By Christine Darg, Jerusalem Channel
In recent years one of Billy Graham’s best loved quotes was:
“One day you’ll hear that Billy Graham has died. Don’t you believe it. On that day, I’ll be more alive than ever before! I’ve just changed addresses.”
That day finally came February 21, 2018, and we dreaded it. He was frail and wanted to go home, but like all great parents, we didn’t want to let go of such a treasure.
I once read about a survey somebody did for a master’s thesis on the active life of a typical evangelist, and if my memory serves me correctly, the length of most evangelists’ ministries is only, on the average, 14 years due to the rigors of travel and other pressures involved in itinerant ministry. The fact that Graham, 99, served the Lord so faithfully and survived scandal for so many decades is a tremendous accomplishment. The only other evangelist in my lifetime whom I’ve known personally to serve the Lord so faithfully and fervently for many decades without scandal has been my great mentor Reinhard Bonnke, 77. May the Lord preserve Evangelist Bonnke, because the passing of Billy Graham leaves a big hole.
The nation’s evangelist-pastor will lie in honor in the US Capitol rotunda for two days beginning next week from Wednesday, February 28 through Thursday, March 1.
I’d hoped that Billy would to be honoured at the Capitol: this is an appropriate honour. Despite our many national sins, America will give honour to whom honour is due. This coming week will be a window of reflection and opportunity–an extended period of grace–for our nation to take stock and to repent. Many believers have felt that Billy Graham’s passing is connected to the end of the Times of the Gentiles.
Graham, spiritual confidant to American presidents, spread the Gospel in 185 countries and was privileged to preach to more people than any evangelist in history. Even though he was a “country boy,” he was especially gifted with a statesman anointing to penetrate world cultures, even winning the favour of the British monarch and the British public–not an easy feat for an American preacher! The only “live” Graham meeting that we attended was at Earl’s Court in London which greatly impacted one of our sons.
President Trump issued a heart-warming statement: “Billy’s acceptance of Jesus Christ around his seventeenth birthday not only changed his life—it changed our country and the world. He was one of the towering figures of the last 100 years—an American hero whose life and leadership truly earned him the title ‘God’s Ambassador.’”
Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, will take part in a service when Graham’s casket arrives at the Capitol, and members of the public will be invited to pay their respects. The funeral on Friday, March 2 at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., is expected to be private. Billy will be laid to rest by the grave of his beloved wife Ruth, who was born in China, daughter of Presbyterian missionaries.
Last year we visited the Billy Graham Library and Ruth’s grave, which is marked with the Chinese character for righteousness, the same character on the gravestone of Dr. Nelson Bell, her medical missionary father. Ruth’s gravestone also says in her typical humor, “End of Construction. Thank you for your patience.” All Billy wants on his tombstone is, “Preacher.” How appropriate for the self-effacing evangelist who has been eulogized this week for his humility.
Billy Graham left his mark on my life. As an evangelist, I always felt connected to him. He was a contemporary of my godly parents, and in their retirement years, they had a holiday cottage in Montreat, N.C, near the Graham residence. I was privileged to meet Billy Graham during a TV interview conducted by the Christian Broadcasting Network, and his gracious personality impacted me. He was so cordial, down-to-earth and unaffected. I’d hoped that I could always be as gracious and open-hearted to the people I meet. His passion and language sprung from a confidence that was altogether genuine and compelling. He had a gift for the altar call that was authoritative, “You come!” And then he would bow his head, fold his heads and pray while the choir sang “Just As I am,” and the Holy Spirit compelled people to get out of their seats, come forward and make a “decision” for Christ.
He was not the first evangelist in my life. Actually, Jesus Himself was the very first Evangelist in my life because He appeared to me in an open vision in one of my earliest childhood memories and healed me of a deathly sickness, so I’ve always believed in Jesus. There was never a time in my life when I didn’t know Jesus and when I didn’t believe in Him! But it was my dear father of blessed memory who taught me the Gospel and who taught me how Jesus had died to save me from my sins. My father taught me that God had provided the world with a Savior in His Son Jesus.
But the Lord strategically used Billy Graham to strengthen my faith in my teen years and in my personal revival in my 20s. I used to soak up his sermons on TV. As a budding eschatalogist, I especially appreciated his sermons on the Second Coming. Billy preached more sermons on the Second Coming than any evangelist I know.
His morals also influenced me. Graham and his associates had made a pact that they would never be in the solitary company of women other than their wives. This decision kept them free from temptations and scandal. Vice President Mike Pence also picked up the same values and expressed this during the 2016 presidential campaign. Pence has been mocked for holding such a high moral standard, but wisdom is justified by its results. I made it a policy to go out two-by-two—always to be accompanied by another woman in the ministry when my husband could not be with me. I learned this protection from the Gospel pattern practiced by my own wise parents, and reinforced by Billy Graham’s example.
Although he almost lived to be 100, Billy once said that “the greatest surprise in life is the brevity of life!”
I appreciate that Billy Graham understood the place of Israel in the Bible and in the world today. He once said, “The Jews are God’s Chosen People….We cannot place ourselves in opposition to Israel without detriment to ourselves.”
“There were a few times when I thought I was dying, and I saw my whole life come before me,” said Graham at his Cincinnati Crusade on June 24, 2002. “I didn’t say to the Lord, ‘I’m a preacher, and I’ve preached to many people.’ I said, ‘Oh Lord, I’m a sinner, and I still need Your forgiveness. I still need the Cross.’ And I asked the Lord to give me peace in my heart, and He did—a wonderful peace that hasn’t left me.”
Before his death, Billy Graham approved the following response as his final ‘My Answer’ column to the question of how he would like to be remembered:
“I hope I will be remembered as someone who was faithful—faithful to God, faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and faithful to the calling God gave me not only as an evangelist, but as a husband, father and friend.I’m sure I’ve failed in many ways, but I take comfort in Christ’s promise of forgiveness, and I take comfort also in God’s ability to take even our most imperfect efforts and use them for His glory.“By the time you read this, I will be in heaven, and as I write this I’m looking forward with great anticipation to the day when I will be in God’s presence forever.. . .But I won’t be in heaven because I’ve preached to large crowds or because I’ve tried to live a good life. I’ll be in heaven for one reason: Many years ago I put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to make our forgiveness possible and rose again from the dead to give us eternal life. Do you know you will go to heaven when you die? You can, by committing your life to Jesus Christ today.For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).”
Who will receive Graham’s mantle of evangelism? His daughter Anne Graham Lotz wrote on her Facebook page that everybody who wants to pick up Billy’s baton must do it.
This week Charisma Magazine also asked who will pick up Graham’s prayer mantle?
This is because when Graham was asked about the most important steps in preparing for an evangelistic outreach, he always answered that there were three things that mattered most: “Prayer, prayer and prayer.”
[Featured image photo credit: internet screenshot, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association]