Do you ever feel like you are sawing away at life, but not getting anywhere? The other day, we had a birthday party for my daughter Grace. She wanted to have here friends over and wanted to have a camp fire to sit around. I meant to by a bundle of firewood at the store, but forgot. We only had about 15 minutes before dark, so I dragged a fallen tree from the woods behind my house. I grabbed my chainsaw (which hasn't been used in about a year) and tried to cut the tree up into firewood. The chain was so dull it would hardly cut. I should have paused to sharpen the chain and it would have made quick work of the tree. However, it was almost dark and I didn't want to be cutting wood in the dark so I just kept trying to cut that tree up with my dull saw. It was loud and the chain was smoking as the dull blades grinding against the wood--more burning it than cutting it. It took three times as long to cut the tree with the dull saw (and it was more dangerous too).
It’s important to take time to sharpen your saw. That's true of chainsaws and yourself. We need to make sure we sharpen our mental, physical, and spiritual abilities. Otherwise, we will just be loud but not very effective. Lent is a great time to resharpen. Lent is the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday at Easter Sunday when Christians prepare for Easter through prayer, study, and service. Our focus on prayer, study, and service helps draw us closer to Christ so we can be sharp again.
Jesus was a carpenter. I’m sure he understood the importance of “sharpening his saw” so it would cut well. Jesus certainly applied the principle to his ministry. He took trips and celebrated religious holidays (Holy Communion was originally a Passover meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples). And we read time after time how Jesus took breaks from his work to rest and pray. These “vacations” helped him stay physically, mentally, and spiritually sharp.
Jesus took one such “vacation” near the end of his earthly ministry as he made his way to Jerusalem where he would be arrested and crucified. I want to share that story with you today.
Slides – Luke 10:38-42
38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Mary and Martha were Jesus good friends. Spending time with friends can be a good way to relax and recharge. Jesus—ever mindful of the cross looming before him—sought solace in the company his good friends.
You have probably known some people like Mary and some like Martha. Martha was all wrapped up in the work that needed to be done. Jesus came to relax and be with friends. That was the main point of his visit. Mary was doing just what Jesus wanted—resting and spending time with him. Martha was distracted by the big dinner and all the work she felt needed to be done.
There’s a time for work and a time for rest. When you take a break or a vacation, take time to rest. Yes, there are details that you must attend to, but if you spend your whole vacation or visit distracted by organizing and planning and logistics you might miss out on what’s really important.
I want to make three points today. First, everyone should take a vacation now and then. Second, I want to consider a Christian way to take a vacation that will make yours more fruitful.
Vacations are Important
Do you realize that vacations were originally God’s idea? Think about it. Go back to the beginning of the Bible, way back in Genesis at the creation story. What did God do on the seventh day? … Genesis 2:2-3, “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” God establish the Sabbath to give His people time to rest and spend time with Him. God gave us this special gift: a little mini-vacation woven right into the fabric of our week. And God declared it holy.
In the Old Testament, the Law of Moses required certain vacations as religious obligations. In addition to resting on the Sabbath to keep it holy, there were also regular holiday festivals to be celebrated throughout the year. Furthermore, the Law encouraged faithful Jews to make travel to the Temple in Jerusalem often. Some strict Jews interpreted the law to mean they should travel to the Temple 3 times a year. The Gospel of Luke says Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover every year.
The word vacation literally means to vacate – to leave. The word was first used to describe the long summer breaks taken by law courts and by wealthy Europeans who would “vacate” their regular home and move to their summer home. Ultimately, a vacation is to take leave from your normal daily activity and go or do something different. It can mean taking a trip to Florida; but technically, a business conference could be consider a vacation (in some sense) because you are taking a break from what you normally do (say sitting at a desk in your office) to do something different. A changes of pace—even if it is still work—can be refreshing.
According to one article[i], “More than half of American workers left vacation time unused in 2015. This adds up to 658 million unused vacation days.” Some of the reasons people say they don’t take vacations are: returning to a mountain of work (37%), fearing no one else can do the job while they’re gone (35%), and trouble affording a vacation (33%). Does one of these reasons describe you?
Some people just feel guilty about taking a vacation. They might feel vacations are indulgent, wasteful, or only the practice of lazy people. Have you ever judged others because they took a vacation? Have you ever felt judged yourself? I hope not, because vacations are important. They are a way we can “sharpen our saw.”
Vacations make you happier. Well, obviously, going on a vacation can be fun and relaxing and will most likely make you happy. But it’s more than just that. Research shows[ii], “People who come back from vacation are more satisfied with their lives in general when they return.” Calmer, more satisfied, mentally healthy people are actually better workers and members of society in general.
Some may say, “Well, vacations just stress me out. All the packing and stressing over leaving on time and finding a place to stay and all the details of the trip…” Hmmm… that’s true if you’re acting like a Martha. Remember Mary and Martha from our scripture? Martha was all worked up about cooking the meal and all the work that needed to be done. Be more like Mary than Martha and just enjoy!
Vacations make you healthier. They reduce stress. Vacations give your body time to recuperate and repair. According to experts, “Research has shown that people on holiday immediately feel healthier, have less physical complaints and even have a reduction in cholesterol levels on their return.”[iii] My summer vacation last year helped me establish a new healthy habit—a morning walk. you see, I'm an early riser and everyone else in the vacation house decided to sleep late. So what was I to do? I decided I would go for a walk each morning while I waited for the rest of the household to wake up. I took a walk on the beach and watched the sunrise while getting some healthy exercise. Well, when I got back from our vacation, I decided, "Why not keep this up?" So I started getting up a little earlier and taking a walk every morning. It's gives me time to pray, listen to the Bible or an audiobook, and start the day off with a little exercise. It's been almost a year now and I go for a 30-45 minute walk almost every morning. I might not have developed this healthy habit if I hadn't gone on vacation last summer.
But there’s another benefit.
Vacations actually make you more productive. Vacations decrease job stress, employee burnout, and reduce absenteeism. Workers come who take vacations come back with a renewed vitality at their job and are actually more productive than before. So, a vacation can make you a more effective worker. I hope you will all consider the benefits of a periodic vacation. I hope any employers or supervisors who read this will consider how a vacation could help your employees help you and will encourage them to take time off now and then.
A Christian Vacation
I am convinced the Christian way of life is the absolute best. True Christians who follow Jesus whole-heartedly are the most joyful of all people on the planet, love life and live it to the fullest, and are also the very best employees and members of society. Christianity is not some set of religious rules we follow. It's a living relationship with Jesus that actually makes us better people when we apply our faith to every area of our life. How can we apply our faith to our vacations? Let me give you some tips.
First, don’t take a vacation from your faith. You are still a follower of Christ even if you are in a different town. Don’t forget your values, your spiritual practices (prayer, devotions, worship time, etc.), and your purpose (to love God and your neighbor). Take Jesus on vacation with you and it will be the best trip you ever took.
Second, don’t be a Martha. In other words, don’t worry so much about all the details that you forget the main point—to rest and take a break from all the things you have to do in your regular life. It’s supposed to be a change of pace. Don’t let your own “Martha-like” tendencies keep you from the joy Jesus wants to give you during your vacation.
Third, forget the world’s views about the perfect vacation. In the hilarious National Lampoon's vacation movies, Clark Griswold is always getting into trouble because of his unrealistic notions abut the perfect vacations. Don't be like Clark Griswold. Vacations aren't about making perfect memories for our kids. Vacations aren't about over-indulging ourselves. We can treat ourselves, but we don’t have to be selfish. Being too self-indulgent will not make you healthier or happier. Over indulging self-indulging actually feeds your selfish tendencies and makes you less happy and satisfied in the long run. Don't try to "keep up with the Joneses" or fall for the world's ideas about the perfect vacation. Keep it simple and remember what's really important in life is what's really important in a vacation too--love and relationships.
Fourth, think outside the box on your vacations. Jesus was not a rich man. He was basically homeless and he lived in a poor peasant society. Yet Jesus somehow also managed to take regular trips and vacations. If he can manage it, so can you. Don’t fall for the world’s lie that every vacation has to be an elaborate, expensive, extravaganza. Something as simple as a walk through the park on a pretty spring day can qualify as a vacation. (Remember, Jesus would often retreat to a quiet place to pray). Sunday rest can be a vacation—if you are intentional about it. A religious festival—like an Easter egg hunt or a sunrise service or a Maundy Thursday service—can be a vacation. (Remember, a vacation is doing something different than your normal daily routine.) A spiritual retreat (like the Walk to Emmaus) can be a great vacation; it allows you to step away from the normal tasks of life and spend 3 days focusing on your spiritual life. A trip to see family or friends qualifies as a vacation (and can be a lot cheaper since you may be able to stay with them and not have to pay for a hotel or food). A short term mission trip can be an interesting and truly life-changing vacation. Even a work conference or some extra training can be a nice break from your regular daily duties as an employee and might be covered by your employer. The point is, your vacation doesn’t have to be a typical trip to the beach or a cruise to the Caribbean that costs thousands of dollars. And those trips may not be the best way for you to "sharpen your saw" anyway.
Take time to sharpen your saw. People usually think of Christianity as a bunch of religious rules and obligations. That's not true at all. Christianity is an invitation to an ongoing vacation from the worries of a selfish life. Perhaps this is expressed best in Jesus invitation from Matthew 11:28 where he said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." Christianity is an invitation to walk away from doing things the way the world says you must and to live differently--the way Christ lives. The Christian life is not always easy, but it is always good and wholesome and leaves you feeling refreshed and whole even when it is hard work that makes you tired. So I invite you--as Christ does--to walk away from your weary ways and come find true rest in Jesus Christ.