We live in interesting times as business and professional people. I am a part of a generation in the United States that has been given the nickname of “Baby Boomers,” and for many of us, the primary aim at work is to retire.
Case in point, I recently overheard a conversation at a party. A man who was nearing retirement commented that he could hardly wait until he could quit his work. He said he hated his job and the only reason he continued going to work each day was he needed the money.
I did not say anything to him, but my thought was, “What a pitiful way to live.” I cannot imagine going through life hating what I spend the greatest portion of my time doing. Some jobs are more rewarding than others. But even when I experience discouraging days, I still love what I do. At times in my life the work I was doing might not have not been inspiring, but the people I encountered on a daily basis were inspiring to know and interact with.
When I hear people talking yearningly about retirement, I always think about the intrinsic value of work. In fact, there are many references in the Bible that speak to the nobility of work. Colossians 3:23, for instance, says we are to work with all our hearts at whatever we do. After all, it says, ultimately we are working as for the Lord.
The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes has many admonitions to work hard and enjoy it. Ecclesiastes 3:22 says, “So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?” In the popular paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, it says, “So I made up my mind that there’s nothing better for us men and women than to have a good time in whatever we do – that’s our lot.” Work may be difficult and challenging, but God designed work also to be enjoyed.
Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings.” You might say the secret to success is to do good work and then show it to people. Today we call that “product and marketing.” I believe the emphasis should be put on the product and not the effort to persuade people to purchase it. In other words, “Make good stuff.” If you do, you will have no trouble selling it.
When we work in this way, the idea of retiring becomes much less appealing. In fact, I am not at all looking forward to a time when I may not be physically able to do what I do. When I get to that point I might have to stop out of necessity; but I do not intend to stop working just because the calendar says I have put in enough time. Connecting retirement with how much money a person has saved also seems like a rather trivial pursuit.
There is very little guidance from the Scriptures on the subject of retirement. The word is rarely used, and when it is, it means to “withdraw.” Is the main goal of work simply to reach a time when you can withdraw from productive living? The only actual reference to retirement in the Bible pertains to Levites, priests instructed to retire at the age of 50 – but even then they were to continue to assist younger priests.
The idea of retiring as we know it today is a recent phenomenon, largely a 20th century idea brought on by longer life spans and the Industrial Revolution. Only in the past 60 years or so has retirement become something many people would aspire to. Only a few generations back, retirement was thought of as “too old to work” or “being put out to pasture.” Unless you are ready to be put out to pasture, learn to enjoy your work!
Jim Mathis is the owner of a photography studio in Overland Park, Kansas, specializing in executive, commercial and theatrical portraits, and operates a school of photography. Jim is the author of High Performance Cameras for Ordinary People, a book on digital photography. He formerly was a coffee shop manager and executive director of CBMC in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri.
1. How do you view your work? Do you hold a predominantly positive – or negative – attitude toward it? Explain your answer.
2. How have your opinions of retirement been shaped by the culture in which you live?
3. Based on what you have read in this “Monday Manna,” do you think there might be a need to adjust your view of work to conform to the biblical view? Why or why not?
4. What changes, if any, could you make in your work – or other kinds of work you would like to do – to make it more enjoyable, so you would no longer find it necessary to regard retirement as a desired “escape”?
If you would like to look at or discuss other portions of the Bible that relate to this topic, consider the following brief sampling of passages:
Numbers 8:23-26; Proverbs 10:4-5,7, 11:30, 12:11, 13:9, 16:26, 20:13, 21:5, 23:4-5, 27:18;