Retirement planning—the creation of a plan and pattern of savings that will help us create our own pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of life. We can think of it as our own gift to ourselves as a reward for a lifetime of hard work. The financial universe treats retirement planning and investing as something special, perhaps even putting it atop the personal financial food chain—if such a thing exists.
Within the scope of conventional thinking this makes abundant sense. With the absence of employer funded defined benefit pension plans and widespread concern over the future of Social Security, we need to have our own plan of survival for our later years.
But as reasonable as those assumptions may be on the surface, there could be a few traps in that thinking for the believer. Those traps begin to surface not in retirement planning itself, but rather in how far we decide to take it.
And with many millions of people now unemployed, under-employed or forced to liquidate retirement savings in favor of current survival needs, this is an excellent time to rethink both retirement and retirement planning.
Retirement as an idol
I’ll admit that this idea sounds crazy on the surface, but humor me for a bit. An idol can be anything that takes up a disproportionate amount of our time, concern, efforts or resources. That could be an outsized house, an outsized lifestyle—and yes, even an outsized retirement plan.
There’s a “TV version” of retirement that has you relaxing on a remote beach somewhere in the tropics, living the life of luxury and oblivious to the world’s problems—courtesy of a multi-million dollar retirement portfolio. For sure, most people will never know that sort of retirement, but many will aspire to it! Attaining that kind of retirement IS possible even for people of ordinary means. But it will require a substantial level of dedication and financial resources over a very long period of time.
Is there a problem anywhere in there? Perhaps. In Matthew 6:21 Jesus tells us:
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
If too much of our money and concern are flowing into our retirement plans, we can very well be flirting with an idol. This possibility can be magnified by the fact that retirement planning is a noble pursuit that can obscure our own obsession with it. That obsession can be fueled by the “X Factor” which is inherent in all retirement plans: in a future fraught with variables and uncertainties how much money will be enough?
The potential is very real that enough will never be enough. We MUST make provisions for retirement, but at the same time we need to guard against considering it to be our ultimate salvation.
The claim on our financial resources
Can I throw this out—just as something to get us thinking? Let’s say that my giving represents 10% of my income (consistent with the Old Testament tithe), and I’m contributing 20% of my income toward my retirement. In a purely secular context, there’s no conflict with this arrangement whatsoever. But what if I’m a Christian?
Everyone’s situation is different, and there’s no “correct” balance between giving and investing, but as believers should the fact that we’re putting more money into retirement than we’re giving to others stir some tension within us? I don’t have a definitive answer for this—I don’t know if there is one—but I think it’s something we do need to ponder in light of Matthew 6:21:
“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Should retirement get the largest share of our treasure?
Idleness should never be the goal in life
People have different views of retirement, but it’s safe to say that a very popular one is having the ability to live for the rest of your life without working. In fact, in it’s most basic form, retirement is a complete withdrawal from work into a life of idleness. For the great majority of people throughout history, retirement did not exist prior to the middle of the 20th Century, and there’s virtually no mention of it in the Bible.
I only mention these to points to highlight the fact that complete retirement is only a very recent phenomenon. That doesn’t make retirement a bad in any way, but perhaps we need to take a closer look at what it is we’re running away from with retirement.
There’s a popular notion in contemporary thinking that work is a bad thing, that it’s something to be put behind us if we want to achieve true happiness. Is that true also for the Christian?
We often like to believe that retirement can free up our time to do God’s work. Perhaps we reason that retirement will give us time to enter some form of formal or informal ministry, or at least to spend more time volunteering. But do we ever stop to consider the ministries we perform while working?
Ministries through work? Most definitely!
Throughout our lives, we can minister in- and through our work. God has given us each abilities to make contributions to the world in this way. While working we’re in the “front lines” of ministry—the places where people are toiling, stressing, struggling and hurting—and though this is the precise situation we hope to escape through retirement, it’s also where our greatest witness can be. It’s our opportunity to be “salt and light” in the world. Do we think of work in this way?
In John 5 Jesus is challenged on working on the Sabbath; he responds to this in verse 17 by saying:
“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
We don’t see idleness as a virtue in Scripture, even though it’s prized in the world. Should it ever be a goal of a Christian?
A different focus
I realize that this post reads very much like I’m beating up on the whole notion of retirement planning, but I promise I’m not. What I am taking aim at is retirement as an obsession—as the Holy Grail of financial planning that it often seems to be. This is an even more important consideration since we find ourselves mired in an economic situation that’s impairing many people’s ability to prepare for retirement.
In the modern world, retirement planning has a place in our overall financial plans, but from a Christian standpoint, perhaps we should view it more as a tool than anything else.
- Most of us will not retire rich—but life will go on and God will still love us and provide us with both a place and a purpose
- Any retirement provision—no matter how inadequate the “experts” might declare it to be—is better than no retirement provision
- It’s OK if retirement savings do nothing more than supplement lost- or lower wages
- It’s OK if retirement savings do nothing more than provide a cushion against disaster, akin to a large emergency fund
- Consider that maximizing retirement savings in order to fund an idle lifestyle may not be the best use of our God given time and resources
- Consider retirement savings as a vehicle to fund a future ministry or a new career or business venture
- Recognize that we’re not doomed if we don’t have “enough” retirement savings; God is our ultimate security, and He’ll provide for us whether we have $1 million, $100,000 or $10,000 saved for retirement. That’s not a recommendation not to try, but rather to not stress if you tried and didn’t make it.
- Retirement may be the ultimate goal of the world, but the ultimate goal for the Christian is the Kingdom of Heaven
Your thoughts? Meet us in the comments!