What is leisure? WebsterÕs Dictionary simply defines it as Òtime free from employment.Ó It comes from the Latin word ÒlicereÓ which means, Òto be permitted.Ó Leisure time is time we are permitted to use as we like.
For most people leisure time is very desirable. In fact, ever since God said to Adam, ÒIn the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,Ó man has looked for ways and means to reduce the sweat to a minimum and to enjoy as much free time as possible.
In the sixteenth century, when people worked from dawn to dusk, Sir Thomas More dreamed in his Utopia, about a nine-hour workweek. There have always been people who enjoyed a great deal of leisure. Every society has had a leisure class. But whereas in the past leisure was enjoyed by a privileged few, today it has been extended to the masses. As a result of the industrial revolution, and more recently, automation and computerization, more and more free time has become available to most people.
This is not necessarily bad, of course. Leisure time can be used profitably. But, and this is the danger threatening usÑit can also be used unprofitably. Leisure time can create moral problems. What do we do with our free time? How do we spend our Saturdays, for instance, or weekday evenings? What do we do while on vacation?
Using Leisure Time
I realize that some of our readers do not have this problem at all. You are so busy that you hardly have time for anything but work. After your daily job, there are things to do around the house. Maybe you have to work a part-time job to supplement your income. But it is still true that for many people spending leisure time is quite a problem, especially young people, senior citizens, and people with money.
Some Christians even have guilt feelings when they take time to relax. They cannot really enjoy a vacation or even a day off because they think they should be doing something useful. This is especially true of those who were brought up with the Calvinistic or Puritan work ethic. Time is precious, we have been told from our youth and therefore w feel we must always be doing something worthwhile and productive.
Much of such uneasiness and guilt feeling about leisure time is misplaced and unnecessary. Scripture does allow us to relax. God gave man one day in seven to rest and Jesus told His disciples on occasion to come away to a quiet place to rest for a while. We all need to break away from the hectic pace of life from time to time.
Leisure time can be used in a positive and constructive way. It is not just the opposite of work. Neither does it mean just doing nothing. It is interesting that the Greek word for leisure is "skole,Ó and it is used in connection with education or the learning process. Thus leisure for the Greeks had to do with the learning process. It provided the climate for the growth of manÕs whole being.
That is exactly why people who enjoyed a great deal of leisure time in ancient Greece were the philosophers. Society allowed the great thinkers like Plato and Aristotle to lead a life of leisure, because everyone knew these men would not waste their time in idleness, but use it for creative thinking.
With the leisure class of the eighteenth century France it was a different matter entirely. The frivolous and corrupt court at Versailles illustrates how utterly degrading leisure can be if it is used to indulge in the pleasure of the flesh.
Leisure time, then, can be used creatively or abused by living a life in pursuit of carnal pleasures. There is no doubt as to how leisure time is used by the masses today. As in the days of Rome, people are still after bread and circuses. Ours is a pleasure-hungry society. Never before in history has there been more opportunity for man to satisfy the cravings of his sinful heart. A whole entertainment industry has sprung up in the last century to cater to this all-consuming desire to have fun. With plenty of money and time available, people are having a grand time. Work is seen by many as a means to an endÑthe end being the purchase of such things as are deemed necessary to make life worth living: TVÕs, VCRÕs, boats, condos, spectator sport, trips to Acapulco and other exotic places.
A Christian View of Leisure Time
We Reformed Christians live in this society and we are by no means immune to this influence. Our children and we parents and grandparents too are under constant pressure to conform to this philosophy of hedonism. Like it or not, but we too have more time for leisure than our forefathers ever did. We certainly can afford more things than the generation before us.
Yet we should look at time, also leisure time, in a totally different way than the world looks at it. For us who claim to be redeemed by the blood of Christ, there should not be any question as to how to spend our leisure time. That time too has to be redeemed. For Christians, the Lord is also the Lord of our timeÑfree time as well as working time. This holds us responsible as stewards of the time He gives us.
That man without God is often bored with his time need not surprise us. His boredom stems from the fact that his time is without content. God has given it content in Christ. The unsaved person does not and cannot see this. But for us who believe, this fact should control our whole lives as we live it coram Deo (before God).
If pagan philosophers already knew the value of leisure time, how much more should we be aware of this. The Church has a great responsibility here. There is a need for Òa theology of leisure.Ó IÕm afraid that thus far the Church has accomplished very little in this area. Most churches, also Reformed and evangelical churches have limited their concern with leisure to providing certain recreational activities for seniors and young people, warning especially the latter against sinful amusements. And what about the increasing number of retirees? Is retirement a life of pure leisure?
Perhaps we need, first of all, to ask the right questions. For example, how are leisure and work related? How are leisure and worship related? What are the moral uses and functions of recreation? Is there a hierarchy of values in the use of leisure time? These are some of the questions with which we as Christians are confronted today. Only if we find biblical answers to these questions will the rise of leisure not be a threat, but a blessing to our society, or more specifically, to our churches and families.
Leisure time can be used positively and have a wholesome impact on our family life, provided such time is structured so as not to allow it to take up too much time at the expense of work, worship, studies, etc.
Of course, recreational activities may not violate the LordÕs commandments. There are many wholesome recreational activities, such as sports, reading good books, playing games, camping, fishing, backpacking, listening to good music, watching a good video, playing non-violent computer games that require skill, etc.
The Responsibility of Parents
Parents have a great responsibility here. When do sports become an obsession? What kind of music can be called ÒgoodÓ? What videos are fit to be seen? What video games are wholesome? Should my teenagers go on that backpacking trip? Are these the friends that my son should spend summer vacation with? Should I spend all summer at the cottage, away from my church? Views and opinion will vary and this editorial is not intended to be an in-depth discussion on what is proper or not proper according to biblical standards. The main point is that we are responsible before God for how we spend our time and with whom we spend it.
An important use of leisure time is family time and Bible study time. Do recreational activities take away time that should be spent on personal or family devotions? Vacation time should never be a time away from worship. Planning for church attendance, or if not possible, meaningful family worship on the LordÕs day, should be part of vacation preparation. A true Christian loves the LordÕs Day and will spend it feeding on the Word and seeking to teach his or her children God's patterns for worship, no matter where they are.
In this connection, I want to say something about Bible camps and conferences. With our children, but also when we were "empty-nesters," we attended a number of them. They combine leisure activities with Bible teachingÑsome more biblical than others. Perhaps this is an area where our denomination could provide some leadership, not only for young peopleÕs camps (as we have), but also for families and other conferences.
These are some ideas and suggestions for spending Òleisure and ÒrecreationalÓ time. Let us be thankful to the Lord if we have such time, and let us make thankful use of it. The apostle Paul tells us that we serve a God who gives us richly all things to enjoy (1 Tim.6: 17). He has not only given us the greatest of all Gifts, His Son, to be our Saviour, but also with Him He has also given us many other blessings, ordinary things to make life pleasant.
Helpful Thoughts From Calvin
Calvin said that God created food, not only for necessity, but also for delight and good cheer. Also, the purpose of clothing, apart from being a necessity, provides comeliness and decency. In grasses, trees and fruits, apart from their various uses, there is beauty of appearance and pleasantness of fragrance. Wine gladdens the heart of man and oil makes his face shine (Ps.104: 15).
Calvin also warns against abusing Christian freedom: ÒIt is perversely interpreted both by those who allege it as an excuse for their desires that they may accuse GodÕs good gifts to their own lust and by those who think that freedom does not exist unless it is used before men, and consequently, in using it have no regard for weaker brethren.Ó He says that there are two approaches that are wrong:
1. Seize the day; take and enjoy; donÕt be afraid to have fun. It is all part of GodÕs creation. Such an indiscriminate approach is unscriptural. The Bible tells us to discern and test the spirits, also when it comes to recreation and amusements.
2. Touch not and handle not; taste not, and abstain. This is the Anabaptist approach and consists of a world flight mentality. This is not a right attitude either.
The best way is to use discernment, reflect on things in the light of Scripture. But donÕt reject something out of hand because you donÕt like it or donÕt understand it. Especially in regard to children and young people, make it a point to try to explain why certain leisure time activities are wrong or not suitable for Christians to be involved with.
We are GodÕs Stewards
Also our leisure time is under the Lordship of Christ. We are His stewards and we will also have to give an account of our leisure time, our recreational activities and our vacationsÑwhere and how much of our time, efforts and money we spend on them. We must always ask: is this God-honouring, how does it effect my Christian witness, is it good for me, does it expand my mind, is it wholesome, does it improve me physically, mentally and spiritually to serve the Lord?
When in doubt about what is right or wrong, apply the guidelines of Philippians 4:8 Ð ÒWhatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things re lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.Ó Put this verse in a frame and hang it above your TV, radio, VCR, computer desk, in your motor home, camper, boat, cottage, and the cupboard where you put your golf clubs, fishing gear, hockey outfit, or whatever else your leisure activity.
Seek to make the best use of your leisure time for yourself, your family, and above all, for GodÕs glory and the furtherance of the Gospel, not just on vacation, but throughout the year. And have a good summer holiday (vacation)!