“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
These words were penned by the apostle Paul toward the end of his life, sent to his young protégé, Timothy. But they could just as easily have been authored by Dr. Billy Graham, who last week passed from this life into the next at the age of 99. It’s hard to think of another human who had as much influence on as many lives as did Dr. Graham during his ministry of more than six decades.
Even though his evangelistic ministry came to an end years ago, and before then had been curtailed sharply because of declining health, there remain millions of men and women around the world who can trace the beginnings of their spiritual journey to attending one of the Billy Graham crusades. Through those meetings, his TV and radio broadcasts, and many books, Dr. Graham was steadfast to the end in affirming that Jesus’ declaration was true when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
The revered evangelist cut through denominational, social, cultural, ethnic and even political boundaries, remaining true to his call to preach the gospel to peoples in all nations, a mission he began in the 1940s. For many years Dr. Graham ranked at or near the top of lists of the most-admired people in the world, but it wasn’t an honor that affected him.
I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Graham once, in the early 1990s. He was a guest speaker at a convention of the Evangelical Press Association in Asheville, N.C. As a member of the EPA board, I had joined other directors at the head table and we greeted him as he arrived, one at a time.
What impressed me most about Dr. Graham was not his stature, although he was a tall man, nor his resonant voice. It was his humility. As a journalist for many years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many famous people. In the majority cases, I’ve had the sense they were thinking, “What a pleasure it is for you to meet me!” But not with Dr. Graham. He and I talked perhaps for two minutes, but he looked straight in my eyes and for that brief moment, showed genuine interest in me, not simply shrugging me off as one of the countless millions with whom he had shaken hands over the years.
Billy Graham, of course, was just a man, not some superhero. But perhaps more than anyone I have encountered in life – more than most of us might encounter in life – he exemplified what the apostle Paul declared to an eclectic bunch of Greek listeners at the famed Areopagus, “For in him [Jesus Christ] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
One of the most difficult things, if not THE most difficult thing, for followers of Jesus Christ to accomplish in their lives is to finish well. Anyone can get off to a good start, doing and saying the right things as they embark on their walk with Christ. But many fall by the wayside – some quickly, others many years later. Dr. Graham, however, succeeded. He finished well.
In another letter toward the end of his ministry, the apostle wrote, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Dr. Billy Graham has reached his goal and won the prize; he didn’t stop before reaching the finish line. One day, may the same be said of us.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at email@example.com.