Several years ago, I heard a true story about an old man who once toured a Wycliffe Bible Translators center in North Carolina. He listened to the tour guide talk about the Bibleless peoples of the world, describing how translators were giving their lives to translate God’s Word into the heart language of these peoples. The tour guide related how their doing so was transforming whole villages and people groups. During a question-and-answer session at the end of the tour, the old man raised his hand and asked, with tears in his eyes, “What do you do when you are 80 years old and for the first time in your life, you’ve heard about something worth giving your life to?” Of course, the answer is that you start giving your life to things that matter whatever your age. You are never too late to start honoring God with your life, even if you have only a few days, hours, or minutes remaining.
John Piper writes, in his book Don’t Waste Your Life, about something he calls a tragedy. In The Reader’s Digest, he read about a couple who had retired early from their jobs in the northeast, when they were in their fifties. They went to live in Florida, where they spent their days cruising on their boat, playing softball, and collecting shells. Piper pictured them standing before Christ at the great Day of Judgment, showing him what they had done with their lives: “Look, Lord—see my pretty shells.” I have nothing against looking at seashells, but when I think of the missed opportunities to serve the Kingdom if that was all I was doing, I have to agree with John Piper—that would be a wasted life!
I have struggled with the idea of retirement, which I believe to be a cultural construct of American society tied to the so-called American dream. Everyone seems to dream about the day when he or she can quit working, sit back, and enjoy life. I am not against changing jobs when you get older, especially to work at something that is less physically or emotionally demanding. Certainly a decline in physical strength is normal as we get older, but I love those older people who say things such as “I’m not retiring—just being redeployed!” I also love meeting older people who have figured out that life is not about them, but rather about serving God and others. How wonderful when retirees figure out how to focus on things that are connected to their gifts and calling in the later years of their lives: They are living meaningful lives with no regrets.
The purpose of life is not to work hard so that you can retire. The purpose of life is not to make paychecks and spend paychecks, then repeat this cycle over and over until you die. The purpose of life is to serve God until your final breath—then worship him for eternity. I turn sixty this summer and I’m not planning for retirement—I do plan to listen to my commander in chief in case he wants to redeploy me!
REFLECTIONS: Do you plan to serve the Lord until your final breath? Have you thought about creative ways to do Kingdom work when you are older, whether as a paid job or as a volunteer worker? Who do you know of “retirement age” that is working hard for the Kingdom that you could encourage?
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7