How to Keep from Wasting Your Life

What do you do after coming back from a vacation where you photograph wild eagles, kayak amidst playful seals, hike Mount Rainier with extended family, catch and cook your own seafood, and reunite with siblings who haven’t all been together in 25 years? Well, if you’re me, the answer is get depressed—or, at least, face the temptation to get depressed. Routine, daily life just isn’t as spectacular as an amazing vacation like that.

Let’s be honest. If we had our way, all of life would be a vacation. Our time would be just that—“ours,” unclaimed by the demands of anyone’s will but our own. No longer would we need to make a living just so we could spend time doing what we really want. We wouldn’t need to live for the weekend because we’d be in a perpetual weekend.

But that’s a dangerous way to think. There’s something amazingly beneficial about the daily grind that is easy to miss—and knowing it can make the difference between wasting your life and enjoying your life. 2 Thessalonians 3:11 says, “For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies.”

God expects us to work for our livelihood. Not working at all is living in a “disorderly manner.” In other words, to not work is to deviate from God’s prescribed order, and it leads us to busy ourselves with trifles. We may think that endless free time provides the euphoria we seek, but it’s actually the breeding ground for a disorderly and wasteful life.

Have you ever neared the end of a vacation—or a regular weekend—and realized you’ve accomplished practically nothing? You had such high hopes for what you were going to do, and yet somehow the time just slipped by. That’s what time does when it’s not protected by boundaries.

So, how can we keep from viewing work as an intrusion that sucks the life out of our life? Here are two helpful practices.

1. Cultivate a Biblical Perspective of Work

In the beginning, there existed three divinely ordained aspects of man’s life. One of them was labor. Adam was to “tend and keep” the garden (Gen. 2:15). In an unfallen world, this responsibility would have been enjoyable and even restful. When sin entered the world, it didn’t destroy the God-given mandate to work, although it did add the ingredients of pain and toil.

Nevertheless, we can still enjoy the labor of our hands (Ps. 128:2; Ec. 5:18, 19; 1 Cor. 15:58). Work can provide us with a sense of purpose. It provides us a way to glorify God by acknowledging Him as our ultimate employer (Col. 3:22-25) and loving our neighbor by providing goods and services for those around us. It can, I think, be one way in which we “redeem the time” (Eph. 5:16). Schedules and deadlines and responsibilities are God’s provision to keep us from wasting our lives with trivialities. “In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty” (Pr. 14:23).

2. Cultivate a Biblical Perspective of Rest

Part of why we hate work and crave free time is that we never experience true rest. Weekdays and weekends are jam-packed with activities. We need a rhythmic break from the busyness. I’m not talking about getting enough sleep each night. I’m talking about scheduled, weekly rest where we put aside our to-do lists and bask in the refreshment that God instituted at the end of creation. Yes, I’m referring to the Sabbath rest.

It’s hard to see work as a blessing if we there’s never any end to it. God has built into His moral law (the Ten Commandments) a provision for one seventh of each week to be work-free—a built-in vacation, if you will. It’s ironic that we too often ignore the Sabbath in order to get everything done, only to find ourselves longing for the rest we say we have no time for.

I’ve written extensively about the Sabbath; see my introductory post on the topic, as well as my two-post summary of the Scriptural principle. (My wife Shannon has also written a powerful testimony about how the Sabbath rescued her from the endless rigors of grad school.)

There is a time for everything under the sun (Ecc. 3:1-8), including work and rest. Both are essential. Both were designed by God for our good. When we embrace God’s provision of vocation and vacation, we can experience a fulfilling life. Instead of hating our work and bemoaning the end of vacations, we can rejoice in the parameters God has set in place—not to keep us from enjoying our lives, but to keep us from wasting our lives.