The minivan was packed, my wife and kids were waiting, and I paced once more through the house, making sure I wasn’t forgetting anything important. It wasn’t long after the van pulled away that I realized what I had missed.
How could I have once again forgotten something so essential for any family vacation?
Letting Our Guard Down
As believers in Christ, our battle with indwelling sin rages fifty-two weeks a year. But for some reason, it’s during those one or two weeks of vacation that we forget. We foolishly assume that a truce has been arranged, that our battle with the flesh has been temporarily suspended. So, we let down our guard and end up doing, saying, and thinking things we’d never planned to do, say, or think. And it’s at times like these that we identify with the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
The Sin That Spoils
Indwelling sin doesn’t take a summer vacation. In fact, sometimes we find on vacation that the flesh is working overtime. Partly it’s because our daily routines are thrown out of whack, and we’re spending more time together without the usual “buffers” of domestic responsibility. Mostly it’s because each of us has nurtured our own vision of what our holiday will be like, and the reality of living in a fallen world in close quarters with other sinners always messes with our dream vacation, whether that destination is Grand Forks or the Grand Canyon. In other words, no matter how “perfect” your vacation destination is, the indwelling sin you bring with you always threatens to spoil it.
With this in mind, how does a Christian go on vacation?
1. With Realistic Expectations
What did you expect when the van pulled away from the curb—that you’re headed for the New Earth? As a true believer in Jesus, that is where you’re ultimately headed, praise God! But for now, you’re more likely headed for a campground with mosquitoes or a Super 8 with a clogged tub drain.
Yes, these are First World problems reserved for those privileged enough to get away for a couple of weeks a year. But they are nonetheless reminders that this world is not as it should be, and, for the Christian, they are reminders that even the best paradise on earth is nothing compared with the Paradise of being with Jesus (Luke 23:43) and seeing his glory (Rev. 21:23).
Those who have set their hope fully on God’s grace in the future (1 Peter 1:13) can more easily handle a less-than-perfect vacation in the present. And this will go a long way to weeding out at least some of those besetting sins–grumpiness, grumbling, and discontentment—that grow out of a heart that hopes too little in Christ and expects too much from this fallen world.
2. Repenting Regularly
You can’t leave indwelling sin behind when you head out on vacation, which means you must bring the fight with you. It means getting up in the morning and getting your heart right with God, confessing your sin, rehearsing his gospel promises, and pleading for the Holy Spirit’s help as you begin your day. It means telling your spouse and kids, “I’m sorry. I sinned. Will you forgive me?” a dozen times a day if necessary. It means pausing in the van in the Chik-fil-A parking lot and saying, “This day is not going well and we need to pray.” It means putting to death the deeds of the body with the help of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13).
For a Christian, heading out on a family vacation means regular repentance.
3. Rejoicing and Resting in Christ
For a Christian, going on vacation also means rejoicing and resting in Christ. A family vacation is a gift of God, but a family vacation is not God. A vacation must never become our ultimate “happy place.” And neither should it become our ultimate resting place. Although a vacation is one way to observe the principle of Sabbath rest, our true and deepest rest is found only in Christ (Heb. 4:9-10) whose finished work on the cross has achieved for us peace with God (Colossians 1:20). In Christ, we have true rejoicing and resting, because “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
A heart that is rejoicing and resting in Christ will not easily succumb to sinful anger, irritability, and impatience. And so the real fight on a family vacation isn’t so much to try not to be angry or irritable or impatient, but rather to fight by faith to see Jesus with the eyes of your heart, and rejoice and rest in all that he is and has done for you. This means not only confession, when you have failed to do this: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24), but also worship: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).
Looking back on our family vacation, I’m grateful for the good memories we made, the fun we had, and the rest we enjoyed. But I’m also painfully aware of all the times I fell short as a husband, a father, and a follower of Christ. Sin doesn’t take a summer vacation. But thankfully, neither does our God. And as humbled as I am by my besetting sins, I know that he who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). And that day will be better than any vacation this world can offer.