There is in the American experience an expectation of “retirement.” That is, part of the American dream is this persistent idea that, after some number of years of working and struggling to make our mark in the world, the time has come to retire and to slow down the pace and to ”enjoy the golden years” hopefully “doing what we have always wanted to do.” Maybe we will get a hobby and spend some time with our grandkids and take it easy. At first glance, this seems like a great idea. And haven’t we earned it? Don’t we deserve to bask in the fruits of our labor? But as the Christian examines this idea against the teaching of Scripture, we may find that completing our mission too early is not a good thing.
Consider, for example, King Solomon. Solomon was chosen by the LORD Himself to be the one who would build His house in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 28:6, 10). Then King David, Solomon’s father, charged him with the task of building the house of the LORD (1 Chronicles 28:20). Additionally, Solomon himself had decided to build a magnificent royal palace for him and his wives. So, it can correctly be said that what defined King Solomon’s life was the completion of these two great building projects. And what an amazing task to be given and what a remarkable mission to accomplish, to be the one who would be known for all time as the builder of the house of the LORD in Jerusalem! After twenty years of construction, Solomon finished these projects (2 Chronicles 5:1; 6:10; 7:1; 8:1), and thus his life’s accomplishment was completed. He had successfully done what the LORD had called him to do.
So, if we are armed with our current “bask-in-his-glory” mindset, we would expect to see Solomon reaping the fruits of his vast labors and that the rest of his life would be a glowing success, an example of a life well-spent. That expectation, however, is shattered as we witness this great man’s life slowly unravel in indulgence, opulence, and idolatry, marrying many foreign wives and building altars to pagan gods (1 Kings 11). After the mission of his life is accomplished, Solomon turns his heart away from the LORD and spends the remainder of his days in disastrous pursuits. Toward the end of his life, Solomon pens the book of Ecclesiastes in which, as an uncertain, cynical, pessimistic older man he asks essential questions about the meaning of life and about the purpose of existence. Without oversimplifying things, I think the main problem was that Solomon completed his life’s mission long before his life was done.
This is the inherent danger of our modern idea of retirement; namely, that we complete our life’s work or accomplish our life’s mission, and then spend the rest of our days in leisure. The danger of retirement is intentionally putting an end to our life’s mission long before our life is over.
Related to this are two fundamental truths that must be grasped. First, mankind was created by God for mission, and every individual man and woman is most fulfilled and most alive when they are most fully engaged in the mission God the Creator has given them to do. When Solomon was engaged in his building projects, his kingdom flourished, his advice was wise, and his life was fulfilled. But when his mission was over, he drifted downstream and ended up on the rocks. Again, I say, we are made to fulfill out God-given mission until we draw our last breath, not just until we decide to “retire.”
The second truth that we must grasp is that we are fallen creatures and our entire being has been corrupted by sin. The Fall of man was very effective, and, because of it, all human beings are bent toward sin and are bent toward disobedience. By nature, we love sin and, even when we have been born-again through faith in Jesus Christ and our sins have been forgiven by His blood, we still live with our “flesh,” which tempts us toward indulgence, opulence, and idolatry. Therefore, since we are fallen and still live with our “flesh,” each of us needs a noble, compelling mission that infuses passion into our lives. Without a compelling, God-given mission, we are likely to waste our time and squander our lives in aimless pursuits. Because Solomon was fallen like all men, and because he had finished his life’s mission, he lost his zeal and aimlessly drifted. In the end, his life, which had such spectacular promise, disintegrated into a dubious legacy of disappointment.
While the Bible gives us examples of people who, like Solomon, did not finish well so that we might be warned not to follow their course, the Bible also gives us other examples of people who pursued their mission to the very end and died while still pressing forward. One of those examples is the apostle Paul. For Paul, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).” In this verse, and in many others, Paul makes clear that he had received his mission from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and that he was going to accomplish that mission. In all of Paul’s writing there is no mention of “leisure” or of “retirement.” Instead, we read of fruitful labor, of striving, of pressing toward the goal, of spending and being expended for people’s souls, and of being poured out as a drink offering. Instead of indulging his flesh, Paul buffets his body to make it his slave. Rather than playing it safe, for the sake of the gospel Paul was constantly being exposed to real dangers, like beatings and shipwrecks. There is no record of Paul ever living in a palace or of him musing about the “golden years” of rest that are up ahead, unless you count the times the Apostle talked about heaven and his desire to go there where he would receive his crown (2 Timothy 4:8).
LESSONS ON MISSION
One of the immense blessings of being a follower of the Lord Jesus is that, with our salvation we have also received a calling, a mission. The entire Christian life is about living on mission, about finding and living out that unique place to which the Lord has called you where you are most satisfied. We have all generally been called to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) and His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are all to be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19) and are all to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). But I am convinced that we are also all given a unique mission to accomplish that the Lord has entrusted to each one of us.
Since that is the case, the first thing to do is to seek and find your mission. “How do I know what my mission is?” You will know it when you find it, but you will also know it when you have not found it, because when your life is not running on mission, you will know a level of dissatisfaction. The search for your mission may be a long search, but the treasure of the mission is worth the effort.
What are the characteristics of an ideal “mission?” Your mission will probably not be a narrowly defined, specific task or endeavor. Rather, it will be somewhat broad. (Examples: “A ministry of prayer in which I lift up immediate needs of my church and also pray for our supported missionaries.” “Writing articles and blogs on Bible passages to increase the love of the Word among God’s people.”) Your mission should be context independent. That is, it can be done in any country, in any season; it can be done whether you are rich or poor, at any age of your life. The mission should be something that can be done until the day you die, whenever that is. The mission should allow you to still bear fruit in old age (Psalm 92:14). Your mission should be something about which you are passionate. Finally, your mission is something that you know that you will never complete. If you have a mission of praying for your church’s needs, you know that you will never finish praying, for there are always more needs. If your mission is writing articles, blogs, and books about the Bible, you know that you will never finish your mission, because there will always be articles to write and people to encourage. And this is a good thing, because it ensures that you will always have “missionary” work to do, and so your passion will ever flow hot.
Finally, consider these two statements about mission:
“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course (mission); I have kept the faith.” – (2 Timothy 4:7) written by the apostle Paul as he was awaiting his execution in a prison in Rome.
“I glorified You (God the Father) on earth, having accomplished the work (mission) that You gave Me to do.” – (John 17:4) spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ on the night of His betrayal.
So, rather than thinking about retirement and how we can enjoy the leisure of your “golden years,” let’s think about laboring in a compelling mission from which we will never retire and which will allow us to hit the finish line at full speed.
SDG rmb 7/29/2020