Leisure – We Need It!“…We need to see leisure and recreation as under the grace of God and, therefore, as contributing an essential element to spirituality.”
In his book Essential Spirituality the former academic dean of Regent College, Gordon T. Smith, includes a chapter on “Play.” He writes, “Spirituality encompasses the whole of our lives as they are lived under God. Leisure, in various forms, is part of every whole and balanced life. It, too, of necessity, must be a component of spirituality. Somehow we need to see leisure and recreation as under the grace of God and, therefore, as contributing an essential element to spirituality” (Essential Spirituality, 134). What a radical thought! I see your scepticism—how can anything that goes under the heading “spiritual” be fun?
May I suggest that our first problem involves our view of God. Why is it that we link God with joylessness? There is no happier being in all of the universe than is God. In fact as John Piper points out, in reflecting on Paul’s words in 1 Tim 1:11, “the Gospel is ‘the Gospel of the glory of the happy God’” (Piper, 23). With this John Ortberg agrees, “Joy is God’s basic character. Joy is His eternal destiny. God is the happiest being in the universe” (The Life You’ve always Wanted, 67).
If that be the case, then it also makes sense that God wants His creatures, indeed His whole creation, to be exquisitely happy too. “The psalmist speaks of the sun ‘which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.’ This is not merely picturesque language; this is creation expressing God’s own unwearying joy at simply being, at existing and knowing its existence to be good. As products of God’s creation, creatures made in His image, we are to reflect God’s fierce joy in life” (Ortberg, 67). That desire for the joy of His creatures is provided for in the feasts of the Old Testament. With the exception of the Day of Atonement, all Israel’s feasts—and they were numerous--were occasions of feasting and rejoicing, the provision of God to ensure the happiness of His people. The Book of Acts characterizes the Church as a community of joyfulness (see Acts 2:46). This foundation gives a basis for appreciating the discipline of leisure.
But there is another biblical basis for it too, and that is the principle of Sabbath.
Out of the fear of being legalistic, most have jettisoned the practice and it represents a huge loss. But as Smith points out, “Observance of Sabbath rest is grounded in the conviction that there is more to life than our work. God has given us work to do—to glorify Him and sustain our lives and those of our dependents. But life is not all work. In withdrawing consistently and regularly from our work, we declare that we are more than our work, and that our identity and provision lie finally in God and not in the fruit of our hands” (Smith, 135). It is because of this that we can take time to enjoy the good things that God has provided for us and enabled us to acquire. Moreover, we can rest from labour, because we know that we are cared for by one who does not slumber or sleep. Sabbath then is a day, not only to pray, but also to play, as Eugene Peterson puts it. We take time to give thanks to our gracious creator and redeemer and then to delight in that which He has so kindly provided us with.
What does the practice of the discipline of leisure look like?
It begins by taking time away from things that we have to do. You are not the key to your life. Jesus reminded us by pointing to the birds and the lilies that His followers have a heavenly Father who is caring for them (see Matthew 6:25-34). Then enter into the joy of God’s world by doing something that you find pleasure in. Read a book, write a poem or short story, listen to music, make some music, view some art, paint a picture, do some carpentry, go for a walk, ride a bike, play a game, enjoy a hobby, plant a garden, canoe a lake or river, ...all to the glory of our gracious and joyful God!
Ortberg, John. The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.
Piper, John. The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God, Portland:Multnomah, 1991.
Smith, Gordon T. Essential Spirituality: Renewing your Christian Life thorugh classic Spiritual Disciplines, Nashville: Nelson, 1994.
Byron Wheaton, pastor of discipleship at Bay Park Baptist Church, 775 Progress Ave., Kingston, ON K7M 5B9. Byron holds a Ph.D. degree from Westminster theological Seminar in Phil. PA and spent 15 years as a lecturer in Biblical studies in the US, Singapore and Canada prior to joining the staff at Bay Park in June of 2006.
Originally published in The Bay Park Disciple, June 2008.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2009 Christianity.ca.