“I am not going to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds or read the Bible many times. I’m going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said in that last moment: “Lord, remember me.””
As you are aware, this past Wednesday one of the greatest evangelical leaders of our time passed away. Reverend Billy Graham was more than just a preacher or evangelist, He was a civil rights leader and a political and spiritual adviser to almost every American president since Harry Truman. But above all, he was a man God chose to guide people through some of the most difficult times in America and to show all of humanity the true hope that can be found in Jesus Christ. Graham came from humble beginnings, living on a farm in North Carolina and grew to become a world renowned televangelist and “Christ Crusader” who reached millions with his message of love, repentance and Jesus Christ. He was a man that many admire and the majority of Christian leaders see as a pinnacle of modern evangelism.
It seems as though almost every modern evangelical Christian has a story about how this man touched their lives. I remember when I was very little and my parents took me to see Billy Graham speak in our city. To be honest, I was so young that I don’t remember much about it. However, one thing that I can never seem to forget about that night was the end. After Graham ended his sermon, he asked the audience if anyone would like to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and if they did, they should come to the front of the auditorium and make a public statement of their new found faith. Growing up in church I had seen this many times, yet this time it was different. People came rushing to the front from all sides of the room filled the front of the stage where Graham was speaking to the point at which the front of the stage was more full than the seats in the auditorium. I remember watching this from my seat and being in awe of what I was seeing. I did not know it at the time, but what I was seeing was supposedly normal for Billy Graham. God had placed His hand on the ministry of Graham to the point of overflowing revival. This is something that I, along with many others, will never forget.
Though I grew up knowing the name “Billy Graham” and having a basic understanding of the man and his beliefs, I never really spent time truly learning about him. After his death on Wednesday, I began to see story after story of the impact that Billy Graham had on different people’s lives. I read stories that were like mine, mere observation, yet, I also read others where Graham and his message completely altered the course of someone’s life. Reading all of these stories made me curious as to how one man could have such a large impact in our world. I began to research all that I could about Graham and his ministry, both the good and the bad. As I researched this man I began to recognize certain principles that Billy Graham had his entire life, principles that not only guided his life but encouraged others in their own walk with Christ. The principles of discipline, wisdom in learning, humility as well as many other positive disciplines Graham had mirror the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Graham never wanted to be put on a pedestal of American evangelism, so I shall do my best to honor this wish of his. Instead, I would like to use the example of Graham’s life to point us back to God and His Word.
Billy Graham preached and believed that personal discipline was key to having a strong and healthy relationship with Christ. Graham not only preached discipline but he was also a prime example of living what he preached. Every morning before breakfast, Graham would begin his day by reading 5 psalms and 1 proverb. He was once asked why he chose to do this, he said, “the Psalms reveal to me how to relate to God and Proverbs show me how to relate to people.” Graham would not limit his Bible reading to just Psalms and Proverbs. He made sure to always leave a bible open around him wherever he went. This was so that as he walked by the bible or worked beside it, he could always glance at it and read a quick passage. Graham understood the importance of insuring that God’s Word was in every moment of his life. God tells His people in Deuteronomy 8:6 “Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him.” In Judaism, the spiritual discipline of studying the scriptures is seen as one of the highest forms of worship a man can give God, and through the life and spiritual discipline of Billy Graham we have a physical example of what it means to worship God through the observance of His commands and of scripture.
Love of Learning
Many people see Billy Graham as a great teacher of God’s Word, but to those closest to him, Graham was more than that, he was also a great learner. I remember reading a story about Graham that really spoke to me. In a small North Carolina town there was a shop owner with the name Henderson. Now Henderson was said to be a small and scrawny man and his shop was said to mirror him. However, Henderson had a heart that was on fire for God. He loved to speak about God, the Bible and the Gospel of Christ. Yet, because of his stature and the environment of his shop, most people ignored him and overlooked him. But, Billy Graham did not. It was said that one of Graham’s favorite past-times when he was in Henderson’s town, was to go to Henderson’s shop, grab a crate from his storage room, sit down, and listen to Henderson talk about the Gospel. This story struck me for many reasons. One of these reasons is that Billy Graham was an evangelist and preacher who’s message was heard by millions and millions of people, yet, he would still take time to listen and learn from a seemingly insignificant and overlooked shop owner. It was said by all those closest to Graham that he would always listen and learn as much as he could. In Proverbs 1:5 it states “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” God tells us in his Word that listening is key in learning, understanding and receiving guidance. We must not only listen to God, but we must listen to God’s words and wisdom that He gives to other people. Graham showed us what truly listening and learning looks like. Through his example, he revealed a key principle that God asks all Christians to have.
Perhaps, one of the greatest qualities that Billy Graham had was humility. As I researched this man, there was never an article that did not in some way talk about his humility. I read stories where Graham would walk into segregated churches during the civil rights movement in the 60’s and would tear down segregation ropes that separated the area in which white churchgoers and the area in which black churchgoers would sit. Before Graham would preach at one of his crusades or mass events, he would gather preachers from the surrounding area and pray with them prior to him getting on stage. It was said that he would do this in order to symbolically state that they were all a part of the mission to bring the Gospel to the world and they were all in “this” together. Even the story mentioned before about Henderson the storeowner and how Graham would listen to what he had to say, reveals the humility of this man. James 4:10 states “Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” The Lord wants to bless His people but we must humble ourselves so that the Lord can bless us. In Proverbs, it is said that pride comes before destruction, the opposite of this is James 4:10. James says that humility comes before the blessings of God in your life. There are many more stories which I could tell and many have already told about the humility of Billy Graham. God blessed his ministry and his family not because of his skills or his style of speaking, but simply because of his humility. Graham’s life exemplifies James 4:10. If we humble ourselves before God, He will lift us up.
There are many principles that Billy Graham exemplified from which we can all learn. He was more than a man of discipline and humility, he was a man who fully represented the love of Christ and the Gospel. Now in honor of Billy Graham’s own humility and message, I would like to state that he was not a perfect man, many times he recognized his mistakes and even spoke about them, publicly. Yet, Graham had a mission to point people to God and His love for them. He, not only did this with his words, but he did this with his life, as well. Though Graham was a great and unforgettable hero of the Faith, he is also a man who in many instances represented what it meant to be Christ-like. I ask that we would not look at his life and ministry and stop there, but look at his ministry as a symbol to people all over the world of what Christianity is truly about. Let us see his life as he would wish us to see it, not as a perfectly unattainable Christian life but simply as an arrow pointing to an undeniable hope in God and a selfless affection for humanity.