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 your words about Billy Graham. I have not met him but felt that I know more about him from what you wrote. He was high on the list of the few peaceful souls in my lifetime, such as Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandella. I will always remember him as grace under fire in what ever circumstance this country was in.
I saw him at a crusade in Portland, Oregon in the early 90’s. I was struck by the simplicity of his appeal to the hearts of the people to give their lives to Jesus. It is impossible to quantify what a huge impact he had on America. When people ask me what an evangelical is — rather than get tangled up in theology — I sometimes just say, “Billy Graham” – We are like him. May God help that to be true of us.
My encounter with Billy Graham was truly life changing for a different reason. I was working in one of the Crusades as volunteer staff on loan from another mission to glean administrative and managerial practices for our team. At one point near the end of the meetings, the team I was working with stood for a photo with Dr. Graham. He was clearly weary from the crusade and was, I had been told, recovering from an illness. Being somewhat taller and at that point much bigger, it fell upon me to put my arm around him, steady him and ease any strain as a result of the hot sun and the long wait, yet not look like I was doing anything. The ironies of that moment were profound: he was skin and bones but had an amazing strength of presence, his bright blue eyes called out from the pallor of his face with an odd mix of deep passion and grace, and, he had an unmistakable just-down-from-the-mountain-like-Moses aura about him. It shook me. It challenged me. It humbled me. He brought Jesus with him. Would that I would always strive for that.
Billy Graham’s life was a life well lived for the Lord. You presented a beautiful tribute to him for all of us to live by. Like others have mentioned, we were always gathered by the TV when one of his crusades was being televised. He had a big impact on all of our lives.
Prentiss, it was my privilege twice to attend that same Lubbock crusade in 74. Small world.
Thank you for reminding us of his integrity, among all the other things that produce “well done, good and faithful servant”!!
Well done they good and faithful servant, enter in! I will see you one day and shake your hand.
I learned of the Rev. Graham’s passing while reading one of your helpful articles. That was how I saw your reflection, entitled “Thank You, Billy Graham”. Given his life was dedicated to teaching, it is fitting that you used the news of his death as a chance to reflect both upon your last visit with him and what that visit (and his entire life) can teach all of us.
Thank you so much, Jeff. It was a humbling honor to be with him.
Good stuff right here…
I’ve seen lots of folks quote Dr. Graham today — one frequent quote has been- “Most of us know about God, but that is much different than knowing God”
I think your learned lessons can be seen as 5 characteristics of really knowing God…..
I agree, Clark.
As our precious Lord would say–Well done thy good and faithful servant.
I am saddened today to hear of Dr. Graham’s death. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Graham, I did have the opportunity to visit the museum and the house he grew up in several years ago when my son was ordained in North Carolina. He was, is, and always will be much loved throughout the world.