In a day when worthy role models are in scarce supply, and public spiritual leaders are suspect, Billy Graham looms as a man of God. Probably no individual has so influenced the direction of conservative Christianity in the 20th Century. Recently I completed two books on his life, and five impressions stand out:
1. He sees the big picture while keeping the vision and approach simple — Graham has always pushed out the walls in asking, “How can we reach more people?” “Is there a better way to do it?” He refuses to get bogged down in the details at the expense of the larger picture.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish… Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest‘? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest… ” (Proverbs 29:18a – kjv; John 4:35)
2. He refuses to get enmeshed in petty religious factions — When Graham came on the scene in the 1940’s, conservative Christianity was embroiled in doctrinal factions and in fierce skirmishes with liberals. Graham has avoided these entanglements by staying focused on the larger issue of winning the lost.
“You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,‘ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,‘ are you not mere men?” (1 Corinthians 2:2, 3)
3. He refuses to criticize others or defend himself — He has been the object of fierce criticism by ultra-conservatives who take exception to involving “liberals” in his crusades. In reading about Graham, I was repeatedly struck by his gracious response to their vitriol.
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
4. He exhibits integrity in the use of money — He takes steps to ensure that his books are regularly audited by a public accounting firm and that the results are published for public perusal. The money he has made from his 16 books has been given away to charity and related causes. His home, salary and personal lifestyle are modest.
“If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else‘s property, who will give you property of your own? (Luke 16:11, 12)
5. He refuses to take any credit for how God is using Him. In fact he has often stated,
“When I get to heaven, the first question I am going to ask God is, ‘Why did you choose to use a farm boy like me?'”
“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.” (Proverbs 27:2)