The evangelist Billy Graham died at his home in North Carolina on 21 February at the age of 99. He was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, as World War I was coming to an end. His father owned a 400-acre dairy farm and Billy grew up during the Depression, working long hours to keep the family business going. In 1934, when he was 15, he heard the evangelist Mordecai Ham preach and received Jesus Christ as his saviour. Neither he nor anyone else realised that night that he would become an international evangelist and preach to more people than any other preacher in history.
During his life Billy Graham preached in person to more than 100 million people and to billions more via television, satellite and film. More than 3 million people responded to his invitation to “accept Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour.” In 1954 he led the Greater London Crusade at Harringay that was attended by 1.75 million people. He was a spiritual adviser to every U.S. President from Harry Truman to Barack Obama and was invited to speak at times of national crisis, including the memorial service following the 9/11 attacks. In 1957 he invited Martin Luther King Jr to preach jointly at a crusade in New York.
I first heard Billy Graham preaching in 1966 at a relay in Cardiff from his Earls Court crusade. I had grown up in church and was a church member. Billy’s preaching challenged me as to whether I had ever received Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour. Like many other people who belonged to a church I had no such assurance. I “tried my best” and hoped that when I died I would be accepted by God and go to heaven. What I believed was a mixture of what I had been taught in church and my own ideas. Time and again Billy affirmed, “the Bible says” and I realised that my faith needed to be Bible-based and centred on Jesus Christ.
As I listened to Billy preaching from the Bible I realised that I could experience forgiveness and find peace with God through Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to pay the price of my sins. In the quietness of my heart I confessed my sins to God and asked Jesus Christ to be my Saviour. It was a life-changing experience. Every day since then I have struggled with my sinful heart but know that in Jesus my sins have been forgiven fully and for ever.
No other generation has been bombarded by words, both spoken and written, as we are today. Daily newspapers and magazines provide news and comment on current events. Television 24 hour news channels communicate information from around the world. Chat shows and phone-in programmes offer the opportunity for people to express their views. Social networking enables millions of people to publish information about themselves. People send and receive text messages from family and friends. Many struggle to cope with the increasing volume of emails at work and at home. In every sphere of life word processors churn out long and complex documents. The internet provides vast quantities of information.
Yet amongst all these words there are very few that really matter and significantly impact our lives. However, some words can really make a difference. In the Bible God has communicated his truth to all people in every generation. Through reading the Bible, millions of people have discovered truth by which they can live and a Saviour whose amazing love they can experience. The words of the Bible have a wonderful depth and calm authority because they are God’s words.
A minister was visiting an elderly lady who belonged to his congregation. She was recovering from major surgery and was confined to bed. The minister asked her what she had been doing that day. She said, “I have been thinking about those words in Psalm 46, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Today I have been thinking especially about the words, ‘Be still.’” That day they talked about how, in the busyness of life, we don’t find time to be quiet and think about God.
The next time he visited the lady she told him she had been thinking about the words “and know” in the same verse. They talked about the privilege of knowing God personally. On the next visit they spoke about the words, “that I” and reflected on God’s eternal nature and that he is unique. Then on the fourth visit they spoke about the words, “am God” and rejoiced in the God who created all things and who sustains all things. That one short sentence from God’s Word had wonderfully spoken to this lady’s heart and assured her of his love and care for her in a time of weakness. How good it is for us all to find time, in the midst of the noise and rush of life, to be still and to listen to what God says.