Just over a week ago, Billy Graham went to be with his Lord and Saviour, Jesus. He finished his earthly life here having reached 99 years. He was globally known as an evangelist and had a spiritual influence on Presidents and famous people.
There is a lot that is incredible and unique about Billy Graham which none of us will have for ourselves. But there’s also a lot about him for us to admire and emulate.
When you think about his gifting as an evangelist, he clearly had quite a powerful gift. The figures for how many he has preached the gospel to vary from around 80 million to 215 million people. Either way, that’s a very large number. And it’s what he was primarily known for, his desire to share the gospel with as many people as possible wherever it was possible, and by whatever means was necessary and appropriate.
I imagine none of us will have quite the same gift as Billy Graham, but we should certainly have the same commitment. Even though we’re not likely to stand in front of audiences even a fraction of the size of his football stadium campaigns, we could quite easily find ourselves in front of audiences of one or two. There’s every need for audiences of one or two, perhaps even more so than the bigger audiences.
Another thing Billy Graham was also known for was his open door policy whenever meeting with women. Some might think it overcautious, but you only have to call to mind the recent Hollywood scandals to realise how necessary it was. He deeply desired to be faithful to his wife. He never wanted to find himself in a situation where he might compromise his integrity, nor even allow for false accusations that would undo all of his gospel work. Such commitment to purity and integrity is very necessary however we work out the details.
A favourite phrase of Billy Graham whilst preaching was “The Bible says.” He wasn’t just making his message up but was committed to telling people just what the Bible says. He believed in the power of God’s Word to open people’s eyes to the truth of their sin and need of salvation. Again, it’s a necessary thing for us to hold rigorously to the Bible and to believe in its ability to cut to the heart.
Billy Graham had a large family – 5 children, 19 grandchildren and a large number of great grandchildren. I think I’m right in saying that at very least, all his children, and some of his grandchildren, are converted and are actively serving the Lord. That too is a wonderful legacy he leaves behind and a wonderful example to us who have children and grandchildren. (Though we should also add, even the most faithful Christian cannot guarantee the faith of their children or grandchildren.)
We could mention his commitment to prayer, his ability to organise discipleship, his passion, his personality.
But I think one of the greatest, most admirable things about Billy Graham is the length of his life of faith. He was converted at 16, giving him 83 years of following Jesus closely, steadily, faithfully. One writer describes the life of faith as “a long obedience in the same direction.” It’s simply keeping on going, carefully and steadily, in it for the long haul, focussing on Christ and chasing after him every day, and tomorrow doing the same.
In that sense we have had and still do have Billy Grahams in our own church. People who have plodded away, carrying on their life of faith in the most seemingly ordinary way. Over many years this is something very extraordinary.
Though Billy Graham did so much that was extraordinary and unique, he simply kept going in his life of faith. You don’t need Billy Graham’s evangelistic gift, warm character or powerful preaching to get up each day and pursue Christ and keep going in faith. That’s something we can all do.
However many years the Father gives us, whether 9 or 99, may he enable us all to keep on steadily going forward in faith, following Jesus in the power of the Spirit.
(This article was originally published in the March edition of our church magazine.)