Refire, Don’t Retire
Recently, while enjoying fellowship with a good friend and fellow pastor, he asked me, “What are you going to do when you retire?” The moment was a bit awkward because, in the traditional sense, I have no plans to retire. Knowing this friend, I doubt he really does either. But we are both in our mid-50’s and it is a question that is on the mind of men our age.
Rather than elaborating on my view of “retirement”, I simply said that I would want to keep coaching pastors, writing and serving churches as I am able. Of course, I will want to invest more energy in my family – finding new activities with my wife, helping guide my children, and enjoying grandchildren.
Tradition and Definition
Western tradition says that a person works hard during their primary earning years in order to save enough money to throw away the time card, cash in the IRA, buy a travel home, upgrade the golf clubs, and take up some new hobbies to counteract the boredom.
Definitions of retirement vary. Here are a few:
- To withdraw for rest or seclusion.
- To withdraw from one’s occupation, business, or office; stop working.
- To fall back or retreat, as from battle.
- To take out of circulation.
- To withdraw from use or active service.
As believers we must clearly define what we have in mind concerning retirement. Certainly, aspects of the above definitions are completely contrary to the biblical teachings about the purposes of the Christian life.
Of course, the Bible places value on rest and the need for Sabbath on a regular basis. The Scriptures also give emphasis to the stewardship of money by teaching that the wise person saves, while the fool devours all that he has (Proverbs 21:20, 6:6-8). The Old Testament also speaks of the importance of leaving an inheritance for children (Proverbs 13:22). Yet the New Testament speaks more of our needful focus on eternal treasure and our real inheritance being in heaven as we live for kingdom purposes (Matthew 6:19-20, Acts 20:32, 1 Peter 1:4).
Living on Purpose
We would do well to remember that there is a difference between our needful occupations and our life purpose. Occupations can come and go. Yes, a person can save enough money to eventually be free from the need to clock in every day. But, whether we are 35, 55, or 85 we are still left on this earth for eternal purposes from which we can never retire. In fact, we are called to “refire” in our service to Gospel purposes until the day we cross the finish line. To do otherwise is to neglect our high calling, regardless of the cultural norms of society.
The Marathon of a Life Well-Lived
The Christian life is not a sprint – nor is it a series of separate short runs. It is a continual, lifelong marathon. God determines the distance of each race. Our responsibility is to “run with endurance the race set before us” as we keep our eyes on Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1 & 2). Jesus had no retirement plans. His goal was to embrace suffering for the sake of others in accomplishing the purpose of salvation in light of eternal reward and for the glory of God.
As Paul wrote from prison, just days from his own martyrdom, he wrote, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Paul saw his death as his final act of worshipful service. He saw his life as a race that required utmost spiritual intensity until his final breath. He lived for the sake of an eternal reward, not an earthly one. “Retirement” as we think of it was not even on his radar.
Physical Realities – Spiritual Resolve
Our mirrors and various bodily symptoms remind us that “the outer man is perishing” (2 Corinthians 4:16). But, in the work of the Gospel, this same verse says that we do not lose heart because our inner man is being renewed day by day. We must continue to grow in our spiritual intensity and vibrancy. While we may face physical limitations and decreased energy, our passion for Christ and His kingdom must grow until we finish the course.
We can embrace the prayer of the Psalmist: “Now also when I am old and gray headed, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come” (Psalm 71:18). “They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing, to declare that the LORD is upright” (Psalm 92:14-15).
Finishing for His Glory
Pastor John Piper, in his excellent book Rethinking Retirement (Crossways), frames this issue with these words: “Finishing life to the glory of Christ means finishing life in a way that makes Christ look glorious. It means living and dying in a way that shows Christ to be the all-satisfying Treasure that he is. So it would include, for example, not living in ways that make this world look like your treasure. Which means that most of the suggestions that this world offers us for our retirement years are bad ideas. They call us to live in a way that would make this world look like our treasure. And when that happens, Jesus is belittled.”
Piper continues, “Finishing life to the glory of Christ means resolutely resisting the typical American dream of retirement. It means being so satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ that we are set free from the cravings that create so much emptiness and uselessness in retirement.”
So, the next time someone asks what you are going to do when you retire, you might want to say, “I’m not going to retire. I am going to ‘refire’ for the sake of the all-satisfying Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
©2013 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved. Originally posted at www.strategicrenewal.com