Well-known, well-received, and highly regarded, the evangelist Rev. Billy Graham passed away on Wednesday, February 21, 1988. He was 99 years old. The world clearly has taken note of this man’s life and has observed how he lived both his ordinary life and not-so-ordinary life as a faith practising Christian.
Besides all his admirable accomplishments, there are more things worth noting and learning from this man of God.
1. He was a non-exclusivist.
As Jesus was known to be a friend and minister to sinners so was Billy Graham known to be an “inclusive” minister. By checking print and online write-ups about Billy Graham, you will notice a large diversity of people commenting on their experience and personal regard for him. He wasn’t selective as to the types of people he interacted with. He opened himself up to people from different walks of life. He worked alongside people of both religious and non-religious sectors. When it came to faith-based projects, he was willing and did collaborate with Christians of different faith groups and associations. He was also willing to collaborate with non-believers if it presented opportunities to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. He had a positive thought on death.
Death and dying is a matter normally accompanied by bleakness, uncertainty, and dread. It’s not a topic everyone happily talks about. It’s not an experience welcomed by all. It brings sadness and suffering to all those who’ve been touched by death- both on the person who died and on the people he (or she) has left behind to experience the after-effects.
Billy Graham maintained a positive thought about death. He was at peace. For him, dying meant gaining access to the actual place and presence of God. Franklin Graham shared Billy Graham’s reply when asked about heaven and dying. Billy Graham answered, “Heaven is where Jesus is and I am going to Him soon!” At one time he also said, “Someday, you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.
3. He had an undistracted view about performance and achievements.
One time Billy Graham was asked what he would want to hear people say about him when he died. He answered, “I want to hear one person say something nice about me and that’s the Lord, when I face him. I want him to say to me, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’” This desire of his showed in the way he conducted his life and ministry. He was never afraid to cross “man-made” boundaries and standards for faith and practice. Throughout Billy Graham’s life, differing views and criticisms on his conduct of life and work were reported and opposing viewpoints are still expressed today. But He maintained boldness in breaking new grounds for doing God’s work and propagating the Gospel.
4. He was honest about his failings.
Some common observations people had on Billy Graham were his honesty and unpretentiousness. People saw his readiness to admit error. Despite the great influence and the prestige he had achieved in life, he listened to what people had to say. He agreed when there was common ground. Where there was disagreement, he went on his way and focused on his ministry endeavours. He took correction and admitted faults. At one time he even said, “Looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.”
When confronted, we see a lot of renowned personalities and politicians evading issues that expose their wrongdoings. A lot deny to the very end. Many try to cover up. Many others just avoid dealing with the matter and simply wait for people to forget. Billy Graham faced issues head-on. The most damaging issue that confronted him must have been the taped conversation he had in 1972 with then President Nixon. The recording released to the public showed Graham making anti-Jew remarks. Upon its release, Graham promptly owned up to his error and earnestly sought forgiveness from U.S. Jewish leaders. In a book, Grant Wacker retold the story. He mentioned how Billy Graham rightly dealt with the issue. Wacker said, “He did not spin it. He did not try to justify it. He said repeatedly he had done wrong, and he was sorry.”
There are many more things we can learn from the life of Billy Graham. His life serves as a useful resource for ministers and laypeople alike. His life was an open book that shows leaders and workers how to do ministry, how not to do it, and how to just live life as a child of God.