On Feb. 21, 2018, the world lost Billy Graham. God’s ambassador was called home after eight decades of faithful service to the Kingdom. From the far corners of the earth, people mourned his death while also celebrating his well-lived life. Highlight reels showed massive stadium Crusades, meetings with presidents and dignitaries, and clips from national talk shows.
Yes, the world lost Billy Graham, but I lost Daddy Bill. I lost the grandfather whom I loved dearly, whom I would visit often, whose advice I regularly sought. I lost the man who could fill a room with his presence, but was too humble to know it. I lost the granddaddy who would stop an event to wrap his grandson in an encompassing embrace.
I say that I “lost” my grandfather, but we know that isn’t the case. I know exactly where he is, and I know that I’ll be seeing him again soon enough. Thanks to the beautiful hope that we have in our risen Savior, death has been robbed of its victory, stripped of its sting. Rather, when my grandfather closed his eyes in this broken world for the final time, he opened them in the peace and presence of Jesus.
Months before my grandfather slipped into eternity, I began a pair of projects that were far outside my comfort zone. As we mark what would have been my grandfather’s 100th birthday this month, I’d like to share a bit about these efforts, and specifically the lessons God taught me through them.
First, I agreed to portray my grandfather in a Universal Studios film titled Unbroken: Path to Redemption. The movie tells the incredible story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympian and prisoner of war who returned home from WWII with what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder. Louis was haunted by nightmares, was on the verge of divorce, and had become an alcoholic. He had survived the ruthlessness of war, but was now on the road to destruction in peacetime.
Miraculously, Louis found true and lasting peace when he surrendered his life to Christ at my grandfather’s historic 1949 Los Angeles Crusade. After beginning a relationship with Jesus, Louis never had another nightmare, never took another sip of alcohol, and his marriage was restored.
Shortly after filming my role in the movie, I began writing my first book, a collection of 50 daily devotionals that is called Redeemed: Devotions for the Longing Soul, published by Thomas Nelson and available now from Ruth’s Attic at billygrahambookstore.org. It was my goal in this endeavor to tell what I call “God stories,” times in my life, family and ministry when I’ve seen God at work, and the lessons we can learn from those experiences. I share several stories from my relationship with my grandfather as well, and every chapter of the book includes a quote from him.
Through both of these efforts—the movie and the book—I spent significant time studying my grandfather, delving deeply into his writing and sermons. In doing so, I was reminded of several key characteristics that God instilled in him—characteristics that made him who he was and that allowed him to be used by God in such an incredible way.
First, my grandfather was humble, and it was a genuine, Christ-focused humility. It was a humility that said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV). And, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14, ESV). In a world where most seek to elevate themselves, my grandfather humbled himself and refused to take any credit for the work of the Holy Spirit.
Second, God reminded me of His faithfulness to us through Scripture and how it forms the grace-filled bedrock of everything we do in life. Even Christ quoted the Scriptures, understanding their importance. Through these projects I was again impacted by the fact that my grandfather also understood this truth and made a conscious decision to quote Scripture consistently. He knew that there was supernatural power in the divine, powerful, living Word of God, and it pierced the hearts of those hearing it.
Third, God showed me that He communicated truth to people in different ways. He communicated by parables, by miracles, by speaking to large crowds, and oftentimes speaking to individuals. Further, He communicated His will through multiple means—through spoken word, through visions and dreams. Even nature declares the workings of God.
My grandfather understood this as well. And so God gifted him with the vision to see multiple ways to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ, and the innovation and boldness to pursue those opportunities. He knew and understood that there were some who would never enter a church, but who would go to a movie, turn on the television or radio, or read a book. His desire was to meet those people where they were, so that they, too, could know the hope of the Savior. Both the movie and the book stretched me, but I did them because it’s what God called me to do in order to reach as many as possible.
Fourth, God revealed to me that there needs to be a sense of urgency when preaching the Gospel. The prophets, Jesus, and even the disciples preached with a sense of urgency.
God also instilled in my grandfather a sense of urgency to preach the Gospel while there was still time. My grandfather knew that Christ was returning, eternity was at stake and the “fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35, ESV). Heaven and hell hung in the balance. One never knew when they would take their last breath on this earth, and my grandfather did everything he could to make sure that people knew the gravity of their decision.
Finally, God taught me to preach for a verdict. Every conversation Jesus had was to get people to make a decision regarding Him or some other spiritual truth.
And God gave my grandfather the authority to do the same. He didn’t just ask people to respond to the Good News of Christ. Like Peter in Acts 2, crying out, “Repent and be baptized,” my grandfather would command, “Come now!” And many did. Eternity was changed for millions because of it. Similarly, through this process I learned that I must inform people about spiritual truth, but also confront them to make a decision. When we encounter God through His Word, we cannot stay the same.
My friends, God instilled these gifts in my grandfather, and then used him in incredible, eternity-altering ways around the globe over the course of eight decades. As we celebrate both his homegoing as well as his 100th birthday, I’m very grateful for these lessons and pray that you will join me in clinging to the Savior and spreading His Gospel until we, too, are called into the presence of Christ.
In his first book, Will Graham shares 50 Biblical devotions designed to strengthen your faith in Jesus Christ. To order, go to billygrahambookstore.org.