Christian…how are you thinking about your retirement years? The principle we’ve been studying this week, “work unto the Lord,” holds for retirement, even though in retirement you are no longer working a job. This principle can guide you as you retire if you answer the question: What is a distinctly Christian view of retirement? How does God want you to retire? What choices does God want you to make with your time and finances and relationships during retirement? As we have seen in Colossians 3:22-4:1, starting here, Paul tells us, “whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord.”
This is tricky because our American culture tells us something very different than “retire as unto the Lord.” Many, many Christians have bought into the American cultural idea of retirement, and as a result their practice of retirement is not in line with “whatever you do, do it unto the Lord.” Let me explain.
So often in our culture, we are trained to look to the next thing. Just get through it. If you are school, you are studying toward what is next. Elementary school prepares you for middle school. Middle school prepares you for high school. High school prepares you for a career or for college. College prepares you for a career or for grad school, which also leads to your career. It can seem that a long-term career is the end of the road, the destination that you have spent all these years of education preparing for. But when you are in that career, you quickly learn that is not the end of the road. Each day you are working for quitting time. Each week you are working for the weekend. Or you are working for vacation. Eventually the years go by, and more and more you are working for retirement. It can seem, then, that retirement is the destination. Why? Because finally, you will be able to fully rest, to fully enjoy the fruit of your labor.
I recently heard about a guy who did quite well in business, ran a factory here in Lancaster County, and at age 55 sold it, made a bundle of money and retired. Now he spends his time hunting and fishing, all over the world. Is that what it means to “work as unto the Lord?” I can’t answer for that guy because I don’t know him or the totality of his life. But it seems to me that many American Christians might look on that kind of life as what we desire. To retire and enjoy life, after decades of toil.
No doubt, God is a God of rest and sabbath. But God’s vision of rest is quite different from the so-called American Dream. As members and participants and children of the King, no matter what we do, we do it unto the Lord. That goes for retirement too. Our view of retirement, and how we live the retired life, then, as Christians, is transformed. We give our retirement, as we do with anything else in life, over to the Lord and the mission of his Kingdom. We ask the question, “How, Lord, do you want me to use this additional time and space I now have?” We devote ourselves and our time and our finances to the Lord. We place it at his feet and we say, “Take it all and use it for the mission of your Kingdom.” We look for what would bring him joy and what would glorify him and Kingdom ways.
So rather than studying and working for the weekend, for vacations, or for retirement, thinking that is “me” time, when we have a Kingdom viewpoint, we are studying and working for the Lord. Amazingly, what we will find when we “work as unto the Lord,” no matter what stage of life we are in, it is the most joyful and most fulfilling way of life. It is, in a surprising way, the ultimate “me” time. How so? When our heart and mind is set on doing things in a way that brings joy to our Father’s heart, our heart is also brought along to joy. When love and joy are the motivation for what we do it’s infectious.
Michelle often comes back from work with stories of how one person at the café who she’s serving will quietly tell her that they want to pay for another table, keeping their gift anonymous. Think about how this act of selfless generosity bring infectious joy. Certainly the party receiving the surprise of a free meal is joyful. But also the gift brings joy to the server who is taking care of both parties, and the anonymous giver received joy watching it all happen. Doing things, all things, as unto the Lord changes our viewpoint on tasks, because we are infusing joy into what was formerly just menial. The actual task is the same, but our hearts change.
Back to the concept of “me” time and retirement. I am not saying that we should never have time alone, or go on vacation, or throw a party. What Paul is saying is that we use our time and money and ability in such a way that makes it very clear that we are devoting to the Lord. We allow the Lord, and the mission of Kingdom, to define how we will use our time, money and ability, rather than the culture around us defining that. How we are choosing what we do is important.
What I have noticed, as a particularly troubling trend among Christians, especially when we retire, is a thirst for luxury. This is not the exclusive domain of the wealthy. Don’t let yourself off the hook if you think you are unable to experience luxury. Those with less means can still deeply thirst for luxury, and often, at least in America, still experience luxury, though perhaps is much smaller doses and frequencies than the wealthy. What do I mean by luxury? Luxury is any experience or possession that mostly unnecessary, self-indulgent and counter to a life that is defined by “do it all in the name of Jesus.” In other words, we Christians are not to view studying and working so that we can experience luxury. Yes, our culture has bountiful opportunity for us to experience luxury, telling us that we should strive for it, study for it, work for it, so that in retirement we can indulge it.
So how about you, how are you approaching your work, your studies, your retirement? Are you living as unto the Lord? What is the “why” behind what you are doing? How is your heart? Wrestle with it a bit this week. Ask God to search your heart and ask him to help you know and understand better the joy that is found in living as unto the Lord.