What might God’s plan be for the early months of retirement? Ready for a surprise?

There seem to be three very different approaches to life that people take during the months that follow the end of them working fulltime.

One is to aim at doing as little as possible –treating it as the start of an everlasting holiday.

The second is to set about all the things that were waiting for a time like this – effectively trading one kind of work for another. Though at a slower rate.

The third is simply a blend of both.

But there’s a fourth option – and, I suggest, a far better one. Yet it’s an approach that seems to have passed most people by.

It’s one that takes seriously the Biblical concept of Sabbatical. And has its roots in two Biblical commands –

  • For people to stop work on the seventh day, keeping it as ‘a Sabbath to the Lord your God’. Exodus 20.8-11.
  • For the land to rest every seventh year before resuming productivity. Leviticus 25.

When this concept is applied to retirement – the years that follow years of work – it means beginning with a period of deep Sabbath rest. And using it to end toil, renew and re-evaluate.

This much-neglected principle is at the heart of the excellent book ‘An Uncommon Guide to Retirement’ by Jeff Haanen. And well worth exploring and heeding.

Jeff, the Founder and Executive Director of Denver Institute for Faith and Work, urges us to grasp and employ the value of Sabbatical in retirement.

After all, it is the best way to live on a week by week basis. So why not apply the same wisdom to the grand scale of life – and thus to the period when fulltime work ends?

Jeff points out that not only did God observe the Sabbath but this is a pattern woven into the fabric of the universe. ‘To be like God – and to be fully human – we need both work and rest in proper proportion’.

But the benefit involves much more than having time to chill. Jeff stresses the value that comes from being reliant on on God. As he puts it, ‘Like children dependent on their parents, Sabbath makes us see that food, clothes, sunlight, friendship, air – are all gifts from the Creator, not mere products of our labour’.

What Jeff proposes is in contrast to a retirement based on an attitude of ‘the time is now mine’. One focused on our own comfort and desires. Rather, Sabbath points us to the God who sustains us and the spiritual renewal and refreshment he desires for us.

Does this all suggest endless weeks of thumb twiddling and introspection? That’s not the idea. Sabbath is as much about what we do as what we don’t do.

In his valuable book Jeff sets out 9 simple practices to consider for someone planning their post working life Sabbatical. They deserve you exploring them in full. But in essence they are to –

1. Prepare

It was possible for a Jewish person to keep the Sabbath only because of the preparation they’d done in the week before. In the same way, a Sabbatical during the months after work ends needs intentional preparation rather than to be stumbled into.

That’s why Jeff stresses the need to consider how you will shape your time. Even thinking about those – a friend or spouse – who could be part of your plans.

2. Feast

It seems to me that ‘Sabbath’ has had a bad press –sounding like an activity of ridged rules and maximum misery. Yet, for the Jews, Sabbath was one of the ‘festivals of the Lord’ Leviticus 23.

So think of your Sabbatical as having a lavish feast, encourages Jeff. Or even several – for those you’ve worked with, family and friends – to look back on your working years with gratitude.

3. Worship

As Jeff points out, worship is the centre of Sabbath which was ‘to the Lord your God’. This calls for more than the usual worship times – so periods of silence, prayer walks and engaging with the Bible.

4. Re-create

Try to make your times of recreation to be ‘re-creation’ is Jeff’s advice. This means sports, hobbies, music and theatre become more than ‘things to do’ but serve as ingredients in your renewal.

This is the opposite of them being a kind of work or time-fillers. Check by ‘listening to your heart’ encourages Jeff. Make sure, during your Sabbatical, such activities create ‘rest’ for you and that something more driven is not going on.

5. Remember

Use some time to make a record of God’s goodness and care over your working lifetime. Dig out past photographs, catch up with old friends to reminisce.

6. Love your neighbour

Unlike the Pharisees, Jeff points out, Jesus saw the Sabbath as a time to do good. And you can too – with lots of good waiting to be done. Whose lives can you touch? The lonely shut-ins? Friends in emotional pain? Others?

He wisely stresses, ‘Sabbatical is a time for seeing what you otherwise were too busy or distracted to see during your career’.

7. Simplicity

Many in their early post-work life set about decluttering – their home, garage, loft and more. Jeff would have us invoke the Christian practice of simplicity and so add a layer of spiritual restoration.

Indeed, in this time of after-work Sabbatical, it would be a good time to remember that the prayer ‘Give us today our daily bread’ is effectively a call to contentment.

8. Renew your mind

Here’s the opportunity to take time to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. Romans 12.1-2. That means far more than reading religious books. It could be a time to renew or discover areas of knowledge you’ve never had the time for.

9. Decide when to stop

Finally, Jeff advises that from the very start it’s important to have a date when your Sabbath will end. This creates focus and prevents drift.

Given the alternatives of endless holiday, getting the jobs done, and a blend of the two, doesn’t all this sound a wiser and richer way to go?

In which case, it’s worth putting the meat on the bones by enjoying Jeff Haanen’s book ‘An Uncommon Guide to Retirement’ – of which his thinking on Sabbatical is just a small part of its riches.

What thoughts or questions does this generate for you? Please share them here or on the AfterWorkNet Facebook community

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Peter Meadows

Peter is AfterWorkNet’s Programme Director. He’s using his retirement to help churches, resource inter-church initiatives, enjoy his grandchildren, escape to Spain and to spend his kids’ inheritance.


  1. Many years ago – something like 20 years ago – I started writing my memoirs for the sole benefit of my daughters. Unfortunately these have not been added to for nearly two decades! My daughters are encouraging me to continue where I left off: they want to know the ups and downs, and the manner and ways in which the Lord has led. As I have retained all my Parson’s Pocket Books/Diaries for 62 years I have to hand a rich resource – beginning with a curacy with an unrivalled start of 550 Sunday School children, 150 on the teenage Bible Class register, and three 21 year old graduates all going off to three different theological colleges. So now to get on with something ‘parked up’ for the best part of 20 years – with thanksgiving to God for His great faithfulness.

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife