This month marks the release of Billy Graham’s eagerly anticipated book, “Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well.” Here is an excerpt from the book.
How do we overcome the perils that steal our zest for life? Let the promises of God’s Word, the Bible, uphold you every day. Turn constantly to Him in prayer, confident not only that He hears you but that even now Jesus is interceding for you. Focus your thoughts on Christ, and maintain your connection with other believers who can encourage and help you. The Bible’s words are true: “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
In the weeks before her death my wife, Ruth, repeated these verses over and over to us. Ruth was always thinking of others. This was her secret for getting through so much of life with joy. She never focused on her problems, she turned her attention to Christ, and He always led her to someone who needed a word of encouragement or a listening ear.
My sister Catherine was in a nursing home several years before her death. She had restricted mobility, and her health was fragile. But she knew all the residents and patiently listened to their concerns. She showed them the compassion of Christ and had many opportunities to witness. The Lord used her even in her own hours of weakness.
I have been told about an 86-year-old lady who is dealing with debilitating illnesses, yet she goes from church on Sundays to the local nursing home to visit the elderly, read Scripture to them and pray for them. She looks forward to this each week. She’s focused on others.
A 96-year-old grandmother has “lots of time at home alone,” she says. “I just sit in my chair and go through my prayer list. My goodness, there are so many people to pray for that it seems I run out of time.”
Another lady inching close to 100 looks forward every week to helping deliver Meals on Wheels “to the old people.” She’s focused on people. The Lord blesses people who bless others, and He gives grace to those who focus on the things that please Him.
Life is seldom easy as we grow older, but old age has its special joys—the joy of time with family and friends, the joy of freedom from responsibilities we once had, the joy of savoring the little things we once overlooked. But most of all, as we learn to trust every day into His hands, the golden years can be a time of growing closer to Christ. And that is life’s greatest joy.
True joy is derived from depending on the Lord Jesus. He is the One who supplies our strength in weakness, for when we are weak, He is strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10) While it is important to put our own house in order, we must not forget to make the things of God the center of our thinking and doing. This was certainly the state of mind for the Prophet Haggai, who wrote the second shortest book in the Old Testament at the approximate age of 70. Haggai was stirred up by the Lord to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity. In turn he stirred up God’s people by rebuking them for allowing the house of God to remain in ruins in their homeland. “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little … because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house” (Haggai 1:5-6, 9, NIV).
What stirs me about this two-chapter book is Haggai’s rebuke along with his encouragement. Haggai mobilized God’s people to take care of God’s business and build up His house by giving them hope. “Be strong … for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4).
We may be successful in putting our personal affairs in place, but if we do it at the sacrifice of the more important—putting our spiritual affairs in order—we miss the joy and purpose of life. The Bible says. “A wise man is strong, yes, a man of knowledge increases strength” (Proverbs 24:5). Strength is found in the wisdom of God, and that is at our disposal whether young or old.
Are you concerned only about taking care of business in a world that holds you captive? Or are you setting Christ at the center of your life with the assurance that you will abide with Him for eternity—the place where hope becomes reality? Your strength may fade, but He is the One who will lift you up and help you stand strong in your weakness. When your faith begins to fade, ask the Lord to stir it up by considering all He has done for you, and be strong, for “My Spirit remains among you: do not fear” (Haggai 2:5).
When I was young I could not imagine being old. My mother said, and the doctor confirmed, that I had an unusual amount of energy; and it followed me into young adulthood. When middle age set in, I dealt with physical weariness, but my mind was always in high gear, and it never took long for my physical stamina to return after a grueling schedule. It tires me out to dwell on it now, wondering how I ever kept up with such a jam-packed itinerary. I fought growing old in every way. I faithfully exercised and was careful to pace myself as I began to feel the grasp of Old Man Time. This was not a transition that I welcomed, and I began to dread what I knew would follow.
My wife, Ruth, however, was one of those who could lighten heavy hearts, especially mine. I’ll never forget when she announced what she wanted engraved on her gravestone, and for those who have so respectfully visited her gravesite at the Billy Graham Library, they have noticed that what she planned for was carried out to the letter.
Long before she became bedridden, she was driving along a highway through a construction site. Carefully following the detours and mile-by-mile cautionary signs, she came to the last one that said, “End of Construction. Thank you for your patience.” She arrived home chuckling and telling the family about the posting. “When I die,” she said, “I want that engraved on my stone.” She was lighthearted but serious about her request. She even wrote it out so that we wouldn’t forget. While we found the humor enlightening, we appreciated the truth she conveyed through those few words. Every human being is under construction from conception to death.
Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent. At the end of construction—death—we have completed the process.
“You formed my inward parts; . . .My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret
And skillfully wrought …
The days were fashioned before me.”
—Psalm 139:13, 15-16
Death says, “This is the finality of accomplishment.” While we cannot add anything more to our experience, believers in Christ have the hope of hearing the Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
The Apostle Paul speaks of the Christian being “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:7). This is part of our ongoing construction in this life. But the Bible assures us that “if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). When Ruth was separated from her pain-stricken body and earthly construction was complete, she found lasting peace. Her dwelling now is eternal.
There is a stretch of highway going up into the mountains of western North Carolina that has been under construction for many years. It is rugged terrain. The N.C. Department of Transportation has the task of blasting through boulders and mangled tree roots to carve a smooth pathway into the high country. Vehicles have been caught in rockslides and temporary road closings. Signs flash through the night, “Proceed with Caution,” as the road winds and twists through the hills, guiding drivers through the maze. When travelers living at the top of the mountain see the welcomed sign, “End of Construction,” they know they are nearing home. I have known many parents who live in that part of the state and who pace the floor knowing their teenagers are up and down that mountain all the time. Reaching their destinations safely brings relief.
Life can be like traveling a treacherous road. There are potholes that jolt us, detours that get us off course, and signs warning us of danger ahead. The destination of the soul and spirit is of utmost importance to God, so He offers us daily guidance. Some pay close attention to God’s directions; others ignore them and speed past the flashing lights. But everyone eventually arrives at the final destination: death’s door. This is where the soul is separated from the body.
Even on the cross, Jesus taught that death was a passage for the spirit into the presence of God (Luke 23:46). The psalmist declared, “God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave” (Psalm 49:15). Have you committed your soul into the hands of its Maker? Are you following the caution signs that God has posted throughout His Guidebook, the Bible? “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; He who keeps his way preserves his soul” (Proverbs 16: 17). D ©2011 William F. Graham, Jr.
Excerpted from “Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well,” by Billy Graham. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tenn. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.