By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.
I want you to travel back in time with me for just a minute, back to the time of tiedyed shirts, bellbottom jeans, and disco clubs. Think back to the decade of muscle cars and Star Wars; Evel Knievel’s stunts, and Elvis’s final tour. I’m talking about the 1970s.
The 1970s was also the decade that brought us the leisure suit – one of the world’s worstever fashion faux pas. The leisure suit – that outfit forever immortalized by John Travolta as he discoed his way across the dance floor to the pulsating rhythm of the Bee Gees.
Chances are you know someone who owned a leisure suit. Maybe it was even you. Okay. I’ll admit it. Yes, I had my very own leisure suit. It was a lime green one, in fact. And when I put it on, flipped up the elephantearsized collar, sported the gold chains with the unbuttoned shirt, and strutted down the street in my platform shoes, I actually felt like John Travolta’s character, Tony Manero.
Looking back, I can see that I was really more like the poster-child of uncool. Let’s face it. Leisure suits weren’t as great as we thought they were in the seventies. I can’t think of one person who looks back at that period and honestly says, “Man, I wish I could look like that again!”
But I have some fashion news that may come as a shock to you. Leisure suits are still in style. In fact, they were in style long before Saturday Night Fever or the funky beats of the Bee Gees hit the scene. And they’ll be in style long after those things make a comeback (after all, everything comes back in fashion eventually). In fact, leisure suits have been around for the last five, six, even seven thousand years.
Don’t rush out to the nearest thrift store, because I’m not talking about the kind of leisure suit that went out of style with the Farrah Fawcett hairdo. I’m talking about a leisure suit designed specifically for you by God to help you get the most out of this one and only life.
God tells us over and over – from the first book of the Bible all the way through the end – that we need to wear and model leisure. He tells us that leisure suits us better than any tailormade, threepiece, silk suit money can buy.
But before we really get into this, let me ask you a question. Is leisure a foreign concept to you? Have you fallen into the trap of overworking or overscheduling your life to the point of exhaustion? Are you just treading water, desperately wondering if you’ll ever make it back to shore? Do you even feel guilty when you relax?
Most of us do. I know I feel guilty when I take some time off, because I spend that “relaxation time” knowing that there are plenty of other things that I could be doing to pass the time – chores, work, errands, etc.
Twenty years ago you could ask people how they were doing and they’d say, “I’m doing great.” Or at the very least they would say, “Fine.” Today, the answer to that question is almost instinctively and uniformly, “I’m busy!”
God, though, tells us that leisure is essential to getting the most out of life; it’s a must if we want to discover true joy and fulfillment. It’s not optional. It’s foundational. If you ever hope to have a fulfilled and “happy” life, you must incorporate leisure into your life.
The word leisure comes from a Latin phrase that means “to be permitted.” That’s just what you and I need to do. We need to permit ourselves to take some leisure. It’s time to give ourselves permission to relax. All too often, though, we are afraid to take any time off because we have this belief that we are indispensable. But as Charles de Gaulle once said, “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”
God Commands Leisure
God knew when He created us that we would have this tendency to work and work and work without taking regular time off. But because He loves you and me and because He wants what is best for us, He has given us the gift of leisure.
If you are a parent, you understand the desire to give your best to your children. But sometimes your children need guidance and direction. After all, if it was up to them, the rules would be different. If it were up to my kids, they’d stay up and play all night long. They’d run around outside, play on the computer, and chase each other around with the soccer ball in the house. And they’d have a blast; at least until the alarm went off for school the next morning.
As a parent, I know better. I know that kids need sleep to learn. And I also know that tired and crabby kids aren’t exactly a treat to have around the house! So what do parents do? We give them specific instructions in order for them to get the most out of life.
That is exactly what God has done for us. He loves us so much that not only has he given us this gift of leisure, but he has also commanded us to use it.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but lie rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)
The word Sabbath means that we are to stop, to cease, to knock off the work. After we read this fourth commandment, we should step back in wonder and say, “What an amazing God we have. He’s given us fiftytwo mini-vacations a year!”
God says that one day a week we are to stop working so we can spend focused time worshipping. While everything you do, say, touch, and feel should be an act of worship to God, He makes it very clear that we are to reserve one special day a week for Him.
Labor is a gift from God, but we have taken this gift from God and distorted it. We have taken work and morphed it into workaholism. God says if you’re really going to discover what this life is all about, you’ve got to jump off the treadmill once a week and take a break.
God tells us something that the production analysts of corporate America are calling a new discovery: we should rest at least once a week. That’s something that God said thousands of years ago, and it’s been in the Bible for us to see the entire time.
I want you to think about your life right now Do you have a time each week that you stop working? Do you ever just break away?
A good friend of mine attended Cornell University for his undergrad work. He told me that when he enrolled, he made a commitment to himself and to God to obey the fourth commandment at all costs. My friend made the commitment not to study or work on Sunday – ever. He dedicated that one day each week to worshipping God. So every Sunday he attended church, prayed, read his Bible, and meditated on what God was teaching him. And as hard as it may be for many to understand the effectiveness of that kind of schedule, my friend graduated number one in his class – at a renowned university that graduates thousands of people every year; students who study seven days a week, many of them more than twelve hours a day!
To many people, my friend’s commitment may seem like laziness, an excuse to do nothing. But setting aside that day for worship and rest is critical. It helps us get the most out of life in ways we can’t even imagine or understand. That one day a week is time God has given us to connect with the people in our lives, recharge our own batteries, and worship Him. How? By doing some simple yet powerful things. When it comes to that day of leisure, try:
• Taking a relaxing walk to the park with your family.
• Inviting your neighbors over for dinner.
• Turning off the television and reading the Bible for an hour.
• Getting outdoors and enjoying the amazing beauty of nature.
But no matter what you do to enjoy that day, thank God for it. He tells us to commit one full day a week to prayer, worship, rest, and the enjoyment of God’s creation – only one day. Are you doing that? Or are you on the go seven days a week, 365 days a year? God even set an example for us to follow when it comes to leisure.
Have you always done everything you were told to do? Of course not! We don’t really like to do something without knowing if it works. We want to follow an example set before us. We think, If I can see something in action, then it must work. And it’s only then that we step up and do it ourselves.
God knew that we would have that tendency. He knew we would have the propensity to ignore certain commandments and only follow others by example. That’s why He took leisure to the next level.
The Bible says that God worked for six straight days to create the universe and everything in it. What did He do on the seventh day? He rested. He took the time off to enjoy what He had done (Exodus 20:11).
I want to make something very clear at this point. God did not need to rest. He didn’t get to the end of His work week and say, “Whew! I’m exhausted. I think I’ll just take it easy for a day”
God is allpowerful, and allpowerful beings don’t need rest! The inexhaustible one never gets exhausted. So He didn’t need to take the time off. But we are not allpowerful, inexhaustible beings. Sorry to burst your bubble.
God deliberately rested as an example for you and me as a way to say, “Follow my lead.”He knew that we would need the rest, so He showed us how to do it.
I am a selfproclaimed “why guy.” I can’t just read or hear something and accept it at face value. Maybe you are the same and you’re wondering, Why has God commanded leisure? Sure, He’s modeled it, but why? What’s the rationale behind it?
There are three reasons God has given us leisure, and they all center on the fact that He loves us and wants what is best for our lives. He wants us to truly experience an abundant life on this planet, not just exist. He wants us to thrive, not just survive.
The Physical Reason
After we work for six days, our physical bodies just simply require rest. We need a break physically to maintain optimal performance. According to the American Heart Association, there is evidence of a relationship between the risk of cardiovascular disease and stress. Not only that, but stress also causes a kaleidoscopic range of ailments ranging from sleeplessness to ulcers. So how do you begin to fight the battle? It’s very simple. Take some time off.
When Jesus was on earth, He recognized how crucial leisure was to His work. Time and time again during His life, Jesus took a break after working (Mark 6:31-32). During His teaching ministry, Jesus said that He came to this earth to give rest to those who were weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28). He recognized the importance of retreating and recovering physically front work. So if Jesus, the only Son of God, recognized the importance of leisure, we should follow suit.
The Spiritual Reason
There is also a spiritual reason for leisure. So many people are walking around spiritually malnourished because they don’t take any time to get the spiritual food that they need. They are drained and strained because they don’t connect with God on a regular basis.
Again, I look to Jesus as a model. The Bible records Jesus’s activities and it says that on the Sabbath He went into the synagogue, “as was his custom”(Luke 4:16). That means that He did it regularly. Jesus understood the importance of connecting with God – together with others in a house of worship – on a weekly basis. In order to get the most out of life, we’ve got to do the same thing. We have to connect to a local church and re-energize ourselves spiritually.
If you are not involved in church because you’re afraid that you’re not good enough, think again. The church isn’t full of perfect people. If everyone was perfect, there would be no need for the church. The church is a place that we come each week to reconnect, to focus on God, and to learn how He wants us to live so that we can get the most out of life.
After I preach, I always hear the same story. Someone will inevitably come up to me and say, “Pastor, when I woke up this morning, I wasn’t going to show up at church. I almost slept in. But when I got here, I was re-energized. I felt better. I was stressed and strained when I walked in. But I’m glad I came. I feel ready for the week ahead.”
If you don’t worship God weekly, if you don’t take that time off regularly, you will be discontent, because you will be breaking an elementary commandment of the Lord – remember the Sabbath. It is a pattern that is set forth for us throughout the Bible and it is evidenced in Jesus’ own life.
The Emotional Reason
There’s also an emotional reason for leisure. Think about your emotions at the end of an average week. If you’re like me, you are fried. Now think about taking that feeling and having to work another twelve or fourteen hours during the “weekend” If you go through four or five weeks without taking a day to refuel your tanks, to recalibrate, to refocus, to rejuvenate, what’s going to happen? Slowly but surely, your emotional battery will drain.
When our emotions are depleted, we want a quick fix. That’s why a lot of people get involved in pornography, illicit affairs, overeating, and overspending. They’re emotionally drained and they’re looking for something to plug the hole.
That’s when the evil one uses his most tempting methods: when we’re emotionally spent. When did Satan tempt Jesus? Before Jesus went out into the desert for forty days and forty nights? No. It was right at the end of the forty days. Satan came to Jesus and tempted Him because at that point Jesus was tired, hungry, and emotionally drained. He also tempts us when we are at our weakest, especially emotionally.
We need to take some time to recharge or we’ll be vulnerable to the evil one, who is always looking to destroy us and take us further away from God.
Putting It Into Practice
A good idea is only an idea until it’s put into practice. God’s model of leisure looks great on paper. But until we put it into practice, we’ll be missing out on God’s ultimate plan for our lives. And we discover God’s best by imitating Him.
When my son was two years old, he mimicked everything I did. As I would go through my morning routine, I had a “mini me” who would follow me around. When I got out of the shower EJ would be there, ready to copy my every move. I’d put on jeans and a Tshirt; he’d want the same jeans and Tshirt. I’d put mousse in my hair; EJ would ask for mousse in his hair. He would even ask for a cup of coffee (until he actually took his first bitter sip).
One time, as I was brushing my teeth, EJ was standing behind me in the bathroom brushing his teeth. When I leaned over to spit in the sink, EJ spit too – right onto the bathroom floor!
That’s what we need to do. We need to mimic God’s movements. We need to follow His model. But it’s not some kind of onceinalifetime imitation. We’re to model God’s design for leisure throughout our entire lives. In short, we’re to take those 52 mini-vacations during the year.
God’s routine, His rhythm for life, is six and one. We’re to work for six days and take one day off. That’s what the Sabbath is. It’s taking one day off from work and dedicating it to God.
But here’s what so many of us do. We finally get a day off and we think, “Now I can catch up on all the chores and errands I’ve put off for weeks. Now I finally have a chance to run around and get everything done that is still undone – yard work, shopping, cleaning, etc.” If you’re doing all that, you’re still working. That’s not a day off.
And then we get to the end of our “day off” and we think, “Man, I need a day to recover from my day off!” That’s not God’s plan. He doesn’t want us to take a day off from work just to work harder at home. And yet, so often, we use that day off as an excuse to get more done. I’m not saying you can’t do any chores around the house or go to the store if you need to. But we must find that balance.
Make your time off count. Know that rest is part of God’s plan for our lives and that it’s important for many of the reasons we’ve already discussed. Let me encourage you to take your day off to recalibrate your priorities and thank God for the good things He’s done for you in the past week.
Don’t Overdo It
Just as we have taken the gift of work and distorted it into workaholism, many people have a tendency to take the gift of leisure and morph it into leisureholism. They put on the leisure suit and wear it 24/7.
I know people who are so involved with leisure and taking time off, the only reason they work is to pick up a paycheck that will fund their leisure. These people swing to the opposite end of the spectrum and completely miss what God says about work and leisure. They miss the fact that God created work as an act of worship. They also fail to see that leisure is an act of worship as well (although we must be careful not to worship leisure).
We should leverage our leisure to help us accomplish the work God has given us throughout the week. I know that the balance can be difficult, especially in today’s fastpaced world. Are we taking too much time off or not enough? Are we doing the right things when we take a day off? The easiest and most sure way to find that balance is to model your life after the one who created it.
Excerpted from Outrageous, Contagious Joy by Ed Young (Berkely Praise Books, 2007). Used by permission.
Ed Young, Jr. is the Senior Pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX. He is a Contributing Editor to Preaching.