This week, arguably the greatest man who ever lived since the apostle Paul will be laid to rest. There is so much being written and talked about concerning all the things Billy Graham did. That is how it should be.
But I’ve been thinking in the last few days about the things Billy Graham did not do.
Why does this matter? It matters because we don’t have time to waste in this life. Billy Graham had a simple and clear focus—he just wanted people to come to know Jesus.
That was his call from God. He said yes to that call, and in turn was able to say no to other things that would have detracted from or even destroyed his mission.
We now know the results of this one, clearly focused life. Maybe a few thoughts on what Billy Graham did not do would help us stay focused.
Billy Graham did not waste time arguing with his critics.
Graham certainly had plenty of them. But, not only did he not defend himself against his critics, he openly acknowledged his own faults and asked forgiveness when appropriate.
A good example is when he was heard on tape with President Nixon while Nixon spouted anti-Semitism. Graham made some questionable comments and did not challenge the President’s comments.
When asked about it, Graham said, “I cannot imagine what caused me to make those comments, which I totally repudiate. Whatever the reason, I was wrong for not disagreeing with the President.”
Sometimes these days, I get concerned when I watch some of the online squabbles between Christians. What if each of us took all the time we spend arguing with our critics and invested it in serving the broken and sharing the gospel?
Billy Graham did not become doctrinally arrogant.
Early in Graham’s ministry, he struggled with his theology concerning the Bible. On a warm August night in 1949, on a hillside east of Los Angeles, he knelt alone and placed his Bible on a stump.
He prayed, “Oh God, there are many things in this book I do not understand. Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.” This became the bedrock theological decision that filled his ministry with such power.
But beyond this, he freely worked with people from many theological perspectives. By refusing to become embroiled in doctrinal controversy, he brought many in the body of Christ together for the simple mission to see as many as possible saved.
Could there be a lesson in this for us today? Each of us has strong doctrinal positions. I’m pretty sure that when I get to heaven, I’ll find out I misunderstood some of the Bible. (I wish I knew right now which parts!) Until then, I’m asking the Lord to help me resist doctrinal arrogance and join hands with brothers and sisters with whom I disagree.
Billy Graham did not betray his wife.
It’s pretty simple. God honored his purity with great power. Who knows what the Lord might do if His leaders were to pursue a new movement of purity? God, help us keep our head on straight, our hearts right, and our pants zipped up!
Billy Graham did not take himself too seriously.
He certainly had more reason to do so than any other preacher who ever lived. But he lived with extraordinary modesty and humility. He constantly deflected praise and gave glory to God.
Once, according to author Jerry Jenkins, Graham was in Florida and went to a barbershop for a haircut. He began to share with the manicurist who was working next to him. She said she didn’t like preachers very much, except for Billy Graham, who had helped her a lot.
He thanked her and told her that he was Billy Graham. She said, “Oh, you don’t even look like him!” When the barber told her it really was him, she said, “Oh my God!” Graham said to her, “No, but I work for Him!”
Graham kept that attitude throughout his ministry—kind and appreciative to everyone, but also reminding everyone that he was simply the Lord’s servant.
Billy Graham did not let preaching overshadow prayer.
I had the privilege years ago to spend a little personal time with Dr. Graham at his home. I asked him what he would recommend that a preacher like me say when I preach if I could only tell people one thing.
He said, “Tell the people to pray. Prayer is the most important thing we can ever do, and if I could do my ministry over again, I would pray more than I preached.”
I have never forgotten that. I recently read an interview where Graham said he prayed “without ceasing.” He said he talked constantly with the Lord because he desired that communion with Him and did not want to miss the spiritual nourishment, any more than he would want to miss a good meal.
Graham kept a Bible open at all times in his home so he could always quickly consult God’s Word. In honor of this incredible man and his impact on our lives, my wife and I have decided to do the same—to have a Bible open in the major rooms of our home so that at any point, we can hear from God’s Word and commune with Him. Thank you, Dr. Graham, for calling us all to a life of prayer.
Yes and No
These are only five of the things Billy Graham did not do that at least partly led to the greatness of what he did do. I’m sure there are many more, and I’d love to hear from you about how other things he did not do have impacted your life.
On the day Billy Graham died, I cast a new vision for this new season at Life Action, and a simple mission to take us to our vision. Our mission is “to inspire your next YES to God.”
After I spoke to our staff that day, I saw an article in which Billy Graham was quoted as saying this: “Listen for a moment to me. SAY YES to the Savior tonight, and in a moment you will know such comfort as you have never known.”
Billy Graham said yes to God, and that led him to say no to lesser things. As I read that quote from Dr. Graham, I am inspired right now to say yes once more to my Savior and no to anything that takes me away from His call on my life.
Would you join me in saying the right yes and also the right no?