February 21, 2018
Reflecting over the amazing arc of his ministry, the Reverend Billy Graham wrote, “I know that my life will soon be over. I thank God for it, and for all He has given me in this life. But I look forward to Heaven.” On Wednesday, his wait was over. Nine months shy of his 100th birthday, America’s pastor went to enjoy the one thing he cared most about: eternity.
An ordinary man with an extraordinary calling, Billy Graham was as comfortable in the halls of power as he was in the mud huts of Africa. To both, the message was the same: Jesus died for your sins, repent, and give your life to him. A living, walking manifestation of the Great Commission, no man was more willing to carry the gospel to willing hearts. The times may have changed, but Billy Graham did not. Through the world’s greatest challenges — segregation, war, poverty, scandal — people took comfort in the powerful and unassuming presence of one of history’s greatest evangelists. A fixture through 12 administrations, Billy Graham never let race, party, age, or stature get in the way of deepest conviction: that Christ loves and died for us all.
“I’ve been asked, ‘What is the secret?’ Graham said of his preaching. “Is it showmanship, organization, or what?” The secret, he told them, “is God.” “I would be nothing without Him.” No country was too far, no region too dangerous, or obstacle too high to keep Billy Graham from carrying the hope of Christ to the lost. He was the brightest of lights in the darkest of corners.
I never had the chance to meet Billy Graham personally, but, like so many generations, I grew up under his influence as he took evangelicalism mainstream – opening the hearts and minds of people with the gospel. In many ways, he helped lay the foundation for the so-called religious right, always relating current events back to God’s timeless truths. Whether he was speaking to thousands in New York City or to neighbors at the dinner table, Billy Graham was a gentle and uncompromising voice for truth. In a deeply divided nation, he was proof that we can love and live and serve as one.
“I’m not even a very good preacher!” he would exclaim to James Robison. In many ways, the man who brought millions to Christ with his deep compassion and sincerity never knew how famous and influential he was. Perhaps now, in heaven, surrounded by the millions of people brought to salvation through his obedience, Reverend Graham will finally understand what the rest of the world already does — his greatest ministry wasn’t the words he said, but the life he lived.
In my view, what makes a person great is not so much what they built or what’s behind them. Their legacy is what’s yet to come — not just in eternity, but here on earth. To me, the testament of a great man is faithful children. I’ve had the privilege to not just know, but co-labor with Franklin and Anne. Psalm 127:4 says, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so [are] the children of one’s youth.” A wise man will attend to those arrows and walk with integrity before his children, so they’ll know that his faith is real. Billy Graham lived with integrity, he finished well, and he leaves behind a legacy for those coming after him whose influence will only be magnified. May they take comfort in the joyous moment it must have been when Dr. Graham finally heard the words he longed years to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.