Five Key Lessons from the Life of Billy Graham

Billy Graham passed away peacefully on February 21, 2012, at his family home in Montreat, NC at the age of 99. Many have referred to him as the most influential preacher since the Apostle Paul. That would be difficult to argue.

An advisor to twelve different US Presidents, Graham traveled the world preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in stadiums and arenas on multiple continents. There are many lessons we can learn from the life of Billy Graham.

First, he was committed to the Bible. He believed that the Bible speaks God’s truth throughout the ages. Graham did not dismiss scholarship but he believed with all his heart in the transforming power of God’s word. He preached it boldly and without apology. Graham had the utmost confidence that the word of God speaks for itself and his sermons were full of scripture. A common theme in his message was repentance and the importance of second chances.

Secondly, Graham demonstrated the relevance of the gospel to political life without becoming overtly partisan. Somebody once tried to corner Graham on a contentious political issue to see where he really stood. Graham responded: “I look at the birds of the sky. They have a right-wing and a left-wing, and it takes both to fly.” Graham counseled both Republican and Democratic presidents without getting bogged down in the partisan fray. He knew that the gospel message transcended partisan politics and he worked for unity. The Mainline and Evangelical church have often become far too obsessed with politics and contentious social issues that simply divide the body of Christ.

Third, Billy Graham stood firm in the face of criticism. He was attacked and denounced by fundamentalists and liberals alike. Graham would reach out to his detractors both publicly and privately and work to reconcile. He turned the other cheek and did not respond harshly. Yet, Graham was fully aware that part of being a leader and a public figure was learning to face criticism, and he did so with courage and grace. He recognized that if you dabble in politics, you can expect to be betrayed. After all, Nixon secretly recorded their personal conversations.

Fourth, Graham lived a life of character and integrity. He was the same person in private that he was in public. He had nothing to hide. He was always honest about missteps and regrets, one of them being how often he was away from his family because of his calling and schedule. He was faithful and committed to his wife Ruth for sixty four years, until her death in 2007. He and Ruth loved their five children, and they passed their faith legacy along to them.

Lastly, Graham knew that, for Christians, there was no substitute for an authentic, personal relationship with Christ. In an age of cultural Christianity, this is very important. He was once invited to preach at Duke Chapel the first year Will Willimon was the minister there. After the service, standing in Willimon’s office, Graham said: “You will have a great ministry here and I wish you well. But many of these folks are completely unaware the Christ is eager to have them.”

Graham knew that discipleship involves commitment, passion, and sacrifice. It is not always convenient or comfortable.


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