I knew that this day would come…sooner or later. For the past few years in fact, with failing health I have often wondered if Billy Graham would live to see his next birthday. Truth be told, I was cheering him on to see his centenary. So I must admit this morning that I am deeply saddened to hear the news of the death of Billy Graham In his 100th year. Though he did not know me personally I feel like I have known him like a friend…from all the biographies I have read as well as his own autobiography “Just as I Am” In fact, my closest in proximity to him was once when I visited his office in Montreat, North Carolina with my wife. We were privileged to see one of his personal places of Bible study. I remember that moment in fact as a ruddy youth pastor, I was looking around as if I was taking in my first glimpse of heaven. Our hosts even graciously offered me the chance to “sit in Billy Graham’s chair” but I respectfully declined simply because seeing his place of study was all I needed at the time. He would never want the tribute that I am writing right now. But I want to write down for my own journal today…that I am just so thankful for this man of God. He was a great pastor. Some have referred to him as “America’s Pastor”. When I was considering seminary and pastoral training one of the prompts that God used to stir my heart toward pastoring was the story of Billy Graham. To see and to know that a man can be faithful to the things that matter most. When so many pastors fail and struggle, he remained faithful…faithful to his ministry, faithful to his family, faithful to his wife and finally, and most importantly, faithful to His Lord.
LESSONS I HAVE LEARNED FROM MY READING OF THIS GREAT MAN OF GOD…
In every biography one reads, if read with eyes and heart wide open…there should always be lessons…lessons on life, explicit lessons and implicit lectures…lessons that matter to the soul. Here are five simple but profound lessons I have learned from the life of Dr. Billy Graham.
1. INTEGRITY MATTERS…a life that truly pleases the Lord…is a life of integrity. What one believes in his heart coincides with conduct which aligns with behaviour. The name Billy Graham inevitably reminds us of integrity. Billy Graham took definitive steps to ensure that his was a life that did not compromise morally. He did what he could to make sure that his life was above reproach morally, financially, ethically. His life was one of incredible honesty. Leadership at any level cannot begin to function well unless the leader has integrity.
2. FAMILY MATTERS…our first responsibility, our primary ministry…is to our family. The home of Billy Graham was a home of love. It was the place where Billy and Ruth Graham raised children and welcomed grandchildren. Rev. Graham yearned to be with his dear late wife Ruth. Apparently to those who visited him in these past few years, he would say: “I can’t wait to see her in heaven.” Today, this very moment, he has that joy. Thank you, sir, for reminding us of the priority of family. If one cannot lead the home well how can he truly lead others well.
3. LEADING WELL MATTERS…Pastors and ministry leaders of all stripes and backgrounds have looked to Billy Graham and his Leadership Secrets…one of the foremost lessons for me has always been… “Listen to critics, but don’t dwell on them.” As a pastor, I know that I have critics. I also know at times that I can be pretty thin-skinned, so it is an area in which I constantly struggle. Once someone counselled me to “toughen up my skin” in order to do ministry. Mr. Graham was once asked how, in a lifetime of international ministry and scrutiny, did he deal with the constant stream of criticisms. He smiled and simply said, “I ignored most of them.” While he never implied that he was blameless, he knew that dwelling on criticisms would distract and harm his ministry. So he simply moved on. Hear it, take a moment to think about it and then move on. Do not dwell.
4. HUMILITY MATTERS…Humility is one of the greatest virtues of leaders. Billy Graham sat with presidents and kings and he gave to them Biblical counsel. He preached to literally millions of people all around the world. Volumes have been written about his life and ministry. Some have referred to him as “the world’s most influential person of the second half of the twentieth century.” But all who knew him personally knew him to be one of the most humble men they had ever known. Here is a man who has led millions to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and yet Billy Graham never thought too highly of himself. What an incredible example he was. Knowing the grace of God to me, knowing that I don’t deserve any part of it, yet God in His grace gives it. “Remember God also spoke through a donkey.”
5. JESUS IS REALLY…ALL THAT MATTERS… Mr. Graham preached about Jesus for most of his life. The message of the gospel was at the very heart of his ministry. He understood the brevity of life. And he knew, when it is all said and done, our relationship with Jesus Christ is all that really matters.
These lessons are a small example of what Billy Graham has contributed to the millions and millions of lives he has impacted throughout his ministry. For Billy Graham…IT WAS ALL ABOUT JESUS. And as I sit here and reflect on his life and ministry, I know I will never come close to becoming the man that he was. Yet I can still learn from him…as he followed after Jesus, so I can learn to follow after Jesus too. And you can learn too.
We can learn to love our family and others with a greater love. We can learn to have a greater humility, understanding that we are nothing without Christ. We can learn that the simple things in life are those that really matter. And we can learn that this life is not about us. It’s all about Jesus. That was the life of Billy Graham. It was all about Jesus. That is the type of life I desire to have.
If I had the chance today I would say to Billy Graham: “Thank you, Mr. Graham. Thank you for your life. Thank you for your faithfulness to your family and the task of ministry. Thank you for your ministry. Thank you for your integrity. Thank you for your humility. Thank you for being who God made you to be!