The other week I wrote to a friend: “I have been wondering how God would have me serve him in the future. Recently I read the account of Moses’ death in Deuteronomy 34, which caused me to ask the question, ‘When will God call time?’ My friend replied: “Some games go into extra time and then there is the penalty shoot-out!” His answer reminded me of the book, Extra Time: 10 Lessons for an Ageing World (Harper Collins, London 2019) by Camilla Cavendish, a former head of the Downing Street Policy Unit who now sits in the House of Lords. She wrote: “’Extra time’ is the period when there’s everything to play for’”, and went on: “We need to see Extra Time as a starting point, not as the beginning of the end” .
Or to change the metaphor, life is like a marathon, and it is the final stage which matters. In the words of Paul Irving, Chairman of the US Milkern Institute Center for the Future of Aging:
When you run a marathon at a certain point you hit the wall. Then you go through it. Towards the end you get the ‘kick’. The fewer years we have left, the closer the end, the value of our time goes up. We should see this as an opportunity to speed up. We have to make people believe that this can be the most valuable time of their life.
I identify with these sentiments. Although I now belong to the ranks of the retired, I am not ready for my rocking chair yet. With eighty-five-year old Caleb I feel like saying, “Give me this mountain!” (Joshua 14.12 AV). Age should not define us. Moses, we are told, was eighty when he confronted Pharaoh (Ex 7.7), he then spent the next 40 years leading God’s people through the wilderness. True, he never made it into the Promised Land – that was left for his successor Joshua, for at the age of 120 God called time (Deut 34.1-9).
So at the beginning of another year, now is the time for me – and I dare to suggest you too – to set some goals. True, there is always a limit to what we can achieve, whether we are retired or not. As Paul Tournier, a Swiss medical doctor of an earlier age, wrote in his book Learning to Grow Old: “Of God alone can the Bible say (Gen 2.1) that on the evening of the sixth day of creation he had completed his work”.
I recognise that in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, goalsetting has its limitations. Caroline and I had planned to visit Hamburg in June to celebrate our friends’ Golden Wedding, but that had to be cancelled; we had planned to spend a few days in October sampling the cultural delights of Amsterdam, but that had to be cancelled; and we had planned a special holiday in Vietnam and Thailand next month, but that too had to be cancelled. However, one of my goals is to ensure that as soon as circumstances permit we will be off to Vancouver and to Cairo to visit two of our children and their families – in the meantime we thank God for FaceTime!
With a wife who has just retired, a key goal is to establish a new pattern of retirement together, involving time for individual pursuits as well as time for one another – and such a pattern is not essentially Covid-19 dependent. Another goal is to be creative and find a way of celebrating in style a special birthday for Caroline, despite all the Covid restrictions.
Preaching and teaching engagement may have been cancelled, but that does not stop me ‘living out the call’. It is amazing what can be achieved with Zoom. My Zoom goals include making the most of the opportunities presented to me by Breakfast with the Bible on a Sunday; to devise a series of creative programmes for the fellowship group I lead on a Wednesday; and to have something worthwhile to share at the bi-monthly meetings which I run for retired ministers in my area.
Zoom enables me to continue to be active in groups beyond the church. In Rotary, for instance, I am mostly just ‘a punter’. However, I am chairman of the Cambridge Society for Essex – and there two of my goals are on the one hand to stimulate the grey-cells of my fellow alumni on a monthly basis through the programme I put together (two months ago we attracted almost 100 people!), and on the other hand to devise a really great post-Covid celebration, whenever that may be. Another goal is to make the most of the opportunity when next month I have agreed to reflect with my Cambridge friends on 50 years of Christian ministry!
For me an important aspect of my ministry now is my writing. Two of my goals therefore are to continue writing a weekly blog, Church Matters and at the same time increase the circulation. Another goal is to see through the publication next year of A College of Peers which runs to 50,000 words. Yet another goal is to find a publisher a MS I have provisionally entitled There is Hope: preaching at funerals? If I am successful, then my aim is to write a companion volume There is Love: preaching at weddings. Alas, getting Christian books published today is proving challenging.
Hopefully by the time 2021 has come to an end, Covid-19 will be on the retreat, and yet more will be possible. God alone knows! However, in one way or another I trust I have stimulated you to set some goals too.