Text: Psalm 92:12-15
The last in a series on work. Various angles: –
Statistical. In NT times the average life expectancy was 35-40. This didn’t change much until about the year 1850. By 1950 it had risen to 65. Now it’s around 80. Somewhere in the world a person has been born who will live to the age of 150. Over half the people born today will live to the age of 100.
Economic. Things will be very different when today’s young people reach retirement age. Retirement age itself is set to increase to 70 eventually, and many may need to work beyond that age in order to eke out their pensions.
Cultural. Retirement cards say: ‘Relax. Enjoy yourself. Be lazy. Put your feet up. Take a nap. Indulge yourself. You’ve earned it.’ Former colleague: “I have perfected the art of doing nothing.”
Personal. My own circumstances. ‘When I’m sixty-four’. Last day at work coming up. On the other hand, some of you haven’t even entered the world of work yet.
Biblical. No mention of retirement! Focus on Psa 92:12–14, where the picture of the godly person is of a graceful palm tree or a majestic cedar. Esp v13, ‘They will still bear fruit in old age.’
- Be prepared
In our text, the cedar and the palm do not grow by chance. They have been planted deliberately, and cultivated carefully.
A fruitful old age does not happen by chance.
We are encouraged to plan ahead with regard to our finances and physical health.
But what about preparing our characters for retirement?
We reap in old age what was sown in our youth.
S.I. McMillen has written, ‘The unlovely personality that develops in some senior citizens is not a sudden onset. It is rather the continuation of childhood temper tantrums, the elaboration of teenage assertiveness, the further development of middle-aged grumpiness that has now fully developed into the thorny, sour, and crabbed frustrations of old age.’
However young you are, start preparing now. If you are a parent or a grandparent, you have a role to play in preparing children for later life. Prov 22:6 – ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.’ Timothy’s formation had begun in infancy, with a godly grandmother, Lois, and a godly mother, Eunice.
We cannot predict how aging will affect us. Some stay fit and active almost indefinitely: June Walker, 85-year old dinner lady. Some don’t even reach retirement age. The answer to this uncertainty is to ‘live each day as if t’were thy last.’ Someone asked John Wesley, “Mr. Wesley, if you knew that you would die at 12 o’clock tomorrow night, how would you spend the intervening time?” Mr. Wesley said, “I would spend it just as I intend to spend it; I would preach tonight at Glouchester, and again tomorrow evening. Then I would go to my friend’s house after the service, as he expects me. I would converse and pray with the family, retire to my room about 10 o’clock, commend my life into the hands of my heavenly Father, lie down to sleep, and wake up in glory.”
- Be fruitful
‘They will still bear fruit in old age.’
Palm trees provide food, drink, shade, medicines, varnishes, dyes, and are used in rope-making, basketry, ornamentation, etc.
When we retire, the big print says: ‘from now on, your life can be one big holiday. But the small print says: “You no longer serve any useful purpose.”
Not so in the kingdom of God. Nowhere in Bible does it say, ‘love God and your neighbour; develop and use your spiritual gifts; play an active role in the life of the church, fulfill the great commission, until you reach a certain age, and then retire.’
Examples: Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, Daniel, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna. ‘Elders’ were appointed in the early church (Tit 1:5), and older women were urged to ‘teach what is good’ (Tit 2:3).
Rick Warren: “The Bible says that as long as your heart is beating God has a plan and purpose for your life … to grow personally, to get to know God, to serve others, and make the world a better place. In retirement, what we have to ask is ‘What’s going to be the center of my life?’ because if you don’t have a solid center it’s going to fall apart.”
For many of us, retirement gives us the opportunity to combine what is useful with what we love and are passionate about (e.g. teaching, music-making, children, befriending, shopping, cooking, gardening, fixing things).
Will you still be sowing seeds, planting trees, mending fences, even when you may not live to reap any earthly benefit? Are you storing up treasure in heaven? Are you building with silver and gold?
- Be hopeful
Beyond our own purposes lie God’s purposes. And these, like God himself, are trustworthy and eternal.
In the OT, eternal hope flickers like a candle. Psa 73:24 – ‘You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory.’
But in the NT, it glows like the midday sun. 1 Pet 1:3-9 – ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.’
Professor Jim Packer has just celebrated his 90th birthday. In Finishing Our Course With Joy (Aging with Hope) he urges us to run the final lap of our race with unflagging zeal. For the best is yet to come. The Lord Jesus Christ gives us hope ‘of an unimaginably glorious future. There will be an effectual elimination of evil, and endless extrapolation of good, an ecstatic extension of fellowship with Christ and [his people], and an eternal enjoyment of God’s glory and beauty in ways that we cannot at present begin to conceive.’
So let us ‘run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.’
And then, whatever the changing scenes of our lives, we will be able to testify to the end of our days: ‘The Lord is upright; he is my Rock.’