A windfall comes your way. Your ship comes in. What do you do? How would you use it? With increasing frequency I am asked by and hear brethren talking about retirement or an inheritance. Often the question is asked, “What will I do when I retire?” or “What should I do with retirement?” Or, these questions surround the sudden receipt of an inheritance or other material blessing that diminishes the need for secular earnings.
We have heard the saying, “My ship may have come in, but I must have been at the wrong dock,” implying that we didn’t see or get it. But the truth is today that for most our blessings have far exceeded our needs, expectations, and, at least materially, theyhave exceeded our ancestors.
For many Christians, “their ship” has come in, be it an inheritance, pension, personal savings or all of the above. Many Christians are blessed with several decades of financial comfort after their secular working days have ended, leaving them with 20, 30, or even 40 years of freedom from required secular work and earnings. Some will be retired nearly as many years as they worked. We have been blessed. Our “ships” have come in.
Our question then is “How will we use it?”
If someone had asked the apostles how they should spend their retirement or inheritance, it is likely the apostles would have looked at them rather quizzically. Retirement was not a common thing if it existed at all then.
Retirement is a new blessing. A wonderful blessing for many. Should we feel guilty about this blessing? Absolutely not. But this freedom is also a new and great responsibility. “To whom much has been given, much shall be required” (Luke 12:48). What a resource of time and support Americans have been given.
So how can we use these blessings to the best service of the Lord? What should the Christian perspective on retirement be?
The short answer is that the Bible doesn’t mention retirement as we know it today. A form of retirement is specifically mentioned once in Numbers 8:23-26. But there it applied only to a certain group of people: the Levites. The Levites were charged with serving God by doing much of the work in and around the Tabernacle and later the Temple. At age 50 they we relieved of this task. We are not told specifically why, but logic would lead us to think that because such work became more physically difficult in later years they would need relief. And it would also give the younger an opportunity to serve. But even so they were not relieved of working for and serving God (verse 26). They were to still work in the service of the Lord.
Age and infirmity could limit the type of work opportunities one has, but there is nothing in Scripture that indicates a person should work a certain amount of years, save money, and suddenly stop working, enjoying only a life of leisure. Serving the Lord is a life time charge.
While we live in an era of increasing challenges, we also live in an era of increasing opportunities.
Retirement, now an expected right of many, has only been around for 100 years or so and has only been common since the 1930s for the majority. Some trace it back to the German Otto Von Bismark in the 1800s. But in America during colonial times, work was inseparable from life. Not until 1840-50 did industrialization cause people to think of retirement. Before 1930, forced retirement of older workers was done primarily by industry seeking cheaper and stronger workers. With the Great Depression, government saw retirement as a way to stabilize unemployment. In 1935, the Social Security Act and the Railroad Retirement Acts were passed. Americans now began to expect retirement. These acts were likely more politically motivated than socially motivated as ways to lower the unemployment figures.
For 35 years (1940-1975), retirement turned into a cherished institution. It was marketed heavily. Slogans, like, “You’ve earned it” and “Take it easy,” hit the marketing scene. The emergence of AARP and Medicare further entrenched America’s thinking. These evolvements mark one of the most dramatic changes in America.
Well the truth is many ships have come in. But the question is still, how will we use it?
What clues can we get from Scripture?
In Joshua 14, we see Caleb at the age of 85 requesting a chance to conquer a mountain, more work for the Lord.
In Psalm 71:18, we find the aged Psalmist still wanting to work for God: “Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.”
In Luke 2:25-38, both aged Simeon and Anna are in the Temple serving the Lord.
Titus 2: We see the older being exhorted to teach the younger. Retire from teaching? Not according to Paul.
In 1 Timothy 5:6 we find this pointed warning: “But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.”
Does this mean we must relocate, spend all of our time evangelizing or have no time set aside for recreation? Does this mean we cannot have times of travel and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation? Certainly not. But our primary focus is to be serving the Lord.
There is much to do right where you are -- visitation, Bible studies, transporting the needy, mentoring the young, easing the burden of a struggling family, sharing your practical knowledge of Christian living, building up your home congregation in ways you previously did not have time for. The list is endless, but our lives are not. Retire from secular work, YES, but not from a life of service.