Retire? You Must Be Joking!

Paul the apostle said in his final letter: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). He finished well and was ready to face those who were about to put him to death. 

I am planning on finishing well. To do so I have had to decide the retire with resilience — and with some sanctified resistance. Someone asked the late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar if he was thinking about retiring. He laughed and said, “Retiring? No! I’m re-firing.”

There is someone I recently read about who is still active in his mid-nineties. For the last twenty or so years, people have asked him is he was retired. His rely: “Yes, I retire every night to go to bed so that I can get up the next morning to find out what God has for me to do.”

When psychologist Michael Longhurst left his high-level management position in the corporate world, he undertook a major research project on the subject of retirement. He interviewed over two hundred retirees and discovered that too many are unprepared for retirement — especially mentally and emotionally. 

One man summed up the problem when he wrote, “I feel so lonely and depressed. I miss my job, the office, my lunch buddies, and friends at work. I used to be very busy at work, and now suddenly there is nothing to do, no deadlines, etc. So, this is what retirement is — boring and lonely. I wish I [could] be happy again like the good old days.”

A wife said to her retired husband, “What are you planning to do today?” He replied, “Nothing.” She responded, “But you did that yesterday.” “I know,” he said, “But I’m not finished yet.”

Many people have followed the general expectation in North America and the western world that when we reach a certain age, we retire. It’s just what you do. Retirement has become the final rotation in the cycle of life. Just as we ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We ask adults, “What do you plan to do when you retire?” Seldom do we hear the value of typical retirement plans questioned, and certainly not the value of retirement itself. 

But retirement as we know it today was virtually nonexistent throughout history. Retirement made little sense when the average age expectancy was only thirty to forty years. It has its roots in the early 1900’s, when many large industries, including railroads, banks, and oil companies began offering pensions.

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the Social Security Act. An employee’s income was taxed throughout his or her working life to fund a retirement income beginning at age sixty-five. In North America today, most workers expect to retire, and the culture is geared to accommodate it.

Interestingly, the Bible records only one example of retirement: “This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting. And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties” (Numbers 8:24-26).

While the Levite tabernacle workers were instructed to retire at age fifty, they were not put out to pasture to spend the rest of their lives twiddling their thumbs and gazing at the sundial. They were charged to minister to the younger Levites who took over their jobs. They became mentors and advisors. Today they would probably hand out business cards and call themselves consultants.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t take advantage of your retirement income or pension benefits. But you might want to avoid the word retirement. You don’t have to continue in your profession until you are just about to drop dead. But if you do leave your job, remember — retirement is simply God’s way of freeing you up for further service. God always has a plan for you next day.