Like many of you, I am deeply saddened to hear news of the death of Billy Graham today. He was a friend, a colleague, and mentor to me, and I will miss him dearly.
When reports of his declining health made headlines recently, I reflected on a trip I took with Nellie Jo to visit with Mr. Graham at his home in Montreat, North Carolina in the fall of 2009. Though it was not my first time to meet with the famed evangelist, this visit seemed especially poignant at the time. Perhaps the poignancy of the moment related to the visit in his home. I had never been to the mountaintop cabin that he and his family called home for so many years.
It was my first visit with Mr. Graham since his beloved Ruth had passed away two years prior. Her photos and keepsakes were visible throughout the home. This visit was certainly different for that reason. Still again, my time with Billy Graham was poignant because he was in his twilight years. He knew it. So did I. Sadly, this would be my last visit with him.
Lessons I Learned on My Visit
I also knew that when I meet with people like Mr. Graham, there is always an opportunity to learn from them. So in the visit I had with Mr. Graham, I wanted once again to glean from his life, his wisdom, and his experience. My quest was not disappointing. To the contrary, I came away realizing that I had been on the mountaintop in more ways than one.
Here are five simple but profound lessons I learned from that visit with Billy Graham.
- A life pleasing to the Lord is a life of integrity. The name of Billy Graham inevitably reminds us of integrity. His was a life that did not compromise morally. It was a life that was above reproach financially. And his was a life of incredible honesty. Leadership at any level cannot begin to function well unless the leader has integrity.
- Our first ministry is to our family. The home of Billy Graham was a home of love. It was the place where Billy and Ruth Graham raised children and welcomed grandchildren. At one point in my visit with Mr. Graham, he pointed to a portrait of his late wife Ruth. With tears in his eyes he said, “I can’t wait to see her in heaven.” Today, he has that joy. Thank you, sir, for reminding me again of the priority of family.
- Listen to critics, but don’t dwell on them. In my position, I am subject to criticisms more often than I like. Indeed I am pretty thin-skinned, so it is an area in which I constantly struggle. So I asked Mr. Graham how, in a lifetime of international ministry and scrutiny, he dealt with the constant stream of criticisms. He smiled at me and simply said, “I ignored most of them.” While he never implied that he was blameless, he knew that dwelling on criticisms would distract and harm his ministry. So he simply moved on.
- Humility is one of the greatest virtues of leaders. He counseled presidents and kings. He preached to millions. Volumes have been written about his life and ministry. Some have seen him to be the world’s most influential person of the second half of the twentieth century. Yet in each of the times I was with him, I witnessed one of the most humble men I’ve ever known. Billy Graham never thought too highly of himself. What an incredible example he was.
- All that really matters is Jesus. Mr. Graham preached about Him for most of his life. The message of the gospel was the heart of his ministry. He understood the brevity of life. And he knew, when it is all said and done, our relationship with Jesus Christ is all that really matters.
These lessons are but a sampling of what he has undoubtedly contributed to the millions and millions of lives he has impacted through his ministry.
It Was All About Jesus
And as I reflect on his life and ministry, I know I will never come close to becoming the man he was. Still, I can learn. And you can learn too.
We can learn to love our family and others with a greater love. We can learn to have a greater humility, understanding that we are nothing without Christ. We can learn that the simple things in life are those that really matter. And we can learn that this life is not about us.
It’s all about Jesus.
That was the life of Billy Graham. It was all about Jesus. That is the type of life I desire to have.
Thank you, Mr. Graham.
Thank you for your time. Thank you for your ministry. Thank you for your integrity. Thank you for your humility.
Thank you for your life.
Posted on February 21, 2018
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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Thank you for the tribute to Billy Graham. He was a great man of God! I think of the Billy Graham crusades that were on TV – that is what comes to mind when I think of his life. We could sure use those again!
I also read that Billy was part of the formation of Youth for Christ. How great it would be if every high school student was involved in that ministry – or other worthy ministries! I am hoping and praying that all people in this nation will stop and reflect on what Billy stood for and for the youth of this nation to know about Youth for Christ! The youth of this nation are so hungry for the redemptive message of the Gospel.
Great word, Barry.
The greatest earthly hero I have had in my life. He influenced my ministry from far away.
As a child, if he was on the tv…my brother and sister and I were lined up like ducks on the couch. I owe my quest for integrity in ministry largely to him.
We are all so indebted to him, Donnie.
I attended a revival in Rice University stadium in the early ’80s where he spoke. Afterwards I went down to meet him and shook his hand and told him it was a life changing moment for me. I told him it what a moving experience it was for me. He looked straight into my eyes and said “Mickey, I am in the moving business. Stay close to Jesus.” I will not forget that moment.
“Stay close to Jesus.” Love it!
Dr Graham was an inspiration wherever he spoke or visited. There is no man in the past 99 years who has had a greater impact on our generation than this man. Even though our hearts maybe saddened the angels in heaven, his precious wife Ruth, team member George Shea, and Cliff Barrows are welcoming him led by Jesus. God bless the Graham family for sharing such a great man with the rest of the world. We are all better people because of his encouragement.
Well said, Jesse.
When I was a young preacher in college in the 1970s, I read every Billy Graham book, phamplet, tract, etc., which helped me to understand the great need of sharing the simple Gospel and letting the Holy Spirit take it from there.
My wife and I had the privilege of touring the Billy Graham museum in Charlotte, NC, in 2016. I highly recommend this to all who wish to see what God can do with a surrendered life to His glory.
Ironically, I started reading his latest book “Where I Am” last night. I will finish reading it with renewed purpose.
Thanks, Dr. Graham, for an exemplary life. May we all be as faithful.
It’s really a great book.
Thank you Thom and thank you Reverend Graham,
I was 14 yrs old when my family went to the Graham Crusade in 1974, at Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Tx. If Billy Graham was on the television, we watched, if he was on the radio, we listened. What a blessing to have a man , declare the gospel and being unafraid, to walk through all the changes of this life into His presence. How blessed we have been to have Reverend Graham.
God has indeed used him greatly, Prentiss.
Thank you, Tom, for your key points learned from Dr. Graham. Our paths crossed many times, but I never got to speak to him or shake his hand. But one day, I will. He was such a positive influence in my life and entering the ordained ministry. We have had closer encounters with his son, Franklin, as one of my former members is best friends with Franklin in Boone NC. Dr. Graham will be sorely missed, but as my wife reminded me this morning, he is finally home with his beloved wife, Ruth, and in the presence of our Lord.
Best thing you’ve written Thom. What a simple, but prominent focus for us all.
Thank you for your kind words, Nathanael.
Lesson #3 is one that all leaders need to learn well. I have learned to listen and draw some truth from statements of critics. I do so to grow in order to be the best leader I can.
Me too, Scott.
Welcome home thou good and faithful servant! May The Lord grant us another example here on this earth of integrity, family values and humility. We sure lost a beacon to many today.
all to say is that he’s done his and we that are left must do it more than what he did. God our Lord said in His word ” when the Holy Spirit comes on you shall do more than what I did” so pls brethren do well to do more our God , for his death strengthen you to do more
Thank you, David.
At 13 yrs of age in a movie theatre in Salina Ks I heard the Gospel preached by Billy Graham in the film For Pete’s Sake… for 54 years Jesus has been my Savior & Lord…thank You Lord for using this man to help so many know Jesus… to be saved from hell, abundant life here & life eternal in heaven with our Lord! It’s all about Jesus…& His coming, living, taking our sin at the cross, dying & His resurrection three days later…defeating the enemy…Victory in Jesus! Alleluia!He lives!
Great story, Janice.