Evangelist Shares Reflections on Growing Older with Grace and Guidance to Finish Well in "Nearing Home"
Evangelist Billy Graham has been celebrating his 93rd birthday (Nov. 7), with visits to his mountain home today and over the weekend from his daughters, who have been reading cards and greetings to him from friends and well-wishers around the world, sent via Facebook at and Twitter using #happybdaybillygraham.
But this birthday is different from previous years in that Mr. Graham has also had opportunity to preach what he practices through his recently released book, "Nearing Home." Leveraging a baseball metaphor from a pastime of his youth, the evangelist provides autobiographical reflections and practical suggestions on how to prepare for the latter years, in order to make them the most fulfilling of one's life -- despite the limitations and challenges of old age.
For more than 30 years -- nearly one-half of his unique ministry spanning more than six decades -- I have been privileged to have had a front row seat across the globe for what God has done in and through Mr. Graham as a result of his faithfulness to the calling on his life. This includes the writing of his 30th book, which makes it clearly evident that this lion still has a roar.
I was personally encouraged to read Psalm 71:18 quoted in one of the early chapters, a verse Mr. Graham shared with me during a devotional time together with another colleague in his room years ago as he began his signature Saturday "Youth Night" emphasis that became a hallmark of his crusades during his last decade of active ministry.
"When I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me," the Psalmist wrote, "until I declare Your strength to this generation." Mr. Graham affirmed that verse was instrumental in his decision to take the bold step to reach his grandchildren's peers by combining his Gospel message with great music, and answering the fundamental questions of youth, such as "Who Am I?" "Why am I here?" and "What is my purpose in life?"
That verse was again part of Mr. Graham's inspiration for this book, that old age doesn't exempt one from fulfilling one's purpose in life, a message of hope and fulfillment that he wanted to convey to future generations.
Mr. Graham has been thinking about this topic for the last six years, since his final crusade in New York City in June 2005. When I first read the manuscript, I recognized it was a codification of thoughts and feelings that he initially expressed to me in our first visit in his home after that historic event, later that summer.
A former colleague once shared with me that everyone needs three things to sustain them in life: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. As I was heading up the mountain to Mr. Graham's house that lovely August afternoon, I did not know what to expect or what I would encounter in terms of his mindset or demeanor. Of course he still had Ruth (to love), and had expressed his desire to write another book (something to do), but for the first time since 1947 when he started holding city-wide meetings, he did not have the anticipation of another crusade looming on the horizon.
As we rocked on his back porch overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, I asked Mr. Graham how he was doing in that regard, and I was greatly encouraged by his response. He said that the Lord had given him an overwhelming sense of contentment and peace at that stage in life, as he realized his privilege and first priority was to take care of Ruth, then mostly house-bound, as she had been there for him in support of his worldwide ministry through the years.
"Nearing Home" is a culminating summary of the peace, joy and fulfillment that Mr. Graham referenced years ago and has continued to experience in even deeper ways ever since. He opines that the Bible doesn't portray old age as a time to be despised or a burden to be endured; the latter years as useless and ineffective, condemned spending in meaningless activity or endless boredom until God takes us home.
Rather, the key for anyone in their sunset years is to find the purpose God has for keeping him or her here on earth. Mr. Graham encourages the elderly to address the same questions he asked of youth night audiences years ago: How can I find God's purpose for these years? How can I align with that purpose? How can I learn to cope with the fears and struggles and growing limitations I face and actually grow stronger inwardly in the midst of these difficulties? How can I face the future with hope instead of despair?
Though Mr. Graham is a senior statesman for the Christian faith, this book is not just for old people, but people of any age, as all of us will one day find ourselves nearing home. He challenges individuals at every stage of life that the best way to meet the challenges of old age is to prepare for them now, before they arrive -- mentally, emotionally, physically and financially. But most of all, we need to be prepared spiritually, if heaven is to be our final home.
What home are you preparing for?
Larry Ross is president of A. Larry Ross Communications, a Dallas-based media/public relations agency that provides cross-over media liaison emanating from or targeted to the Christian market. For more than 30 years, he has served as director of media/public relations for evangelist Billy Graham.