Mike at The Oblivious Investor has a thought-provoking article today titled Don’t Retire., which was inspired by Stephen Pollan and Mark Levine’s book Die Broke: A Radical Four-Part Financial Plan. Mike discusses why retirement as we imagine it today is probably an unreachable goal for most Baby Boomers and subsequent generations. Given the fact that many workers no longer receive pensions and don’t seem to be very good at saving on their own, I’d have to agree.
The History of Retirement
The idea of retiring when you’re older is relatively new. It only seems to have become popular in the last century. There are several possible explanations for this, but the most likely ones are higher incomes (we enjoy a standard of living about eight times higher than Americans a century ago) and the creation of Social Security and pension programs (though the future of Social Security is unclear, and pensions are largely a thing of the past). If you’d like to read more about the history of retirement, I suggest these articles:
Economic History of Retirement in the United States (a more academic article)
The History of Retirement, From Early Man to A.A.R.P. (not quite as dry as the first)
The truth is, retirement was never really an option for our earlier ancestors. They didn’t have very long lives or the economic systems we have today. We also find no discussion of retirement in the Bible as we think of it today. There is one reference to the priests (Levites) retiring at age 50 from temple service, but they were to stay on to help the younger men (probably in giving advice and guidance). The only other semblance of retirement we see in the Bible is old men sitting at the city gate. The city gate was a place of honor, and those who sat there offered advice and counsel to those in the city. Again, the older people didn’t really retire but found other ways to serve their communities. Instead of working, they lived with their children and received support from them. But that’s rare today (unless you’re Amish).
How Should Christians View Retirement Today?
Given the nature of the labor force today and the interaction of families, we do need to be saving for a time when we won’t be able to produce as much income as we can when we’re younger. Children are moving farther away from their parents for jobs or other reasons than they did in the past (or in the Bible). Several generations of a family living in the same house or very close to each other is no longer the norm. And the complication of health problems and other issues when you’re older can definitely impact your ability to earn income.
However, the American view of retirement is far from God’s ideal for His followers. How does spending every day on the golf course, or sipping sweet tea on the back porch every day, or traveling the world for pleasure glorify God? The work of the kingdom of God is never ending. By focusing our entire lives on a retirement where we sit around, do whatever we want, and relax, we miss the picture of what God could be calling us to do when we no longer have to work as much to earn all of our money. On the other hand, a Christian retirement focused on contentment and serving God can allow for some leisure (just as during your working years) without neglecting the valuable work we can do to further God’s kingdom and show His love to the world.
22 Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life-whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. 23 For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. 24 Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! 25 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? 26 And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?
27 “Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 28 And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
29 “And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. 30 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. 31 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.
Luke 12:22-31 (NLT)
We are not to seek a life that’s merely full of the pleasures of this world. God calls us to seek His kingdom first. When we put our focus on God and trust in Him, we no longer have to worry about our retirement accounts, government policies, economic disasters, or any other worries. When we have the glorious gift of Jesus Christ, we remain wealthy despite what happens to us in this life. We have riches that cannot fail, that cannot disappear, and that will never leave us—even after death.
A Different Retirement
I’m not saying you should stop saving and investing for the future. There will most likely come a time when you will not be able to earn all the money necessary to cover your needs. It is prudent and wise to save for such a time, and the Bible commends and encourages such wisdom. But you should rethink your hopes of buying that second home, taking luxury cruises three times a year, or endless rounds of golf during retirement.
A Christian can most definitely follow God’s teaching and will if they save up for retirement and reduce or eliminate their workload. But a Christian retirement should be focused on meeting your needs (not extravagant needs, but your daily bread—just enough) and then using your abundance of time to do God’s work. Minister to the needy, volunteer more, visit the sick and those in prison, comfort those in mourning, reach out to those on the margins of society, pray and study God’s Word—these are all wonderful activities to fill a Christian retirement. But seeking a permanent vacation, a time when you do little that is useful or glorifies God, is only a product of greed, selfishness, and the World—it is a tool used by Satan to distract you from furthering God’s kingdom. Flee from it, and seek God’s counsel for your older years. Ask Him to guide you and show you His ways so that you can continue to glorify Him.
This new view of retirement has profound implications for your life—now and when you’re older.
- You no longer need to be obsessed with saving and investing all of your money. You’re free to be extremely generous—following God’s teaching on giving. You won’t have to save as much, but you should still save prudently.
- You will avoid the depression that often comes at retirement. Many workers realize they actually enjoyed the interaction with their coworkers or the public and feel lost after they retire.
- You’re free to do work that you enjoy even though it may not pay well. You don’t have to run after the highest paying job just so you can secure the retirement you’re told to dream about.
- You don’t need to be a workaholic. You can focus on family and serving God during your working years—glorifying God much more than if you spent 80+ hours a week working. This also leaves you with more time to develop your relationship with God.
Seeking a retirement where you can glorify God even more than you did while you were working brings you much closer to God than a retirement where you spend every day out on the boat. I challenge you to reconsider your ideas about retirement. Rethink retirement, and pray for God to show you what His will is for the later years of your life. Let God transform and renew your mind—clearing out the messages the World and Satan have planted in there and putting His teaching and will in your heart. Then plan and save for a retirement that glorifies God.
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