As he celebrates his 90th birthday, Cliff Barrows is an example of a life lived wholeheartedly for Jesus Christ. Still sharp as a tack, Scripture rolls off Barrows’ tongue as he doles out wisdom gained over the course of 90 years on this planet.
How to Have a Loving Marriage
During 67 years of ministry with Billy Graham, the Lord has certainly blessed Barrows. The longtime Crusade song leader is still going strong. He records The Hour of Decision radio program several times a month, is host for Senior Celebrations and Christmas at The Cove in Asheville, N.C., and actively serves on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association board.
Even with his busy schedule, Barrows always makes his marriage a priority. He wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to spend time praying and reading with his wife, Ann.
“I look over, and she’s got her iPad with a light on, and she’s pulling up devotionals,” Barrows said. Ann reads to her husband, who can no longer see because of macular degeneration. Then the two listen to the Word before praying together.
Barrows has been married to Ann for 18 years. Before that time, he spent 50 years with his wife, Billie, who passed away in 1994. His warm, friendly tone becomes especially tender when he speaks about his memories of Billie and his relationship with Ann. He doesn’t, however, pretend marriage is easy or perfect. He’s just learned an important lesson.
“I think there are nine words we should be willing to say every day,” Barrows said. “I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you.”
He adds that an additional four words are often helpful too: “It was my fault.”
“I think the greatest secret to a Christian marriage is the willingness to acknowledge it was you,” said Barrows. He recites Ephesians 4:32 – a verse that has become his compass through the ups and downs of marriage:
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (NKJV)
The Key to Memorizing Scripture
Barrows is so steeped in the Word of God, it can be hard to distinguish his own words from the Bible verses he recites, seemingly effortlessly, from memory. Asked what his secret is, Barrows reveals it’s pretty simple.
“Review, review, review,” he said. “That’s the secret of memorizing. Review. We’re never too old not to remember.”
Barrows points to another “secret” of success that has helped him for decades: a system of memorizing Scripture that he learned as a teenager from Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators. Trotman’s methods later turned into the popular Topical Memory System.
“They have designed it so the Word of God becomes relevant to our situation and our needs each day,” said Barrows, who encourages believers to not only read Scripture but to listen to it, study it, memorize it, and meditate on it.
He recites Joshua 1:8.
“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (KJV)
After 90 active years, Barrows admits his body isn’t as resilient as it once was. It’s a reality faced by countless others as they navigate the difficult process of aging.
What sets Barrows apart is his joyful spirit. While many seniors allow growing old to steal their joy, Barrows will not be moved. A sense of deep gratitude permeates his spirit. He said it all goes back to believing, claiming, and continually reciting God’s promises.
“Expectancy is a great word,” Barrows said. “Expect great things from God.”
Barrows encourages seniors to read and think about Jesus’ promise of heaven, found in John 14:1-2.
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (NKJV)
“And boy that brings great comfort,” Barrows said. “And that’s how believers, in the midst of grief, in the midst of loss, even the loss of a loved one, can know that Jesus is there. He said, ‘I will never leave thee or forsake thee.’ “
While Barrows’ words are heavily seasoned with Scripture, he also finds much joy in music. Familiar hymns are continually on the tip of his tongue. Some, he recites. Others, he can’t help but sing out loud.
“There is joy in serving Jesus, every moment, every day,” he sang, before seamlessly transitioning to Scripture.
“The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
Then it’s back to music, as Barrows cheerfully recites another favorite song.
“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!” he exclaims. “A song brings joy to your heart. My mother taught me, and I thank God for her. She taught me to memorize the hymn book and the Psalms and repeat them over and over, and I do that at night.”
Psalm 42:11 is a favorite – one that keeps him from being discouraged when the going gets tough.
“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God.” (NLT)
Finding Delight in the Lord
Barrows rings in his milestone birthday April 6. He’ll spend the day withfamily. Perhaps the father of five, grandfather of 21, and great-grandfather of 12 will celebrate with one of his favorite meals: soup, cornbread, and a tall glass of buttermilk. If he’s really lucky, he’ll get his hands on a creamy buttermilk popsicle.
“I love buttermilk, and there’s a place in Birmingham that makes buttermilk popsicles,” Barrows said with childlike enthusiasm. “They’re marvelous.”
However he celebrates the big day, one thing is certain – he’ll take time to thank the Lord for the people who have blessed his life.
And he’ll do it with joyful expectation.
“What do we expect God to do?” Barrows said. “I’ve experienced so much with Mr. Graham because he’s a man that has a joyful spirit, a joyful heart.”
It’s with his own joyful heart that Barrows offers one more word of encouragement–one that’s just as true whether you’re 19 or 90.
“God has a plan for your life,” he said. “You don’t need to step outside of the will of God to find it.”
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he shall give you the desires of your heart.“