Many people inside and outside the church feel a great sense of loss with the passing of, perhaps, the greatest Evangelist since the Apostle Paul. Even at the age of 99 – and long past his active ministry days – his loss is still deeply felt by millions around the world.
I believe it is only appropriate to take a break from our series to briefly honor this man who has impacted so many. Though days could be spent reminiscing all that he was and all that he accomplished, I have narrowed the list down to seven things that all of us would do well to imitate.
Yes, like all us, there are things that Rev. Graham could have done better. Sadly, before his memorial service even gets underway, Saints and Sinners, Pastors and Pundits have already taken it upon themselves to diminish his reputation. Perhaps we should all take a little time to reflect on our own short-comings before jumping on someone else.[i] (Especially at a time like this.) Let’s respect the dead and their loved ones at the least during the time of mourning.
That being said, Rev. Graham was perfectly imperfect. He was often transparent and honest about his short-comings and consistently prayed for mercy and grace. In 2002 he told how during a 2000 hospital visit, he thought he was going to die. He confessed his lack of peace and prayed for God’s mercy and grace and gratefully received it. At other times, he admitted that if he had it to do over again, he would have spent more time in prayer and meditation and less time engaging partisan politics.
It was commonly known that Billy Graham was never alone with any woman other than his wife. It is said that a woman once picked him up alone from the airport. He graciously refused the ride and waited until other arrangements could be made. It has also been said that he would avoid riding an elevator alone with a woman, much less dinner or other situations. He refused to do anything that might tarnish his Lord’s reputation or his own. He also maintained the highest standards of integrity for the sake of his wife Ruth whom he was often away from for months at a time.
On the financial front, he resisted temptation by allowing his Board of Directors to set a salary that he lived within. Despite his impact, books, movies, appearances, investments, etc. his entire net-worth at death was less than some modern evangelists now receive in a year.
Virtually everyone who knew him well comments on how humble his was. Even after ministering to over a quarter billion people in over 180 countries and territories, Rev. Graham never seemed to see himself as a star. Instead he was still overwhelmed at God’s call and said the first thing he was going to ask God in Heaven was, “why me?” I suppose he has his answer now.
A Man of Conviction
Billy Graham never saw himself as above the need for the Savior. On at least one occasion he said he wished he had spent more time telling Jesus just how much he loved Him. Additionally, Rev. Graham believed the Bible was the inspired Word of God and did – I believe – his best to live it and preach it. The Evangelist never appeared to take his salvation or calling for granted and maintained the awe of the risen savior for his entire life.
An Intentional Unifier
Over the years, there were many opportunities to get caught up in one movement or another. Many denominations attempted to recruit Billy Graham for their own ends. Social and political movements attempted to acquire his endorsement. He chose to love everyone. He even counseled and ministered to both Republican and Democratic presidents. When he went to cities in the south during segregation, he refused to speak unless they let people of all races participate. When he organized his events, he demanded that all churches be allowed to take part.
A Lover of People
Throughout his ministry, Rev. Graham had an obvious affection for people. He became friends with people and leaders all over the world. He worked hard to council future generations of ministers and made time even shortly before his death to connect and befriend. This was true of people across hundreds of denominations, countries and persuasions.
With seemingly very few exceptions, Billy Graham stayed on task. He earnestly believed that his call was to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and win souls into the Kingdom of God. He avoided much of the controversial and divisive topics that could have easily ensnared him and instead, he preached Christ crucified and resurrected. Whether it was from a stage, in a movie, on television or through a book, he let people know that Jesus loved them and was calling them to life everlasting. What he preached, he is now experiencing fully. Who can do any better than that?
[i] Matthew 7:3