“Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” —Matthew 25:23 NKJV
As you’ve probably heard, Pastor Billy Graham went home to be with the Lord yesterday morning at 99 years of age.
Years ago in Portland, Oregon, I had the opportunity to accompany Billy Graham to one of his crusades. On a night of what would be a record attendance, I drove over with him to the event. As I recall, Billy’s long-time friend T.W. Wilson was driving. I sat in front, and Billy and his son Franklin were in back.
When we arrived at the stadium and Billy made his way to the platform, I was struck by the expressions of awe on people’s faces. It was as if Moses were passing through their midst.
Billy, however, seemed completely unimpressed with all the adulation. He got up and delivered a powerful message, and then, when he was done, we all piled into the car to drive back to the hotel. As a fellow preacher, I felt like I should say something nice about his message that night. So I turned around in my seat, looked at him in the back seat, and said, “Billy, that was a great message tonight.”
“It’s just Gospel,” he replied.
I turned back around, thinking to myself, I was just trying to offer him a compliment. Maybe I should say something more specific. I turned to the back seat again and said, “I really liked the part where you said, ‘He can re-sensitize your conscience.’”
He looked at me and said, “Well, He can.”
I turned back around again and thought, Okay, fine, I’m not offering him another compliment!
How can a man be in the position he is in and not have that go to his head? It’s been said that it takes a steady hand to hold a full cup, and God has trusted him with so much responsibility through the years. In all my memories of him, Billy just liked to sit around and chat and be a regular person. He would be as interested in you as you were in him, which didn’t make any sense at all to me. Why would he want to ask my opinion or listen to what I had to say? If there’s one word that sums him up, it would be gracious—but I would have to add humble, too. Billy has always been gracious, not just to a noted person like a president or a celebrity, but just as gracious to a person he just met in a restaurant or on the street. He always seems to take a great interest in individuals, and I think that has been one of the secrets of his success.
A person once wrote that if you ever see a turtle on a fencepost, you know someone put him there; he didn’t get there by himself. I think Billy Graham has always recognized that. When it was all said and done, he was just a farmer from Charlotte. He was raised on a dairy farm, and he would say, “I’m just a country preacher.” People would dismiss this as though he didn’t mean it, but in reality he did. He was just a country preacher who was elevated by God to a level that very few others have ever been to, if any.
I remember spending some time with him after attending a Board of Directors meeting for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It was just prior to the release of a major biography on Billy, and he was concerned about what had been written about him—as anyone would be. After all, you never know what the author will write about you, who they have talked to, or even if they’re going to be completely truthful.
At one point in this discussion I said to him, “Billy, you have lived a life of integrity. You are a man of God. You have nothing to be embarrassed or concerned about. I know this biography will be fantastic, because you’ve lived a wonderful life as a follower of Jesus Christ.” And sure enough, it was. But the fact that he’d even have this concern showed that he had his insecurities just like anyone else. Nevertheless, he had no skeletons in his closet to fear, and he has maintained a sterling reputation through all his years of ministry.