Editor’s note: This tribute to Billy Graham by Don Wilton, pastor of Spartanburg First Baptist Church, where Graham was a member, was first published in June 2013.
Writer: Don Wilton
Dr. Billy Graham is a man after God’s own heart. The genuineness of his gracious humility is matched only by the genuineness of his personal faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
From the very first time I met him and Ruth, the tables were strangely turned. I realize this may be difficult for some to comprehend, but Billy Graham always makes me feel like I am the important person. And this does not occur because of “what” he says, necessarily, but rather because of “who” he is — in his spirit. This same spirit of humility is passed on to everyone who visits with him — and it still amazes me the people who request an audience with him. Many are very famous people, some you and I only read about, but they still call, and they still come. And all get blown away by the servant-hearted humility of this man after God’s own heart.
I have been humbled to be with him for a long time now. This journey began even before I became pastor of First Baptist in Spartanburg. Our times together every week are intimate and full of fun. He loves it when I “steal” too many of his assorted nuts or when I share numerous stories about life, love and newsworthy intrigue. Our conversations are like a mighty river flowing in a certain direction but spawning innumerable tributaries that never fail to take on lives of their own. Mr. Graham loves history, and so one can only imagine the countless numbers of times people, places and historical fact have intersected throughout the course of his life and ministry.
Regardless of who comes up in our long chats together, Billy has a personal story relative to that famous person. Mr. Graham delighted in telling me about the time Sir Winston Churchill and he were sitting in the Cabinet room alone at 10 Downing Street. The prime minister wanted to know what the secret was that enabled Billy to draw such large crowds everywhere he went in Great Britain. Sir Winston wanted to be able to have that same drawing power — can you imagine? Needless to say, Billy shared the power of the gospel with him. On another occasion, Billy was playing golf with Dwight Eisenhower near the end of his presidency. Mr. Graham interrupted the president as he was about to hit a ball in order to ask him a favor. The president turned to him and said, “Billy, I have never interrupted you when you were preaching. Don’t ever interrupt me when I am about to hit the ball!” Too funny! I need a thousand pages to share these great stories about Billy Graham.
I love him so much! He has enriched my life and drawn me so much closer to the heart of God. He has been vitally instrumental in helping me to evaluate my priorities. He really believes the highest calling God can bestow on any man is to be pastor of a local congregation. He absolutely loves to analyze my sermons — putting the fear of the Lord into me! And, after he places his precious hands on me and prays for me, I feel as though I should crawl down the mountain to go back among the people, just like Moses, perhaps. It’s as though God has just shared a personal word with me on Mount Sinai, and I can only pray that my face would reflect the same glory among the people I love and serve.
We really enjoy our times of fellowship everywhere — from the kitchen table to the study, from the sitting room to his favorite chair outside while we overlook the magnificence of the North Carolina mountains.
I am often asked about Billy Graham. Countless numbers of people have had their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life because this dear man answered God’s call to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. Mr. Graham loves the Lord Jesus Christ with all of his heart, soul and mind. He continues to follow God’s demand for his life, even in his senior years.
He has a passion for prayer. He believes little can ever be accomplished without prayer. I wish all could hear him pray. He prays for individuals and pours out his heart for our nation. He is deeply concerned about the spiritual downward free fall our nation is in. He loves the local New Testament church and believes there is no substitute for believers other than to be actively engaged in serving our Savior and witnessing through the local church. He loves being part of a church family.
He loves his late wife, Ruth, so very much. We often talk about her and the certainty of their reunion in heaven. He believes he could never have served the Lord without her. Although he has five children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he loves them all with such passion. Family has always been very important to him, even though I often detect that little far away thought in his heart about the days and months he was away from home sharing the love of Christ with a lost and dying world.
But there never seems to be regret in our conversation. Perhaps nobody knows better than Dr. Graham that “there is only one life to live, and that will soon be past. It is only what is done for Christ that will last!” What that great missionary C.T. Studd taught us so many decades ago is now being passed on to us through the remarkable life and testimony of Billy Graham.
— Wilton is pastor of First Baptist Church, Spartanburg, where Billy Graham became a member in 2008 after having watched the televised morning worship services for many years.