By now you have heard the sad news that the Rev. Billy Graham died Wednesday at the age of 99.
Surely, he was the greatest evangelist of the 20th century. Respected by sinner and saint alike, Billy Graham preached on or across every continent in the world. He preached before kings and queens, rich and poor. He was a personal advisor to Presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. No wonder they called him America’s pastor.
As a young boy growing up in Jamaica, such deep, vivid memories were inspired by his rapid-fire, earnest preaching, accompanied by sweet memories of George Beverly Shea singing “How Great Thou Art” on Graham’s long-running radio program, The Hour of Decision.
Many of my peers back home in Jamaica wanted to preach like him. But there is only one Billy Graham. As far as I can tell, Graham never preached in Jamaica–he may have sent his associates to preach–but he never held his big tent meetings in Jamaica or the West Indies for that matter. What I do know is that he regularly visited the home of Johnny Cash in Jamaica. The Cashes even dubbed one of the rooms in their house “the Billy Graham room,” as it had an extra-long bed to fit Graham’s tall frame.
As I think about the life of this servant of God, I realize that four important qualities from his life still influence me to this day:
- His faith in the power of the Holy Spirit to use imperfect people to preach the gospel.
- His faith in the truth of God’s word to transform the human heart.
- His willingness to endure criticism and rejection for the sake of Christ.
- His passion for seeing lost humanity come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Despite all the accolades now pouring in from around the world, the Rev. Billy Graham was just a mere mortal that God raised up for a given time. His work is ended, he is with the Lord, and his reward awaits.
Of course, no one person can bring in the Kingdom. We need faithful men and women in every generation who will embrace and embody those four important qualities that so deeply marked this servant of God.
During last week’s staff meeting, one of our staff leaders shared a beautiful prayer-poem that illustrates the limitations facing every servant of God:
A Future Not Our Own
It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.
(This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Cardinal John Dearden in November, 1979.)
Well done, good and faithful servant. Rest In peace, Dr. Graham.