‘Growing old has been the greatest surprise of my life,’ wrote Billy Graham. He went on to say, ‘Whoever first said it was right: old age is not for sissies.’ I can confirm those words from my own experience and certainly, when you get older, you have a somewhat different view on life. Let me share a few thoughts about life and growing older.
TO THE YOUNG – REMEMBER
Remember what? You will not live forever, so, ‘Remember your creator in the days of your youth before the difficult days come.’ (Ecclesiastes 12:1) When we are young, we tend to be dreamers, dreaming about what we want to do, who to marry, where to live and so on. As Billy Graham notes, ‘Thinking ahead seems to be in the form of dreams that promise fairy-tale endings . . . it doesn’t seem so long ago that I was one of those dreamers, filled with great expectation, planning a life that would satisfy my every desire. (However) I never would have guessed what lay in store. After giving my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ – repenting of my sins and putting my entire life into His hands – I lay down my dreams and fully embraced God’s plan by faith, trusting that He would lead me all to way. He did, He is and He will.’ (quoted from his book ‘Nearing Home.)
The majority of people who come to Christ come to Him as a young person, heeding the scripture to remember their Creator in the days of their youth. I know that was what is was for me. As a young university student studying architecture. I was invited to an evangelistic meeting where I gave my life to Him. So to the young, I say ‘Remember!’
TO THE OLDER – FINISH WELL
Now I know that for some, because of physical problems and infirmities, that has not always been the case. But wherever possible, let this be our goal, ‘So, by God’s grace, finish strong.’ To be able to say like Paul, ‘I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.’ (2 Timothy 4:8) Tragically, even many pastors and ministers don’t finish strong. Many have become casualties along the way. Often people contemplate and talk about retiring as though that was the ultimate goal in life. They are just waiting for the time when they can stop working. What they don’t talk about is what they are going to do when that happens? There is a story that illustrates this from ‘Nearing Home.’
It is about ‘a couple yearning to retire after many grueling years of work. Every year they had gone to the same isolated seaside town along the northwestern coast of the United States for vacation. His career with a major airline had allowed them to travel extensively, but this was their refuge, the one place in the entire world where they could truly relax. Nothing, they found, renewed them more than a brisk walk along the beach or a quiet dinner watching the sun set over the Pacific. When a cottage overlooking the ocean became available, they bought it immediately, convinced they had found their future retirement haven.
Finally the day arrived. The airline honored the man for his long years of service. The couple put their house up for sale and began the twelve-hundred-mile trek to their new home. They lived it up: long walks beside crashing waves, the easygoing life of a small town, the freedom to set their own schedules and do whatever they wanted. Everything was exactly the way they had always envisioned it. This was living at its best!
By the fifth week, however, unease began to creep over them, and they knew they had made a mistake. Watching the waves crash against the rocks wasn’t enough to fill the void left by their former lives twelve hundred miles away. After their few weeks of rest, frequenting all the restaurants, coffee shops, and stores began to lose its charm. ‘Is this all we’re going to do for the next twenty or thirty years?’ they asked. ‘What were we thinking to leave our children and grandchildren?’ They were fortunate that the home they had lived in for thirty years had not yet sold, so they packed their belongings and returned home. The airline executive took on a part time consulting job with his former company and commented, ‘I thought I was ready for retirement, but I just didn’t think it through.’
I have seen people do that and not be happy. I remember talking to a retired couple from Minnesota in the Palm Beach Airport and I asked them how they were enjoying retirement in Florida. Their reply included ‘Well, new friends are not like old friends,’ like the people that they had shared their lives with over the years. Have a goal beyond simply retiring. If God is not finished with you, then, it may only be just the beginning of a whole new chapter of life and ministry. My word to the older – ‘Finish Well!’
TO ALL OF US – PREPARE
It was Mark Twain who reminded us that there were two certain things in life – ‘death and taxes.’ Hebrews 9:27 reminds us ‘It is appointed for men to die once after this judgement.’ Billy Graham commented, ‘All my life I was taught how to die as a Christian, but no one ever taught me how I ought to live in the years before I die. I wish they had, because I am an old man now, and believe me, it is not easy.’
I recall hearing a traveling preacher last year share how the pastor of his home church, which was a faith church had died suddenly and it had shocked everyone. He went on say, ‘We need a theology of suffering and death.’ We need to realize that all of us will face this in this life, sooner or later, some sooner than later. We need to ready. We need to be taught how to live and how to die.
Last year I observed a Christian die and the experience powerfully impacted me. His name was Jon. He had been a member of my church when I pastored Antioch Christian Fellowship and he was a wonderful Christian man. He was our ophthalmologist and cared for the problems that Dorothy and I had with our eyes. He was a friend and we had been in their home many times and they likewise had been in ours. Their daughter Julie, at one time, was my administrator. The whole family are wonderful Christians. Last year, in May, we received a formal letter from his office indicating that Jon was closing his medical practice. He had incurable pancreatic cancer and only had a short time to live. The natural thing was to reach out with others, to pray for his healing. But he felt differently. He and his wife felt it was his time to go, that he had done everything God had asked him to do and he was ready to go home. He was not receiving visitors, but, in late June, his wife called and said I could come over and see him. So I did. He was lying in a hospital bed in his family room. I took his hand and read from Romans 8 how nothing can separate us from the love of God, after which I briefly prayed. I felt like I was standing on holy ground. Forty eight hours later, he went home to be with the Lord. I was not able to attend the funeral because, soon after visiting him, I went into hospital for an operation, but I will never forget Jon or the way he died. I felt I observed a Christian who knew how to die because he knew His Savior had won the victory over death on Calvary’s cross and he was ready to ‘go home’. We all need to come to that place.
Let me recommend Billy Graham’s book ‘Nearing Home – Life, Faith and Finishing Well,’ (Printed by Thomas Nelson) from which I have taken a number of quotes for this letter. It is full of spiritual insight and practical advice. As Billy Graham says, ‘The best way to meet the challenges of old age is to prepare for them now, before they arrive.’
A PERSONAL TESTIMONY
As most of you know, I turned 80 this year and had a wonderful celebration with family and friends. But more than that, something happened to me as I approached my birthday. I felt I was being revitalized and renewed. I didn’t feel 80. I felt 60. That is why I use the saying ’80 is the new 60.’ More than that, others noticed it to. I got refired. I felt I was living the promise of Isaiah 40:31 –
‘But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength
They shall mount up with wings like eagles
They shall run and not grow weary
They shall walk and not faint.’
I want to soar like an eagle, because I believe, ‘The Best is Yet to Be.’