Are holidays Christian?

flickr: andrewmalone

There’s a certain amount of discomfort in Christian circles when it comes to annual leave and long service leave – or any kind of holiday, for that matter. The workaholics and type-A personalities amongst us (I’m putting my hand up now) can be even more uncomfortable about taking holidays. Perhaps they’re right.

Aren’t these the last days, when our task – to tell the world about Jesus – is a matter of desperate urgency? Shouldn’t we be spending our time and money on gospel ministry, not on luxurious holidays-for-self? Haven’t most people, across the world and until the fairly recent past, had to do without annual leave? Doesn’t the Bible, as some argue, give us a pattern of six days’ work and one day’s rest, not overwork for most of the year and ‘binge resting’ during one’s annual leave?1

Yes, yes, yes, and…well, a qualified yes. While I agree that laziness and overwork are thoroughly unbiblical, and ‘binge resting’ doesn’t sound much better, my husband and I are convinced that extended leave and holidays can be very, very good things. So much so, that we’ve just celebrated Steve’s long service leave with a seven week driving trip from Melbourne to Cairns. Not very luxurious, and perhaps not even particularly restful (picture 7000 kms in a car with four children), but a great break all the same!

Why do I think holidays and extended leave are biblical? Here are six reasons, ranging from anecdotal to theological.

  1. If you’re anything like us, after working hard for many months or years, extended rest is a very welcome gift of God.
    Yes, I know that most people throughout history and across the world have had to do without annual and long service leave. They are not necessities of life, any more than owning a car or living near a park; but this doesn’t make them bad things. A year ago, my husband was looking wilted after eleven years in a demanding ministry job, and I was worn out after eleven years of raising young children. Long service leave has done us a world of good, and we thank God for his timely gift (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

  2. Rest is biblical.
    Rest shows that I believe I’m not the God and Savior of the universe: God is, and I can trust him to run the world and continue his work while I rest. Rest shows that I live in God’s grace, rather than needing to prove myself, meet others’ expectations or give my life meaning through work. Rest shows that I acknowledge my humanness, my dependence and my need: that while God doesn’t need rest, I’m a creature, and I do (Psalm 121:4; 127:2). Rest shows that I know life isn’t about work, but about glorifying God in all I do, while I work and while I rest.2

  3. Extended times of rest are biblical.
    It’s sometimes argued that, while we’re not under the Old Testament law, the wise biblical pattern expressed in Genesis 2:1-2 and the Sabbath commandment is six days of work and one day of rest. I agree. But there were also extended times of rest in the Old Testament calendar: regular annual celebrations when workers downed tools and traveled to the temple, and (seldom observed) seventh year rests and forty-ninth year Jubilees, when the land and its people rested from their labor.3  I’m not arguing that we need to keep special days any more (Galatians 4:8-11; Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 10:1), but if the Sabbath gives us a wise principle for weekly rest, why not the Old Testament pattern of longer rests as well?4

  4. Rest (including more extended periods of rest) helps us to avoid burnout and stay in for the long haul.
    I have to admit that I don’t like the term ‘self care’. But, in the end, rest is not about self care: it’s about other-person care.5 If it’s true, for example, that up to 50% of pastors leave pastoral ministry within the first five years, many due to burnout, then it’s important to take steps to prevent this.6 My husband is no workaholic – he’s much better than me at regular weekly rest – but after more than ten years’ work as a ministry leader who spares others the extra load, he badly needed time to refuel and revive so he can keep serving for the next ten years.

  5. Rest helps our relationships.
    During times of rest, marriages can be built and family life strengthened in a way that’s not always possible during the busyness of life. My friend Heather encouraged me (and our experience on our recent holiday confirmed it):

    In the long run Steve & the kids (and eventually the grandkids) will always be your primary ministry so take some time out to ensure that those relationships develop a strength and solidity that will last through the teen years and into adulthood. Our LSL time was always a precious memory for our kids, and many of the experiences laid down during this period were foundational in holding together the open communication with our kids we enjoyed into the teen years and even now.

  6. Rest helps us to pour ourselves out in God’s service.
    There are times of life when we give out (hopefully most of life!) and times of life when we take in so we can serve, such as during theological study, conferences, study leave or holidays. During these times we regroup, reflect, renew (‘the three Rs’) as we prepare prayerfully for the future. Rest doesn’t necessarily show a failure to ‘pour ourselves out’ for the gospel; used wisely, it fills us so that we can ‘pour out’ all the more, working hard in God’s service to the end (Philippians 2:17 cf. Romans 12:11; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13).

Are holidays Christian? Well, it depends. If we spend too much on self-indulgent, luxurious vacations, then no (James 5:5). If we overwork all year to save up for a few weeks’ leave, then no. If we live for leisure as if it were the goal of life, then no. But if we work hard in God’s service and rest wisely and regularly, then yes, holidays can be a very good gift of God. Like all gifts of God received with thanksgiving and used for his glory, they become truly ‘holy’ days, not in the old sense of special religious days, but in the sense of a creation gift ‘made holy’ by the word and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

What do you think?


  1. See Tim Chester, The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness, pages 29-30. I must add that I agree with most of what he says here, and this is probably the only bit of this excellent book that I have any disagreement with!
  2. For more on the all-important topic of busyness and rest, see the Chester book just mentioned.
  3. Seven festivals at my last count, which included the Passover (Exod 12:1-51, Nu 9:1-14, Lev 23:4-8, Nu 28:16-25, Deut 16:1-8), the Feast of Unleavened Bread which followed it (Exodus 13:3-15; Numbers 9:1-14; Leviticus 23:4-8; Numbers 28:16-25; Deuteronomy 16:1-8), the Day of Firstfruits soon after that (Exod 23:14-17, Lev 23:9-14, Nu 28:26-31), the Feast of Harvest or Feast of Weeks seven weeks later (Exod 23:14-17, Lev 23:15-22, Nu 28:26-31, Deut 16:9-12, 20); and then a gap until Autumn, when there was another festival season, starting with the Day of Trumpets on the first day of the seventh month (Lev 23:23-25, Nu 29:1-6), the Day of Atonement ten days later (Lev 16, 23:26-34, Nu 29:7-10), and the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles, five days after that (Exod 23:14-17, Lev 23:33-44, Nu 29:12-40, Deut 16:13-17). See my post Sunday School: The Law and Sacrifices – Special Days for a more detailed overview.
  4. The hole in my argument is that the Sabbath is established in Genesis 2:2-3 as a creation principle while the annual religious festivals aren’t; but both are spoken of in the same breath in Colossians 2:16-17, and both show that regular breaks from work are neither a modern phenomenon nor an unbiblical one.
  5. Thanks, Honoria Lau, for pointing this out to me.
  6. See Grant Bickerton’s article Stressors of pastors and leaders.

5 thoughts on “Are holidays Christian?

  1. Hi Jean,

    Thanks for your very helpful and balanced thoughts on the topic of work and rest (by the way, I always enjoy reading your posts, always thoughtful stuff!)

    Can you explain a bit more about your thoughts on the term “self care”? I know we are to put others before ourselves as Christians, but is there ever a place for “looking after yourself”? I suppose my thinking on that is the same reason as yours – rest is good for caring for yourself so that you can care for others…? Anyway, I would love a bit more clarification – thanks.

    • Good question, Anna, and to be honest, I feel that I haven’t thought this one through fully. I just know that the term ‘self care’ makes me a little uncomfortable, probably because it sounds a little self-centred. I should have a more thorough think about this some time.

      Paul does encourage Timothy to take some wine because of his frequent illnesses (1 Timothy 5:23), so clearly it’s fine to take care of your body and health! This would include emotional and physical health. As long as health doesn’t become obsessive and idolatrous, taking care of one’s health is a good thing. On the other hand, Paul was very happy to spend himself and his body for the gospel, so it’s no great priority either.

      The priority in all things is love (Galatians 5:13): laying down our lives in the service of others, like Jesus did. This is where ‘caring for yourself so you can serve others’ comes in. If I run myself into the ground and can no longer do this, that’s unwise and foolish. I suspect the goal of rest and looking after one’s health should be so that we can serve God and others more joyfully and sustainably.

      Hope that helps!


  2. Great stuff, Jean. On your point #2, I’ve always found Isaiah 30:15 helpful. To the nation of Israel, busy with their clever political machinations and their frantic pursuit of idolatrous alliances, God says:

    For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

    • Thanks, Lionel. Another passage along the same lines that I find helpful is Psalm 3:

      LORD, how many are my foes!
      Many are rising against me;
      2many are saying of my soul,
      there is no salvation for him in God.
      3But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
      my glory, and the lifter of my head.
      4I cried aloud to the LORD,
      and he answered me from his holy hill.
      5I lay down and slept;
      I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
      6I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
      who have set themselves against me all around.
      7 Arise, O LORD!
      Save me, O my God!
      For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
      you break the teeth of the wicked.
      8 Salvation belongs to the LORD;
      your blessing be on your people!

      There’s David, lying down and sleeping peacefully even though his son Absalom and all his armies are lined up against him! Again, resting because he trusts in God, not in his own ability to defend himself.

      I enjoyed this sermon by CJ Mahaney on the topic of sleep, where he talks about Psalm 3: CJ Mahaney on sleep.

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