Recently, a colleague sent me an article that described a retirement center where the residents spent most of their time playing cards, pickleball, shuffleboard, and drinking heavily at parties. For them, life was like being on a perpetual cruise ship, where leisure had become an obsession. Most of these people had retired early to capture what they perceived as “the good life.” From my reading of Scripture, this is not biblical. Retirement is not even mentioned in the Holy Word.
Now, I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t slow down or “retire” from their primary vocations. As we age, we need to make adjustments along the way. But I believe that as long as we are able, we should continue working on the Great Commission, that is, seeking to win people to Christ and to serve others. And without a doubt, our nation and the generations following us need mature men and women with godly convictions to be involved in this democratic system of government.
I find that meaningful at this stage of my life. Let me tell you why.
On August 15, 1990, I was playing basketball with friends early that morning some 20 feet from the spot where NBA legend Pete Maravich died in my arms two years prior. I was suddenly stricken by severe pain, which felt like an elephant sitting on my chest. I should have asked one of the players to call 911. Instead, I left the gym and foolishly drove myself to St. Luke’s Hospital three miles away.
When I presented myself to the front desk and reported my symptoms, that began a 10-day ordeal of medical exams, EKGs, and lab tests. About midnight on that first day, a nurse came into my room and confirmed what I had already suspected, that I was having a severe heart attack. She advised me that I should try not to move as I lay there with wires and tubes everywhere.
Toward the end of this time of evaluation, I was wheeled into the catheterization laboratory and given a treadmill test. After a few minutes of exercise, the cardiologist suddenly stopped the test and sent me back to my room. No one explained what that meant, but I could guess. Something had been seen on the scope indicating my heart was much more severely damaged than the medical team had assumed.
At that point, a young Japanese resident came into my room and began reading my chart. She didn’t speak English very well, but I heard her mutter to herself, “Oh, dat not good.” To me, she might well have said, “Oh, this is very, very bad.” I thought I might be dying.
I felt alone and alarmed. I tried unsuccessfully to reach my cardiologist and then placed a call to Shirley, who wasn’t at home. So in the gloom of that room, I uttered a quiet prayer and said, “Lord, I am lonely, and I ask you to send someone to be with me.” A few minutes later, a miracle occurred. The door opened and Dr. Jack Hayford walked in. At the time, he was the highly respected and much loved senior pastor of Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California. Dr. Hayford prayed for me and was very comforting during our time together.
As he prepared to leave, I said, “Jack, you live on the other side of Los Angeles. Why did you drive that distance through heavy traffic to visit me today?”
Pastor Hayford replied, “Because the Lord told me you were lonely.”
His visit was exactly what I needed on that stressful day.
I shared this particular story with you today not only to emphasize our calling to serve God throughout our lives, but also to pay a special tribute to Pastor Jack Hayford, who died in January. He was one of the great Christian leaders of our time and was a remarkable example of living a lifetime of service to our Lord.
Dr. Hayford was 88 years of age when he went to be with his Lord. He is the former president of The Foursquare Church and founding pastor of The Church On The Way for more than 30 years. During his tenure at The Foursquare Church, the congregation grew from 20 people to over 12,000 members. He wrote more than 50 books and composed 500 hymns and choruses, including the internationally known hymn, “Majesty.” He also found time to help lead The King’s College and Seminary, which he founded in 1996. And even after stepping down from a lifetime of pastoring, Dr. Hayford continued to serve in various ministry roles. Jack Hayford spent a lifetime ministering to others. I have no doubt he heard those words, “Well done thou good and faithful servant!”
Shirley and I extend our heartfelt condolences to his widow, Valarie. Our prayers go out to her, the Hayford family, and all the friends and countless people he impacted over his lifetime who are feeling a sense of loss as a result of his passing. We join you as you grieve and remember this great man.
I will always be grateful to Pastor Hayford for heeding God’s call to visit me in the hospital during my time of need. I look back on that experience now in amazement. My medical crisis occurred more than 32 years ago, yet my cardiologist told me after a recent exam that my heart is functioning like that of a younger man who hasn’t suffered a heart attack. I am very grateful for the gift of longevity. My grandfather, grandmother, my father, and his four brothers all died of coronary artery disease, most when they were in their sixties. That is my paternal gene pool, yet here I am.
How do I explain it? God has apparently left me here for a purpose, but I take nothing for granted. He will do what He will do. And guess what? The fact that you’re reading this letter now means that our Lord has you here for a reason too. And it’s not to play shuffleboard or to sip iced tea on some beach, wasting away your days.
Just as Pastor Hayford served faithfully throughout his life on this earth, we are called to do the same within our respective spheres of influence. And given the state of affairs in our nation and the world at large, there should be a sense of urgency in doing the work of our Lord. This is not a time for any of us to “retire” to the so-called “easy life” and abdicate our God-given mission to serve. The day when we cease to do battle against evil will come, but not until we enter the pearly gates of heaven. For now, it’s time to roll up our spiritual sleeves and get to work.
Pastor and author Henry Blackaby stated it well. “Watch to see where God is working and join Him in His work.”
Let me end with this Scripture passage and one final exhortation.
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'” Matthew 9:35-38 ESV
Look around you. There is still work to be done, and I pray that you will join us in the harvest field.
For His Glory,