Last fall, in an article commemorating the 99th birthday of Dr. Billy Graham, I shared three things which Billy thought were the most important principles which people who thought of his or his life should take to heart.
They were, in a nutshell: 1. Follow in the steps of Jesus intimately; 2. Read the Word of God daily; 3. Don’t neglect to pray diligently and constantly. Those three simple thoughts guided his life and ministry for over 80 years.
I was reminded of those when I read this week about an interview which Billy Graham granted a few months ago to a reporter who was trying to get his reaction to all the publicity he had garnered through the years.
The following is a paraphrased version of their conversation. The reporter asked him how he handled the public acclaim. Billy replied, “Oh, I don’t think about that. All the honor and glory goes to Christ.”
And he would say no more about it. What did he think about all the crowds who came to hear him? “That’s all God’s doing. I just want them to hear about and respond to Jesus.”
After several of these questions, the reporter, frustrated with his responses, finally asked him how he maintained his close walk with God through all he had gone through. He said Billy’s face lightened up and he actually got excited.
The two men were in Billy’s home in North Carolina, and Billy pointed to a table beside one of the chairs in the room. “See that open Bible there?” he asked the reporter. “That’s what keeps me going?” On that table was indeed an open Bible.
Billy continued, “Every day, I begin the day by reading from that book. I try to take to heart what I am reading. I’m not preparing a sermon, or thinking about anybody else but me. I meditate on what I have read. And when I am done, I lay the Bible there on that table, still open to the passage I have just read.
Then throughout the day, as I am going about my business, I will come into this room at different times of the day, and I will pick up that open Bible and continue to read God’s Word, picking up right where I left off.
It doesn’t matter if it is five minutes or another hour, I just read and meditate on what I am reading. I try to read it as a prayer as well. I lay the Bible down, open, just as you see it there, and will pick it up the next time I have opportunity to do so.” He went on to say that he always took that Bible with him whenever he traveled and left it the same way wherever he was staying.
Quite frankly, that is one of the best statements I have ever heard regarding how to maintain a close walk with God in the midst of a world that is seemingly going awry with every headline.
What Billy was telling us is that no matter where he is, no matter what he is doing, he is always consciously thinking and meditating on God’s Word and treating it as a prayer conversation with God Himself. He even admitted that his “method” was the closest thing he could think of to “praying without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
In the history of America, down through the ages of our country, there have been a few times where the nation has been “taken by storm”, as it were by periods of great revival. Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening was one of those times. The Second Great Awakening was another; the Laymen’s Prayer Revival, a third.
I am convinced that one of the longest periods of biblical awakening in our nation’s history will be known as the Billy Graham period of revival.
Charles and Frances were two retired folks who had lived their whole lives in a small town near where I served as pastor many years ago. Their only son was a member of the church.
While he had spoken with them many times about Christ, he still was not sure about their relationship with Him, so he had asked me if I would visit with them some time. I agreed and one evening I knocked on their door. The son was not at home, but they invited me in. Charles seemed uninterested in my visit and left the room once I entered. But Frances encouraged me to sit down and we began to talk.
The more we talked, the more convinced I became that this lady was indeed a true Christ-follower. She related to me how she had prayed to trust Christ as her personal Savior during a televised Billy Graham crusade just a few months earlier. She remembered the topic of the message and how it had impacted her so much that she saw her own sinfulness and repented right there in that room, and began her new life with Christ that evening.
I know that same story is repeated countless times, either by individuals who, like Frances responded to the message in their own living rooms, or in stadiums around the world where Billy was invited to preach the Gospel.
God used this godly man in magnificent ways. And his message never changed; it was always the same: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Some of Billy’s final words were these: “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.”
Thank you, Billy Graham, for a life well-lived and a message well-said.
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Hillsboro Times-Gazette and the Wilmington News Journal. He is also the former Pastor of Faith Community Church in Hillsboro and Port William UMC.