Recently, I read an article in Christianity Today that deeply resonated in my heart. The author described feelings of guilt for taking time to play. While golfing and fishing, he is plagued by thoughts like, “shouldn’t you be doing something useful? If you must take a break, why not one that is more useful like exercise or, better yet, reading your Bible?” This led me to scour the Bible and Christian community about healthy, biblical play and rest versus laziness, worldliness, and idolatry.
Author David Naugle cites Psalm 104:24-26, saying that if children and animals play, “surely the animals tell us something about the playfulness of the God who made them.” The Hebrew word for play, śāḥaq, is the same word used in the Bible for laughing, singing, dancing, and frolicking. It’s what David did before the ark, and it is what Isaac was named after. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is a time for play contrasted with times for weeping and mourning. But, when is it appropriate?
Naugle says that God prescribed Sabbath and festivals so that “we can alternate our mastery of the world through work with a thankful enjoyment of the world as we experience its beauty in rest, worship, and godly leisure.” Pastor John Piper explains the difference between sloth and Godly restfulness is whether you are avoiding work or celebrating it (Prov 13:4; 1 Cor 6:12; Ecc 5:12; Psalm 127:1-2). Author/teacher Joshua Gibbs shared what he was taught, “If you can sing the doxology when you’re finished doing something, go ahead. However, if you realize there’s no way you can honestly thank God for what you’re doing, quit doing it.”
There is a lot more to learn. If you’re interested, one source everyone seems to site is Dutch historian and scholar Johan Huizinga, who wrote a book in 1932 called Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture.