Down To Earth Discipleship    .    Getting real with issues facing young Christians today
Chapter 5
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5. Recreation - rest and rebuild

  • Recreation is vital and part of the fabric of creation.
  • Some contrast with work is appropriate.
  • Rejoice in God’s creation of your body and the natural world.

We have a commandment to rest one day in seven, and it seems that this is primarily re-creative for us, in relation to body mind and spirit. One day in seven is foundational, built into the fabric of creation, to give us space for worship and recreation - physical, mental and spiritual. We do need it!

Sabbath rest and renew trust
The principle of Sabbath rest and reflection is important. It needs to be seen as a proper means of remembering grace and tuning in to our Creator rather than anything legalistic. In Old Testament times the one day in seven rest was unique in middle east religions. Sundays for many of us are a convenient occasion to practice Sabbath rest, coupled with community connection and worship and perhaps family interaction. It's not just the break from physical work, but the respite from being driven that may be most important. Note that rest is not the same as recreation, which may become frenetically active. But for the Christian, Sabbath rest should always be a part of recreation.

This actually requires a surprisingly strong act of will, and it is something that has to be reinforced by habit and supported by social convention in the faith community. It does not feel natural in our busy lives, so requires some firm discipline. Taking regular Sabbath rest from work is an expression of our trust in God that this is appropriate. It also means that we can trust him in our work context to ensure that we are not actually needed 24/7. The world, and our part in it, will not stop because we do on a regular basis.

We also need a substantial portion of time specifically set aside to focus on God, as part of obeying the Greatest Commandment of worship. We also need time for leisure and recreation, both weekly and also less frequently, eg annually. As implied in the later sections on guidance and vocation, work is a major aspect of our role on Earth. That work - and the study which is an aspect of it or preparation for it - takes many forms apart from the remunerated employment which is a feature of many lives. The point here is that some break from this is necessary and appropriate. Without the Sabbath rest our work is likely to become the main means of defining who and what we are. Beyond simply taking a break and resting, the character of that break has a lot to do with our social relationships and our stewardship of the broader opportunities provided to us.

We also need the day off each week so we do not get unduly tired and run down. If we are to be pleasant and shining God's light among those who have never thought about God, then it is important that we have adequate rest so that we don't revert to being grumpy and irritable. Overwork can lead to breakdowns and sickness which is both incapacitating and a bad witness.

Contrast with work, attend to beauty
Some contrast with our main work is appropriate - physical endeavour of some kind for the sedentary and intellectual pursuits for the labourer for instance, so as to exercise the whole person, usually daily but also on weekly cycle. Sunday worship and other fellowship occasions through the week are of course central recreational opportunities for the Christian, in more ways than one. There is much discussion today on so-called "work-life balance", proposed as a counter to any workaholic tendency and elements of the prevailing culture. It is indeed important to have a balance between vocational work and the rest of life, and to ensure adequate recreation, but we should not be drawn in to endorsing a minimalist approach to work under that rubric, or using it as a rationalisation for laziness (as often occurs). For many of us, a mere 35-hour working week would be poor use of our gifts, energy and opportunities. See also chapter 11.

Recreation also opens up opportunity for us to be creative for the sake of simply enjoying and indulging our interests, without the slightest connection with the need for output which to some extent drives our work endeavours.

It also should enable us to pause and enjoy beauty - in nature, in music, in theatre, in works of art - wherever, and to give thanks for such, for all true beauty ultimately derives from a creator who made things good. Even as Ian writes this, he is enjoying the sublime beauty of good music (Beethoven) as both balm to the soul and an encouragement to worship. Incidentally there is no case to be made for esteeming the works of Christian composers and artists above those of others (eg Mozart) on aesthetic grounds, nor being less thankful to God for their output, though there may be special dimensions of appreciation added by knowing that a composer or artist was inspired by his or her faith and love for God. Here, the biblical admonition to esteem what is good, rather than what is trivial, sleazy or spiritually unhealthy, is clearly relevant.55

Many Christians find walking or similar immersion in nature a refreshing opportunity to reflect on the beauty and goodness of God's creation, and to enjoy the natural world. With increasing urbanisation, the contrast between that and the thoroughly artificial context in which we spend most of our time is marked, and thought-provoking. It readily leads us to an increased appreciation of both the beauty of nature and the need to care for God's creation. It may also help us reflect upon the huge benefits of what humans have done with God's abundant provision in creation, in enabling the standard of living which most of us enjoy.

Social media interactions on the internet such as Facebook can be a very positive recreation, but also it can be a substitute for real face-to-face relationships. The whole question of internet involvement extending to electronic games and alternative reality involving avatars must be approached with some caution and reserve, and open communication with wise peers and accountability partners. Avatars can become a means of indulging lust and other sinful inclinations with less constraint than real life. Electronic games can become as addictive as gambling or pornography, so keep any attraction firmly under control.

Recreational choice needs to have regard for spiritual dimensions of activities like yoga and some martial arts, not to mention New Age superstitions and Freemasonry56. To some degree many such beliefs and activities are tainted by pagan spirituality and this can be a snare to Christians, who find that they are compromising their commitment to Christ as his disciples by a positive acknowledgment of other spiritual powers. If in doubt, keep clear until you have researched the matter properly. Look for Christian adaptations of activities with dubious provenance.

Active recreation
A holiday is not only about whether we've had a good rest or a pleasant experience, but also whether we have had a chance to reflect and reaffirm priorities. A good holiday provides some perspective on busy lives. It helps us become more resilient in a world of often transient and superficial personal aggrandisement, selfish ambition, consumerism, and much that is tacky and shallow. We can return with a renewed sense of purpose, energy and enthusiasm.

So some contrast with surrounding hedonism and consumerism is also appropriate. Recreation which is alcohol-dependent, relentlessly self-indulgent, or mindlessly celebrity-based would raise questions of values. Positive moral values have as much place in recreation as elsewhere. See also section 1.6.

In a day and age where we seem to always have a screen in front of us or an ear plug in our ears blasting us with music, we need to be cautious about just what is going through our minds. What is the effect on us of the music we listen to, the games we play, the web sites we look at and chat on, the movies we watch and the books we read? Are all the contents good for us or perhaps diverting or even damaging our minds subtly? How selective are we on social media? These are questions that each Christian needs to ask on an individual level, relative to their own maturity and vulnerabilities. There is no rating system as to what we should be taking in, but simply the question of what is edifying in our spiritual growth and what is likely to hinder that.

If recreation is to be re-creation in a meaningful sense for the Christian, in that it is edifying to us and builds us up as people and as Christians, it cannot be merely passive. Spending hours in front of TV, looking at whatever happens to be on, is not an edifying or re-creational alternative to exercise, socialising or reading, for instance, though limited use of TV as a switch-off from daily pressures may be appropriately recreational for some. However, many things on the TV or movie screen, chosen deliberately, are indeed edifying. Good movies are arguably the best insight into our culture and very appropriate food for thought and conversation for most of us. But both TV and internet surfing used unthinkingly tend to be addictive, time-consuming and brain-deadening rather than re-creative. Arguably they are today's opiate of the masses.

Sport is an important recreation - both watching and playing, but pre-eminently the latter! Team sports especially are an expression of human creativity and of social interaction which builds friendships and community. More than even workplace relationships, they bring us into wholesome connection with others so that the relationship as well as the physical aspect is good and congruent with a life of worshipping a creator who gave us bodies to rejoice in. Those bodies are to be offered to God as a living sacrifice, along with the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:1-2). The social aspect means that team sport is normally a better way of keeping fit than simply solo gym workouts or jogging. Physical recreation may also be competitive or simply intrinsically challenging, which for many people makes it more valuable recreationally.

The movie Chariots of Fire tells the story of Eric Liddell at the 1924 Olympic Games. A strong Christian, he explained his godly motivation by saying “When I run, I feel His pleasure”. His athletic prowess was a worshipful offering to God, just as for many of us, our work is. Our recreation can be the same. But conversely, just as work can become addictive, so can recreational activities such as running, gym, or almost anything else. Moderation and balance is needed, as everywhere in life.

Clubbing: Among students and young adults, a common recreational activity involves going out dancing and drinking with friends, often with the aim of picking up a man or woman for the evening or night. Many Christians also enjoy going out dancing and drinking with friends. Apart from the challenge of moderating alcohol consumption, the Christian needs to be wary of the sexually-charged atmosphere of clubbing venues, and avoid compromising situations. By remaining in the company of others with similar values, perhaps including Christians, the positive aspects of clubbing can be enjoyed without foolhardy exposure to temptation. But it will often test the support provisions discussed earlier, and wisdom is required, with restraint and self-discipline. Certainly avoid venues where drugs, uninhibited expressions of physical intimacy, or simply hooking up are the norm!

Ch 5 Discussion questions:
What are your main recreational activities or inactivities? What balance of active and passive?
What are your main challenges in getting adequate recreation?
Do you have a problem with tending to overdo any form of recreation?
How does God feature in your recreation?
Do you actively cultivate an enjoyment of beauty? Which aspects of God's creation appeal most?
Are there particular challenges for you in pubs and clubbing?

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55 Mozart is disparaged by some Christians because of his licentious lifestyle. On the other hand we have his Mass in C minor "The Great" in which one can sense real worship of God, in both composition and performance by chamber orchestra, choir and soloists. In fact the reviewer of a Melbourne concert performance said as much! This should remind us that God's sovereign power and his creative activity work very effectively through very fallible people, even like us! Putting Mozart on a cultural blacklist if followed to its logical conclusion would eliminate recognition of all human activity!

56 Astrology, of course is more obviously pagan and beyond the pale for Christians.