I’m rarely captivated by the news, but I’ve watched video after video and read press release after press release about Billy Graham. Here’s the thing. They make me weep because I long to speak with such boldness, kindness, and wisdom about the wonder of being loved and invited into a relationship with the King of All. I long to not only have Billy Graham’s courage, but to also have his ability to serve for God’s glory without worry about what people think. He staunchly refused to look to the approval (or disapproval) of humanity and stood firm in his conviction that all glory he received would be returned to his Father.
I watched a video that paid tribute to Billy Graham and kept using the word “he” (referring to Billy) every time it talked about the success of his ministry. “He” built. “He” drew. “He made.” As I watched, I knew that Billy would be upset by the video. He would tell the writer that everything that happened was because God moved, not because Billy built it.
Billy once said, “So many people think that somehow I carry a revival around in a suitcase, and they just announce me and something happens—but that’s not true. This is the work of God, and the Bible warns that God will not share His glory with another. All the publicity that we receive sometimes frightens me because I feel that therein lies a great danger. If God should take His hand off me, I would have no more spiritual power. The whole secret of the success of our meetings is spiritual—it’s God answering prayer. I cannot take credit for any of it.”
Another thing that I admire about Billy Graham was that he was able to reject the doctrinal lines that were so prevalent in the 1950s. He chose to ignore religion and its barriers and to simply preach about the Jesus who gave everything to change lives. I read in one of the articles that conservatives criticized him for not being conservative enough and liberals criticized him for not being liberal enough, and my heart sang. He didn’t engage in the division. He stood for Jesus. There are pictures of him in liturgical attire even though as a young man, he was known for his loud suits and southern baptist style.
I have a personal story about this ability he had to encourage. My father-in-law, Ray, served many years in a small denomination with a lot of doctrinal distinctives. He told me that he and Billy Graham had conversation about these beliefs. He saw Billy again years later and Billy remembered Ray and the conversation. Billy asked Ray if he still believed all that. Ray said yes. Billy shook his hand and told him to keep preaching it. Ray’s eyes shone as he told me the story. It had obviously deeply encouraged this man, who served God with all his strength for over 50 years in that little denomination for little pay or accolade.
I’ve often wondered about this story. Here is what I believe. Billy wanted to see the gospel of Jesus preached, and he saw in Ray, not the ways they were different, but the way they stood together, in the passion for sharing Jesus with the world.
I wish people who loved Jesus could be more like that. I wish I could. I wish as believers we could let go our fears and boxes and focus on what really matters. The truth that Jesus gave His all to save us–to take us from the darkness and confusion of the world and our own soul and free us to live in the hope and light of an eternity that we are already a part of.
As I scroll Facebook and the Internet today, I love learning little tidbits about how Billy lived. From those of you whose lives intersected with his. From the media. Every story shows a focus on the person, a value for the human heart. From my friend Joy, who once served him when he bought a blood pressure machine where she worked, to stories of presidents who said things like, “He helped me choose to stop drinking” and “when he prayed you felt like he was praying for you, not the president.” (Not direct quotes, just writing from memory here.)
I want to be like that too. To value each human soul. To see the cashier at the grocery store instead of just plodding through. To also see the person behind the fame or position as a person not a position.
And a person is all Billy was.
I stared at his picture this morning, stunned that he had preached Jesus to over 200 million people, not including the countless others, like my friend Robbie who watched him on TV and then had a personal encounter with her God at eight years old. I stared at his picture, and I heard, “He was just a man.” And that doesn’t put Billy down. It does what Billy did. It exalts that God who took a humble man and moved through him for the sake of the world HE loves.
One news writer said something like, “We don’t expect another to ever have this kind of impact on the world again.”
I think Billy would balk at that statement. I do. Because it wasn’t about Billy, though his courage and devotion were required for all God accomplished through him. It was about God moving at just the right time in history through just the right man for the job. Billy is no longer in this world. But God is here. With us. He looks at each of us, just people. Like Billy. And he has a plan for our lives, as He told my friend Robbie after she saw Billy on TV. Our God is still alive. He has has not stopped caring about the malignancy of the human soul, the evil that steals our joy and confuses our life. He is working now, every minute, to draw His beloved children into His heart. He never stops doing that. He never stops moving with intention and passion to love and call us to Himself. He longs for us. He longs to enjoy relationship with us. He longs to reveal Himself and His love to every single person He created. And He created us all.
I don’t know if there will be another man who gets to preach Jesus to that many people. But I do know that God will keep moving to reach his people. He will keep calling people to pray for this nation and for the world and for their children and next door neighbors. He will continue to pour His miracles through humble and surrendered hearts–and He will continue to humble proud hearts and give them the ability to surrender to His love.
God’s plan for Billy Graham was breath-taking. Glorious. And Billy always looked right back to God to steady Him. He knew every good gift came from the Father.
God’s plan for you and me is glorious too. Maybe that’s why we’re so captivated by the news of this man who every year for 60 years was named as one of the most influential men in the world. Maybe we’re caught because Billy is simply a man. A man who dared to let God do whatever God wanted through him. Maybe we’re amazed because our heart longs to be that too. Men and women who make a God-sized difference in our human-sized experience. Most of us won’t preach to millions of people. But all of us impact our world. All of us were chosen before the foundation of the world to do the good works God planned in advance for us to do (Hebrews). All of us, like Queen Esther, are chosen for “such a time as this” for whatever God has planned for our ordinary, extraordinary lives.
I believe when we’re with our Savior face-to-face, we’ll discover that Billy learned from Him that every single soul is valuable. That there is no greater love for Billy Graham than for you and me. That our God loves no matter our status. That He will look us right in the eye, and we will know our worth to Him.
I watched a bunch of videos and read a lot of press releases, but I love this page in particular. It’s simply quotes from Billy.