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Forward Chapter 9: Finish

Forward Chapter 9: Finish

By David Jeremiah

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If you ever get into an unfortunate scrape, you might hire Frank P. Lucianna to represent you. He’s a razor-sharp attorney in Hackensack, New Jersey, just across the Hudson from New York City. You can spot Lucianna in the courtroom daily, dressed in a dapper suit with a pocket square, chopping his hands in the air and defending people in trouble. He does it with energy and effectiveness.

Lucianna has been defending clients for quite a while. Forty-five years ago, a local newspaper claimed he was the city’s “busiest criminal lawyer.” Twenty-two years ago, the same paper called him “a consummate showman” and New Jersey’s “oldest active attorney.” Today, Lucianna still waxes eloquent before judges and juries at age ninety-seven.

Lucianna doesn’t rest on his laurels. “This is a very consuming profession and it has taken a lot out of my life,” he says. “I am constantly involved in preparing cases, and it’s a tremendous strain, both mental and physical. Physical because when you go to trial in a case, your whole being is obsessed with trying to help the person you represent, and it places your body and mind under tension.”

When asked about his future, Lucianna said, “I hope God lets me continue doing this. I don’t want to retire. I don’t want to go to Florida. I just want to do what I’m doing.”1

Personally, I like going to Florida—but otherwise I feel the same. I hope God lets me continue doing what He’s called me to do. My name isn’t Archippus, but I take the one verse addressed to him in the Bible as though it were written to me: “Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord’” (Colossians 4:17, NIV).

Yes, your role may change. Your assignments may evolve and your situation may alter. You may have to make adjustments. Even so, one fact won’t change: as long as God leaves you on earth, He has ongoing work for you. There’s no expiration date to the principles I’m teaching you in this book. You never retire from the Christian life, and you never drop out of God’s will.

I urge you—never stop starting, and do your best to finish what you start in the Lord’s will.

I urge you—never stop starting, and do your best to finish what you start in the Lord’s will.

In his book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, Jon Acuff describes how hard this seems for some people:

I’ve only completed 10 percent of the books I own. It took me three years to finish six days of the P90X home exercise program. When I was twenty-three I made it to blue-belt in karate. . . . I have thirty-two half-started Moleskine notebooks in my office and nineteen tubes of nearly finished Chapstick in my bathroom.

Acuff adds that he’s not the only one who doesn’t stick with things. “According to studies, 92 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. Every January people start with hope and hype, believing that this will be the New Year that does indeed deliver a New You. But though 100 percent start, only 8 percent finish.”2

During the 2020 pandemic, I released a book called Shelter in God to encourage those struggling with the terrible crisis. One night, as the book was ready to go to press, I awoke with thoughts of all the biblical characters who experienced sheltering-like experiences. The next day, I compiled my list to add it to the epilogue at the end of the book. But then I read a study by Jefferson Smith that said sixty-three percent of readers never finish the book they’re reading.3 I called my publisher at the last possible moment, and we changed the epilogue to a prologue. I didn’t want anyone to miss the biblical emphasis of this truth.

It’s a little frustrating to think that some people will read the first pages of some of my books and never get to the final pages. I work just as hard on the last page as the first one. But congratulations! You’ve obviously made it to this point in Forward, so don’t stop now. Resolve to finish this book. And even more, resolve to finish whatever God places in your hands.

Finish What You Start

Let’s face it. You can have a great vision, pray godly prayers, choose the right goals, and focus on the right things. So far, so good. You can also pursue your dreams and make huge investments in God’s Word, His work, and His wealth. You can do everything we’ve talked about so far in this book. But if you don’t finish what you start, it’s like a building that never has a roof.

You can do everything we’ve talked about so far in this book. But if you don’t finish what you start, it’s like a building that never has a roof.

Dr. J. Robert Clinton teaches in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and has devoted vast amounts of time to researching the subject of lifelong leadership development. As part of his study, he identified about a thousand men and women in the Bible who were considered leaders: national leaders, Jewish leaders, church leaders, patriarchs, priests, kings, and so forth.

Many of these leaders were simply mentioned in the text without details, and you may be as surprised as I was to learn there are only forty-nine prominent leaders in Scripture whose lives were surveyed as a whole. We know how they started and how they finished.

Of these forty-nine, only thirty percent finished well. The other seventy percent fell short of God’s plan for their lives—a fact that should jolt us. Some leaders such as Samson and Eli stumbled at midlife. Others such as Noah, David, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah stumbled near the end.4

But thank God for the thirty percent—for people like Joshua, Daniel, Peter, and Paul—who enjoyed walking with God in increasing intimacy throughout their days. They simply kept growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. They remained yielded to Him in all things. Like the trees planted in the courtyard of the Lord, they flourished and stayed fresh and green, bearing fruit whatever their age (Psalm 92:12–14).

Clearly, the greatest finisher in the Bible is Jesus. His entire life and ministry was motivated by a commitment to finish the work His Father gave Him to accomplish:

  • “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work’” (John 4:34).

  • “But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me” (John 5:36).

And when we come to His crucifixion, who can forget perhaps the most profound words in all of the Bible: “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ ” (John 19:30).

We’ve explored eight critical steps that move us forward toward God’s plan for our lives. In these next few pages I want to have an honest discussion about how to finish well. In some respects I’m preaching to myself. Finishing well has been—and is—one of the most important goals of my life. I’ve studied this subject through the Bible and read everything I can find.

There are countless barriers to finishing well, but I’ve discovered five that seem to dominate what I’ve read on this subject. Rather than present them as barriers, I want to present them as challenges. Let’s approach the subject with a positive attitude, because that’s fitting for the tone of this book. Consider the remainder of this chapter as a locker-room pep talk delivered to all of us before we head out of the tunnel for the second half of the game.

Stay Focused Till You’re Finished

In delivering the halftime pep talk, I would start by reminding you to stay focused. Stay focused until you’re finished, until the very last second clicks off the game clock.

One of the great finishers of the Bible was Solomon, King David’s son. In fact, the word finish is connected with Solomon a dozen times, especially with his building of the temple. I made a list of all the references associated with Solomon completing his assignment to build God’s house, and I noticed something that escaped me in all the many times I’ve read the story.

Solomon was not only a finisher, he was a total, complete, absolute finisher.

Solomon was not only a finisher, he was a total, complete, absolute finisher. Notice the inclusion of the word all in the phrases used to describe Solomon:

  • “He had finished all the temple” (1 Kings 6:22).

  • “The house was finished in all its details and according to all its plans” (1 Kings 6:38).

  • “So all the work that King Solomon had done for the house of the Lord was finished” (1 Kings 7:51).

  • “So all the work that Solomon had done for the house of the Lord was finished” (2 Chronicles 5:1).

  • “Solomon successfully accomplished all that came into his heart to make in the house of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 7:11).

When it came to building God’s temple in Jerusalem, Solomon finished it all. He left nothing undone. Perhaps that’s because his father, King David, challenged him in 1 Chronicles 28:20: “Be strong and of good courage, and do it; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God—my God—will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you, until you have finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord” (emphasis added).

Most of us underestimate the difficult challenge of finishing. Each year as part of my calling and assignment from God, I write a book. There’s a start date and an expected finish date. I take these dates very seriously and try to never miss a deadline. But there’s more to the story. Almost all my books have ten chapters; and I research, write, and focus on those chapters until I’ve completed them. But when I’ve finished writing the ten chapters, I’m still not finished. There’s a dedication page, acknowledgments, a prologue, and often an epilogue. The total manuscript has to be read completely twice: once before it goes to the typesetter and again after it’s been typeset.

Over the years, I’ve learned that I can finish the chapters without too much anxiety, but the remaining items are an emotional challenge. I procrastinate. I dread doing it. It’s like pulling teeth to come up with those final words and complete the last details.

Why is that?

I finally figured it out. When I finish the ten chapters, I let myself mentally cross the finish line. I praise the Lord and take my wife out to dinner. The emotional weight of the book is lifted. But in truth the book is not finished, and trying to reengage in the task is a challenge. 

The lesson? You’re not finished until you’re finished. You’re not done until you’re done. Therefore, stay focused all the way through, because it isn’t over until it’s over.

When I was in high school, the track coach persuaded me to run the 800-meter race, which, back then, was called the 880-yard race. The strategy I developed then has served me well for life.

First, I tried to go out fast and get a lead. Then, at the beginning of the second lap, I lengthened my stride and tried to hold my lead. As I came around the last curve, I tried to find something deep inside me and run with my whole heart as I focused on the finish line. Without that final kick, I had no chance of winning, and I still remember to this day the feel of my burning lungs and angry leg muscles.

But that’s what it takes! Stay focused. Keep your eyes on the goal. Run through the finish tape and then celebrate. The apostle Paul said in his final letter: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Stay Resilient About Retirement

The second key to finishing well is to approach the topic of retirement with resilience—and with some sanctified resistance. Someone asked the late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar if he was thinking about retiring. He laughed and said, “Retiring? No! I’m re-firing.”

My friend Harry Bollback is still active in his midnineties. For the last twenty or so years, people have asked him if he was retired. His reply: “Yes, I retire every night to go to bed so that I can get up the next morning to find out what God has for me to do.”

Harry said he wakes up every morning, sits on the edge of his bed, and says, “God, here’s another day. I’m glad I’m still here. You must have something for me to do. What I want to do is to magnify Your name. I want to please you in all that I do.”5

When psychologist Michael Longhurst left his high-level management position in the corporate world, he undertook a major research project on the subject of retirement. He interviewed over two hundred retirees and discovered that too many are unprepared for retirement—especially mentally and emotionally.

One man summed up the problem when he wrote, “I feel so lonely and depressed. I miss my job, the office, my lunch buddies, and friends at work. I used to be very busy at work, and now suddenly there is nothing to do, no deadlines, etc. So, this is what retirement is—boring and lonely. I wish I [could] be happy again like the good old days.”6

A wife said to her retired husband, “What are you planning to do today?” He replied, “Nothing.” She responded, “But you did that yesterday.” “I know,” he said, “but I’m not finished yet.”

Someone said that a husband’s retirement can become a wife’s full-time job!

Many people have followed the general expectation in America and the western world that when we reach a certain age, we retire. It’s just what we do. Retirement has become the final rotation in the cycle of life. Just as we ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask adults, “What do you plan to do when you retire?” Seldom do we hear the value of typical retirement plans questioned, and certainly not the value of retirement itself.

But retirement as we know it today was virtually nonexistent throughout history. Retirement made little sense when the average life expectancy was only thirty or forty years. It has its roots in the early 1900s, when many large American industries, including railroads, banks, and oil companies, began offering pensions.

But retirement as we know it today was virtually nonexistent throughout history.

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the Social Security Act. An employee’s income was taxed throughout his or her working life to fund a retirement income beginning at age sixty-five. In America today, most workers expect to retire, and the culture is geared to accommodate it.

Interestingly, the Bible records only one example of retirement: “This is what pertains to the Levites: From twenty-five years old and above one may enter to perform service in the work of the tabernacle of meeting; and at the age of fifty years they must cease performing this work, and shall work no more. They may minister with their brethren in the tabernacle of meeting, to attend to needs, but they themselves shall do no work” (Numbers 8:24–26).

While the Levite tabernacle workers were instructed to retire at age fifty, they were not put out to pasture to spend the rest of their lives twiddling their thumbs and gazing at the sundial. They were charged to minister to the younger Levites who took over their jobs. They became mentors and advisors. Today they would probably hand out cards calling themselves consultants. 

I’m not saying you shouldn’t take advantage of your Social Security income or pension benefits. But you might want to avoid the word retirement. You don’t have to continue in your profession until you’re in your nineties, like our lawyer friend Frank Lucianna. But if you do leave your job, remember—retirement is simply God’s way of freeing you up for further service.

Stay Connected to Your Calling

After staying focused and continuing to do God’s work, I implore you to stay connected to your calling from God. While some experts extol the virtues of wholesale change after retirement, I’ve observed that those who finish best never consider themselves retired from their basic calling from God. There is no “best if used before” stamped onto your soul. The Bible says, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).

Os Guinness had something to say about this:

I think it’s important to realize that we can retire from our jobs, but we can never retire from our calling. Calling gives us our sense of task or responsibility, right up to the last day we spend on earth, when we will go to meet the Caller. I think that gives life incredible value, and therefore the prosperity of finishing well is that we continue to have a sense of responsibility and engagement that makes each day we live enormously important. This is also a subject in which the Christian view provides such a compelling contrast with the secular view, which tells you that you’re over the hill when you reach a certain age.7

To finish well, consider maintaining a connection between what you did before you retired and what you do afterward.

To finish well, consider maintaining a connection between what you did before you retired and what you do afterward. Someone said, “Your career is what you are paid to do. Your calling is what you were made to do.”

One of the most influential people in my life was Howard Hendricks, one of my professors at Dallas Theological Seminary. My wife, Donna, was his secretary while I was a student. He was an incredible teacher and a master motivator. When Bob Buford interviewed him for his book Finishing Well, Dr. Hendricks said: “The average person dies between two and seven years after retirement, and it’s simply because they’ve lost their purpose in life. For most of them, their purpose was wrapped up in their work, and once they’re no longer working they feel they have no meaning in their lives. They retire from something rather than to something.”

Hendricks went on to apply this principle to himself: “I’ve done a lot of things in my life,” he said, “but only one thing gives me ultimate satisfaction, and that’s teaching. If I stop teaching I lose the reason for which I was put on the planet . . . this is what I was born to do. . . . If the Seminary decides it’s time for me to move on, I’ll just go teach in another venue. . . . I’ll spend the rest of my life teaching.”8

Many of my friends who pastored all their lives and then retired have just kept on doing what they’ve always done. They fill pulpits on the weekends. They become interim pastors in churches waiting for full-time pastors. They find new ways and means of teaching and preaching. And many of them relish the change. They’re able to keep doing what they love without all the administrative hassles present in most churches today.

I have a good friend who loves to preach but hates administration. When I heard he’d resigned from his church, I called to ask about it. He took my call, but instead of saying “Hello,” he exclaimed, “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I am free at last.”

He meant he was free now to do what he really loved without the distractions of what he didn’t enjoy.

You may not have a career that’s transferable into your post-retirement life, but if you’re a follower of Christ, you have a calling. You have a gift. God has given you an ability for service. So just keep using it for the Lord.

My father, Dr. James T. Jeremiah, devoted most of his adult life to Cedarville College, a small Baptist college near Dayton, Ohio. He was the president of that college for twenty-five years and the chancellor for another twenty-five years. My father retired at age sixty-two, but he was not finished serving. Every week he was still out preaching in churches and speaking at banquets, representing the college. His itinerary took him to places where graduates of Cedarville were in places of leadership such as pastoring, leading, and administrating.

One day my father was asked, “Dr. Jeremiah, what have you been doing since you retired from the presidency?” My dad said, “I have been clipping coupons from a lifetime of investment.” I never forgot those words. I suggest to you that there’s no better way to fulfill your calling than that!

When Jesus had finished his work on earth and was about to be crucified, resurrected, and returned to heaven, He prayed this summary statement about His life: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4).

“I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4).

Read that verse again carefully and you’ll notice that Jesus did not finish all the work there was to do. He finished all the work that He was given to do. That is what our prayer should be. “Lord, help me to finish the work You have given me to do.” If you do that you’ll have a full and exciting life.

Stay Vigilant After Your Victories

Finishing well also demands vigilance. We can’t let down our guard, especially after new adventures or fresh victories.

In 2012, Donna and I visited Switzerland for the first time. We ended our tour in Zermatt, the beautiful village that lies at the base of the Matterhorn. The north face of this mountain, called Hornli Ridge, is an almost straight-up climb; it was hard to imagine anyone making it to the summit. But many climbers have navigated their way to the top of Hornli Ridge.

At the foot of the Matterhorn there’s a cemetery called Mountaineer’s Cemetery. Most of the people buried there are casualties of the Matterhorn. But here was my strange finding: many who died on this mountain died while descending after having reached the top.

Here is what was written on one gravestone:

DECEMBER 28, 1976

What a lesson this was for me and should be for all of us: we are the most vulnerable to failure after we achieve our greatest success.

During World War II, England’s Royal Air Force psychologists discovered that pilots made the most errors as they flew their planes back in for a landing, returning to their bases after flying successful missions. “The cause was an almost irresistible tendency to relax.”9

Like pilots and mountain climbers, we can become enamored of our achievements and fail to focus on finishing what we started.

Like pilots and mountain climbers, we can become enamored of our achievements and fail to focus on finishing what we started.

I think that’s what got King David into trouble with Bathsheba. He’d achieved great success, winning every battle against his enemies and creating great peace in Israel. But David got careless: “It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel. . . . But David remained at Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1).

King David should have been leading his people and serving at the head of his army, but instead he stayed home. He felt he was at the point in life when he could relax some and let others bear the burden of war. He wasn’t where he should have been, and he wasn’t doing what he should have been doing!

David was celebrating his victories without vigilance, and the rest is history. His sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah, is a black stain on David’s life.

David was celebrating his victories without vigilance, and the rest is history. His sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah, is a black stain on David’s life. And while God forgave David and restored him, that one moment of carelessness—that lack of vigilance—became part of David’s biography.

The Bible says, “David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5, emphasis added).

Elijah had a similar experience. He stood alone on Mount Carmel and called down fire from God upon the prophets of Baal. He personally witnessed the terrible might and power of the Lord. But then, Queen Jezebel threatened to have him killed, and he ran for his life, begging God to kill him: “He arose and ran for his life and he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life’” (1 Kings 19:3-4).

I believe there are two verses in the Bible we should all memorize and keep before us. They tell us what to do in order not to fall and they capture this vigilance-after-victory warning:

  • “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

  • “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Stay Ready for Redeployment

And now, the fifth and final key to finishing well: don’t finish at all! Always be looking forward to what the Lord has for you next.

It doesn’t take a deep dive into secular history or the Bible to discover that many great things are accomplished by people past the age of retirement.

Pianist-comedian Victor Borge, “the Clown Prince of Denmark,” continued to delight huge audiences until his death at age ninety-one. As I write this, singer Tony Bennett is ninety-three and leaves his heart not only in San Francisco but also in many other cities where he continues to perform.

At ninety years old master cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he kept practicing eight hours a day. He replied, “I think I’m improving.”

The apostle Paul was over sixty when he made his grueling voyage to Rome, where he preached, wrote, and taught until his execution four years later. He had no intention of slowing down, much less retiring to rest on his laurels. At his miraculous conversion thirty years earlier, Paul had found his life’s passion. He was doing exactly what he was called to do, what he loved to do, and it absorbed him completely.

Right now, I’m fourteen years past normal retirement age (and please don’t do the math!). The other day I began thinking about some of the incredible things I’ve been allowed by God to do since I didn’t retire.

  • I preached in one of the largest churches in the world. Calvary Temple in Hyderabad, India, holds five services each Sunday starting at 5:30 in the morning. I preached in all five services to well over one hundred thousand people. On the Monday after this amazing Sunday, I preached the ordination service for the son of the church’s founder and pastor, Pastor Satish Kumar. I still can’t believe I was privileged to do this. I will always be so thankful for this opportunity.

  • I released the Jeremiah Study Bible, which is now available in the New King James, the New International, and the English Standard versions.

  • At the church where I pastor, we built a $30 million Generations building that has revolutionized how we go about our ministries.

  • I saw our Turning Point radio network grow to three thousand radio stations across the United States.

  • I wrote and released fourteen new books.

  • I fulfilled a long-term dream and led one thousand people on a tour of Israel, where I taught the Bible on the very sites where the events occurred.

  • I visited the beautiful country of Switzerland twice.

  • I had a part in producing three Christmas specials in New York City that were seen during the Christmas season by millions of people.

What I’ve just written could be mistaken for a bragging list, but it most certainly is not. It is a gratitude list, for these are the things God has allowed me to do after most of the world says I should have retired.

What I’ve just written could be mistaken for a bragging list, but it most certainly is not. It is a gratitude list, for these are the things God has allowed me to do after most of the world says I should have retired. And on top of that I would add all the truths I’ve discovered and rediscovered in Scripture.

Pearl Buck, the famous writer and the daughter of missionaries to China, said: “I have reached an honorable position in life because I am old and no longer young. I am a far more useful person than I was fifty years ago, or forty years ago, or thirty, twenty, or even ten. I have learned so much since I was seventy.”10

So don’t give up on yourself too early. Don’t deprive yourself of the many blessings God wants to bestow upon you in your post-retirement years. Change what you do if you must, but don’t stop serving the Lord.

Nine times in the Bible (ESV) we find the words old and advanced in years. I’ve always thought this phrase was an illustration of unnecessary redundancy. If you say someone is old, you shouldn’t have to add the words advanced in years. That seems like piling on.

But every word in the Bible is important, and one day I noticed something fascinating. Many of the times when that redundant phrase appears in the Bible, it’s a description of a person who is about to experience something astounding. For example:

  • Abraham (one hundred years old) and Sarah (age ninety) were “old, well advanced in age” as they were about to become the parents of Isaac (Genesis 18:11).

  • Zacharias and Elizabeth were “old and advanced in years” before they gave birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1:18).

  • Joshua is also described this way before he received his marching orders to enter the land of God’s promise: “Now Joshua was old, advanced in years. And the Lord said to him: ‘You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much land yet to be possessed’” (Joshua 13:1).

Here are some verses to encourage you to keep on keeping on. They were given to us by our gracious God to keep us faithful throughout our lives. Don’t forget what we learned earlier: “If you’re not dead, you’re not done!”

  • “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing” (Psalm 92:12–14).

  • “Even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you” (Isaiah 46:4).

And here is the special prayer I have claimed for my life: “Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come” (Psalm 71:18).

Finish Well

As we bring this chapter on finishing to a close, I want to tell you about one of the laymen in our congregation. More than anyone I know, he has captured the concept of finishing well.

Tom Heyer taught math at Helix High School for forty years. He had received Christ as Savior as a junior at San Diego State University and immediately began to teach. He loved his job! I remember meeting him at his school many years ago and could tell he was not just putting in time. He loved his students. He also helped start a Christian club on campus that impacted many lives.

In the summer of 2002, Tom Heyer was looking forward to beginning his fortieth year of teaching. One morning as he and his wife, Pam, took their regular prayer walk together, God spoke to Tom and turned his life upside down. Here is how Tom put it: “That morning God spoke directly to me. He told me it was time to set aside teaching because He had something else for me to do.”

Since teaching had been his whole life, Tom had no idea what God was up to, but he was about to find out. After counseling with one of our pastors, Tom accepted the challenge to start a weekly men’s Bible study. The Bible study named itself “Fellows” and has been going on for eighteen years.

Because of his leadership in that Bible study, Tom was asked if he’d be willing to take over the prison ministry at our church, Shadow Mountain Community Church. At that time about twelve people were involved in ministering to the prisoners of San Diego County.

Tom accepted the challenge, and what has happened since is truly remarkable. Today as he closes in on the seventeenth year in this ministry, God has opened doors for ministry to everyone impacted by incarceration: inmates, parolees, ex-offenders, spouses, children, other family members—even correctional officers and prison staff. According to Tom, the “p” in prison does not stand for “prison” but for “people”—people whom God loves with an everlasting, unconditional love.

According to Tom, the “p” in prison does not stand for “prison” but for “people”—people whom God loves with an everlasting, unconditional love.

Each week, forty different Shadow Mountain team members go into eight different prisons, holding roughly thirty meetings a month, with an average of over six hundred inmates (men, women, and youth) in attendance.

At Christmas, a huge party is hosted for the children of incarcerated parents. Hundreds of children, mostly with their mothers, attend this party on our church campus. On the Saturday before Christmas our event center is filled with families that would be forgotten were it not for this incredible ministry.

Several years ago, a young man in our church who’d been incarcerated was released. He came to Tom Heyer and shared how Christmas is the lowest time of the year for prisoners. He wondered if there was anything we could do to make a difference in their lives during this season.

The result of that conversation was “The Great Christmas Card Mail Out.” Last Christmas, hundreds of volunteers in San Diego, under the direction of Tom Heyer’s Shadow Mountain Prison Ministry, sent out over fifteen thousand Christmas cards to inmates.

When God spoke to Tom Heyer on that morning walk in 2002, he ignited a movement that will live on long after both Tom and I are gone. Today, the Shadow Mountain Prison Ministry is one of the largest church-sponsored prison ministries in America. And it all started in the life of one man who had just retired. Tom Heyer was ready to be redeployed.

Are you?


1Jay Levin, “No Argument Here: 94-Year-Old Attorney Is a Marvel,” North Jersey, March 13, 2017,

2Jon Acuff, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018), 2.

3Jefferson Smith, “63% of Your Readers Don’t Finish Your Book. Here’s Why,” Creativity Hacker, August 18, 2015,

4Adapted from Scott Thomas, “Pastors Who Finish Well,” Acts 29, November 14, 2008,

5Harry Bollback, Our Incredible Journey Home (Schroon Lake, NY: Word of Life Fellowship, 2019), 6–7, 13.

6Kiara, “Retired and Lonely,” Retirement-Online Community, accessed February 3, 2020,

7Bob Buford, Finishing Well (Nashville, TN: Integrity Publishers, 2004), 247.

8Ibid., 124–125.

9David Asman and Adam Meyerson, The Wall Street Journal on Management: The Best of the Manager’s Journal (New York: New American Library, 1986), 7.

10J. Oswald Sanders, Enjoying Your Best Years: Staying Young While Growing Older (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1993), 66.

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