Should Christians Save For Retirement?

Recently I had the distinct privilege of sitting down over dinner and talking to a young missionary couple.  Knowing that I have a background in theology and ministry, and making a living in the world of finance, they wanted to pick my brain and see what I thought about the idea of them saving up for retirement.  For the missionary society they are a part of requires that they set aside a certain percentage of their income for this purpose.  And in doing so, they have received some criticism from other Christians (and even other missionaries), for having any savings at all, let alone saving up enough money to one day retire.

I found this question very interesting, because when you and I think of missionaries, we typically think of extraordinary men and women of faith who boldly immerse themselves in remote parts of the world for the purpose of sharing the Gospel.  We don't think of people who plan on retiring from the missions field like people who will retire from their jobs.

We think of people who are putting their entire life on the line to go to the utter ends of the earth to answer the call they feel God has placed on their lives.  We tend to think of missionaries as extremely spiritual people who live very close to God, as the nature of their job requires of them.  When we think of missionaries, we think of people who will go somewhere, spend their life in a remote part of the world, and ultimately die there.  We seldom think of people who eventually come off the field, returning home physically and mentally exhausted, and spending the final years of their life in retirement.

As I pondered in my mind how to respond to this couple, I reflected on how we as the Church are often far too "spiritual" about practical matters of every day life.  And too often we "shame" people for how they handle practical matters, such as their personal finances, and for failing to demonstrate the "faith" we associate with handling finances.

We claim of ourselves that we are acting with a wisdom and faith not of this world, and we work up this great cosmic drama in our minds that God is somehow testing us in the area of how we handle money.  And we reason that if we don't respond in some irrational way (like paying our tithe instead of our mortgage), then we aren't really putting our faith in God as we ought, and that everything in our life is going to come unglued as a result of our failing to act "in faith."

As a result of such broken thinking, we misuse the Bible to shame the practice of saving money or retiring.  Real wisdom and faith, as taught by some, is in living paycheck to paycheck, and practically speaking, being constantly broke as a result.  Such people often quote the famous parable Jesus taught about the rich man who built large barns for himself so that he could live a life of ease and pleasure, but did not have the foresight to see that his life would be required of him earlier than he thought, and was called a "fool" by the Lord for so handling his finances, and not living a life of generosity.  Thus, we are told by some who so mishandle this parable, that the Lord condemns saving, or condemns retirement planning.

Never-mind the Bible is full of examples of great men of faith who not only possessed wealth in both the Old and New Testaments, but also made practical preparations in regard to the future, and were able to be a source of blessing to others who were without as a result of such practical thinking.  Joseph knew a famine was going to hit the world, and used his seven years of plenty to prepare for the lean times ahead.  Or consider how when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, how He not only provided enough to feed the multitude, but He sent people away with extra to eat on for the next few days.  Or consider how in the book of Acts, there were believers who were able to sell possessions and property at a profit, and were able to share their wealth with the poor as a result of all the saving and investing they had previously done.

But with all this said, we need not get in some great theological war as to whether or not Christians (or missionaries!) should save for the future and plan for some form of retirement.  If they have the means and ability to, I believe a Christian can and should save for the future, and plan for retirement. The way I see it, the question of saving and retirement to me isn't so much a question of one's theology or spirituality, as it is simply about living a very practical life.

To question whether or not a Christian should try to save and plan for retirement is like questioning whether or not a Christian should own a refrigerator.  Stop and think about it: Why do you own a refrigerator? Is it not because you buy food in bulk at the grocery store, and plan on keeping it for a few days, if not longer?  Or if you see a great deal on meat, do you not buy some extra meat, and come home and wrap in up in a freezer bag and store it for future consumption?

For those of you who think it is a sin or unspiritual to save and plan for retirement, how would you feel if a Christian guilt tripped you over owning a refrigerator and buying food in bulk?  If you are truly living by faith, should you not go to the grocery store every single day and buy food and make it fresh?  Should you refuse to stick a lasagna in the refrigerator so that you and your family can eat off leftovers later this week?  Do you not trust God to provide you with "daily" bread?  Why is it then that you have a refrigerator in your house?  O Christian, where is your faith???

Of course, no Christian thinks it is a sin to own a refrigerator (well, except for the Amish).  For us owning a refrigerator is just practical and common sense.  We own refrigerators, not only for the convenience of avoiding excessive trips to the grocery store, but so we can stretch out our dollar and make food last for a longer period of time than it would otherwise naturally last.  And in doing so, we are taking the "daily" bread that God has provided for us in the present, and using it to make provision for the future.  It's a simple matter of practicality.  Indeed, not owning a refrigerator would be seen by most as an unwise and foolish decision.

And if we unquestionably make use of refrigerators and freezers when it comes to food storage, should we not make use of savings, retirement accounts, and other investment tools when it comes towards handling money? Why is it that we see a refrigerator as common sense, but we see saving for the future as some great acid test of faith?  Far from being an issue of spirituality, worldliness, or sin, saving for the future is simply a matter of common sense and practical wisdom.

I advised this young missionary couple that I thought it would be wise for them to save for the future and to plan for eventual retirement.  Even should they die out on the mission field and never retire, the money they saved could be used to pay for their funeral, or to bless others in the form of an inheritance.  Such was like many missionaries in the course of history, who went to the mission field, and brought a coffin with them wherever they moved.  They knew they were going to die on the field one day, and they made practical arrangements ahead of time for their death.  Such wasn't an issue of spirituality and faith to trust God with the mans of providing them a proper burial, but such was simply a matter of practical wisdom and common sense.

We as the Church need much more common sense and practical wisdom.  We need less pseudo-spirituality that masks itself as wisdom.


Happy New Year! You Might Die in 2015...

Happy New Year!!!

As is tradition, this time of year is a time of year in which people take inventory of their lives and often make new resolutions for the coming year.

"I'm going to lose weight, save more money, and be a better husband!"  

But one thing I've noticed that is common amongst New Years resolutions is that most, if not all resolutions that we make presume that our lives will continue for the entire year... and then some.  Few, if any of us, consider that we might actually die before the year is out.

I know for most of us, we aren't too worried about dying.  We are young-ish, in relatively good health, and the riskiest behavior most of us engage in is probably driving 10 MPH over the speed limit on the interstate.

Yet if you were to survey the obituaries from the past year, you would discover a lot of people who celebrated the arrival of 2014, that had no clue whatsoever that they were going to die before the 2015 ball drop.  According to the most recent statistics by the CDC, approximately 2.5 million people in the United States will probably die in the coming year.  There is a chance, even if seemingly small, you may be among them.  The very next funeral you attend may be your own.

As I was reading through the book of James today, I couldn't help but be reminded of the temporary nature of life, and how not a single one of us is promised tomorrow.

In James 4:13-17, we read about a couple businessmen who were a bit self-assured about their dealings, and with confidence, they made projections about how in the coming year they would expand their business into new markets and make a handsome profit in the process.  If we met such men today, we would probably praise them as being great leaders in business world and in the church.  They would probably be made deacons, and asked to speak at the occasional conference.

The apostle James has less than kind words for such men.  Far from praising them for their ability to "dream big," and to trust in God for their future, James sees prophetically through such speaking and calls such "positive" forward-thinking for what it really is: "arrogance," and "evil."

Such thinking, which was just as common as it was back then as it is today, is arrogant and evil because such thinking is actually terribly small and short-sighted, in spite of its many cheerleaders who say otherwise.  It's arrogant and evil because it refuses to step back and look at life as God sees our days.

Such thinking produces pop-culture philosophies of life that rhyme with YOLO.

I heard a pastor once say, "Within 15 minutes of them putting you in the ground, somebody will be asking somebody else to pass the bucket of fried chicken."  The truth of the matter is that as James says, "Life is but a vapor!"  You are here one moment, and gone the next.

Within a few years of dying, there will hardly be any evidence that you ever even existed.  Within a few years, people will stop saying your name.  And within 100 years, nobody will probably even own a copy of your photograph.

Of course, such truths we know subconsciously.  Ten out of ten people die, and we all know that we will be among the dead one day.  But we try to leave such thinking in our subconscious.  We try our hardest to insulate ourselves from the thought of death.  We feel it helps us to truly live our lives by not thinking about our eventual demise.  Instead we think about "living for the moment."

But, Biblically speaking, living for the moment is about the dumbest thing you can do, and there is no virtue or wisdom in it.  It's thinking born out of arrogance, that deludes us into living for "the now," instead of living our lives in light of eternity.  It robs us of the ability to live our lives out of a greater eternal purpose.  And in robbing us of a greater eternal purpose and sense of destiny, we engage in worthless works that will not survive the grave.  Instead, we damn ourselves to do nothing in our lives beyond our ability to concern ourselves with things that moths ultimately consume, and things that thieves eventually steal and make their own.

Therefore, as you go about the New Year making goals and resolutions for 2015, consider the very real possibility that this year may very well be your last.  And knowing such a possibility, make it your goal to be involved in the things that really matter in this life and the next, and to engage in the things that Jesus said will produce something that ultimately endures throughout all of eternity.