"The glory of young men is their strength, and the honor of old men is their gray hair." Proverbs 20:29
We live in a culture that places great value on youth, and strength. Proverbs encourages us to receive the whole coin, flip it and focus on the other side. The flip side of a strong body is a strong finish. The honor of a young man has always been his physique at the start of the rae. The splendor of an older man is his perseverance to the finish line.
Every year I live, I grow in my appreciation for the men who have run the race long and are finishing well. The roadside of life is littered with men who got off to a great start, but lost their way . I have had heroes of mine falter, and fall, but there have been others who continue to lead me towards the finish line. Today it seems right to mention at least two of them that come to mind with Proverbs 20:29.
I heard Jimmy Draper preach for the first time in the fall of 1975. I was starting my second year of seminary and he was speaking in chapel. He challenged and commissioned us to continue in our calling regardless of the circumstances that we encounter. Knowing that he was in the middle of a personal crisis himself, and handling it with grace and dignity made his message even more powerful. Thirty-five years later he is often referred to as "Mr. Southern Baptist." A title he has earned for continuing to shed more light than heat on any crisis he is called upon to handle. I still refer to him as Bro. Jimmy. To me he is the poster boy for preacher boys.
I mean no disrespect meant to Chuck Swindoll who posed for a poster back in the nineties sitting on his Harley. He was dressed in black with a smile on his face, and the word, "SERMONATOR" emblazoned across the page. It was a great combination of chutzpa, humility and humor. I loved it. These two men have set the pace for preachers and pastors for close to 50 years. They continue to be faithful flames leading to the finish line.
One night, about ten years ago, my wife and I were visiting a little lady on her first night in a Fort Worth nursing home. Her daughter had called and let me know they were headed to Houston to close out her mother's estate, and asked me to check on her. She was afraid this was going to be a rough night for her mom. She was right. When Dana and I arrived at the door of her tiny room, I could see she was sitting in a chair with her head down. She was the picture of despondency and loneliness. We introduced ourselves, and tried our best to cheer her up. I hit on the idea to ask her to tell me about churches she had attended over the years, and what kind of ministry she had been involved in the most. She told me of a church in the ship channel area of Houston, and how she and her husband had worked with youth. I asked her if youth were any different then than they were today. She lit up and said, "Oh, no. We had some rounders in that group." She went on to talk about two of them in some detail. One was the pastor's kid, Jimmy, and the other was a piece of work called Chuckie. She went on and on, and then it dawned on me who she was talking about. I asked her if she was talking about Jimmy Draper and Chuck Swindoll. She said, "Why yes, do you know them." I admitted that I had heard of them and asked if she had heard from them recently. She laughed and said, "Oh, no I haven't heard from then in years." I asked her if she would like to get in touch with them again, and she was thrilled about the possibility. I told her that I was pretty sure she could count on it.
The next morning, I made two phone calls to the offices of Dr. James Draper, leader of Lifeway in Nashville, and Dr. Charles Swindoll, president of Dallas Theological Seminary. I didn't try to get in touch with them personally. I knew it wasn't necessary. I told my story to two wonderful ladies who were able gatekeepers of these men. I requested, if possible, a letter of appreciation be faxed to the nursing home. As if reading from a prepared script, each promised it would be done that day. When I said that it wasn't necessary to do so that day, they each emphatically stated it would be something they know would be done today. They knew who they were working for. These men of integrity each took time out of very busy schedules to sit down and compose a personal tribute. They both gave glowing, and warmhearted gratitude to a woman who had invested time in them when it didn't appear that there was going to be much interest made on her principal. I went back to the nursing home the next day, and I saw a transformed woman. She was walking from room to room reading her letters to residents and employees alike. She asked me to read them to her when we sat down in her room. I was impressed by their words, but more importantly by the hearts of these men who had not forgotten where they had come from.
When her daughter returned from Houston, she called and exclaimed, "What have you done to my mother? She is a new person." Once again, the life-changing power of encouragement had left its calling card. Both of these letters were read at her mother's funeral, and remain treasured family keepsakes.
Jimmy Draper and Chuck Swindoll continue to raise the bar for ministers who do not just want to survive the ministry, but who desire to thrive in it. Some ministers are not content to retire and in some cases they just die standing up a long time before the retirement party. They would do well to take a look at men who know that one of the joys of growing older is becoming wiser. The glory of young men is their strength, but that is only one side of the coin. The flip side is where the wise man finds his greatest worth. The highest value is given to the rarest coin. Thank God for men who save their best for last, and remind us the best is yet to come.