What Makes Retirement Joyful?

Ten years ago this month I retired as the pastor of Southeast Christian church. It’s hard for me to believe it’s been that long because time has absolutely flown by. The Bible says life is “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” I understand that passage now better than ever. Time seems to accelerate as we age.

I was the minister of Southeast for forty years and really liked that role. God blessed and the people were wonderful to me. But I have absolutely loved the last ten years. Not everyone does. Some guy’s identities are so attached to their work that they get lost when their job ends. I read recently that most people don’t die of old age; they die of retirement. That’s not been the case for me. I am almost as busy now as I was in ministry but I don’t have the pressure I did then and I am doing primarily what I love to do the most.

In my new book, “After Fifty Years Of Ministry – 7 Things I’d Do Differently & 7 Things I’d Do The Same,” I explain why retirement has been a joyful experience for me.

“One key to a meaningful transition is to retire to something and not from something. An exhausted minister who was on the verge of retirement was asked what he was going to do with his extra time. He quipped, “The first year I’m just going to sit on the front porch in a rocking chair.” “Then what?” he was asked. “Then the second year I’m going to start rocking,” was his response.

If that’s your concept of retirement you’re going to be miserable. There’s a direct correlation between your sense of purpose and your self-worth. If you have nothing significant to do, your lack of purpose will drag you into a pit of despair.

When I retired ten years ago I didn’t want to sit in a rocking chair all day. I still planned to be active in ministry. I have plenty to do every day. I conduct monthly mentoring retreats for pastors, preach about 40 weekends a year, prepare Bible study videos for small groups, write a weekly blog, and am now writing my second book (since retirement). I can’t imagine waking up with nothing to do. The last ten years have been the most enjoyable and most rewarding decade of my life.

Retirement should be regarded as a period of service, not indulgence. The Bible is full of examples of people who made their most significant contribution after age 65. Moses was 80 when he led the Israelites out of slavery. Caleb was eighty-five when he led the Israeli army into battle. Sarah was ninety when she gave birth to Isaac. Anna was eighty-four when she identified the baby Jesus as the Messiah. The apostle John was over eighty when he wrote Revelation.

History is full of examples also. Colonel Sanders was nearly broke when he used his first Social Security check at age 65 to start Kentucky Fried Chicken. Ronald Reagan was seventy-three when elected president for the second time. Billy Graham preached to national television audiences at age ninety.

Sam Rosenberg was still playing the trombone in our church orchestra at ninety-four. He once told me, “I must be a crazy old man. I’m ninety years old and just bought a new trombone.” His doctor said that’s probably why he lived so long and was so healthy. He exercised his lungs and had a sense of purpose.

John Piper cited a number of historical figures, such as Ben Franklin, who began new assignments at advanced ages. Piper concluded, “So all you boomers just breaking into Medicare, gird up your loins, pick up your cane, head for the gym and get fit for the last lap. Fix your eyes on Jesus’ face at the finish line. There will be plenty of time for R and R in the resurrection. For now there’s happy work to be done.”

Well said. But Jesus said it even better when He challenged us, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

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