As the summer begins, it might be fruitful and challenging to ask about vacations. Is it biblical to take a summer vacation? Is vacation such a modern invention of time that the Bible doesn’t answer the question? Like other cultural assumptions, are we simply accepting a practice as normative without investigating it through the lens of God’s Word? How can we as church leaders begin to unpack this question for our parishioners?

Is Summer Vacation Biblical?

These are important questions, especially if you take an average person’s work career of 50 years and multiply it by the low expectation of two weeks of vacation each year. The total means a person is vacating life’s responsibilities for nearly two years of their life. Most of us, as we climb the ladder of success are awarded many more days of vacation so this is likely just a minimum starting point.

Cindy Aron in her book Working at Play, says vacations started in the 19th century with the elite and quickly moved down to the average American. There were a few reasons for this. Doctors made claims that vacation was healthy, the railroad began to offer easier access to destinations, and the Protestant work ethic created more wealth for a family to be able to take vacations. All of these are practical and good-minded. However, it doesn’t answer the biblical question.

I’m more and more struck by Paul’s words to the church in Corinth and the application to many questions in our world-gone-mad, including this one. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does,” Paul says. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

Is Vacation In The Bible?

The Bible does not seem to support the idea of vacation as defined by Webster: “a scheduled period during which activity is suspended.” The closest to anything akin to this definition is when Elijah runs from Mount Carmel to Horeb in I Kings 19. “He came to a broom tree,” the text says, “sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.” It’s not quite the family summer vacation to the beach, or at least I hope not. It’d be challenging to truly call Elijah’s rest under the broom tree a vacation.

How Should We View Work?

When it comes to a biblical view of vacation, and summer vacation in particular, we need to wrestle with God’s view of work. Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 6:3-9 that he himself works day and night, isn’t idle, and that his example should be followed. There is a long list of Scripture that informs what we know as the Protestant work ethic. Stemming from the Puritans who worked 16-hour days, this work ethic that helped form America did not prescribe any idle time. Everything was held in accountability to our eternal calling and purpose. 

What About The Sabbath?

The first thing God ordains as holy is time. Genesis 2:3 says, “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” When we take a Sabbath rest, we are in worship, not on vacation. Abraham Joshua Heschel says it this way: “The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living” (The Sabbath). If we consider the Sabbath day as a catch-up day for chores, sleep, yard work, and errands, it might be time to reevaluate why God ordained this time as holy, set apart, and distinct. Perhaps it’s time to encourage our parishioners to look again at how well we keep the Sabbath and define it more concretely.

What’s The Difference Between Vacation And Retreat?

We see Jesus retreating often. We know that after his baptism he spends 40 days in the desert. He also escapes the noise of the crowd like in Luke 5: “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (15-16). I like the use of “lonely” here (it’s in Mark 1:45 too). It’s so counter to our spun-up world where noise and people and traffic and entertainment fill in every lonely place. In John 6, we see things hit a similar noisy place:

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. (14-17)

Retreats are not vacations. They are an attempt to find lonely places where God can be heard. It’s forgetting enough about time because we’re in the presence of God, like Jesus when he misses the boat.

I wonder what would happen if we actively retreated instead of vacationed. I wonder if we used our trip to the Grand Canyon or skiing in Colorado or the nightlife in New York City more wisely, with more intention, or reworked our destinations altogether. How can we challenge our congregations to live counter to our culture, in vacation habits and the various other assumptions we seem so ready to embrace?

Here are several retreat ideas:

About The Author

Zach Kincaid

Zach Kincaid is a part of the Sharefaith Editorial Team. He manages workoutyourfaith.com and has written on C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and general Christian thought for more than 15 years. He is a husband, father, and collaborator on a variety of Christian outreach projects, including films and educational resources.

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