Lifewise: Rethinking Retirement

As we reach retirement age, the temptation is to think our time is finally our own. But what if God has something else in mind for us during this new life stage?

“I can’t wait to retire. I can do what I want for a change.”

Some people who have worked hard, raised a family and been committed to church and community work say that once they hit a certain age, their life and time become theirs to do with as they please. No more have-tos. They can lounge, play golf, shop, sleep in or do nothing, if they want. They are retired.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

But what if retirement isn’t a valid biblical concept?

There’s nothing wrong with looing forward to leisure, travel, recreation and time with family and friends during the senior years. But it’s also important to think about this crucial question: What does God want me to do with my remaining time in this world?

Answering the crucial question

Of course this question is — or should be — central in the minds and hearts of every Christian at every stage of life. So as we enter retirement, the question continues to be just as critically important. The writer of Hebrews explained that, for followers of Jesus, life is primarily a matter of running “with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). For Paul, the goal of that race was to finish strong (2 Timothy 4:7). In order to reach that goal, he set everything else aside, keeping his eyes fixed firmly on the prize (Philippians 3:14).

How does this picture of the Christian’s lifelong mission intersect with such concepts as “work,” “career,” “gainful employment” and “retirement”? The Scriptures don’t spell it out for us in detail. But one thing seems clear: No matter who we are, what our age or how far we’ve traveled on our pilgrimage, the Lord still has a job for us to do. He wants to use us to accomplish His purposes and achieve His goals.

Our calling in every phase of life is to serve. This is how God wants the believer to view everything he or she does, whether that means going to the office, raising children or grandchildren, building and maintaining a home, spending time in prayer and Bible study or participating in the life of the church. After all, the body of Christ can’t function properly unless every member does his or her part.

Our calling

Sometimes we get paid for our services. On other occasions, we don’t. But in every case the mandate is the same: It’s always some variant of the charge Jesus gave Peter when He said, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). As servants of our Master, we live not for ourselves but for one another.

“I have given you an example,” said Christ when He had finished washing His disciples’ feet. “You also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). We’re never too old to model our actions after His.

Why this cursory tour of the biblical teaching on servanthood? The reason is simple: This scriptural doctrine is — or ought to be — the heart and soul of Christian volunteerism. It’s the theory behind the practice — we don’t just volunteer for Jesus, we need to understand why it’s so important to Him.

If you’re a believer, the point of volunteering is not merely to find some way to stay busy after you’ve turned in your badge at the plant or after you’ve waved off your last child into adulthood.

On the contrary, the main idea is to carry out the assignment you’ve received from the Lord. As you move into a new life stage, that assignment may look different. But the main focus will always remain the same: God calls you to finish the race strong, to lay down your life for your brothers and sisters and to love your neighbor as yourself.

If you focus on those objectives, and like Paul, pursue them with single-minded intent, you’ll find that volunteering can be more than a pleasant way of filling your time. It can be an exciting adventure of discovering God’s purpose for your life and advancing the cause of His kingdom.

Leisure, travel, recreation and time with family and friends during the senior years are wonderful things. But we must not allow those things to squeeze out the real purpose of that life stage — to continue to serve others so we may finish our race strong.

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