Today is my first day back from two weeks of vacation. The time off was great, and because the vacation was a real success I'm eager to get back to the regular life God has called me to. This is the real end (goal) of all our recreation: to fit us to do what God has called us to. Richard Baxter says it well:
No doubt but some sport and recreation is lawful, yea needful, and therefore a duty to some men. Lawful sport or recreation is the use of some natural thing or action, not forbidden us, for the exhilarating of the natural spirits by the fantasy, and due exercise of the natural parts, thereby to fit the body and mind for ordinary duty to God… The end which you really intend in using it, must be to fit you for your service to God; that is, either for your callings, or for his worship, or some work of obedience in which you may please and glorify him, “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” It is just to your duty, as the mowers whetting to his scythe, to make it for to do his work.
- Richard Baxter, The Christian Directory
When it comes to rest, relaxation, recreation, and vacation our culture tends to get it backwards. Most work all week to party on the weekend. Many suffer through business-as-usual just to get to the payoff of a good vacation. We tend to work to play, when we should be playing to work. In other words recreation itself is not the end, but a means to an end. It serves the purpose of refreshing and restoring us so that we may return with energy to the work God has called us to.
Of course recreation is enjoyable. It should be—it is the gift of God! But it is not only given for our enjoyment, but also for the increase of our usefulness. And to unlock this blessing of recreation two keys are needed.
The first is to find those things that actually refresh us in body and mind to return to work. Some forms of entertainment and recreation will leave you better prepared and more excited to work than others. Some may actually dampen your zeal or create inappropriate stress and anxiety. Find that which is good and useful to you. Perhaps it's a long walk, or Crossfit, that fits you for service physically. Maybe it's reading a novel, playing a game with friends, or smoking a pipe, that helps to ease your mind. This is the pragmatic key to good recreation. Find what works to not only bring you pleasure, but what also prepares you for service.
The second key that unlocks the blessing of recreation is properly using it, and not abusing it. We abuse the gift of recreation when we live for it, rather than use it to live. Recreation is abused when it dominates our thoughts and time; when it overtakes its proper boundaries. It is used well when it is received with thankfulness, enjoyed in faith, and experienced as a means to a better end. Recreation serves us for a time that we might serve God and others. The flip side of the common tendency to overindulge in recreation is to neglect it as unspiritual, and generally unhelpful. But recreation is a kind of rest everyone needs in various forms. You must seek rest and refreshment for yourself or you will "burn out."
Find the right kind of recreation and be sure to use it well. When you do you will find that you are more ready than ever to get back to the work, the hard work, God has set before you.