Like many of you, I am deeply saddened to hear news of the death of Billy Graham today. He was a friend, a colleague, and mentor to me, and I will miss him dearly.
When reports of his declining health made headlines recently, I reflected on a trip I took with Nellie Jo to visit with Mr. Graham at his home in Montreat, North Carolina in the fall of 2009. Though it was not my first time to meet with the famed evangelist, this visit seemed especially poignant at the time. Perhaps the poignancy of the moment related to the visit in his home. I had never been to the mountaintop cabin that he and his family called home for so many years.
It was my first visit with Mr. Graham since his beloved Ruth had passed away two years prior. Her photos and keepsakes were visible throughout the home. This visit was certainly different for that reason. Still again, my time with Billy Graham was poignant because he was in his twilight years. He knew it. So did I. Sadly, this would be my last visit with him.
Lessons I Learned on My Visit
I also knew that when I meet with people like Mr. Graham, there is always an opportunity to learn from them. So in the visit I had with Mr. Graham, I wanted once again to glean from his life, his wisdom, and his experience. My quest was not disappointing. To the contrary, I came away realizing that I had been on the mountaintop in more ways than one.
Here are five simple but profound lessons I learned from that visit with Billy Graham.
- A life pleasing to the Lord is a life of integrity. The name of Billy Graham inevitably reminds us of integrity. His was a life that did not compromise morally. It was a life that was above reproach financially. And his was a life of incredible honesty. Leadership at any level cannot begin to function well unless the leader has integrity.
- Our first ministry is to our family. The home of Billy Graham was a home of love. It was the place where Billy and Ruth Graham raised children and welcomed grandchildren. At one point in my visit with Mr. Graham, he pointed to a portrait of his late wife Ruth. With tears in his eyes he said, “I can’t wait to see her in heaven.” Today, he has that joy. Thank you, sir, for reminding me again of the priority of family.
- Listen to critics, but don’t dwell on them. In my position, I am subject to criticisms more often than I like. Indeed I am pretty thin-skinned, so it is an area in which I constantly struggle. So I asked Mr. Graham how, in a lifetime of international ministry and scrutiny, he dealt with the constant stream of criticisms. He smiled at me and simply said, “I ignored most of them.” While he never implied that he was blameless, he knew that dwelling on criticisms would distract and harm his ministry. So he simply moved on.
- Humility is one of the greatest virtues of leaders. He counseled presidents and kings. He preached to millions. Volumes have been written about his life and ministry. Some have seen him to be the world’s most influential person of the second half of the twentieth century. Yet in each of the times I was with him, I witnessed one of the most humble men I’ve ever known. Billy Graham never thought too highly of himself. What an incredible example he was.
- All that really matters is Jesus. Mr. Graham preached about Him for most of his life. The message of the gospel was the heart of his ministry. He understood the brevity of life. And he knew, when it is all said and done, our relationship with Jesus Christ is all that really matters.
These lessons are but a sampling of what he has undoubtedly contributed to the millions and millions of lives he has impacted through his ministry.
It Was All About Jesus
And as I reflect on his life and ministry, I know I will never come close to becoming the man he was. Still, I can learn. And you can learn too.
We can learn to love our family and others with a greater love. We can learn to have a greater humility, understanding that we are nothing without Christ. We can learn that the simple things in life are those that really matter. And we can learn that this life is not about us.
It’s all about Jesus.
That was the life of Billy Graham. It was all about Jesus. That is the type of life I desire to have.
Thank you, Mr. Graham.
Thank you for your time. Thank you for your ministry. Thank you for your integrity. Thank you for your humility.
Thank you for your life.