the amount of work going into the item that is supposed to improve leisure time actually reduces the amount of time spent on leisure. My experience of trying to keep my little outboard motor running this past summer is ample proof of how this can be true. Fortunate­ly for me, I also enjoy the activity of di­agnosing a problem with an inanimate object as a leisure activity, which is directly opposite to my work activity of diagnosing the problem with an animate student. Fixing a motor has the effect of renewing me for my regular work.

Next question, can leisure be ig­nored? Again, no, and for the same reason. If there is no time given for leisure there is no time to renew. One added thing to con­sider, when a person ignores his or her need for leisure, is that the person is also ignoring the needs of others. A father constantly at work is not giving leisure time to his children. A mother always in­volved in activities for the church is not giving leisure time to her children. Look to our Father. He gave us time to play, so it must be used to the benefit of those He has entrusted to us. Playing with your children creates memories, and those memories will be very important when it comes time to change the parental focus to teaching. You also need to consider your spouse, making sure that you have time for leisurely conversations. Spouses must help renew each other for their daily tasks.

Next, can leisure time be called our free time, to do with what we want? We've already answered that. It is all God's time, and we need to serve Him with it. Now we can take that in two ways. It can be depressing if we see it as just another restriction God has placed on us. What it should be is a cause for rejoicing that we, sinful as we are, are even given the opportunity to be renewed, in the earthly sense of having time to do some­thing other than work, and in the total sense of our redemption.

Finally, what choices will we make when deciding which leisure activities we will engage in? The main thing we need to admit is that there is no neutral ground. Christ said we are either for Him or against Him (Matthew 12:30). This is in all things. Or, as Ryken puts it, "Our very choice of leisure pursuits is based on our personal values. Leisure also tests peo­ple's values or lack of them" (p. 37). It is a lack of values that plunks so many fam­ilies in front of a television for hours every week. It is not an argument to say that we sometimes need mindless enter­tainment that won't make us think so that we can really relax. There is no such thing as "mindless" entertainment. Your mind is at work, taking it all in, no matter how much you think otherwise. Advertisers count on it.

The point is that we are not mindless. We are able to think about what we will do for leisure, and we are able to think about what we will do for work. We are blessed with many options and opportu­nities for work, and we are blessed with many ways to fill our time of rest with leisure activities. And in both work and leisure we need to choose for Christ.

If a person wants a simple guideline, use the following. Are we able to thank God for everything we did today, at work, rest and play?

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