By Mark Patterson
With each advancing year we understand more clearly that time really does “fly by.” Our life is like a vapor (James 4:14). Even though we know time passes with the blink of an eye, we live in a culture that “celebrates” old age with the mentality that you can waste those precious years or decades. We live in a country that speaks often about retirement. You can attend conferences on retirement and read books about it; everyone seems to long for those golden years. What comes to your mind when you hear the word retirement? Do you think of leisure, golf, the beach, collecting seashells, sleeping in and taking long naps in the afternoon, traveling, reading countless books from the library, playing games, freedom to do what you want to do, a time to kick back and relax from all the years of hard work, etc.? Many people prepare for retirement, but do they plan for how they will spend these precious years? Each day we have is truly a gift from the Lord and should be used to love and serve the giver of life.
D. Elton Trueblood wisely stated “What the church must do for retired Christians, if it is to accept the missionary concept of membership, is to equip people to make the retired years into years of glorious opportunity for service. For the committed Christian, retirement means not an introduction to nothingness, but liberation for service.” I wonder if the author was meditating on Psalm 92:14-15 when he wrote those words? “They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”
I recently went to Liberia to help train church leaders with four godly men. One of these men was Phil, a 70-year-old man who had an extremely successful career in the business world and retired as a Senior Vice President over auditing information technology. Phil is also an accomplished trombone player. As Phil was nearing retirement, he knew he was financially prepared, but he didn’t know how to use these precious years. He viewed retirement as being freed up to serve the Lord in different ways. Phil knew he loved the Lord and his Word; he loved teaching the Bible and he had a passion for missions. After praying and seeking the advice of close friends, Phil enrolled in Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to get seminary training to prepare to help train church leaders around the world. His seminary training was no walk in the park for someone in their 60’s and still working full time. Seven years later, Phil graduated with his seminary degree. Through a good friend, Phil was connected with Training Leaders International and took his first trip with us in 2014 (while he was still working full time).
Since that first trip, Phil has taken 16 overseas trips to help equip pastors and ministry leaders to study and preach the word of God. He has traveled to India, Uganda, Ethiopia, Liberia, and other countries. Phil is not an adventure seeker, but he is willing to lay aside his time and comforts for the Lord. He has served in blazing hot classrooms, taken bucket baths with ice cold water, washed his clothes by hand, had stomach issues, eaten food he wasn’t sure was safe, traveled on dangerous roads, flown thousands of miles in planes, and spent hundreds of hours preparing to teach. For my friend Phil, retirement wasn’t moving into a season of ease and comfort, but a season of service for his Savior. He was freed up from the busyness of his career to serve the Lord.
Phil is a man to emulate and follow. You may not be called to serve personally in global missions, but everyone should be actively serving the Lord in their retirement and getting out of their comfort zone to be a blessing to others. In His wisdom, God has given older saints to the church. These precious people have time, experience, and often the finances, to serve the Lord in ways the younger generation can’t. I encourage you to pray and ask God how he wants you to serve him during your retirement years.
The Lord has blessed the United States with a generation of men and women who have the benefits of retirement unlike older people in many other parts of the world. With those blessings, we should carefully consider the responsibility to use retirement years to serve the Lord.
If you haven’t retired yet, I encourage you to ponder Phil’s advice: “Start planning how you will serve the Lord in your retirement now.” Consider interviewing several mission organizations to understand their mission strategies, needs, and requirements. Do you need more education? Do you need more training? Do you need to learn another skill or language? Each day we have is a gift from the Lord, not to squander, but to use to serve Him. Don’t wait till you are retired to know what you will do.
If you are retired and not serving, it isn’t too late. Ask the Lord what you should do. Talk with your pastors and find out the needs of the church. Have people over to your home and invest in relationships. Don’t be limited to things within your comfort zone. Follow Phil’s example and take a bucket bath for the glory of Christ. Each person in the body of Christ has been given gifts and are to be actively using them. There are no spectators in the church. Each believer, no matter your season of life, has a place to serve and be a blessing.
May the Lord help us to number our days so that we may live a wise, fruitful life in His service, for His praise.