The next time someone makes you feel guilty for taking a much needed vacation, consider sharing with them the following case for biblical rest and vacation. (Note: The following make the case for both a weekly day off (sabbath rest) and occasional extended vacations (a week or two)).
We are a mess without sabbath. I think sabbath rest is largely an unAmerican practice. America prides itself in hard work, ambition, self-determination and getting ahead. “The early bird gets the worm” describes the folk wisdom of our founding Father’s better than Jesus’ invitation to “Consider the lilies, they neither toil nor spin, and God takes care of them…” Compared to other countries around the world, Americans work longer days, take less vacation days, bring our work home more, and value “getting ahead” and “climbing the career ladder” more than most. How is this working for us? We’re richer than most but also lead the world in mental health issues, unhappiness, discontentment, broken marriages and dysfunctional families (often due to placing career advancement over family priorities). Are we working ourselves to death? Are we not busier than we’ve ever been as a society and least content?
We were hardwired for sabbath. Built into our DNA (and the entire created order) is the need for a healthy, balanced work-rest rhythm. God worked for 6 days and then rested on the 7th. We are hardwired to do the same. There are times to cultivate the fields, plant and harvest; and then there are time we are to let the ground lie fallow and rest. Our minds, bodies, souls and spirits require the same fallow time of healing and rest. We are human beings, not human doings. Our value and worth is defined by our creator who made us in His Image; our self-worth and value is not defined by how much we accomplish, how well we perform, and whether or not we met our daily quota at work. Do we believe this? If so, does our actual behavior line up with this belief?
God modeled sabbath. Again, if God chose to rest a full day after working 6, then what makes us think we can outwork God? Why do we think we can go 20 days without a sabbath, when God modeled a 6 + 1 rhythm? Jesus also modeled healthy boundaries and restorative times with God alone. He didn’t heal every person who came up to him. He didn’t go to every city that awaited his message. He had limits and knew them.
God liberated us to enjoy sabbath. Our spiritual ancestors were slaves in Egypt for 400 years where they were subjected to cruel, relentless slave labor with little rest. They were treated as mere cogs in the economic machine, valued by what they could produce. The more they produced, the more they were valued. If they couldn’t produce the required quota, they were punished. This is a horrible way to exist. God liberated them from bondage at the Exodus and led them to his Holy Mountain where he proceeded to give them a new code for living — a way of life that would lead to human flourishing and preserve human dignity.
With this background, we begin to see the 4th commandment in fresh and powerful way. Notice the 10 commandments begin with this statement: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” The laws about to be given are grounded in the kind, generous, and life-giving character of God who rescues people out of a cruel life defined by never-ending work. So we read:
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 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 male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
God commands us to honor the sabbath. Thus, we begin to understand that prioritizing sabbath and much needed vacation time away are not just good ideas or suggestions for a healthier life; no, God actually commands us to do this. When we forego a weekly day off to enjoy the fruit of our labors and the world around us as a gift, we are not just depriving ourselves of something good, we are sinning and disobeying God. When your friend mocks you for taking so much time off, you can kindly let him know that you are merely obeying God’s most basic command. :)
Sabbath may be disruptive to the status quo. We ought not be surprised when we find ourselves living in a way that goes against the grain of the culture. We should expect this! To the best of my knowledge, other ancient peoples and cultures didn’t practice a sabbath day every week. This means that faithful Israelites were at times at odds with an employer who would not respect this weekly day off the job.
The first Christians changed their day of worship from the 7th day (Saturday) to the 1st day of the week (Sunday) and this created a major problem. For centuries the ancient world had grown accustom to these observant Jews observing the sabbath each Saturday, and so they accepted it and adapted to it. Now, suddenly, one sect of Jews were going to make a different day of the week their holy day (because that was the day Jesus rose from the dead). Imagine if your church suddenly changed your day of worship from Sunday to Monday and now you had to ask your boss for Mondays off for religious purposes! That’s the kind of countercultural commitment our ancestors in the faith had to remain faithful to God. Are we willing to endure some persecution and hardships by honoring our sabbath and demanding ample vacation time so we can remain healthy and faithful to God?
Pastors must lead the way and teach Sabbath. Finally, as a pastor I am continuing to realize that the Way of Christ is not self-evident to even most Christians, and therefore someone needs to confidently lead the way in such countercultural practices. I am learning to brush off comments about how much time I take off and how stubbornly I protect my sabbath day (Mondays). I’m learning to be ok with the fact that friends and family will sometimes be annoyed with me when they can’t immediately reach me because I’ve turned off my phone for period of time to unplug. As pastors are called to lead and teach their congregations the value of sabbath, I also feel called to set a good example for other pastors who are slow to learn the need for healthy boundaries and sustainable work-rest ministry rhythm. The statistics are alarming:
- 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
- 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
- 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
- 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
- 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
- 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
- 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
So, I’m committed to the long haul in ministry and am trying to adopt healthy rhythms to avoid burnout. I’m committed to protecting my family from the rat-race of our busy, work-obsessed culture and will model and teach that “the sabbath is for man, not man for the sabbath.” I’m willing to go against the grain of the culture because America has become the new Egypt and many are enslaved to their careers and are basing their value and worth on what they can produce.
I’ve been set free from that and I want to help others find the freedom I now enjoy!
So, go take a vacation! Thus saith the LORD!