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The body of Billy Graham lay in state yesterday in the Rotunda of the US Capitol. President Trump, senior administration officials, and many members of Congress paid tribute to the evangelist.
Dr. Graham was only the fourth private citizen, and the first religious leader, to be so honored.
Sue Brinner attended the viewing. When she was in college, a guy she liked invited her to see a movie produced by Dr. Graham’s ministry. It changed her life.
She explained: “I could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Somehow I’d missed that, growing up in a traditional Protestant church. I always saw God as a scary, vengeful, angry person. That you could actually have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, I was blown away. Other people were getting blown away by drugs. I found faith.”
I was glad to see Sue’s testimony reported in the Washington Post, a newspaper not known for its evangelical leanings. And I noted that she found a personal relationship with Jesus through a man whose life was built on such a relationship.
“The motto of every follower of Jesus Christ”
One of Billy Graham’s friends asked him about his personal prayer life. The evangelist replied that “God had taught him to pray all day long-in the shower, driving an automobile, flying in an airplane. In fact, he said that he had been asking God for wisdom while talking to me. He wanted to know what he could do or say to encourage me.”
Dr. Graham felt that intimacy with God is essential to our relationships with other people. In fact, as he noted, “You cannot pray for someone and hate them at the same time.” He warned us that “Satan will contest every hour you spend in Bible reading or prayer.”
He urged us to begin and end the day with our Lord: “In the morning, prayer is the key that opens to us the treasures of God’s mercies and blessings; in the evening, it is the key that shuts us up under His protection and safeguard.”
And he called us to pray in every circumstance: “This should be the motto of every follower of Jesus Christ. No matter how dark and hopeless the situation might seem, never stop praying.” His advice reflects the biblical call to seek God “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18).
The danger of secondhand faith
Paul lamented to the Corinthians: “I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). Here’s why: “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready” (v. 2).
What is milk if not digested food? The mother cow eats the grass or grain and converts it into secondhand food her calf can consume.
In the same way, the Corinthians were consuming “secondhand” theology. Paul met with the Lord, received a word from him, then turned it into a message they could understand. They needed to learn to go directly to the Lord rather than depending on men for a message from the Master.
How many Christians in our culture depend on “secondhand” faith today? How many consume God’s word only after it has been “digested” by their pastor, Bible study teacher, television preacher, podcast speaker, or theology writer?
God wants to speak directly to his people. I love this promise: “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21). Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “He will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).
When we are experiencing a personal, intimate, transforming relationship with the living Lord Jesus, we will hear his voice and experience his presence. This persistent fact of Scripture leads to this principle: if you’re not hearing from God, you’re not as close to him as you should be.
The mark of a “true Christian”
Our culture is clearly moving further from biblical morality with each passing year. If we ask why the Christian faith isn’t impacting our nation more fully, I think the answer above all others is this: more Christians need a “firsthand” daily relationship with Jesus.
Our Lord was blunt: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, my emphasis). Not “follow my teaching” or “follow my people” or “follow the church I will establish.” He called us to follow him-personally, sacrificially, daily.
If we do this, others will see Jesus reflected in us. Then I am convinced that many will be drawn irresistibly to him.
In his bestseller, Peace with God, Billy Graham wrote: “Upon meeting a Christian, it is easy to tell whether or not he or she is a victorious, spiritual, yielded Christian. A true Christian should be relaxed and radiant, capable of illuminating and not depressing his surroundings. The Bible says, ‘For the joy of the Lord is your strength.'”
Is his joy your strength today?