On a recent Sunday morning, one of our lay-elders-in-training (we call them pastoral interns) gave his personal testimony and shared from Joshua 1:1-9, a text that had greatly influenced him.
He said that God spoke to him through these verses at an early age, calling him from a promising engineering career to one more focused on ministry.
As I listened to his message (it was encouraging and inspiring), the thought occurred to me that in some ways (please bear with me on this), the Promised Land that God had given to the people of Israel is similar to retirement.
Think about it. Many see retirement as a land of promise at the end of a long life of hard work spent earning, saving, and investing. We tend to envision it a certain way, perhaps shaped by the images we see in the popular media. Some may even see it as something they are entitled to—a promise of sorts, or at the very least, an expectation.
Those verses from Joshua give us a different perspective on the Promised Land, and it can cause us to think more biblically about retirement. Expanding on the simile, here are some lessons we can learn:
Lesson One: There was a wilderness before there was a Promised Land.
A lot happened before the events of Joshua chapter one. The Israelites did not immediately take possession of the Promised Land after their exodus out of Egypt. To say they encountered a few “bumps” along the way would be an understatement.
Their journey was long (several decades, which in biblical times was a generation), and they messed up badly when they turned away from Jehovah to idols and other Gods (Ex. 32).
The reality is that most people will have some tough times on their road to the promised land of retirement. Whether because of their actions (bad financial decisions), or things they have no control over (a layoff, economic recession, or serious illness), there will be difficulties and challenges.
Yet, as we saw with Israel, God provides. Despite their disbelief and disobedience (remember them wanting to return to the “good ole days” in Egypt?), God sent manna from heaven and provided quail for meat.
Even during difficult times, God is still with us. Whether we need a job, a raise, or healing from an illness, God is there to meet us in our time of need.
Lesson Two: Some never entered the Promised Land.
“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses” (Jos. 1:2-3).
Moses never entered the Promised Land. Instead, God assigned the task of leading his people into the land to Joshua.
Many Israelites didn’t see the Promised Land either. Because of Israel’s disobedience, except for Caleb and Joshua, no one over a certain age would see the Promised Land. The children who left Egypt would be in their 40s, 50s, or 60s when they entered the Land if they lived that long.
Many people who think and plan for the promised land of a care-free retirement don’t make it there. There were 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964, the so-called “baby boomers,” but by 2012, 11 million had died (roughly 25%). Many more will pass away in their 60s and 70s.
Others will not have the retirement they imagined due to poor health, a lack of financial resources, etc.
I mention this to emphasize that nothing is guaranteed to us — we do not know how long we will live on this earth, so it’s essential not to presume on the future and to live life fully in the here-and-now. A life more focused on the hoped-for promise of the future than the opportunities of the present will be an empty, unsatisfying one (Matt. 6:33-34).
Lesson Three: The Promised Land was one of God’s choosing.
“Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land I am giving to them…Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you…for you shall inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Jos. 1:2,3,6).
The promise that was first given to Abraham, and then to Moses and Joshua, was not a land of their choosing. These men did not choose the land that was to be given to the people of Israel—God did. This points to God’s sovereignty in all areas of life, including retirement.
Although we may dream and plan and imagine a certain kind of life in retirement, God may have different plans. You may want to move to a nice retirement community near the beach, but God may say, “Stay in your city and serve your family and a local church.”
Submit your plans to him, and ask him to guide your steps. “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established” (Prov. 16:3).
Lesson Four: The Promised Land was not just for Israel’s benefit, it was so they could be a blessing to the world.
The Promised Land was meant to be a blessing to the people of Israel, but also so that they could be a blessing to all the nations of the world. Gen. 12:2,3 says, “And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Retirement can be a time to savor and enjoy all the good gifts that God has given us, but it is also a time to find ways to be a blessing to others.
There are many ways to bless others by serving and sharing the gifts that God has given you with others (1 Pet. 4:10). Your family, community, and especially your local church, need you more than you may think!
Lesson Five: Entering the Promised Land wasn’t easy.
“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Jos. 1:7).
Our pastoral-intern mentioned this quote from Paul Tripp:
Fear happens when I look at myself, assess my resources, and conclude that I don’t have what it takes to do what God is calling me to do or to face what I have to face. Fear in a believer is a function of forgetfulness. To the degree that you forget who God is, who you are as his child, and what you have been given by his grace, fear is your default emotion.”
Fear and unbelief caused many Israelites not to enter the Promised Land. Fear of not having enough money, or falling into bad health, or any number of other things can cause us not to enjoy God’s blessings in the promised land of retirement.
Fear can be overcome by faith and trusting in God to meet our needs, even as we do our part based on the wisdom God has given us in his Word (Prov. 4:7).
Lesson Six: Some of God’s promises were conditional.
“Being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Jos 1:7-8).
We trust God to be faithful to his promises, but we also have to do our part. In the O.T., many of the blessings promised to the nation of Israel were conditioned on their obedience to the law and other commands from the Lord.
So it is with us as well—we need to obey God and follow the wisdom he has given us by taking responsibility for the things we have some control over and then trusting God for the rest. You can’t do little or nothing in planning for retirement and expect to enter the promise land.
Lesson Seven: God promised to go with them into the Promised Land.
“I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you…and the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Jos 1: 5, 9).
This is a great promise. God promises to be with Israel at all times wherever they go. God is with us in the same way. We can enjoy his presence at all times, in all places, including later life.
Jesus himself said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). All the love, grace, mercy, kindness, goodness, strength, and help that comes from Jesus are ours, all the days of this life, and the life to come. There is no greater “promise land” than this!
Lesson Eight: God wanted Israel to see Him as more desirable than the Promised Land.
The Israelites did a lot of things wrong, but the worst (and most consequential) was their failure to faithfully worship the One who had delivered them from Egypt and sustained them for 40 years in the desert. They were not grateful for all their one true provider had given them.
Apart from the kindness and goodness of God, there would be no retirement “promised land.” While our diligent labor and planning efforts, with wisdom, are vital, God is the sole source of all blessings in life. Entering the land without him is to live without the giver of all good gifts.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).
As you plan to enter the “promised land” of retirement, never forget the source of all the good things you will enjoy as the Israelites did: “Then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’ And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17, 18).
Finally, always remember that, in all seasons of life, to live in God’s presence is far better than any of the other blessings we may enjoy in “the land”:
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).