In my early days as a Christian, we often sang a hymn at church called Work, for the Night Is Coming." It was based on the passage where Yeshua (Jesus) told His disciples, "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4).
Yeshua wanted His disciples then, as now, to work hard and long for the Kingdom. He sent the twelve apostles (Mark 6:7) on an expedition that, in many ways, was like the Witnessing Campaign Jews for Jesus has in progress this month. Yeshua's instructions did not make it easy for the apostles. He gave them a difficult and demanding task. They were not to take anything with them except a walking staff—no purses, no food, no money belts, no changes of clothes—and they were to go from house to house to tell people about the Kingdom of God.
When the apostles returned from this expedition, they underwent what we would now call a debriefing (see Mark 6: 30). They met together and told Yeshua everything they had done and taught. It was not for His benefit, because in His divinity He already knew everything. Rather it was for their benefit. They needed to fix in their minds exactly what had happened so they could evaluate it.
Although Yeshua expected His disciples to work hard, He also taught them the value of rest. After the debriefing, He said, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." Scripture adds to that an explanation to show how busy they were: "For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat" (Mark 6:31).
Perhaps we get the idea of what a vacation should be from Jesus' words to His disciples. That is, we try to get away. We seek out a quiet place where no one knows us, so that for a time, we can escape the busyness of life. Ordinariness and routine can be comforting factors that facilitate what we must do; yet after a time, they can weary us and deprive us of vitality. Then we need to get away from the oppression of the ordinary.
Though to us the preaching and performance of many miracles appears extraordinary, for Jesus and the apostles at that time, it was the ordinary. The press of people came down upon them so that they were very busy in what might be called a revival or a renewal. Certainly there was a great deal of religious activity. When Jesus said, "Come away," maybe the disciples felt they were too busy. We can imagine one of the apostles protesting, "But Lord, there's just one more leper to be healed," or another saying, "Just a little while longer, Lord. I'll go as soon as I finish explaining the way of salvation to.…"
Nevertheless, Jesus did not merely suggest. He directed them to get away from it all. His instructions were firm and immediate. Yet though He wanted them to go right away, He didn't intend for them to go by themselves. As the text shows, He went away with them, and that is the crux of the matter.
The apostles were undoubtedly depleted in physical, emotional and spiritual energy. After working so hard, they needed restoration. Godliness needs a vacation, but that doesn't mean we need to get away from God. We need to get closer to Him. But in order to do that, sometimes we must get away from the routine and from people, things and events that crowd our lives and distract us from God.
Many use busyness as a great excuse for not doing what they ought to do. I've done it myself. I have used busyness as an excuse not to read books given to me that I should have read. I have used busyness as an excuse to discontinue discussions I didn't care to pursue. And to be completely honest, I must confess as a sin that I have sometimes used busyness to avoid the life God has for me.
God calls us to vacations or rest not merely because our bodies need to renew themselves from physical exertion. Usually the human body will renew itself completely with one good night's sleep. In wanting us to come aside, God intends us to benefit emotionally and spiritually. For example, in the daily routine of life, it's so easy to let our minds go on automatic. We keep on doing and saying the things we've always said and done in situations that require such a response. Once we have developed such a pattern of behavior, we do not advance our knowledge or rethink our actions. We become stale in thought and deed.
Maybe we drive to work the same way every day so that we are almost programmed to do it automatically. Maybe we don't notice that our usual route has become congested and that a better route is available. Maybe we give up striving with certain problems within our own families and just accept them as being inevitable without looking for a new way to deal with them. We need a vacation. Even if we don't vacate our premises, we need to take time to think. We need a time where we can not only see different things but can also see some of the same things differently.
That's what happened to the prodigal son. He needed to get away from home. Unfortunately, he didn't need to go where he did and do what he did, but finally, he came to his senses. Then he vacated that bad situation and went home to resume his proper responsibilities. Sometimes we need to come aside for a while in order to come back to ourselves and who we are and what we ought to be.
Time and again scripture, particularly the Book of Proverbs, encourages us to ponder our ways and to contemplate how and why we do things. Its many admonitions call us to self-examination. If we just listen, God continually seems to be confronting us with the question, "Isn't there a better way?" He does not supply a direct answer, but He gives us the ability to reason and grapple with the question. Then, when we find that better way, we are thankful to Him for asking.
For the child of God, a vacation can be a valuable experience. It's a good time for a family or a couple to learn how to relate anew. By traveling to a different place, we can see things that add to our knowledge. We can meet new people who add to our understanding. We can overcome some of the oppression of ordinary routine and get a new look at ourselves and our situations. We can exercise our bodies and get into better condition. Most important, if we go with Jesus as the disciples did, and we should, we can get better acquainted with Him.
Yes, God established the idea of vacations. He wants us to be diligent in our responsibilities, but He does not encourage us to be "workaholics." We should not be addicted to our work (nor to our leisure). Our work will have much more meaning if we can get away from it and take a good look at it from time to time.
Nevertheless, taking a vacation does not mean that we should take a vacation from God! So, if you're going on vacation this summer, enjoy yourself—but more than anything else, enjoy God. Don't take a vacation from Bible reading, prayer, worship or giving. And while you are praying, please don't forget to pray for Jews for Jesus. Pray for our Summer Witnessing Campaign and for our ministry needs in general, as well as for all the many other ministries that are out there telling people the good news of salvation.