Saving for retirement should look different if Jesus is our priority.
As someone who has worked with money for over 40 years, I have found the concept of saving for retirement to be trying and difficult for most. From an earthly perspective, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the dangers. Longer life expectancies, medical costs, inflation, unpredictable investment returns, long-term care possibilities, and many other variables can lead us to think that we can never save enough, right?
If we look at this from a Jesus-is-everything-to-me perspective, however, our thinking about saving for retirement very different. For the Christian, life is not just about doing what I want to do. It’s not about societal norms or the desire to not work or to have a luxurious retirement. It’s about living for Jesus 24/7. And Jesus is all about saving the lost and being the anchor of our lives.So, let’s look at 4 overarching issues as we think about this:
Saving for retirement includes stewardship
The filter through which Christians thinks about saving for retirement should be stewardship. We’re to steward God’s resources in a way that shows the value of Jesus. The Apostle Paul spoke of God’s overarching ownership like this:
For from [God] and through [God] and to [God] are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11:36
Everything we’ve been entrusted with is due to God’s design for us. And all of it should be used to bring God Glory. This is the concept of stewardship. Everything we are and have – body, mind, money, time, talent, children, etc. – are all to be used in a way that shows the value of King Jesus.
As the Apostle Paul was working with the believers at Corinth (they needed lots of help), he put it like this:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31
The money we save for our retirement actually belongs to God. So, we must be careful to make sure our resources are being used rightly. We shouldn’t make retirement decisions without thinking like a steward.
It’s easy to think that retirement is about a life of ease or simply not working. But that shouldn’t be our focus. Our purpose doesn’t change once we reach age 60 or 65 or 70, or when we choose to leave employment. From beginning to end, the Christian life is about becoming more like Jesus and living for him:
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9
We should follow the Psalmist when he said, “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Psalm 71:18)
The earlier we retire, the more we’ll need to accumulate for retirement income. This also means we won’t be able to give away as much since we need it for our own expenses. For example; if someone started saving for retirement at age 40, planned on retiring at age 65, and wanted to create income until age 95, they would need to save 45% more every month than the person planning to retire at age 70. (This assumes a 3% inflation rate and a 5% return on savings.)
Standard of Living
The cost of one’s personal standard of living is a major factor in saving for retirement. The more you spend in retirement, the more you will need to accumulate. The less you spend, the less you’ll need to accumulate. Living a simplified lifestyle can help us focus on our Kingdom work and reduce our need for the massive retirement account. We must make sure we keep our focus on the main thing:
No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. – 2 Timothy 2:4
In other words, living for Jesus means our lives are focused on the Kingdom in everything. Raising children, buying cars or a house, thinking about college, our standard of living, and retirement should be considered carefully. We don’t want to move our focus away from the goal.
So, let’s look at another reality (the math on this is simple): If there are two couples with the same situation, and one couple wants to retire with 30% more income than the other couple, they will need to save 30% more every month to get there.
Saving for retirement requires faith
Now, here’s something for you to pray and fast about. Here’s where the “rubber hits the road” for many people. The dominant school of thought is that you can never save too much for retirement. With all of the unknowns that we mentioned at the beginning (medical costs, inflation, investment returns, and long-term care possibilities, etc.) there’s never enough savings. The risk is too great. Responsible people should save as much as they can.
In response to this let me ask a question and make an observation:
Question – Are missionaries wrong for giving their lives to spreading the gospel and saving little for retirement? If you say, “No!”, then the following question must be asked. Aren’t we all called to live lives of faith and give everything we are to God’s mission for us? Jesus spoke very difficult words to those who would follow him.”
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)
While this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t save for retirement, it does mean that we should always live for the Kingdom and not for our wealth.
Observation – For many, giving to Kingdom work is a low priority. Rather than giving as much as we can, it’s easy to ask how much must I give? This is simply not the right way to live by faith. While this article does not give us the space to study biblical giving, please consider the following passages – Luke 10:25-37; 12:13-21; 14:33; 21:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:2-4. As we live lives of faith, God has promised to be all we need:
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19
Walking by faith means that we believe this, and then we act accordingly.
Saving for retirement is important. We should be able to pay our way when we can’t work. For the Christian, however, retiring to an early, cushy lifestyle should not be our focus. We should continue to live for Jesus and work to advance his Kingdom. Live small, give much, trust God.
Finishing life to the glory of Christ means resolutely resisting the typical American dream of retirement. It means being so satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ that we are set free from the cravings that create so much emptiness and uselessness in retirement. Instead, knowing that we have an infinitely satisfying and everlasting inheritance in God just over the horizon of life makes us zealous in our few remaining years here to spend ourselves in the sacrifices of love, not the accumulation of comforts. – John Piper