Ken Long

Finishing our Course with Joy

June 27, 2016

Ken Long

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Ken Long

I am at the age when a number of my friends are retiring. They have worked faithfully at their vocations for decades. But their bodies are showing signs of aging, and their minds are not as sharp as they use to be. As they transition to retirement, they are stepping out of roles to which they gave their strongest years. Now they find themselves with time along with an adequate body and mind to devote to something new. These Christians are entering this next phase asking, “What does God want me to do now?”

As a biblical counselor, you have most likely been asked this question. If not, you will be soon, because in the U.S., the average age that when a person retires is 62. Actually, only 20% of those 66 and older are still working full-time. Over 46 million people are over 65 years of age, which is 1 in every 7 Americans. This translates to a significant number of people in Christ’s church asking, “Now that I am old, what does God want me to devote my time to? How should I live to please Him?” Within the last month, two friends have asked similar questions.

Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging

To these friends, my wife, Beth, and I have been referring people to Finishing Our Course with Joy by J. I. Packer.[1] You also may want to consider adding this short, insightful, witty book to your own “counseling toolbox” for helping our older brothers and sisters. For biblical counselors, the subtitle points to the true value of this book – Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging. We, as biblical counselors, want to put into the hands of those that God has given us to love and help, guidance from Him. We know that it is wisdom from God if it is directly based on the Scriptures. Wonderfully, most of the guidance in this book falls into this category.

“We grow old”

The first of the book’s four chapters begins realistically exploring what happens to us as our bodies and mind age. Yes, they decline as described in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5. But this fact must not color our thoughts to the extent that we no longer think of ourselves as useful. According to the Scriptures, this is simply not true. To use the wording Psalm 92:14, “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” Still being gifted by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7) and the accumulation our life-long experiences, Packer calls old people “ripe” for ongoing ministry. Old people are still valuable for furthering God’s kingdom.

“Soul and Body”

The second chapter provides a biblical understanding of the inter-relationship and interdependence between our body and soul, which is key, as our bodies become a temporary drag on us. Since our bodies are aging, “bowing out” from our successful careers and dominant positions of leadership is appropriate. Denying our limitations is only just another manifestation of our pride that wants to always keep us the one on top.

“Keeping Going”

In the third chapter entitled “Keeping Going,” Packer gives a hard-hitting locker-room pep talk to continue using our lives till our last breath in God’s service. In the beginning of the chapter, senior believers are shown through beautiful, biblical prose, the progression of their Christian lives: becoming Christians, serving Christ, and seeking holiness. Packer reminds us all, “our years-long purpose of pleasing God daily remains intact, as now you move into and through old age” (pg. 57). Next, he warns against the voice of the world saying to us “to view retirement as our warrant for taking it easy across the board and prioritizing self-indulgence for the rest of our lives” (pg. 62). Finally, he encourages us all to use our energy and time to be proactive lifelong learners and influencers, to be “a relational force shaping some aspect of someone else’s life” (pg. 67).

“We Look Forward”

The fourth and final chapter reminds us of what we are looking forward to after this life is done. This view based on Scripture will fill us with overflowing joy (Romans 15:13). This joy from our Lord based on biblical hope will help us not to seek fulfillment in our own self-indulgence or worse yet, self-pity.

As a final observation, the book has two features particularly helpful to counseling.  There is a General Index, which is valuable in finding topics discussed in the book. Unfortunately, many publishers of books this size forego having such an index. Another helpful feature for counseling is a Scripture Index. The book is biblically saturated, but within the text, Scripture is rarely quoted or referenced. This Scripture Index is a listing by page number of the biblical passages on which the thoughts presented on that page are based. This index is beneficial to the counselor in finding the corresponding passage to the truth that they want to reinforce with counselees. The Word of God can be ministered along with Packer’s good ideas.

Following the biblical guidelines in this compact book will help each of us finish well with joy for God’s glory and our own good.

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day —and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

Join the Conversation

What advice have you found helpful—for yourself or counselees—with respect to retirement?

[1] J. I. Packer, Finishing Our Course with Joy (Wheaton. IL: Crossway, 2014).