It was true, he was in his late sixties, or maybe even his early seventies, and he was retiring. There were no outward clues as to his age except for the gray hair (still full and thick), the wrinkles of one accustomed to the outdoors, and as one friend noted, the barnacles that had latched on over the years. He could hold his own during the week day with colleagues much younger. He was enthusiastic, energetic, and a consummate pro. He felt it was time, though. No one wants to leave on a downhill trajectory and he wanted to retire on his terms.

At a recent dinner party I asked his wife what he was most looking forward to during his upcoming “retirement years”. I thought I would hear the usual—playing with the grandkids, traveling to places long delayed, or spending more time in the garden. But in her likeably sincere and direct way, she corrected me—these were going to be his “encore years.” What a perfect description. She had nailed it. Indeed, my colleague was a logistics expert and he was going to begin working with some of the world’s most prominent disaster relief agencies, bringing his expertise to bear on their processes and planning. Fantastic! What a great idea and opportunity to make a difference.

For followers of Jesus who see most of our working lives in the rearview mirror and as we begin to notice the “r” word (retirement) on life’s highway signs announcing the upcoming exits, the framing of those years as “encore years” is exactly what God has in mind for us. Through the years, and by His grace, we have been tutored, we have matured, and we now know some of what we didn’t know. And, we have a lot of living yet to offer Him. It is not that our lives prior to the encore years have been merely an off-Broadway version of life—not factoring into what really matters. They do matter. They did matter. Similar to what the Apostle Paul writes, we too, can “speak wisdom…God’s wisdom” (I Corinthians 2, 6&7, ASV) and it is through “experience that we [have acquired the] knowledge of the good and pleasing and complete purpose of God” (Romans 12: 2 BBE). Thus, we stand at the threshold of our encore years with a wealth of “wisdom and experience of the Spirit” (Colossians 1:9, BBE) to bring to bear.

Embarking on the encore years provides a transitional moment to take a bow, recalibrate, and commit to giving it all you got, bringing forth what is most true about who God made you and planted in your heart’s desires. The world needs, God wants, gray-haired, barnacle-covered men and women in His Kingdom. He wants them to sing their best song, dance their best dance, tell their best stories. He wants those with life etched on their faces to radiate their love and passion for Him. Regardless of the world’s calculus about our status, accomplishments, or nest eggs, the encore years are prime time in the Kingdom.

Just as the Broadway star who comes out to the standing ovation of an appreciative audience, we must say, “You are welcome,” to the Lord when He whispers, “Thank you…well done to date,” in our ears. And to our, “You are welcome,” we will find ourselves quickly adding, “Thank you Lord for a life with you and for all that you have shown me about myself and about You. You have been the loving maestro…the patient director….the beautiful music in my ears….you are the masterpiece.” With both reflection and anticipation coursing through our veins, we sense the fuse of desire being lit. The moment is here. He raises the curtain for our encore. He takes our hand. He looks us full in the face saying, “Let’s blow their socks off.” And as Churchill wrote upon becoming Prime Minister with WWII igniting, we too can then say with our encore years in sight, “All my past life has been but a preparation for this hour.”

For me, the encore years are yet a handful of years away. They are, however, in sight. As I look ahead, I pray three things that I want to be true of those years and the years in between:
1. Lord, fuel in me a desire that rises up and is unmistakably from you and for your purposes.
2. Lord, foster in me a humble devotion to be your ambassador, your warrior, your sweet fragrance in this world.
3. Lord, bless me with the presence of others to share the journey through the upcoming encore years.
Amen. Amen.

(quote from The Second World War, Volume 1: The Gathering Storm, 1948)

Over the years I have had individuals tell me, with a degree of embarrassment, that they still aren’t sure what their calling is or if they are in the right place.  I find that the older a person is, the more honest and perceptive they are about their heart and life…and the more shame they feel about their uncertainty.  Permit me to shed some light on our collective experiences.

Everybody revisits the questions of “who am I”, “what do I possess that I am to offer to the world” and “where is my place.”  I do.  I used to wonder why I circled back to this same question every year or so.  Was I simply walking around a cul-de-sac instead of making progress up the road?  Then I realized that I was asking the same question but from a different place.  I was a different man from the last time I asked these questions – I had gained a little more experience, understanding, perspective, intimacy with God.  My journey may be circular, but it is an upward spiral.  There is nothing wrong in asking this question frequently and consistently – we should and we must.

2 Cor. 4:16 (NCV) So we do not give up. Our physical body is becoming older and weaker, but our spirit inside us is made new every day.

2 Cor. 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Everybody is beleaguered by doubt and condemnation which comes from thoughts like, “you should know this by now” or “just grow up and be content.”  After all, we are up against the unholy trinity – the world, the flesh and the devil.

World:  1 John 2:16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

Flesh:  Gal. 5:17  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

Devil:  Eph. 6:12  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Nobody knows with complete clarity and certainty what their calling is.  I know several people who are so precise and intentional about their life, and their contribution is so weighty, yet they also wrestle with the mystery of their calling.  I have been studying “calling” for over a quarter of a century and yet there is still much more clarity I need and desire regarding my life – I’m still wondering.

1 Cor. 13:12 Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.

So, let’s not stop asking and seeking (Luke 11:9) for a deeper understanding of who we truly are and what our place in this story really is.

Gary