What Does the Bible Say About Retirement?

Retirement is often perceived as a well-earned reward after a long career. The sudden influx of disposable time unlocks many opportunities to pursue life’s pleasures. Travel more. Golf each morning. Set off in an RV across America.

However, is that a cultural or biblical concept of retirement?

The word “retire” is mentioned only once in Scripture, appearing exclusively in the NIV translation:

The Lord said to Moses, “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites” Numbers 8:23-26 (NIV).

The Levites were responsible for all aspects of the worship of God, mainly service of the tent of meeting (Tabernacle) and later in the Temple. Only Levite males ages 25-50 were assigned this God-given responsibility.

After age 50, the older men transitioned to serving outside the Tabernacle and Temple. Their responsibilities changed but did not end. They were not exempt from their time of service in later years just because the younger generations stepped up.

Where Did Our Concept of Retirement Originate?

Historically, people worked as long as they were able due to economic necessity. It was common for several generations of a family to live under one roof so that they could pool resources and look after each other. Their life span was shorter. If people could no longer work, they usually died not long after.

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Retirement originated mainly in the United States around the 1950s and is predominantly an American concept. As America gained wealth and developed better medical care, increased food supply, and more accessible transportation, the elderly lived longer. Hence, their kids eventually purchased their own homes.

As Americans entered retirement age, they initially had five to ten years to enjoy travel and various relaxing pursuits before health issues (whether theirs or family members) slowed them down.

What Does 21st Century Retirement Look Like?

Due to modern medical improvements, a person may actually live in retirement as long as they worked during their career. It is not uncommon to hear of a person being retired twenty to thirty years or more.

Modern-day retirement usually focuses on hobbies or pleasures that people did not have the time or money to pursue during their working and family-raising years. The mindset shifts from contributor to consumer.

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In June 2021, I accepted early retirement from the law firm where I had worked for thirty years. At 53 years old with a six-month retirement package in hand, I had two choices: (1) tuck that away into savings and find another 9-5 job, or (2) leverage everything to follow God’s clear calling to establish a full time 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry. God clearly led me to walk through door #2 and I have not looked back.

Embarking on this good work of “retirement” (I prefer to call it my encore career) meant that I needed to understand God’s perspective about retirement for Christians. My research process began. Hence this post.

A Biblical Perspective of Retirement

The Bible was written long before retirement existed. According to the Numbers passage above, retirement focuses on a shift of work responsibilities not an end to them.

The Bible never instructs us to stop working. However, it also does not mean that we make bricks for the rest of our days. Our workdays simply look different in our golden years.

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Today’s understanding of retirement as a permanent vacation is a cultural, not a biblical concept. As Christians, our goal is to serve the living God with gladness as long as we are able.

Our encore years are the time we can use our gifts, honed skills, and experiential wisdom to serve God differently than when we worked full time.

Now that does not mean that we shouldn’t play golf or travel. However, if pleasurable pursuits fill our agenda, we can miss out on so much joy that God still has for us.

Adjusting Our Focus

Christians never truly retire – we merely adjust our focus and adapt our duties as we age. After all, gray hair does not equal diminished capacity!

My days are now filled with researching, writing, and teaching new Bible studies, speaking at retreats and conferences, mentoring the next generation, and creating new biblical literacy materials in line with Artesian Ministries’ mission statement.

As an aside, I thoroughly enjoy not getting up at 5:00 a.m. on weekdays to catch the bus going downtown. It is a delicious blessing to finally embrace my night owl tendencies and wake up naturally without a blaring alarm clock.

I have always loved to travel, but now much of it has a primary focus: leading tours to the Holy Land to walk where Jesus walked, to Germany to trace Martin Luther’s footsteps, or to Greece and Turkey to see where God used the Apostle Paul.

How Do We Seek New Opportunities to Serve?

1. Pray Through and Set a Plan.

Being good stewards of our encore career is important in all areas: time, talent, and treasure. Many older people today face difficult times and need to remain in the workforce as long as possible.

If God has provided financial security so that you can fully retire or only work part-time, it is a privilege that historically was only available to the wealthy.

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Prayerful planning provides the godly purpose and focus so that we can serve the Lord with excellence. Setting a plan reveals patterns of available time in your relaxed schedule to consider new ministry opportunities to serve in different ways. I created a personal weekly planner that you may find useful at the end of this post.

The retirement planning process encourages us to seek counsel and wisdom from Christians who have already walked that path. I have learned first-hand the infinite value of their wise decisions gleaned from years of experience.

2. Schedule Your Time.

Like younger children, God’s older children benefit from structure. Retirement means flexibility, but I learned very fast that no plan often results in many purposeless days.

In those initial retirement days, I needed that schedule-free rest. However, living a life of any value that honors God means utilizing the time He has given us to help others and point people to the hope of salvation in Christ Jesus.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

It is important to find activities that engage us spiritually, mentally, and physically. They keep our facilities sharp instead of suffering atrophy. For the first time in my life, I have embraced vegetable gardening. How satisfying!

This Fall I will be attending a daytime women’s Bible study at my church. Not to teach, just to participate, learn, and soak. Intentional soaking time in the Word is a crucial element for Christians in every stage of life.

3. Be Open to Serve in New Ways.

Perhaps that openness looks like care for others, such as transporting elderly neighbors or family members to medical appointments, mentoring a college student, or volunteering on a mission trip.

I have dear friends who now spend their days building homes for the needy. Other friends volunteer their time to train and deploy LCC’s K-9 Comfort Dogs to disaster relief areas. My church regularly goes on mission trips to Honduras and Kenya, where everyone is welcome to join.

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Stepping out of the 9-5 rat race invites us to breathe deeply, slow our pace a bit, and open our eyes to see God’s blessings afresh. Investing time to seek God’s will and plan for our encore years is an invaluable endeavor.

The Shift from Consumer to Contributor

Resisting that cultural mindset shift from a contributor to a consumer can be challenging indeed. We can certainly choose to play the retirement card, languish in unending free time, and engage only in social functions.

However, our retirement years are both a gift and a responsibility.

There is still God’s great big mission field of good work to be done with no age limit before we receive our crown of glory.

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Armed with these godly principles for retirement will enable us to understand on a deeper personal level what the Apostle Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 15:58:

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

A quick closing thought: your retirement years may well be more spiritually significant than any other time in your life. Trust God to guide your steps and watch Him move!

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When Summer Beckons of Gardens and Harvest Fields

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Luke 10:2-3

As a little girl, Grandma’s garden was a magical place. Rising early, I would open the low picket gate, hands trembling with anticipation. After all, high adventure awaited.

I loved pretending that beautiful oasis was my kingdom. I ruled over butterflies, bumble bees and fat red earthworms. My scepter was a fragrant stalk of mint and my princess glitter was the fresh morning dew.

Grandma puttered around in her floppy hat, earth-encrusted gloves and apron patiently weeding, pruning and keeping the kingdom delightful. She taught by example how loving care encourages gardens to produce a rich harvest.

By the end of our lazy, garden mornings together , her small basket overflowed with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and other fresh delights we would enjoy later in the day.

Flowers were my crown, a little summer dress was my ball gown, and life couldn’t get any better all the way around.

Although picturesque, when Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, He meant something entirely different than my childhood kingdom.

Jesus spoke of souls, not of garden knolls. Instead of butterflies, bees and worms, He spoke of laborers bringing in His harvest.

That’s you. And that’s me. Every Christian who calls themselves a disciple is His laborer.

Harvest denotes a time of urgency, not lazy summer days. It offers a precious short window of opportunity to pluck what the Lord of the harvest has already prepared: souls for His kingdom.

As His laborers, do we adopt the same sense of urgency? With over seven billion people on the planet, the harvest field is massive. When Jesus spoke these words about the harvest field, He looked upon a generation open and ready to receive the Gospel.

You and I live in a generation ready for harvest.

Look around, what do you see? I see thousands coming together at youth gatherings and Christian conferences. People say the church is declining. I say we’ve lost focus on the harvest.

Instead, what if:

…we focused on reaching the lost instead of counting heads in the pew?

…we focused on ministry initiatives instead of placating the comfortably saved?

…we focused on mobilizing God’s laborers into the harvest field instead of moving someone out of the White House?

Being His laborer means I need to stop acting hypocritical and start loving people like Jesus did. It means being willing to risk it all and get my hands dirty to bring in His harvest.

It’s HIS harvest. You and I just have the privilege of being His gardeners, our wages fully paid by His sacrificial blood at Calvary.

It’s a great big world. We have a great big job. And we have a great big God who has equipped us to bring in His holy harvest.

So we believe.

We pray to the Lord of the harvest and step out in faith, trusting Him to bring in an overflowing abundance.

We can even wear a floppy hat.

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Donna’s brand new Bible study: “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.

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Essential Elements for Reading the Bible

When I became a Christian twenty-five years ago, someone gifted me with a basic Bible so that I could start reading God’s Word for myself.

However, I looked at that thick book and thought, “I’ve got to read this whole thing?” My leisure time was scarce. Reading through something that resembled a text book was unappealing to say the least.

Fast forward several years.

By God’s grace and persistence alone, He has changed my indifference toward Scripture to a lifeline. It began as a slow burn which God ignited into a consuming fire.

Every now and then people ask how I study the Bible. Through much trial, error, and many years, I believe there are three key elements for reading/studying the Bible that have become staples along my spiritual journey.

1. Reliable.

Each day set aside (1) a reliable time, (2) in a place free from distractions, and (3) follow a plan.

Years ago, I jumped on the popular bandwagon to read through the Bible in a year. After the first year, my devotional time became nothing more than a speed-reading contest. I retained little because I did not allow God the necessary space to let His Words sink deep.

Today, I still follow a plan but have removed the pressure to complete it in a year. To that end, I have created several Bible reading plans that provide structure to constantly move through the Bible.

Sometimes, I write out whole books of the Bible by hand. I challenged readers with that practice in my first book and people still comment today how it continually helps them to slow down and actually think about each verse. It’s a powerful tool. Try it!

I cannot stress enough the importance of a distraction-free place to read and study God’s Word. Computer screens can be a huge distraction for me, so I sit at my kitchen table each morning with steaming coffee, my Bible, and a journal. My smartphone remains in the bedroom until it’s time to get ready for work.

I’ve never met a strong Christian who not does mediate daily on the words of God. Conversely, I have never met a weak Christian who does. Spending time in His Word consistently is vital.

2. Resourceful.

Assess your daily routine and find resourceful ways to harness time to meditate on the words of God. In my life, resourceful translates into music. Whether beautiful old hymns or powerful contemporary worship songs, Christian music focuses my thoughts on God.

Martin Luther said, “Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” Music stirs our affection for the Lord in ways that other sources cannot.

We carry the world on our smartphones, so I regularly access Bible reading apps and sermon podcasts. Some friends use their creative outlet for Bible journaling to mediate on God’s Word as they draw. There are many resources available to us to focus our hearts and minds on Him.

3. Relational.

We need people around us on a regular basis who can speak the words of God into our lives. Acts 2:42-47 paints a clear relational picture:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

We are told in Hebrews 3:13 that believers are to extol and encourage each other as long as it is called today so that we are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and the dark forces in this world.

When I feel discouraged or under spiritual attack, there are four special women in my life who I can call at a moment’s notice. They will pray for me, over me, and speak light into darkness.

We need mature believers around us — and they need us.

Sometimes being alone with the Bible is not the best thing. A relaxed walk in the park on a beautiful Fall day with a fellow believer does a world of good to my soul.

Fresh air and a fresh word often bring a fresh perspective.

The bottom line is that we need to constantly search for reliable, resourceful and relational ways to open our heart and mind to God’s life-giving, transformational Word.

It makes all the difference along our spiritual journey.

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