don’t waste your vacation

i recently posted on our family blog about some vacation plans we made for a trip to hawaii in september. we booked the tickets very unexpectedly when we came across a great deal on airfare. naturally, we are very excited about the upcoming trip.

now, does this pose a problem? is there an inconsistency? is this hypocrisy? is this an oxymoron – going on a vacation while living an unstained and unwasted life? how do our vacation plans square up against the call to do hard things or to live a wartime lifestyle? how can we say that we “tremble at the prospect of living a trivial, self-serving, comfortable, middle-class, ordinary untroubled american life,” while at the same time booking a seemingly comfortable, middle-class vacation to kauai island, hawaii?! doesn’t this call into question the commitment to an unstained and unwasted life?

the answer is maybe, maybe not. let me explain.

booking this vacation could very well be a sign that our lives are worldly and wasted. a vacation could be wasted and sinful, or a vacation could be unwasted and sacred. what makes it the one as opposed to the other? john piper sums this up a million times better than i could in a message from romans 14, where paul is addressing disagreement in the church over “non-essential” matters like certain days and certain foods (i reference this passage as a disclaimer of sorts at the top of some of our “decision” postings). so, read piper’s words: 

“…we cannot view sin any more merely as breaking the ten commandments or transgressing a list of dos and don’ts. ‘Everything that is not from faith is sin’ (Romans 14:23). Coming to church may be sin, staying home may be sin. Eating steak may be sin and not eating steak may be sin. Sexual intercourse with your own wife may be sin and the refusal of sexual relations may be sin. One of Satan’s most successful lies is that sin can be limited to a manageable list of dos and don’ts. The reason this is so satanic is that it causes thousands of churchgoers to think that things are OK between them and God because they avoid one list of don’ts and practice another (much shorter) list of dos; but in fact may be sinning all day long, incurring the wrath of God, because their attitudes and actions do not come from faith in the promises of God.

…the real battle of life is not fought at a low-lying delta where the river of our inclinations flows into action, but at the high, less accessible spring of faith. If the stream doesn’t start in the spring of faith, it does not matter where it flows, it will issue in sin. Therefore, as Proverbs says, ‘Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life’ (Proverbs 4:23).

he goes on to note that this definition of sin (which is profoundly applicable in terms of what constitutes a stained and wasted life) is the most penetrating and devastating definition that he knows of in the bible – “whatever is not from faith is sin” (romans 14:23). he writes, “The reason it is penetrating is that it goes to the root of all sinful actions and attitudes, namely, the failure to trust God. And the reason it is devastating is that it sweeps away all our lists of dos and don’ts and makes anything, from preaching to house-painting, a candidate for sin.”

wow!!! we should all stop there and repent! that is penetrating and devastating indeed! this is deadly serious business we are talking about! you mean a decision to go on a vacation is just as much a candidate for sin as a decision to go to the strip club? yes! you mean serving the poor is just as much a candidate for sin as stealing? yes. and the list goes on. “Anything, absolutely any act or attitude which is owing to a lack of trust in God is sin, no matter how moral it may appear to men. God looks on the heart” (John Piper).

the battle to live an unstained and unwasted life is not fought primarily at the level of dutifully adhering to a list of dos and don’ts. we can’t put most things in nice, neat categories like that, including vacations. the question is always about what is going on in the heart. and that is not a trite, trivial, or cliche statement. it is a truthful, terrifying, and christ-exalting statement. if we understand the implications, it should cause us all to tremble and to radically reorient how we define sin and how we define the unstained and unwasted life.

so, how can we be sure we don’t waste our vacations this summer? here’s some of my thoughts:

we will waste our vacation if we treasure it more than christ. – in order to live a life that is unstained and unwasted, we must know if we treasure anything on earth more than christ. treasuring anyone or anything (including a spouse, a career, a car, a VACATION) more than christ is idolatry. in colossian 3:5, paul wrote, “put to death therefore what is earthly in you…covetousness, which is idolatry.” desiring earthly things more than we desire christ is idolatry. that means that we must be more satisfied in christ than we are in all of our relationships, accomplishments, possessions, and VACATIONS. he must be preeminent in all things – including our VACATIONS! (that means if he asks us to forfeit the vacation or give it away, we don’t hesitate, because the vacation is not our treasure. i hope this addresses the comment to my “do hard things” post. i really appreciated the comment. in fact, it is what prompted me to think through and write the post you are now reading.)

we will waste our vacation if we spend too much time reading brochures and planning and not enough time reading the bible and praying. – it is not wrong to know about kauai or any other vacation destination. it is not wrong to plan appropriately. but if our passion for knowing about kauai surpasses our passion for knowing christ, and if our planning supplants our prayer life, there is something wrong. what a waste of our vacation if all we do is read day and night about kauai and not god. what a waste of our vacation if all we do is plan and not pray. such a lack of zeal to know god is symptomatic of a stained and wasted life. 

we will waste our vacation if we let our conversations drift into meaningless dribble about our vacation rather than about god. – what is true for our reading and planning (see above) is also true for our conversations with others. when we have vacation plans, people like to talk to us about where we’re going. it is natural to express an interest. that’s fine. but we shouldn’t let the conversation get stuck there. if we find our conversations constantly drifting onto the subject of our vacation destination, we should try to change the direction of the conversation and relate it back to god’s purposes in our vacation (see below). david powlison writes, “robert murray mccheyne once said, ‘for every one look at your sins, take ten looks at christ.’ he was countering our tendency to reverse that 10:1 ratio by brooding over our failings and forgetting the lord of mercy.” we can apply that same principle here: for every one sentence we say to others about the blessing of being able to vacation in kauai, we should say ten sentences about god, what he is teaching us, and the small blessings of each day. we will waste our vacation if we talk about it at the expense of talking about christ.  

we will waste our vacation if we think we deserve it and if do not see it as a gift from god, designed by god. – we don’t deserve vacations. we deserve the wrath of god. we should meditate on romans 8:1 and galatians 3:13 and be humbled as we head out on vacation. everything is a gift. and we should know that christians are never anywhere by accident. we are going on vacation as part of god’s sovereign design, so we should be on the lookout for what he is up to and what he wants to do through us and in us as we board the plane, check in to the hotel, hit the beach, or share a meal.  

we will waste our vacation if we seek it as a means of escape from the “real” world rather than as a means of engaging others and deepening relationships. – we shouldn’t retreat into ourselves, trying to shut out the world while we are enjoying our vacation. reach out, engage, discuss, laugh, love, take risks with those who are on vacation with you and with those you will meet along the way.   

enjoy your summer vacations and take heed of the following:

“Don’t let summer make your soul shrivel. God made summer as a foretaste of heaven, not a substitute. If the mailman brings you a love letter from your fiancé, don’t fall in love with the mailman. That’s what summer is: God’s messenger with a sun-soaked, tree-green, flower-blooming, lake-glistening letter of love to show us what he is planning for us in the age to come – ‘things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered into the heart of man, God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9). Don’t fall in love with the video preview, and find yourself unable to love the coming reality.

Jesus Christ is the refreshing center of summer. He is preeminent in all things (Colossians 1:18), including vacations and picnics and softball and long walks and cookouts. He invites us in the summer: ‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). This is serious summer refreshment” (John Piper).

if the lord wills, and september comes around and we make it to hawaii, i can’t wait to post about our unwasted vacation!

interesting quotations and references

Setting Our Minds on Things Above in Summer (John Piper)

Summer Is for Seeing and Showing Christ (John Piper)

What Pipers Do On Vacation (John Piper)

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~ by david on May 28, 2008.

2 Responses to “don’t waste your vacation”

  1. I appreciate your discussion on vacations. I was having trouble reconciling our trip to Paris with the $8 hotdog video, and your points really helped me with that. (I quoted you on my blog.) Your family’s decisions are encouraging. My husband and I are now planning to read Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life.

  2. […] my original “don’t waste your vacation” post on may 28, my wife, shannon, came across some great stuff on the topic of vacations […]

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