In this new post I’ll illustrate three ways to finish poorly and give one strategy to help us penetrate the darkness that descends on many people as they age. Young adult alert: these attitudes and behaviors can derail a Christian at any stage of life!
What are the three ways in which some folks fail to finish well?
A Negative Disposition
Despite his Christian faith, the older he gets, the more Randy complains. If it isn’t recurring back pain or declining energy, he gripes about every dip in the stock market, the latest election results, the weather, or he’s blaming his adult daughter for their estrangement. Though Randy once had a sweeter disposition, now it’s getting to the point where his wife dreads his impending retirement. She cringes at the prospect of being around him more, day in and day out.
Randy isn’t finishing well.
Charles, a local church senior pastor for decades, retired and moved out of state with his wife to be nearer their grown kids and grandchildren. A couple of years later, at age 68, he left his wife of 46 years, going back to the city where he had pastored for so long. He moved in with his former church secretary. He stained his own reputation and that of Christ’s, damaged his marriage and his relationship with his children and grandkids. Though Charles didn’t stay in that illicit relationship and sought reconciliation with his wife later on, he still lives with deep regret. Christ’s lavish forgiveness doesn’t eliminate all the harsh consequences of his sin.
Though there is time for the Lord to redeem his final years, Charles began his latter years poorly.
From the world’s viewpoint, Hal and Mary’s last two decades were enviable. Thanks to ample retirement funds, they took multiple vacation cruises every year, to a different part of the world each time. Hal played lots of golf while Mary regularly enjoyed the social whirl of lunches with friends.
When not traveling, they attended a conservative church. Yet they rarely involved themselves in any form of ministry during retirement, either on the church campus or in the community. Not once did they participate in the annual short-term missions opportunities the church sponsored. When a staff member recruited them to teach Sunday School for kids, Hal said, “We can’t make any ongoing commitments at this stage of our lives. Besides, we paid our volunteer dues years ago.”
I’m not suggesting that some travel and enjoyable experiences are wrong during retirement. But the mandate (indeed, the privilege!) of participating in ministry doesn’t end with retirement from one’s vocation. Especially for people with good health and financial means, the retirement years provide more freedom and time for high-impact ministry endeavors than ever before. A non-ministering Christian is the ultimate oxymoron!
Hal and Mary bought into the American myth of retirement hook, line and sinker: after decades of hard work, we deserve to pamper ourselves. Retirement is a time for ease and self-indulgence.
Hal and Mary finished poorly.
I highly recommend a booklet (32 pages) by John Piper: Rethinking Retirement: Finishing Life for the Glory of Christ. It’s only $4.99 on Amazon. Oh, if only everyone nearing retirement would read and apply its content!
Strategies to Facilitate Living Strong and Finishing Well
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll produce six posts (including this one), each citing one means of living and finishing well as a Christ-follower. Here’s the first suggestion, which especially counters a negative disposition. (If you’re a young or middle age adult, what I’ll share applies to you as well. Just as the beauty of colorful autumn leaves depends on atmospheric and soil conditions earlier in the year, attractiveness late in life relies on practices and choices made during the preceding decades.)
Cultivating Gratitude to God
Cultivating a habit of thanksgiving and praise counteracts the tendency to complain and results in a more winsome, attractive spirit.
No doubt things occur that frustrate us. Raising kids is harder and more complicated than we imagined. The body slowly deteriorates; important relationships sour; certain dreams and ambitions never materialize. But if we know Christ, we have reasons to express gratitude to Him because He offers benefits that no disappointment in this life eclipses. It’s a matter of perspective: what we choose to concentrate on and what we consider more important.
Meditating on pertinent passages in God’s Word will instill gratitude within us.
Go to Psalm 103 and list the benefits of a child of God. Turn to Ephesians 1 and identify the spiritual blessings of God for people who have accepted Christ as their Savior. Memorize John 14:1-3 and meditate on the emphatic promise of our eternal destiny in heaven. Or identify the various mercies of God explained in Romans 3-8. Choosing one or more of these Scripture searches will evoke a time of thanksgiving to God!
Few people suffered more than the apostle Paul. (See the litany of trials he cited in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, which was part of his defense against critics of his ministry.) Yet in 1 Timothy 1:12-17, after he offered a brief testimony of his conversion and ministry calling, his heart erupted into praise through his pen: “Now to the king eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be glory and honor forever and ever, amen” (vs. 17).
It’s hard to grumble when we keep reminding ourselves of what Christ has done for us, the secure identity He offers and the eternal life that is ours. As John Piper put it, “We are as secure as the blood of Christ is precious.” If we catch ourselves slipping into a pattern of negativism, in addition to going over Bible passages like those I previously cited, let’s mull over responses to these questions:
*What direct answers to prayer can I recall?
*During past trials, how did the Lord deepen my faith and sustain me?
*Who are the people He brought into my life who’ve enriched me and caused joy to erupt in my soul?
*In what ways has He used me to help people or to advance the gospel?
*What specific reasons do I have right now for expressing gratitude to God? (Chances are the reasons for gratitude far exceed the reasons to complain!)
To help you cultivate the habit of gratitude, read the book Choosing Gratitude, by Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth. I found the book helpful in combating depression and I highly recommend it. She includes a series of devotionals to help the reader apply the book’s chapters. Here’s a link to my review of her book from five years ago.
In my next post, I’ll explain how the very blessings God gives us potentially become a snare and result in spiritual erosion. You’ll discover one of the most sobering biblical principles that I’ve ever encountered.