Retirement no time for spiritual dormancy, faith leaders urge
By Martha Simmons
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
For many of those still chained to their desks and living for the weekend retirement can appear a well-deserved reward at the finish line — a time to relax, pull out the golf clubs or putter in the garden, sort of a permanent vacation.
Not so fast, some faith leaders say. You’re just getting started.
Former Baptist minister John Piper, founder of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, urges believers to “resolutely rethink retirement.”
In his book, “Rethinking Retirement — Finishing Life for the Glory of Christ,” Piper writes, “There are different ways of dying. And there are different ways of living just before we die. But for the Christian both of them — the final living and the dying — are supposed to make God look glorious. All of them are supposed to show that Christ — not this world — is our supreme treasure. So finishing life to the glory of Christ means using whatever strength and eyesight and hearing and mobility and resources we have left to treasure Christ and in that joy to serve people — that is to seek to bring them with us into the everlasting enjoyment of Christ.”
Piper points to Ralph Winter, the founder of the U.S. Center for World Missions as a prime example. Until his death at age 84, Winter continued to travel, speak and write for the cause of Christ in world missions.
When Winter was in his 60s, an age when most Americans are thinking about retirement, he wrote, “Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement. I read somewhere that half the men retiring in the state of New York die within two years. Save your life and you’ll lose it. Just like other drugs, other psychological addictions, retirement is a virulent disease not a blessing. … Where in the Bible do they see [retirement]? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?”
More recently a group of Christian leaders led by Bruce Bruinsma, a 77-year-old entrepreneur and financial planner, asked fellow believers to sign a 10-point document, “The Retirement Reformation Manifesto.” The group is mounting an effort to turn the traditional view of retirement on its head in the hopes of convincing retirees that leaving one’s daily job is no time to enter a phase of “spiritual dormancy” and self-indulgence.
Christians, they remind us, are called to bear fruit in all seasons.
“Retirement is simply a stepping stone to future purpose and ministry,” says Bruinsma, founder and CEO of Envoy Financial, a retirement provider that serves those in ministry, and founder of the Live with Meaning Foundation.
Retirement in the Bible
The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics notes that the only biblical reference to something like retirement is when God tells Moses the Levites were to retire at age 50. But that only meant ceasing hard labor. The elder priests were to continue mentoring, advising and counseling the younger ones. Conversely the Institute points out, the Bible is filled with examples of men who worked throughout their lives including:
- The Apostle John, who served and wrote into his 90s
- Moses, who was 80 when he went to Pharaoh and asked for the freedom of the Israelite slaves and worked until his death at age 120
- Daniel, who was thought to be in his 80s when he was thrown into the lion’s den.
It’s not difficult to find many more examples of biblical exhortations to stay missions-oriented throughout one’s later years.
“The Bible is not silent about this because it is not silent about life,” says Piper. “And the period between 65 and 85 is called life. It is not something else. In fact it is a crucial part of life because it is the last period of preparation before we stand before the Lord face to face and give an account for every idle word and moment, according to Matthew 12:36.”
About a fourth (18 million) of the 74 million Baby Boomers are Christian, Piper estimates, and millions of them are financially stable, making them “really rich” by global standards. “What a force for good they can be in the world,” Piper writes, adding, “God has not given us 70-somethings a lifetime of experience with God and with the world to be shelved while we putz around endlessly with our hobbies and games and leisures.”
Bible verses about serving
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another humbly in love.”
— Galatians 5:13
“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.”
— Hebrews 6:10
“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you.”
— 1 Samuel 12:24
“But be very careful to keep the commandments and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to Him, to keep His commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
— Joshua 22:5
“Never be lacking in zeal but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
— Romans 12:11
“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”
— 2 Chronicles 15:7
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
— 1 Peter 4:10
“Whatever you do work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
— Colossians 3:23–24
Coming in TAB: Careful planning can provide the financial means to support missions and ministry work following retirement from a secular profession. In the next installment of Retirement 101, TAB will explore contemporary wisdom on saving for retirement.