I heard Chuck Swindoll tell the following story on his radio program yesterday morning. It’s a little long, but well worth the time it takes to read.
[This is the story of] a seventy-two-year-old Baptist preacher named Charles McCoy. McCoy was pastoring a Baptist church in Oyster Bay, New York, when at age seventy-two he was mandated by his denomination to retire. A lifelong bachelor, he had cared for his mother for as long as she lived. In his spare time he had earned seven university degrees, including two Ph.D.’s—one from Dartmouth, the other from Columbia. But now, at age seventy-two, he was being forced to retire from the ministry.
He was depressed. “I just lay on my bed thinking that my life’s over, and I haven’t really done anything yet. I’ve been pastor of this church for so many years and nobody really wants me much—what have I done for Christ? I’ve spent an awful lot of time working for degrees, but what does that count for? I haven’t won very many to the Lord.”
A week later he met a Christian pastor from India, and on impulse asked him to preach in his church. After the service the Indian brother asked him matter-of-factly to return the favor. Since he had preached for McCoy, would McCoy come to India and preach for him? McCoy told him that he was going to have to retire and move to a home for the elderly down in Florida. But the Indian insisted, informing McCoy that where he came from, people respected a man when his hair turns white. Would he come?
McCoy thought and prayed about it and decided he would. The members of his church were aghast. Dire predictions were made. The young chairman of his board of deacons summed up the attitude of the congregation when he asked, “What if you die in India?” I love McCoy’s answer. He told him he reckoned “it’s just as close to heaven from there as it is from here.” He sold most of his belongings, put what was left in a trunk, and booked a one-way passage to India—his first trip ever out of the United States!
When he arrived in Bombay, he discovered to his horror that his trunk was lost. All he had were the clothes on his back, his wallet, his passport, and the address of missionaries in Bombay he had clipped from a missionary magazine when he left. He asked for directions, got on a streetcar and headed for their house. When he got there, he discovered that while he was on the streetcar his wallet and passport had been stolen! He went to the missionaries who welcomed him in, but who told him the man who had invited him to come to India was still in the U.S.A. and would probably remain there indefinitely.
What was he going to do now? they wanted to know. Unperturbed, McCoy told them he had come to preach and that he would try to make an appointment with the mayor of Bombay. They warned him that the mayor was very busy and important and that in all the years they had been missionaries there, they had never succeeded in getting an appointment with him. Nevertheless, McCoy set out for the mayor’s office the next day—and he got in! When the mayor saw McCoy’s business card, listing all his degrees, he reasoned that McCoy must not be merely a Christian pastor, but someone much more important. Not only did he get an appointment, but the mayor held a tea in his honor, attended by all of the big officials in Bombay! Old Dr. McCoy was able to preach to these leaders for half an hour. Among them was the director of India’s West Point, the National Defense Academy at Poona. He was so impressed at what he heard that he invited McCoy to preach there.
Thus was launched, at age seventy-two, a brand new, sixteen-year ministry for Dr. Charles McCoy. Until he died at age eighty-eight, this dauntless old man circled the globe preaching the gospel. There is a church in Calcutta today because of his preaching and a thriving band of Christians in Hong Kong because of his faithful ministry. He never had more than enough money than to get him to the next place he was to go. He died one afternoon at a hotel in Calcutta, resting for a meeting he was to preach at that evening. He had indeed found himself as close to heaven there as he would have been at his church in Oyster Bay, New York, or in a retirement home in Florida. (This is a version of the same story, as told by Ben Patterson here.)
I love reading and hearing the biographies of men like Charles McCoy who were not just willing, but eager to spend and be spent for the souls of others (2 Cor. 12:15); men and women who counted the cost and gladly gave all they had to follow Christ (Luke 14:25-33). I love those stories because they stir a deep longing in my own heart to do the same.
Charles McCoy was 72 and still passionate about following Christ. He couldn’t imagine retiring from serving the Lord. In that, I want to be like him. I’m encouraged and humbled and challenged by his example.
For some of us, retirement isn’t that far away. How will you and I spend our retirement years? Pursuing the American dream, or pursuing the glory of God?
Those are the kinds of questions John Piper has been asking Christians (particularly American Christians) for years. I encourage you to read his short booklet entitled Rethinking Retirement (click title to download), and spend some time seriously thinking about (and rethinking) your own retirement plans.
“So, whether you eat or drink,” [or work or retire, or live or die] “or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)