4 Life Lessons from Cliff Barrows

By   •   April 5, 2016   •   Topics:

Cliff Barrows, music and program director for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, led congregational singing and Crusade choirs around the world with Billy Graham.

This post was first published in 2013 to celebrate Cliff Barrows’ 90th birthday. As he turns 93 on April 6, the BGEA team thought it would be a good time to bring back Mr. Barrows’ wise and timely reminders.

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 more than 90 years on this planet.

How to Have a Loving Marriage

During nearly 70 years of ministry with Billy Graham, the Lord has certainly blessed Cliff Barrows. The longtime Crusade song leader is still going strong. He records The Hour of Decision Online, a web-exclusive program reaching people on six continents, and actively serves on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association board.

Listen to The Hour of Decision Online

Even with his busy schedule, Mr. 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,” Mr. Barrows said. Ann reads to him, since he can no longer see because of macular degeneration. Then the two listen to Scripture before praying together.

Mr. Barrows has been married to Ann for 20 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,” Mr. 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

Cliff 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.”

Mr. 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 Mr. 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)

Cliff and Ann Barrows
Cliff Barrows and his wife, Ann, live in Marvin, North Carolina. They have been married 21 years this June.

Rejoicing Always

Now in his 90s, Mr. 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 Cliff Barrows apart is his joyful spirit. While many seniors allow growing old to steal their joy, Mr. 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,” Mr. Barrows said. “Expect great things from God.”

Mr. 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,” Mr. 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 Cliff 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 Mr. 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

Mr. Barrows rings in his 93rd birthday on April 6. He’ll spend much of the day at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters, meeting with longtime friends.

Today, this father of five is also a grandfather and great-grandfather to many more. He still mentors young people and writes to others around the world who were involved in Crusades over the years. He takes time wherever he goes to offer a listening ear and pray with people around him, and he never misses an opportunity to share the joy of Jesus.

Throughout the decades, Mr. Barrows has also made a point to thank the Lord for the people who have blessed his life.

And he does it with joyful expectation.

“What do we expect God to do?” he 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 Mr. Barrows offers one more word of encouragement—one that’s just as true whether you’re 19 or 93.

“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.


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  1. Richard says:

    Happy 90th Birthday Cliff Barrows I met you when you were in Indianapolis In I helped do the transporation for BGEA cursades Richard Armstrong

  2. Jackie says:

    Happy 90th Birthday! May God continue to bless you as you've touched many lives through the BGEA these many years.

  3. vernon says:

    happy 90th birthday cliff.

  4. Gail says:

    Happy BIrthday. I sang in the Choir at Madison Sq Garden and I was in the front row at Times Square and can even see my pic that was on the front page of the news paper. My Dad was a counselor, but he's long gone.

  5. Esther says:

    My youngest daughter, who is now 44, was just 2 years old when I accepted Jesus as my Saviour at one of Billy Grahams Crusades in Colo Springs, CO. Praise God for saving my soul. I turned 80 yrs young July 4th. Have a very wonderful birthday.

  6. John says:

    Wondeful words. Warmed my heart. May the God we serve continue to bless and use you everyday to encourage others and point them to our Savoir.

  7. Marsha says:

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Barrows!!!! Your life is such a great example of Gods love and caring. You have touched many hearts with Gods message through song. Thank you for blessing my heart over the years. May God continue to bless you.

  8. ELAINE says:

    I do wish you God's rich blessings on your 90th birthday.Our Heavenly Father loves you more than you can imagine and He holds you in the palm of His hand.I send Christian love and blessings,ELAINE

  9. Billy says:

    Happy 90th Cliff. I'm still treasuring our time together during the Crusade in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1972. You asked for suggestions of songs for the choir to do, and I got to hear you use them in crusades after that. Bless you, my Brother.

  10. wayne says:

    Happy 90th Mr. Barrows. I can thank my late mother for introducing me to the Billy Graham crusades some 40-50 years ago.