It has been almost 20 years since Billy Graham published his autobiography entitled Just As I Am. At that time he was in his late 70s. Billy Graham is a remarkable man who has lived a remarkable life. (Incidentally, he is still alive in his late 90s, although I understand suffering quite a bit from Parkinson’s.)
He was raised on a farm in North Carolina, from a Christian family, and when he is 18 years old he commits his life to Christ, attending Florida Bible Institute and later Wheaton College. There he meets Ruth Bell, who had been raised by missionaries in China. Soon they will marry and begin a long, strong marriage until her death many years later.
Billy Graham serves for a time as a pastor and with a youth ministry and as a college president of a small Bible college in Minneapolis. Pretty soon he gives himself wholly to his life’s calling, that of evangelism.
The watershed tour happened in 1949 when Billy Graham was only 31 years old. The crowds packed in, the crusade was extended by many weeks, and Billy Graham became a household name in our country. After that, Billy Graham and his team never looked back, doing crusades across the United States, and then, beginning in 1954 with a crusade in London, on other continents around the world. He took cities and he took countries by storm. Or rather, the Spirit of God fell upon him and his preaching and God used it incredibly.
Most of the book was underwhelming in that it became a bit tedious, talking about crusade after crusade – and by no means did he cover every one of the crusades in the book. But still, it grew tedious and I began to wonder when is he going to share his heart, his life, his soul, his family. He would drip tidbits here and there, but it was overall a bit superficial until the end, when he includes four chapters of reflections. He talks about the close teammates that he worked with, many of whom were with him the entire time!
He also talks about friendship that he had shared across the years. And then the best chapter yet, on his home and family and heart.
The long autobiography finished well, just as he did in his ministry.
The impact of Billy Graham’s ministry is phenomenal. They way God used this man. The thousands upon thousands who came to Christ and made decisions for Christ. The millions upon millions who heard the gospel through him. Clearly, God’s hand was upon him in an unmistakable way. Sovereign grace. I think this is the most significant fact about him and his ministry, the way God’s hand was upon him.
At the same time, Billy Graham is a deeply godly man, with a deep heart for God. He is a man of profound and genuine humility. He is a man of the Scriptures who is faithful to the Word of God. He is a man of prayer, something that I did not really understand until I read this autobiography. His crusades were bathed in prayer and he personally was a man of prayer.
Clearly, Billy and Ruth Graham had a wonderful marriage, which is somewhat surprising considering Billy traveled so much. How he did travel! Whenever he could he would coax Ruth into joining him on one of his extended trips. But they also had five children and it was limited how much she could travel with him. He would be gone for weeks and weeks, and even months and months at a time while his children were small. He expressed some regrets about being away too much, but when he was home it seems like he was a fully engaged father and loved by his kids. Two of the five kids, the two boys, had periods of rebellion, but all five became devoted followers of Jesus and the two boys devoted their lives to full-time Christian service.
I was also struck that Billy Graham was not just a great preacher but he was a great leader. He was an innovator with evangelism and crusades. He was always behind some innovative step. He was also a team builder. It is remarkable the close team that he built and maintained around him.
One of the most surprising things in the book was his relationship with president after president, beginning with Harry Truman and running at least through George W. Bush. By the time President Obama was in office his Parkinson’s had deteriorated too badly. But he knew, quite well, most of these presidents. And he was good friends with some of these presidents – Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, the first President Bush. Most of these presidents treated him as their pastor.
In addition, it seems like in every country he would go to for a crusade he would at some point meet with the country’s leader. For example, he probably met over the years with Queen Elizabeth a dozen times. God raised him up and used him in an unusual way.
Thank God for Billy Graham