Billy Graham has often been described as a saint.
That word “saint” is often associated with pious figures in robes, illuminated in stained glass, inaccessibly distant and impossibly perfect. It’s tough to write something compelling about someone who is widely perceived as a saint and keep it believable.
I am not, however, merely writing what I have read elsewhere. I am writing what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears.
People may be surprised to discover that Billy Graham was not without sin or flaws, and his wife Ruth often reminded him of it. He had his moments of doubt, and he was so dedicated to his work that he spent days, even months, away from his family.
Billy once said in an interview, “I do feel that I could have done so much more had I studied more or gone further in school, probably spent more time with my family. I have spent so little time with my family. And, thank God, they’re all wonderful children and wonderful grandchildren.”
He also regretted not spending more time in prayer and Bible study — not just for his messages, but for his own spiritual growth.
Billy was, however, a model of integrity in his witness for Christ — an ordinary man who rose to an extraordinary challenge by his Creator. He made mistakes, yet he was obedient and consistent in his walk with the Lord, faithfully and humbly serving, and he never stopped listening to God’s voice because that is where he found clear direction and guidance.
No matter how ridiculous or outrageous a scenario, Billy always saw the task to the end, and he counted on the Holy Spirit to take care of the rest. Billy’s faith was almost childlike. He didn’t always understand what he was asked to do, but he knew he must trust and obey because the Bible requires a servant to be faithful.
Over time, I have found myself far more impressed with character than charisma, more impressed with persistence over power and more impressed with faithfulness over fame. Billy definitely had his priorities in order.
Like many successful people, he didn’t live in the past. He was a forward-looking man. Though his past is well-documented, Billy rarely spoke about his upbringing during our time together — typically only if I asked him about it. He knew he couldn’t look back and continue to serve the Lord in the present at the same time. Most of his time was spent studying the Word (six hours a day, according to Billy) so he could improve on sharing the message of the Gospel. He certainly never looked to prop up his legend, though he was truly a legendary man.
Billy was very much interested in what was happening in the here-and-now, which is why I think he allowed me to hang around him. He knew I was a younger evangelist, perhaps somewhat more in tune with the culture than he was. I suppose he also sensed my desire to serve the Lord, and knew I was looking for him to share his wisdom and guidance with me. Besides, it felt so good being in Billy’s presence.
Almost like having a little bit of heaven on Earth.
This excerpt is adapted from Greg Laurie’s book “Billy Graham: The Man I Knew”, released April 13, 2021, via Salem Books.
Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and of Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist, best-selling author and movie producer. His new book “Billy Graham: The Man I Knew” (Salem Books) was released April 13.