Work, Worship, and Play

Work, Worship, and Play

A quotation attributed to one Gordon Dahl laments: “We worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.”

What an insightful description of our present generation! God has given us all three of these activities, but He intends we understand their purpose and arrange them in a wise and balanced way. How can we keep ourselves from falling into the modern trap of mixed-up priorities?

The Purpose of Play

People are not designed to keep their nose to the grindstone day after day without a break. “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27-28). Recreation allows us to re-create our self and our sanity. A leisure activity gives us joy and fulfillment. John Wanamaker once observed, “People who cannot find time for recreation are obliged sooner or later to find time for illness.” Vance Havner said, “We must come apart and rest a while, or we may just plain come apart.”

Jesus provides us an example of the need to take time off. In Mark 6, Jesus summoned the twelve apostles and sent them out in pairs into the surrounding territories, to heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the gospel of the kingdom. After laboring diligently for many days in this effort, they returned home to Jesus exhausted.

He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves (Mark 6:31-32).

Jesus knew that the apostles could not maintain their furious pace forever. Undoubtedly there were many who needed to be taught and healed during this time; the work did not go away. But He knew that to continue effectively for a long period of time, the apostles would need to take a breather and recover from the stresses of work in the kingdom. In fact, Jesus observed an almost daily period of rest, away from the hustle and bustle of people and the stress of His ministry (Luke 4:42, 5:15-16, 6:12).

Don’t feel guilty taking reasonable time to relax or taking affordable vacations to connect with your family. Read a book or the Bible. Watch a movie. Take a long bubble bath. Take a nap. Pray. Sit on the porch swing. Go shopping without the kids. Go work out at the gym or play a game of tennis. Go out of town. Pursue a hobby. Assemble a puzzle. Do what you need to do to play, to unwind, to enjoy yourself. Your family would be served best by a well-rested, happy, energized parent, rather than by a frustrated, short-tempered, burned-out parent. The same goes for your employer and your congregation and God.

Working at our Play

But when any hobby gobbles up twenty, thirty, or even forty hours per week, it is no longer a leisure activity. In that case, we have begun to put as much effort into play as one should put into work (and usually we leave no space for worship)! Whether it’s video games, or Facebook, or TV watching, or hiking, or fishing, or golf, or reading novels, or anything—if it becomes hugely time-consuming, it’s not leisure.

All of us should spend more energy serving our God. Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” An older translation says, “redeeming the time.” What have I got to show for my life? We must work hard and support our families and maintain our homes. But with the remainder of your time, think also of brethren to help, people to lead to Christ, studies to make, treasures in heaven to store. Getting your superhero to 50th level is fun, but it’s not to be considered an accomplishment.

Leisure activities are a wholesome and wise use of time, because they help the rest of our time to be more productive, and they keep one from burning out. But obsessive activities are not, because they waste time. Time passes as swiftly as a weaver’s shuttle (Job 7:6), like a vapor that vanishes (James 4:14) or like a flower that fades (Isaiah 40:8). May we learn to keep work and play in the proper order.

Continues next week.

--John Guzzetta