The articles on this blog approach the subject of retirement from a biblical stewardship perspective. That view, which I believe is supported in Scripture, is that everything we have – our time, talents, and treasure – belong to God and we are to manage them all for His glory, in all the seasons of our lives.
Because retirement as we know it is a modern social and cultural phenomenon, specific biblical references can be hard to find. However, the high calling of stewardship permeates scripture. And stewardship is just as much a calling in retirement as in any other season of life.
A called life
The Christian life is a "called life" – the Bible teaches that every Christian has been "called." First, we heard the Gospel (sometimes referred to as the external call). Then we responded to the internal call of the Gospel that comes by the Holy Spirit (what some theologians refer to as the "effectual call.") These terms have their roots in the Westminster Confession and are understood to be God's sovereign drawing of a sinner to salvation through His irresistible grace.
Beyond the Gospel call – which is the entry door to salvation and life as a Christian if responded to by faith, belief, and confession of Jesus as Lord – there are other "callings" that we can glean from Scripture that pertain to how we should live our lives. In a video on The Gospel Coalition blog, author and pastor Andy Crouch suggests there are three:
- To bear the image of God. I would summarize this call to be to live a life that is devoted to God, and that shines forth his truth and character in word and deed. Our progressive growth in this area is often referred to as our "sanctification." We spend our whole lives growing (hopefully) in this area.
- To restore the image of God. This call refers to our proclamation of the Gospel's Good News of salvation as part of the community of fellow believers, the Church. The Church is our "first family" as we are joined with others who proclaim Jesus is Lord and seek to influence all spheres of life with God's truth and also his love, mercy, and grace. This proclamation is the primary mission of the Church – to reach the lost with the good news of the Gospel.
- To make the most of today, while it is called today. Andy describes this as a "contingent calling," meaning that we are contingent beings and that our time, talents, and treasures could be different tomorrow than they are today. Or, as Andy says, "they could be otherwise, and they are deeply depending on many other things." He goes on to say: "How to fulfill our contingent calling is, frankly, to ask a question to which there is no clear biblical answer." I think the principle of biblical stewardship is relevant here, especially when it comes to making the most of the contingent blessings we have been given to go forth, as part of God's family, as God's image bearers and restorers, into whatever context God has called us to.
The call of retirement stewardship
If we are called to be God's image bearers and restorers, making the most of whatever contingent resources we have been given, all the days of our lives, then that must certainly include the stage of life we call retirement as well. In a word – retirement stewardship!
Each of us has been given some measure of "contingent gifts" – resources, time, talents, training, skills, and interests – and together these form the potential we have to fulfill our individual calling from God. Fulfilling that calling is our own unique way of doing God's work by using what he has specifically given us expressed in many different settings (home, work, church, community, etc.). The level of joy, fulfillment, and contentment we find as Christians tend to be in proportion to the extent we use these gifts, talents, and life experience to fulfill our calling as image bearers and restorers while making the most of them today in whatever life season or circumstance we are in.
Because these things are contingent, they may wane as we age. Some of our knowledge and skills will lessen, our physical capacities will diminish, and we may have less and less treasure. But in spite of that, we are not called to shirk back from God's call in the later years of life. Instead, we are called to continue to live out our true identity as God's image bearers and restorers in the world that God made.
This is expressed most fully through living a life focused on service to others (Galatians 5:13). The only way we can do that is by engaging with others in our families, neighborhoods, churches, and communities. Too often retirees back away from the mainstream of life, marginalizing themselves, instead of staying in the game and discovering how much they have to contribute, using whatever contingent gifts they have.
Making the most of today
The third calling on Andy Crouch's list that concerns our "contingent calling" is partially derived from Hebrews 3:12-14:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
According to the ESV Study Bible, this verse,
…warns against the allowing the unbelief of a hardened heart to cause one to fall away…His [the author of Hebrews] counter to this danger is both to encourage personal commitment (take care) and to call on the church to walk together in mutual encouragement (exhort one another)…the church lives in a special moment…faith is called for in this hour, and mutual exhortation strengthens faith.
Most of us have known older people who, for whatever reasons, have become hard-hearted, detached, and disengaged. Some of us may have been (or are being) tempted that way ourselves. A "falling away" can take many forms. It doesn't just mean falling away from faithfulness and obedience toward God. It could also mean withdrawing, shrinking back, or retreating into self-centeredness, apathy, bitterness, cynicism, or resentment.
This can happen for many reasons. For some, this happens because of failures and regrets, for others, disappointment due to unrealized hopes and dreams or unmet expectations. It can also be caused by a subtle drift away from God and others over a lifetime. That is why these verses warn against it and call us to exhort (encourage) one another daily to persevere in faithfulness and in fulfilling our lifelong calling as Disciples of Jesus.
I have recently been reading a book on Ecclesiastes by titled, "Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live ." The central premise of the book is that the key message of Ecclesiastes is that we should live life today in light of our certain demise in the future. Sounds a little morbid, I admit. But in the book, the author emphasizes the wisdom of living each day that God has given us to the fullest throughout all the seasons of life since we don't know when our lives will come to an end:
Living like this is also what helps us to realize that so much of the time, we use our times to seek satisfaction rather than living in the times God has given and so receiving satisfaction from Him as a gift. Satisfaction comes when you know you are a time-bound creature and God is the eternal creator. Satisfaction lodges in my heart when I accept that the boundaries of my creaturely existence and accept the seasons of my life as coming from his good and wise hands. Accepting these things is the gift of God, for, left to our own devices, we accept neither.
Making it real
So if real joy and satisfaction during the later years of our lives are found in accepting them as a gift from God, what might it look like, specifically regarding retirement stewardship, to "make the most of today while it is called today?"
I think David Gibson, the author of the book on Ecclesiastes, does a good job of describing what it might generally look like to make the most of every day:
To every person with the capacity to do so, in these words of the [author of Ecc], God says, rejoice, be happy, find joy in the days when you can be physically, mentally, and relationally active. God commands us: 'Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes (Ecc. 11:9) – for one day the capacity, ability and desire to do so will all cease.'
To elaborate on that idea a little further, here are a few specific ways that I think we can steward our later years in a way that bring us the greatest joy and satisfaction and gives God the greatest glory:
Don't presume on the future. We don't know how many days we will be given – how many days we will have the capacity to use our contingent gifts. We don't know which skills, talents, abilities, or resources we have today will still be available to us tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. Sooner or later, age takes its toll. As the Apostle James reminds us:
Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit' yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' (James 4:13-15, ESV).
"Live each day like it's your last" may seem like a cliché, but there is benefit to that perspective in this context. Since only God knows the future (see 1 Kings 7 and Isaiah 46:10), it is critical that you determine what God's will is for you in later life. No matter what, retirement stewardship means that we will make the most of whatever time we have left on this earth to fulfill God's calling on our lives using whatever gifts He gives us.
Many of us will have more discretionary time in retirement – that is one of the wonderful blessings of retirement: more availability and flexibility with our time. But with that comes the responsibility to redeem that time for the glory of God.
Guard against self-centeredness. Self-centeredness can lead to hard-heartedness toward others and the other things I listed above. It stands in direct opposition to a God-centered and others-centered life. If we move toward a self-centered life, it will diminish our ability to be God's image bearers and restorers.
The Bible is pretty clear about the effects of self-centeredness. Life in retirement apart from a focus on God and the needs of others means we won't be giving and serving others the way we should. In contrast to the self-centered life, the Godly call of retirement stewardship is to pursue a self-giving life. That is the essence of retirement stewardship, Biblically defined: A life marked by godly character, faithful perseverance, clarity of profession, and generous giving of time, talents, and treasure, in the midst of all the opposition and confusion in our world. A very high calling, indeed!
Be rich toward God. Our finances come into play as well. While you were saving for retirement, you were hopefully rich toward God. Once in retirement, God must remain our security and our hope, not our savings. As with everything God has given us, our savings are also contingent – a major economic event could virtually wipe them out tomorrow. Our hope must always be in the God who provides, but always in His way.
While in retirement, part of our high calling is generosity. Sure, we want to care for ourselves and our family so that we are not a burden on the church or others. But we also want to give generously, even in retirement, knowing that God is using us to participate in the mission of reaching others with the Gospel and building His Church. Sure, we need to manage our savings and other retirement resources to be able to pay the bills, but not so that we can spend the best of our lives eating, drinking, and being merry. We build our barns, and we care for what is stored in them, but by being generous, we are rich toward God as well.
Don't wallow in regret. We all have some regrets. But many of us have an unhealthy tendency to spend too much time thinking about the past, especially our disappointments and failures. But the past is the past –it's over and finished, and there's nothing we can do about it. We need to let it go and learn to live in the present – to relate to God and enjoy him and the life he has given us now rather than wasting time daydreaming or wallowing in regret over the past.
If you have regrets (most of us do), the most important question is "what are you going to do going forward?" Dwelling too much on what you did or didn't do in the past just isn't going to be very helpful. We need to learn from past mistakes and put them behind us.
Stay engaged in your local church. Stay involved and committed to your local church using the gifts, talents, and resources that God has given you to help the church fulfill its mission. Some may be called to an entirely new or different sphere for giving and serving. But no matter how God calls you to serve in the church, the exercise of your gifts, talents, and skills in service to others, especially in the context of your local church, is not only personally fulfilling and gratifying but also helps to build up the body of believers. With more life experience, and hopefully the wisdom gained from it, older adults have wealth to share with others. (Romans 12:4-8)
Fulfilling your calling in retirement work requires resisting fears of inadequacy or failure. Many retirees buy into the idea that they are too old to make an impact. For most, that is patently false. To discover what God has called us to do, we need to start doing something – perhaps experimenting with different things to find your "niche.The real question is not, "Should I be using my retirement to serve others?" but, "How can I faithfully pursue the work God has for me to do?"
Stay on mission. We are all missionaries. By that I mean we are all called to be "on-mission," which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. I discussed this in an earlier article about relocating in retirement. The main point was that Christian are called to a mission, which is fulfilled as they work together in the context of a local church to make disciples by growing in maturity and going to proclaim the Gospel to an unsaved world. That may take different forms in various stages of life, but we never retire from our mission until our lives are over.
Enjoy yourself. You may be thinking, hey, wait a minute…didn't he say that we need to avoid self-centeredness? Isn't "enjoying ourselves" just that? Well, if that's all we live for, of course, it is. We are called to do more with our lives than just please ourselves. That doesn't mean that we can't enjoy the things God has so graciously blessed us with. You may not agree with me, but I think it's fine to live a little in retirement; it's okay to have some fun doing the things we enjoy.
Like many of you, I look forward to doing more of some of the things I enjoy when I'm no longer working in a full-time job, things like hiking and fishing. But I don't plan to make them the main things in my life. That's because I know that my highest calling is to serve God, my church, and others, as long as I am able.
Practice contentment. Finally, I think contentment should characterize our lives every day. We must be content with what God has entrusted to us (1 Tim. 6:6-8). Being content with what we have keeps us focused on on the needs of others rather than ourselves. From this contentment flows the desire to "do good, be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share" (1 Tim. 6:18).
As we seen, charitable giving and living, rather than hard-heartedness and self-centeredness, have eternal consequences (1 Tim. 6:18-19). The seed of contentment will produce a harvest of generosity far greater than the scope of our individual lives.
Making it all the way
One of the big challenges we have in later life is to continue to live out our calling to be God's image bearers and restorers, even as we age and our capabilities diminish. Yes, that will look different as we get older, but the call never changes. If we answer God's call by purposing to live our lives accordingly, we will experience the joy and fulfillment that God intends for us as we walk in relationship with him all the way into eternity.