Otium Sanctum (Holy Leisure)

I want to live, and help other people live a better life through practicing biblical principles. A better life is a balanced life. One of the most neglected principles, especially in American culture, is the balancing of work and leisure. For generations, we have identified with long work hours and an aversion to rest. Working late hours and neglecting vacation are badges of honor. I’m hoping to change that.

A better life is a balanced life.

Again, a better life is a balanced life. In Ephesians 4:1, Paul writes, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” What does this verse have to do with a balanced life? In the original language, the word translated “worthy” has two meanings. One meaning is that of “matching.”For example, our beliefs and actions should never clash or conflict. The second meaning is one I would like to highlight further. It is the idea of “equal weight.” If you can picture a set of balanced scales, you would have a good idea of the connotation for the word Paul used that is rendered “worthy” in our English Bibles. In other words, a worthy life is balanced. (Or what I like to call a better life.)

God commands us to both work and rest (Gen 1:26-28; Exo 20:8-11). When we focus too much of our time and energy on working, our spiritual, mental, and physical health suffers. We need seasons, as Eugene Peterson quipped in Working the Angles, to “pray and play.” Without this counterbalance, we can become like Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining, because we know from experience, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

What we need is otium sanctum (lat. “holy leisure”). Richard J Foster explains holy leisure in Celebration of Discipline. He writes, “It refers to a sense of balance in the life, an ability to be at peace through the activities of the day, an ability to rest and take time to enjoy beauty, and ability to pace ourselves” (pg. 27). Through otium sanctum, we surrender to the fact we are human beings created to glorify God and enjoy Him, instead of being trapped on the hamster wheel of human doing.

In essence, holy leisure is not wasting time, it is the active pursuit of enjoying every moment God grants.

What comprises holy leisure? It can be any number of activities. You can take a walk around your neighborhood taking time to notice the plants and flowers. You can fish from a creek bank. Read a book. Or you could even take a nap on your porch swing. In essence, holy leisure is not wasting time, it is the active pursuit of enjoying every moment God grants.

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A better life is a balanced life.

In essence, holy leisure is not wasting time, it is the active pursuit of enjoying every moment God grants.

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J.I. Packer on Meditation

J.I. Packer is a proponent of biblical meditation. He writes, “How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is simple but demanding. It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.”[1] For me, this was the most important principle of Packer’s approach to the study of theology. After reading this statement, I was inspired to incorporate the practice of Lectio Divina in my devotions and sermon preparation. This slowing down to soak in the truths of Scripture, taking time to think deeply about the text, praying through it, and contemplating God’s revelation has revolutionized my walk with God. Often, the time crunch of pastoral ministry causes anxiety and stress to build, but now I understand that taking the time and creating space for biblical meditation is key to fruitfulness and faithfulness in ministry. For God calls us to this knowledge of being still before Him and trusting Him to work on our behalf (Ps. 46:10).

[1] J.I. Packer, Knowing God, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021), 23.