As we all know, last week, Billy Graham passed away at the age of 99. He had almost seven decades of faithful and fruitful ministry. What Paul said about his own life aptly applies to Billy Graham: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:6 (NIV)
He influenced so many lives, including my own. My claim to fame is I had the privilege of personally talking with him (very briefly) in Urbana, Illinois, at a Missionary Conference.
Billy’s life was focused and consistent. Because of that he was able to accomplish a great deal. Here are four values that impacted his ministry and can shape ours today.
He focused on one thing – preach the Gospel. None of his sermons were profound or complicated. He gave a simple, clear message. He was resolved to preach only “Jesus Christ and him crucified” 1 Corinthians.
I remember as a teenager trying to imitate his southern drawl reciting John 3:16,” For God so loooved the wooorld…” He was known for using that verse over and over again. It expressed his consistent, simple message over the years.
Some people are unware of the many offers he was given over the years from Hollywood to politics. He turned them all down to keep doing what God called him to do – preach the gospel. Like Nehemiah, he was unwilling to turn from the focus of his calling. “And I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” (Nehemiah 6:3)
If anyone could have had a big head, it was Graham. Get this! He was listed as the Most Admired People in America 57 times! Yet the one quality often mentioned about him is his “humility.” As weird as it may seem, I even felt that humble spirit when I met him back in 1979.
Christianity Today wrote this about Billy Graham:
Everyone who met Billy Graham testifies to his humility, transparency, and empathy. The source of his strength was not an overweening self-confidence, but rather the posture of a supplicant at prayer. Graham humbly organized and followed through with his crusades. He always emphasized the Billy Graham “team” and worked closely with local pastors and lay leaders to make his crusade more than a flash in the pan.
Graham lived out this verse: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Philippians 2:3 (NIV)
Graham was resourceful and creative. He wasn’t afraid of new things, including technology. He took advantage of radio, television, and even movies, while many conservative Christians thought they were “tools of the devil”.
He was progressive in his music style. Alongside George Beverly Shea and the choir, he invited musicians such as DC Talk and Johnny Cash to join the crusades. Billy Graham was the first non-musician to be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame – that’s how impactful he was in the music world.
(One odd thing I found out about Billy Graham while I visited the Cove Christian Center is that he took his pulpit wherever he went. I guess there were some things he didn’t like changing!)
Billy Graham was willing to use “all possible means” to win people to Jesus (1 Corinthian 9:22-23).
Proverbs 10:9 says that “whoever walked in integrity walks securely…” Few public figures have seven decades of ministry without some scandal. Billy never did. He was accountable in every area of his life, from finances to purity.
A while back I wrote about Billy Graham’s legacy of integrity (see blog). Early on in his ministry, he and his team committed themselves to be above reproach. Graham was very careful about keeping things real and transparent including the numbers they reported in attendance and how many commitments were made. He wanted everything above board!
BEFORE YOU GO…
So, let’s share some other lessons and insights we have learned from Billy Graham. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned.