I recently read this quote by Tim Challies:
"We please God—we thrill God—when we live as ordinary people in ordinary lives who use our ordinary circumstances to proclaim and live out an extraordinary gospel."
It's from an article Tim wrote in 2015 titled "Ordinary Christian Work." The article was a Christian view of vocation, but more importantly, he tried to answer the question, "How can we live lives that are pleasing to God?" based on Paul's letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1–12).
I was thinking about this in the context of retirement. What is an "ordinary Christian life" for a retiree? Is living an 'ordinary' life a good thing? Doesn't God want us to live extraordinary lives—with exceptional experiences and accomplishments? Isn't that what most people retire for?
As Michael Horton wrote for Ligonier's Table Talk magazine;
Ordinary has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today. Who wants a bumper sticker that announces to the neighborhood, "My child is an ordinary student at Bubbling Brook Elementary"? Who wants to be that ordinary person who lives in an ordinary town, is a member of an ordinary church, has ordinary friends, and works an ordinary job? Our life has to count. We must leave our mark, have a legacy, and make a difference.
As I pondered this, I had these thoughts that I thought I'd share with you:
Most retirees are ordinary people.
We're not extraordinary people; we're simply ordinary people. Think of the characters of the Bible. They lived in very different times, but except for Jesus, they were all ordinary men and women such as ourselves.
If you're a Christian retiree over age 65, of moderate to above-moderate means, married with a couple of grown children and perhaps a few grandchildren, you're pretty ordinary.
You're still ordinary even if you're younger, retired, or much older. Or if you have no children or grandchildren—yes, still ordinary.
The Apostle Paul describes 'ordinary' this way:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth (1 Cor.1:26, ESV).
Few of us would describe ourselves as noble, powerful, or even very wise (according to worldly standards.) We share ordinary characteristics among ourselves and those who have gone before us, including undesirable ones.
The twelve apostles had many sins, weaknesses, and failures on full display. How about this one in Mark 10:37:
And they said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and one on thy left hand, in thy glory.
Ordinary men with extraordinarily selfish ambition!
In many ways, they were a bunch of 'nobodies'—fishermen, tax collectors, political zealots, etc. Most of us are 'nobodies' too, whose shortcomings are also apparent to ourselves and others.
Even so, like those who have gone before us, we're ordinary people who want to live for God's glory. We want to love and serve our families, church, and community. We want to grow in faith and spiritually mature as we age. We want to persevere in love, faith, and godliness until the end.
It's easy to equate age with maturity. They're often found together in older Christians:
Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life (Prov. 16:31, ESV).
But having gray hair isn't our goal (which is a good thing since I'm pretty bald). What's in view here is simply 'old age' (meaning a long life)—the Hebrew word is translated that way in other places (Gen. 15:15; Ruth 4:15; 1 Kings 2:6, etc.).
Our society and culture have views different from how Scripture presents old age. The Bible says it's a blessing for those living in line with God's will and wisdom (Prov. 3:2, Prov. 3:16).
Still, in many respects, old age is the same for Christians and non-Christians. We all are subject to some degree of mental and physical decline. We know our days are numbered, and we don't know when or how they'll end. We face the same temptations, struggles, and challenges.
Most of us also have similar aspirations regarding our desire to maintain loving relationships (friends and family), remain productive, and enjoy life as much as possible. Many want to serve the needs of others, making a difference in another person's life when we can.
All things considered, we're all pretty ordinary.
The Christian life isn't ordinary.
While we're ordinary people, the Christian life isn't ordinary—it's anything but that.
It isn't ordinary because it's radical; not because it's contrarian, rebellious, or counter-cultural (though it can be some of those at times), but because of the life of a disciple, a devoted follower of Jesus, is very different. Here's why:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9, ESV).
As followers of Jesus, we are a "chosen race" and a "people for his own possession." This was made possible because we have been justified and made righteous in God's sight.
We were made righteous when we heard and believed the gospel and put our faith in Christ. But our righteousness isn't our own; we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ—the righteousness of his sinless life, paid for by his sacrificial death on the cross.
Having been justified and made righteous, we are being changed—transformed into the image of Christ—by the power of the Holy Spirit as we live out our new life as the people of God. Here are some of the ways we are changed:
- Our hearts – what and whom we love, and what we highly value and treasure (Gal.5:13).
- Our priorities – what we do with our time, talents, and treasure (Col. 3:23-24).
- Our purpose and mission in life – we seek to bring the joys of the gospel and the salvation it offers to others, and by the grace of God, to persevere in faith to the end (Matt.24:14).
- Our perspective on life – we increasingly focus less on temporal things and more on eternity as we anticipate the joys that await in heaven (2 Peter 3:13).
Even as older adults, despite the Spirit's ongoing works of grace in our lives, we still battle indwelling sin, our failures, their consequences, and our regrets. But that doesn't change our identity—we will forever be sinners saved by grace.
Our challenge, then, is to hold fast to the truth of the gospel through all the vicissitudes and vagaries of life (1 Cor. 15:1–2).
We are called to live Christlike lives through all the ups and downs of life so those who get close to us can see something of an image of Christ himself.
Such a life isn't 'ordinary.'
To be sure, life can be challenging and getting older presents many difficulties of its own. But perseverance means we keep going despite obstacles and setbacks. We stand firm—the Bible exhorts and encourages us to do so time and time again.
But standing firm is not the same as standing still. We must be continually moving forward and pressing ahead against all opposition to receive the prize. That's what running and finishing the race well is all about (Act 20:24).
We are called to live ordinary Christian lives in retirement.
By 'ordinary,' I don't mean a life content with the status quo of lukewarm, nominal, passionless, purposeless Christianity. (Sadly, this is the everyday Christian life of many today as we are tempted daily to become more selfish, cynical, withdrawn, and worldly.)
No, it's a life that finds its ultimate purpose and identity in Christ and nothing else; Christ is more than enough. It's also a life that seeks to both proclaim and demonstrate Christ to a world in desperate need of the truth of the gospel.
Living the ordinary Christian life is, in many ways, no different when we're older and perhaps retired than it is when we're younger. We all must find our place, adjust and adapt when necessary, and let God use us how and when he chooses.
If we look back at Genesis 1 and 2, we see that God created us to fulfill three main roles in this life: 1) loving God, 2) loving neighbor, and 3) cultivating the world. These three foundational roles can help us discern God's calling for us—whether we are studying and learning, working, or retired.
These roles find their expression in the various ways we love God, our purposes in the multiple communities we are part of (family, church, small groups, clubs, etc.), and our roles in our jobs (for pay or as volunteers).
In the retiree's case, I define 'job' as the creative work you do as you image your Creator; the service work you do for the good of others; and the productive work you do to produce, create, build, or serve, whether for pay or not.
God cares about our whole life. He cares about and wants to be Lord of all of our life, including our callings (husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister, employer or employee, etc.)
Whatever God calls us to do—before and during retirement—he calls us to do it with all our hearts. Michael Horton describes it this way:
Ordinary does not mean mediocre. Athletes, architects, humanitarians, and artists can vouch for the importance of everyday faithfulness to mundane tasks that lead to excellence. But even if we are not headliners in our various callings, it is enough to know that we are called there by God to maintain a faithful presence in His world. We look up in faith toward God and out toward our neighbors in love and good works. You don't have to transform the world to be a faithful mom or dad, sibling, church member, or neighbor.
The main idea here is that we daily present ourselves to God for him to use us as he wills (Romans 12:1). We put ourselves at God's disposal and plan our lives to maximize our ability to give and serve.
God's plans for us don't end just because we are older. We may have limitations, but we can still have a significant impact during our retirement years unless we're incapacitated. I love the picture painted by these verses from Psalm 92:
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green (verses 12 thru 14; ESV).
The ordinary Christian life is lived in retirement by extraordinary grace.
It's also important to remember that GRACE is the all-important ingredient in the 'ordinary' Christian life. We're drawn by it, and then we're regenerated, converted, justified, strengthened, sanctified, persevered, and eventually glorified by it.
Because we're 'ordinary,' we're weak. Any wisdom or maturity that we have gained is by God's grace, even if it's through the things we do—reading, studying, worshipping, serving, giving, etc.—(2 Cor. 12:9–10).
This is while being aware of, and by grace endeavoring to fulfill, our purpose and calling, using whatever gifts God has given us for His glory by serving and engaging in ongoing ministry in the local church.
We receive God's grace in many ways, but it comes through our personal relationship with Christ as we express our love for Him through worship, prayer, faith, and obedience.
As in every stage of life, we need God's daily sustaining presence in our lives. We need his nearness and love. We need conviction of sin, mercy, forgiveness, and power of the Holy Spirit even more so as we grow old. God offers us these mercies daily (Lam. 3:22–24).
These things are just as important in retirement as before, perhaps because we'll need a steadfast faith and relationship with God to help us through the trials and tribulations of old age as we endeavor to finish well.
No matter our age or spiritual maturity, we must be continually aware of the depth of our sin and the magnitude of the love and mercy of God in forgiving our sin through Christ's sacrifice.
The grace of God is given first and foremost to sinners, which we still are. So, we need his mercy and forgiveness every day as that is the only way we can experience God's love and be truly free to express his love to others.
God's grace also enables us to maintain a biblical perspective on the vagaries of the circumstances of life (both blessings and hardships).
Because life can be challenging at times, especially during our later years, an accurate understanding of God's sovereignty and providential care and control over everything that happens in the universe and every event in our own lives can be very reassuring as we face the inevitable ups and downs (Ephesians 1:11).