As I write this, the casket of Billy Graham lies in honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. This man preached the Gospel to millions of people around the world. He counseled or met with twelve different presidents of the United States beginning with Harry Truman. He was a fixture in public since before I was born. I cannot tell you how many times growing I heard Billy Graham on television. When I was heading to Southwestern Seminary in 1986, I thought that I would get to hear Billy Graham in chapel at some point in my time there. It didn’t happen. It was not until a Southern Baptist Convention in the mid-90’s that I had the opportunity to hear him in person.
Then in October 1999, Graham came to St. Louis. I was pastoring a church near Alton and was invited along with hundreds of other pastors to be a part of the crusade. It meant a great deal to me to play a part in those four nights.
What was it about Billy Graham that caused me and millions of other people to want to hear him? Fifty thousand people would fill Yankee Stadium to hear him. The same type of phenomenon happened in Europe, Asia, and Africa—wherever he went. That was true for some sixty years. Why did he retain such a status for so long?
I have read a number of articles about Graham since his death. Some written by people who worked with him, some by people in ministry influenced by his ministry, others who came to know Christ through his ministry. There are qualities of Billy Graham that are often repeated and tell me, at least, why he was used by God in such remarkable ways.
He was called and gifted by God. There was a call to full-time evangelism that Graham answered. And God gave Billy Graham the gift of “drawing the net.” When he preached, when he gave an invitation, people were moved. He was gifted.
Billy Graham was a man of integrity. Early on, Graham and his team developed what became known as the “Modesto Manifesto” written in Modesto, California. This document was a series of resolutions about financial integrity, sexual morality, publicity and partnership with the local church. He made mistakes along the way, but always acknowledged them and tried to do the right thing in every endeavor and every relationship. His children said that he was the same man at home as he was in public. He was a man of integrity.
He was a humble man. Many people who met Graham were struck by his humility. He never attempted to gain the limelight or promote himself in any way. When he was honored in a White House ceremony, he barely acknowledged the honor before saying to the crowd gathered there, “Let me tell you about Jesus.” Many have written about how they met Graham for the first time and he wanted to talk about them rather than himself. He was shocked at the accolades he received because he did not think he was worthy of them. Billy Graham was a man of humility.
He preached the Bible. Graham decided early on that he would trust the Bible as God’s Word. He acknowledged that there were many things in Scripture he did not understand. There were questions of philosophy and science which he admitted he could not answer, but as he prayed at a retreat center in California: “I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word!” So in every sermon, you would Billy Graham say again and again: “The Bible says…” He preached Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected as revealed in the Word of God. Billy Graham trusted Scripture.
As I look as his life and these attributes which seemed to set him apart, I realize that the example of Billy Graham is one we can all follow. We are all called to witness and minister in the name of Jesus Christ and God has gifted each of us to do so. We can all practice integrity in our relationships, finances and every part of our lives. We can all live a life of humility, recognizing that all we have is a gift of God. We can all trust God’s Word as truth and allow it to penetrate our hearts, our words and our attitudes as we read it, study it and memorize it. And all these things we can do the same way Billy Graham did—by the help and grace of God.