A Scriptural View of Retirement and Aging

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Regardless of our age, we are all journeying to the place of which the Lord said, “I will give it to you.” each of us is at a different stage of life. We do not understand why the flow of time is so relentless, and we grow older in days, months, and years.

As God’s people we face life differently than the ungodly. The writer of Ecclesiastes begins his writing with a negative statement in verse two. “Vanity of vanities…all is vanity.” The question in verse three is, “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” It is to be understood that life apart from God is all vanity. The natural man gropes in the dust and finds only earthworms, while the spiritual man may soar up with wings as eagles, above futility and disappointment, and may live in a consciousness of God’s companionship, favor, and everlasting rewards.

Work is part of God’s plan for our lives. Exodus 20:9, “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work.” Solomon had a clear understanding of this truth. “There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God” (Ecc 2:24). But God never meant for our work to become the center of our lives. That place belongs only to Him. “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col 3:23).

As our bodies age, we will discover the law of diminishing strength along with the increased need to rest more often. Then the words of Jesus in Mark 6:31 become more special to us! “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” Our times of refreshing with God and His Word can become more precious. We cannot be our best if we are running on empty, physically and spiritually.

The word retirement, as we use it to refer to quitting in old age, did not exist until early in the twentieth century A.D. After the economic depression in 1929, social security was introduced, and retirement plans and pensions came into existence. Previous to that, people worked as long as they were physically able.

Retirement should not be a part of our vocabulary. Our roles in life will change as we grow older, but we should not retire from life. Sometimes fathers may change vocations because they are no longer able to handle the demands as a farmer, construction worker, mechanic, electrician, etc. Or they may move to a less demanding position to allow a younger person to have job opportunities. Mothers’ roles may change from caring for a family to being an advisor, an encourager, or a helper, as her children begin homes of their own.

As we face the changes life brings, the question confronts us, “How will I cope?” We do well to consider this before the time comes. Finding ourselves in a position with fewer responsibilities and adequate finances may bring with it the temptation to please ourselves. Rather than becoming self-centered and displeasing to God, our lives must be service oriented. We need to continue practicing the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:33, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” We also need to “learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that [we] be not unfruitful” (Tit 3:14). Feelings of loneliness, loss of purpose, depression, worthlessness, anxiety, fear of the future, and a host of other emotions can be common as changes occur because of age or other factors. Instead of feeling frustrated and resentful, we should thank God for the abilities we do have. Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” We are responsible to do the best we can with the best we have for as long as we are able. To finish our course with joy, we must lean heavily on the promises of God.

In reality there are probably very few people who enjoy growing older. The tendency is to wish we could still do the things we always did, wishing not to face the infirmities and uncertainties of old age. We should not resent growing old, for many are denied the privilege. If God allows us to live here for many years, He surely has a purpose for us. The negative side of old age is not hidden in the Bible, but Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5 encourages us to turn to God in our youth before the days come when we no longer enjoy life. Verses 2-5, in poetic expressions, describe the realities of aging’s toll on our minds and bodies: declining strength, failing vision, trembling hands, arthritic joints, forgetfulness, loss of hearing, loneliness, fear of increasing frailty—the list seems endless.

But is this all there is to growing older—only a cruel burden that grows heavier as the years go by—or is there more? The Bible teaches that old age can be fulfilling. The Psalmist entreated the Lord for blessings on a most noble task when he asked, “Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come” (Psa 71:18). Psalm 92:13-15 is encouraging. “Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; To shew that the LORD is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”

The Bible gives us accounts of older saints in the past and their faithfulness. Abraham was 75 years old when God asked him to leave his homeland. He was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born. Moses was 80 years old when God asked him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt to the land of Canaan. He served till he was 120. Joshua was 80 years old when he took over the leadership of Israel, and he served till he was 110. Zacharias and Elizabeth were old when they were given a son, john the Baptist. Anna was a widow 84 years old when she recognized the infant Jesus in the temple and gave thanks unto the Lord. And Paul refers to himself in Philemon 9 as “Paul the aged.” At the time, he was a prisoner with the hope of being released so he could continue preaching the gospel.

These are characteristics of people growing old gracefully:
• They are thankful people. Their conversations are marked with appreciation. “Giving thanks always for all things” (Eph 5:20).
• They are interested in the younger generation. Change is not their enemy but their friend.
• They endeavor to keep their mind sharp, and live not in yesterday but today.
• They look at life from the large viewpoint and resist panic when alarming events appear in the headlines, believing God is in control.
• They do not retire; they may slow down and discontinue a job, but they still live with a mission.
• They are servants and realize it is not important if they are recognized or not. They have more time available to spend in praying and interceding for others.
• They are not afraid to die because they understand the words of Paul in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Never in history have a people lived with such advanced technology in the medical field. Physical life can now be extended by months and years, even at the expense of depleted finances and quality of life. This forces us to take a new look at priorities and our desire to be at home in heaven. Our goal needs to harmonize with the apostle in Philippians 1:23 and realize it is “far better” to “depart, and to be with Christ,” and in the words of Jesus, “I go to prepare a place for you … that where I am, there ye may be also.”

With these objectives in view as we journey toward home, we pray with the psalmist, “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Always keep in mind we are homeward bound, and the place we are going has no canes, walkers, or wheelchairs. Praise God!

~ Myerstown, PA
June 2013