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Three Lessons Billy Graham Taught Me About Aging Well

Billy Graham sitting in a brown leather chair
February 28, 2018

There have been lots of tributes to Billy Graham since he died last week. So many things we can learn from a life well lived. The biggest lesson, perhaps, was his single-minded focus to the Gospel. He never wavered. It’s possible in the early years there was temptation to “broaden his audience” and teach what the Bible said about other things like finances and relationships. But Dr. Graham never did. For more than 70 years, Billy Graham preached the Gospel and nothing else.

But, as great as this is, I think there are other lessons we can learn from Billy Graham’s life. One of those is how to age well. For many of us, we only knew of Billy Graham as an older man. I first became aware of Dr. Graham when he was in his 50s. He was approaching 63 when he came to Baltimore for an eight-day crusade in 1981. I was 21. He was already “old” in my mind. It was during this Baltimore Crusade that I had my closest encounter with Billy Graham. He walked past me just five feet away in the outfield of Memorial Stadium. I was one of the volunteer counselors at that Crusade. This happened after he finished speaking and left the podium for a waiting car on the other side of the center field fence. Incidentally, I was struck, not by old he was, but by how tall.

Billy Graham once said getting old is not easy. But, even so, for the next 37 years, I and the rest of the world, got a real-time lesson in how to age well. The class was conducted by Dr. Billy Graham and had three main points:

1. Stay Humble
By the time of the 1981 Baltimore Crusade, Billy Graham had already achieved staggering worldwide success. He had preached to hundreds of millions. He was welcomed into the highest echelons of power and was consistently acclaimed one of the most admired people on the planet. At a stage of life where Billy Graham could have begun to take his victory laps he did nothing of the sort. And, he never did. He always understood deeply who was God and who was not. I need to remember that when I glance in the rear view mirror and start to feel the wisps of pride.

2. Suffer Well
The final decades of Billy Graham’s life were not easy. In fact they were very hard. He had Parkinson’s, prostate cancer, suffered several broken bones because of falls, and was hospitalized multiple times for pneumonia. He also lost much of his sight, hearing, and mobility. His wife, Ruth, died 11 years before he did. She was also in significant pain herself for many years after a debilitating fall in 1974. Billy Graham spent the final decades of his life suffering physically and emotionally, but never complained. The Apostle Paul wrote of the beauty of suffering and how there is fellowship with Christ through it. Billy Graham embraced that truth and modeled it publicly.

Don’t Retire From Your Calling
Billy Graham was called to preach the Gospel. He never stopped. I don’t think he could. Oh, he eventually slowed down. That’s an undeniable part of aging. He didn’t have the same energy he had as a younger man. Still, he turned 70 and then held 56 of his overall 417 crusades. That’s a lot of preaching after he started collecting Social Security! Thirteen of those Crusades happened past his 80th birthday. Imagine that! He was 87 when he did his final crusade. But, he wasn’t done. Dr. Graham preached in public two more times, including his last sermon here in Baltimore in 2006. He also wrote three books after he turned 90. His final Gospel outreach was a video he put together about the Cross of Christ at age 95.

Billy Graham never retired from his calling because his calling never retired from him. Translation: God uses old people. I like that.

Billy Graham preached the Gospel with his words and taught us how to finish strong with his life. I’m grateful to God for both.

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