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Turning Vacations into Sabbaticals

Posted on July 21st, 2015

Each of us takes a vacation every year, for one, two, three, or more weeks. The problem, however, is that we take on the culture’s view of “vacations,” treating them simply as days off away from work.

Let me suggest a larger biblical perspective, one that sees them as Sabbatical gifts from the Lord our God. Once Geri and I began to do so 12 years ago, it completely transformed the way we prepared and planned.

We began to receive our vacations as annual gifts from God that resembled the ancient Jew’s participation in the festivals of their day (the three national feasts of Pentecost, Booths, and Passover). We simply applied the four characteristics that defined our weekly twenty-four-hour Sabbaths – stopping work, enjoying rest, practicing delight, and contemplating God – to our vacations.

Remember, the purpose of all earthly life and matter is to lead us to communion with God. The entire cosmos is meant to serve as a material gift from God in and through which we enter into the joy of his heavenly presence.  That includes our vacations!

So let me invite you to structure your “vacation” along the same lines as a weekly Sabbath. Apply the principles of Sabbath to a longer stretch of time, asking yourself the following questions:

  • STOP. How can you truly stop your work during your vacation? Sabbath is first and foremost a day when we cease all work — ​paid and unpaid. On the Sabbath we let go of the illusion that we are indispensable to the running of the world. We recognize we will never finish all our projects, and that God is on the throne, managing quite well in ruling the universe without our help.
  • REST. What are the activities that you could engage in that would restore and replenish the soil of your soul? Once we stop, we accept God’s invitation to rest. God rested after his work of creation. Every seventh day, we are to do the same. We engage in activities that restore and replenish us — ​from napping, hiking, reading, and eating good food to enjoying hobbies and playing sports.
  • DELIGHT. What gives you joy and delight? What might enable you to feast on the miracle of life during your vacation this year? God delighted in the first Sabbath (Gen.1-2). In the same way He invites us to enjoy and delight in his creation and all the gifts he offers us in it. These innumerable gifts come to us in many forms, including people, places, and things.
  • CONTEMPLATE. How can you more intentionally look for his grandeur in everything from people, food, and art to babies, sports, hobbies, and music? Pondering the love of God is the central focus of all Sabbaths. We are not taking time off from God; we are drawing closer to him. Sabbath is an invitation to see the invisible in the visible — ​to recognize the hidden ways God’s goodness is at work in our lives. In this sense, contemplation is an extension of delight.

On both weekly Sabbaths and longer Sabbaticals, we look forward to that day at the end of our earthly lives when we will perfectly stop, rest, delight, and contemplate the glory of God. In a very real sense, the practice of Sabbath joins heaven and earth, equipping us not merely to rest from our work but also to work from our rest. Try it. And I believe you will find, as we have, that you will never see “vacation” the same.

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