You may remember these lyrics from the now famous 1971 song "Imagine" that was written and performed by former Beatle John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono:
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today…
It's a simple, melodic song about imagining a world without religion, countries, or personal possessions, with everyone living together in perfect peace with no greed, hunger, or war. In other words, a utopian, egalitarian society in which humans are entirely self-sufficient.
(Since they also imagined "no religion," I assume that meant no faith in any diety. But writing "imagine there's no heaven" seems to imply that heaven and hell do exist, and they are asking us to "imagine" that they don't. But I digress.)
Because of the Fall, Christians can't imagine a world without sin apart from the new heaven and new earth described in Rev.21:1. Christ's Second Coming will usher it in, and God will fully restore all things to the state of sinless perfection he originally intended (Acts 3:21). But the song does remind us of the incredible power of our imaginations. John and Yoko imagined a new world order and then described it in a song, but they had no idea how it might ever come to pass.
The battle for our imaginations
Our imaginations are a gift from God and one of the ways we can image our Creator. They enable us to visualize things that don't exist so that we can, within the limits of our God-given capabilities, make them a reality. Plus, our imaginations help us to find the meaning of ideas, words, and concepts when they give us a clear mental picture or image we can connect them to.
But we also have a big problem: Our imaginations are fallen. Sin has tainted our imaginations along with the rest of creation. And although we can imagine wondrous and glorious things, some are beyond our imagining (Job 37:5). The Bible says that we can also sin or commit idolatry just by imagining it (Gen. 6:5; Matt. 5:28; Acts 17:29). We can be tempted to think, and therefore imagine, in ways that are inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture.
Therefore, as 2 Cor. 10:5 says, "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." (NIV) The original KJV translation reads "casting down imaginations, and every high thing…" And Jeremiah 23:16 says, "Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord."
Both of these verses remind us just how easily we can be led astray by imaginations that are not guided and directed by the Word of God and his Spirit. That's why we are the objects of Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1:17-18: "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people…"
Imagining the future
One of the most significant powers of our imaginations is that we can visualize the kind of future we would like to have—one that fulfills our aspirations, hopes, and dreams. We imagine what the future could look like for ourselves, our families, our churches, our community, and perhaps even our nation and the world. When we're young, we imagine what we want to be when we grow up. When we're in college, we imagine graduating, starting a career, and perhaps marrying and starting a family. Once we're out in the working world, we imagine getting a promotion or starting our own business. And eventually, we begin to imagine what it will be like to be retired.
John and Yoko used this God-given ability to envision their version of a perfect world, as unrealistic (and ungodly) as it was. But they had no idea what the future would be and no control over it. God, on the other hand, knows the future and has told us many things in his Word that can help us visualize it from his perspective. Although we can imagine the future, we can't predict it—only God knows and controls all future events. Jer. 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Proverbs 23:17-18 tells us, "Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off."
Christians who imagine the future see a world increasingly degraded due to the curse of sin, yet moving toward a time when God will make all things new. Our imaginations account for present-day realities, but we can look beyond them to envision a future based on what we know about God's promises in Scripture. Just as we can imagine a future world in a way that is informed by God's Word, we can do the same for our individual lives, including how our retirement might look.
As I pointed out in my last article, we tend to think about retirement a lot. Presumably, that includes imagining what it would be like to no longer be tied to a nine-to-five (or eight-to-eight) job and, therefore, the freedom to do whatever we want (subject to certain constraints, of course).
When you let your mind wander and dream about your future in retirement, what comes to mind? Do you see yourself on the golf course, relaxing in a hammock in your backyard, or driving an RV across the country? Perhaps you see yourself spending time with your family, or volunteering and serving others in your local church and community. How do you imagine paying for it? Do you envision enough money in savings, or income from Social Security and other sources to last for a long time in retirement?
Studies suggest that most people have similar ideas about retirement. A 2017 Forbes magazine article, citing TIAA's 2017 Transition to Retirement Survey, found that people generally want three main things: security, flexibility, and relaxation. Another survey by Provision Senior Living found that future retirees imagine they will spend 35% of their time traveling, 21% with family, and 14% just want to relax (and, presumably, do little or nothing). Others said they wanted to spend time on hobbies, with friends, starting a business, or doing something creative. A little over 2 percent said they just wanted to spend time "reflecting" (not involving a mirror, I assume).
It seems that many imagine a retirement spent focused mainly on comfort, leisure, fun, and financial security (i.e., free of financial concerns). These are not bad things in themselves; in fact, they are God's good gifts to us to enjoy. But for the Christian, they are also meant to be used for the good of others and the glory of God.
Being "free of financial concerns" will be challenging for many, given that more than half (56%) of American adults don't know how much money they'll need to retire, according to data from Northwestern Mutual's 2019 Planning & Progress Study. That's an alarmingly large percentage of people who might like to retire someday but have no understanding of how much money they'll need. The same Northwestern study found that 22% have less than $5,000 saved for retirement; 5% have between $5,000 and $24,000; only 16% have $200,000 or more. Many Americans imagine a retirement they won't be able to afford.
It's also likely that many Christians have not thought deeply about embarking on a God-honoring and -glorifying lifestyle in retirement. I once read something written by a Christian Certified Financial Planner (CFP) who commented on an article written by a respected Christian personal finance blogger, Bob Lotich. Lotich wrote about his changing perspective on retirement, and the CFP offered this based on his real-life experience working with Christian clients:
I've had to look at this closely in my life, especially since I'm a financial planner. Most of my job revolves around helping people plan for their retirement. Some are Christians, and some are not, but almost all of them have the American ideal of retirement ingrained in their minds. Out of the 200+ clients I have worked with, I can only think of 1 or 2 that are really focused on using their retirement years in a way that glorifies God. I know other people in my life who have done this, but from a business perspective, I just don't see it much. (Paul Williams, CFP)
My "reimagined" retirement
Over the last 10 to 15 years, as I transitioned out of my mid to mid-50s into my early 60s, I started to "reimagine" a retirement that was more consistent with biblical teaching and the life that I believed God wanted me to lead when I eventually retired. Now that I am retired, I am trying, with God's help, to live my "reimagined life"—one that is focused on serving God and others in my local church and community and beyond while also enjoying time with my wife and family and friends.
Perhaps like many of you, I am still working through some things. I want to find the right balance between work and leisure. I need to keep an eye on our finances. My wife and I are trying to pay more attention to our health. And I want always to be ready to respond to God when he leads me in a particular direction.
In many ways, I am as busy now as I was before I retired. (At least that's what my granddaughter recently told me.) I am continuing to write on this blog that I started four years ago. (This is the 110th article that I've published on it!) It's certainly not the most widely read blog on the internet, but I do occasionally get good feedback on it. Plus, I've had the opportunity to write about retirement and stewardship on other sites, including The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, and Radical.net.
But there is something that I have done since I retired that I wouldn't have imagined—I wrote a book (that will actually be published!); it is titled: Reimagine Retirement.
I never imagined writing Reimagine Retirement
I like to write, and I can't say that I never thought about writing a book. I did a lot of writing during my career in business (IT), mostly white papers, strategic plans, and IT architecture documents. I wrote a short eBook titled 15 Principles of Retirement Stewardship that I give away to subscribers to this blog. I figured that if I ever wrote anything more substantial than that, I may try to self-publish through something like CreateSpace on Amazon. I never imagined that a publisher would be interested in something I might write about a Christian's "retirement."
But through an amazing series of events that God orchestrated, I had the opportunity to write a book about planning for and living in retirement from a Christian perspective. Because I wanted to write about imagining a retirement lifestyle that aligns with biblical principles and honors the Lord, the book is titled Reimagine Retirement: Planning and Living for the Glory of God. B&H Publishing Group (an imprint of LifeWay Christian Resources) is publishing it, and they plan to release it in early November (it can be pre-ordered now, but stay tuned for the publication announcement).
In the book, I describe a Christian's "reimagined retirement" this way:
A reimagined retirement is one that is planned, structured, lived, and continually re-examined in light of sound biblical doctrine, principles, and practice. It is a retirement lived for the glory of God, his kingdom, and the good of his people."
I wrote this book to challenge and counteract some of the contemporary societal and cultural norms of retirement that can cause Christians to imagine it in ways inconsistent with Biblical principles. I hope that rather than envisioning retirement as a cessation of work followed by 20 or 30 years of only leisure and recreation—a concept that is nowhere to be found in Scripture—readers will instead be inspired to reimagine a God-glorifying, and therefore more soul-satisfying, alternate lifestyle in retirement.
I also want readers to be aware of the significant financial challenges that retirement can present. Not so that they become more anxious and fearful, but so that they can address them in their situation.
Statistically, most people retire in their early sixties. And almost everyone will retire eventually. We are living longer and longer and may spend many years in retirement, more than previous generations. Unfortunately, many people do not prepare for such a long retirement. Some will not be able to enjoy the life they imagined, and others are in danger of not having the resources to meet their basic needs.
Therefore, I hope the book educates and informs the readers such that they will be more proactive, starting early in life, in taking control of their retirement planning so that they don't end up being unnecessarily dependent on the government and others. That means saving diligently and investing wisely, while also remaining generous with the resources God has given them.
What will your reimagined retirement look like?
I invite you to read the book and let it help you to reimagine your retirement. But regardless of whether you buy the book or not, "… whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" ( 1Cor.10:31b).