At this point we are a month or so removed from the home-going of iconic gospel preacher, Dr. Billy Graham.
Since his death, many have written thoughtful and insightful pieces on his life, his message, his work, etc. Many have rightly claimed that there simply will never be another Billy Graham.
This is true, of course, in one sense.
This does not mean that God cannot use another in a similar way (He is still God, after all), and it certainly does not mean that we can’t glean some useful and meaningful principles from Billy’s life.
Whatever your feelings about his life and ministry, the sheer reality is that God used Billy’s preaching to draw millions, no doubt, to Himself. And I think it’s reasonable to suggest that a man God uses like that will be a man of resolve, a man of character, and a man of grace.
And while Dr. Graham very adamantly demanded that no glory be given to him either in this life or the next, not to learn from the life of this man would be, I think, a huge mistake.
I like a statement my pastor makes often: “All glory to be God, but He uses people.”
I’ve identified just five of the many principles we could glean from the life and ministry of the firm, meek, and humble Dr. Billy Graham–a testimony to be desired in 2018.
1. Stay in Touch with the Savior
Billy once said that “God had taught him to pray all day long — in the shower, driving in an automobile, flying in an airplane.”
I have no doubt that he was a man of much prayer. It’s very sad that prayer is often seen as a last resort. As I’ve written elsewhere, “prayer is the first line of defense.” If the Bible’s claims about God and Person of Christ are true, there is no more fruitful activity than time spent in prayer and communication with Him.
I stay in an almost constant state of conviction on this issue in my own life. In this day of distraction, it can be hard to even remember to pray–let alone to stay focused in prayer long enough to have meaningful conversation with God.
If Billy were here to provide some commentary, I believe he’d join me in saying that prayer should be carried out with an open Bible.
We speak to God in prayer, but He speaks to us through His Word.
In fact, Billy did say, “Prayer and Bible study are inseparably linked. Effective prayer is born out of the prompting of God’s Spirit as we read His Word.”
In spite of all of this, Billy’s own lament on the subject is that he wishes he had prayed even more:
“If I had it to do over again,” he remarked, “I’d spend more time in meditation and prayer and telling the Lord how much I love him and adore him and looking forward to the time we are going to spend together for eternity.”
No more looking forward for Billy. He is now spending eternity in the presence of His Savior.
2. Sacrifice for Christ’s Sake
In a message brought before the Congress on Evangelism, Billy remarked (loosely) that at one point, he came to the startling realization that it was more than just the first-world, capitalist countries who needed Christ–but every tongue, and every nation.
Our comfortable lives have become, in many ways, a hindrance to our effectiveness in reaching the lost.
Pastor Dan Anderson of the Union Rescue Mission (and formerly the pastor of a prestigious Californian church), in a recent conversation on Talbot’s Think Biblically podcast, admitted that he realized this himself first hand.
He felt that he was becoming a little bit “too comfortable” and decided he’d take to the streets on Skid Row in Los Angeles, where he currently serves.
God may never call you to foreign missions. God may never call you to worldwide or even nationwide evangelism. God may never call you to Skid Row, either. But–be willing to go.
The Prophet Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me.”
And while the context of Isaiah certainly will not echo that of your own life, the principle still stands.
I’m no fan of cliches, but what a meaningful thought exercise it would be to consider what sacrifice you could make that would compare, in any sense, to the one Christ made to redeem your unworthy soul.
Is it not the least we can do to be willing to go, should He call us?
3. Saturate your Mind in Study
Dr. Graham was not only a tremendous preacher, but a thoughtful and prolific writer.
Although I would never use those adjectives to describe my own preaching and writing, I can say with experience and confidence that to do either requires hours of painstaking and laborious study.
As Christians and leaders in 2018, now more than ever, we must adopt a serious habit of study. Recently, I reflected on a way to help us catalog and categorize our information.
Also, near the beginning of the year, I wrote about how we can faithfully steward our ability to acquire knowledge.
In Colossians 2:3, we find that “in [Christ] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. If this is true, and it is, it means that the more we learn about Christ, the more wisdom we learn and knowledge we attain.
This alone is good enough reason to saturate our minds in study!
Pollock reflected, “Beyond all else Billy Graham studies the Bible, the supreme authority for his belief and action. Every day he reads five Psalms, covering the psalter in a month, and one chapter of Proverbs, the book that “shows us how to relate our own lives to our fellow men.” He reads through a Gospel each week, using commentaries and modern translations, and constantly returns to the Acts of the Apostles. He annotates throughout the Bible.”
What’s significant to me is that for all of his study, Billy Graham preached ONE message: The Gospel.
Though this quote is often erroneously attributed to Spurgeon (albeit consistent with his own hermeneutic), it’s evident that Billy “took his text, and made a beeline for the cross” every time!
This ought to testify to one thing: The message of the Bible–no matter the chapter and verse–is “Christ and Him crucified.”
4. Serve the Lord Steadfastly
Billy was devoted to the service of Christ, no matter the cost. He was a consistent person and preacher.
In a public statement following his death, his daughter Anne reflected, “…when I think of him I also think of his message because he was immersed in it. Saturated in it. He was his message…a simple man who had responded to God’s love by placing his faith in Jesus, receiving the assurance that his sins were forgiven, that he would not perish, but would have everlasting life.”
Think about that statement -“He was his message.” Oh, that someone would make that statement about me one day!
I don’t have a direct quote from Billy on this point, but careful reflection will reveal that his very life makes this point.
From the first time Billy preached, until the last words he spoke, he remained in steadfast, never-ending pursuit of Christ and the gospel.
Billy once claimed regarding Jonah and the whale, “I believe that God is God, He could do it. But I believe even more than that. I believe that Jonah could have swallowed the whale if God wanted him to, because God is God.”
If you have received the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, one thing is for sure: Nothing is impossible with God. No amount of physical evidence can overturn what God has made clear and evident to everyone (see Romans 1).
Consistent belief will produce consistent service. Billy’s life is the case in point.
5. Stand on your Convictions with Surety
Finally, and to further capitalize on the previous point, true gospel conviction cannot be overturned.
The Bible makes one thing abundantly clear: Hurling piles of evidence at someone who has philosophically ruled out the existence of God will not produce belief.
In Romans 1 the Apostle Paul emphatically declares, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse…”
And it was the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell who argued that, when confronted by God Himself on this point, he would reply, “I’m terribly sorry, but you didn’t give us enough evidence.”
What, then, is to be made of this? In one sense, Pascal’s Wager comes to mind.1 But in a very real sense, who ought one to believe? The Creator, Who says there is enough evidence, or Russell, a mere man who says there isn’t?
To quote the old songwriter, “I think I’ll just go with God.” I think Billy would wholeheartedly agree.
So to be a “Billy” in 2018, we must stand firm on our convictions–remaining open to correction, but always placing our experience and evidence in the context of a designed and ordered world, created by the transcendent, all-powerful Creator-God of the universe.
Although there is so much more to be said about Billy, his life, and what we can glean from it, and while I’m sure books and books will continue to be written this very effect, I believe that today we can apply these five meaningful principles to our lives.
Opposition, in the Christian life, is around the turn of every corner. Jesus told us to expect this! “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” He said.
We’re wise not to forget this and not to remove it from the immediate context of our everyday experience. Nevertheless, we can “be of good cheer; I [Jesus] have overcome the world.”
Through Christ, we can be empowered and enabled to act on these principles, apply them to our own lives, and commit them to other faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2).
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!
- Pascal’s Wager is the argument advanced by Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal who argued that belief in God is probabilistically more rational (in light of eternity) than disbelief in God.