John Piper’s 4 Foundations for “a Theology of Vacations”

Ryan writes in to ask: “Pastor John, I am wondering if you could discuss the theology of vacations? You often talk about not wasting your life, or any moment or season in it. Intellectually, I agree, but at times it just seems like I need to rest. Where do vacations fit?”

Well, you do need a rest. And the Bible provides some pretty significant foundations for rest and, I think, indirectly for vacations. Let me just mention a few of those foundations that I think give us some guidance. Number one, God created us in need of daily sleep. I have always found that quite frustrating. I hate sleep. I find sleep boring.

So why did he make me like a helpless baby that must go unconscious one third of my life? I mean just think of it. What is the message in that? There has got to be a message in that. And Psalm 127 says: It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread, anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved … some translations say in his sleep, some sleep. I think the gist in the context is pretty much the same. According to this text, sleep is a gift from God, and the gift is often spurned by anxious toil. Peaceful sleep is the opposite of anxiety. God does not want his children to be anxious, but to trust him. So I conclude that God made sleep as a continual reminder that we should not be anxious, but should rest in him like a little baby. Unless you turn to become like a child, you can’t even enter the kingdom. He created sleep to make sure we would have a daily reminder we are not God. Our work is not decisive in running the world. God’s work is decisive. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep, Psalm 121. So we sleep. God never sleeps. So sleep is foundational. It is a pointer. And I think the big picture there we take away is: Don’t get a big head about your work that you think you can run the world or make everything happen. You are like a little baby a third of your life, and God meant to tell you something.

Number two. God established a sabbath principle. However you relate the Old Testament law to the present, the sabbath remains a gift with wisdom in it. I remember reading C.S. Lewis’ wife’s book on the Ten Commandments and seeing her point out the wonder and the glory and the incredible gift of telling an ancient, agricultural people whose lives depended on working the land not only don’t you have to go to work today, you may not go to work today. Mandatory weekly vacation. And it was stunning. I mean, I just had never seen it in that light. And that is exactly the way it would have landed on people at least at the beginning. You may not work seven days a week. I won’t let you. You must. And then he consecrated it to himself as a sign of his own creative power and holiness, and the underlying issue of its gift nature to us, a worn out, finite, tired and agricultural people remains. And so I say: The rhythm of work six, rest one, work six, rest one, work six, rest one would probably spare a lot of heart attacks and give longevity to many lives prematurely taken because they never unwind the spring. They are always working. They are working at home and they are working at work and they are working in their play and they can’t stop working. And I don’t think that is what one in seven means. This spring that we live by, especially for some of us, it needs to be unwound not just two weeks a year, but one day a week.

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John Piper
John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. John is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at DesiringGod.org. © Desiring God.