This 735-page autobiography was written when Graham was 78 years old. It tells story after story, beginning before his birth in 1918 and continuing through his last crusades in 1996. I found the book fascinating because it covers the first fifty years of my life. His first crusade was in 1947, the year I was born, and one of his last crusades was in Minneapolis in 1996, which I was privileged to attend. The majority of the men and women he mentions in this book I’ve known about and, in a few cases, even known personally. All this to say that Just As I Am was an incredibly interesting read for me.
Here are some of the lessons I gleaned from the life of Billy Graham:
- Graham focused on the proclamation of the gospel. He had offers to do other things, but he realized they were not his calling. He began to perceive this early on when he was president of the Northwestern Schools, now University of Northwestern – St. Paul.
- Every time he spoke, whether in a crusade, to a small group, or with an individual, he tried to begin with something current (he was well read), but he’d always steer his words back to Jesus.
- He was humble and consistently gave the glory to God and the credit to his team. In the book, he names numerous people who helped in his ministry and claims it was all a team effort.
- He was winsome, yet bold. He wasn’t afraid to befriend presidents, movie stars, athletes, and intellectuals. He would begin with common ground but was never afraid to speak the truth to them.
- Billy was able to laugh at himself – one of the things that makes this book so engaging is the way he shares his blunders.
- He was never afraid of trying something new. He always kept up with the latest technology as a new means of communicating the gospel.
- He was able to receive criticism. When it was valid, he took it seriously, but he never let negative criticism deter him from the mission God called him to.
- Graham was transparent. In this book, he at times speaks of feeling inadequate, being a worrier, and having trouble sleeping at night. (I take some comfort here because I have personally struggled with all three.)
- He had a special interest in college students and young evangelists. He knew they were the future, so he invested heavily in reaching them and training them.
- He was a visionary, always dreaming about what more could be done. A prime example is the creation of Christianity Today magazine, which he envisioned and facilitated in many ways.
- He was “ecumenical” in the best sense of that word, always willing to work in broad Christian circles yet never willing to compromise biblical truth.
- He was a networker – good at pulling key people together to get something important accomplished.
- Billy Graham believed that all he did should be bathed in prayer, so he greatly valued the prayer teams and countless individuals backing him in intercession.
- He showed incredible self-control when criticized by both the left and the right. Rarely would he refute a critic on the spot.
- Though an evangelist, he saw the importance of the local church. He believed it was the key to following up with those who responded to the gospel during his crusades.
- He was willing to buck social trends that he knew were wrong. He showed courage in rejecting segregation even when most others of his generation in the South accepted it.
- Graham contemplated his experiences deeply and was constantly learning from them. After every trip or crusade, he would share what he’d learned.
- He believed in mercy ministries. (Both of his sons are still highly involved in helping the downtrodden.) However, he never let this overshadow the proclamation of the gospel.
- He had a heart for the WHOLE world as seen by his great desire to get to China and North Korea.
- With several unfortunate exceptions, Billy Graham thought very carefully before speaking to world leaders in delicate situations.
- He valued integrity in the raising and handling of funds. He could never be bought by a large gift from a single donor.
- He desired discussion on the part of his team. Whenever possible he preferred decision by consensus.
I’d like to conclude this review with a direct quote from near the end of the book:
“Although I have much to be grateful for as I look back over my life, I also have some regrets. I have failed many times, and I would do many things differently.
“For one thing, I would speak less and study more, and I would spend more time with my family. When I look back over the schedule I kept thirty or forty years ago, I am staggered by all the things we did and engagements we kept. Sometimes we flitted from one part of the country to another, even from one continent to another, in the course of only a few days. Were all these engagements necessary? Was I as discerning as I might have been about which ones to take and which to turn down? I doubt it. Every day I was absent from my family is gone forever. Although much of that travel was necessary, some of it was not.
“I would also spend more time in spiritual nurture, seeking to grow closer to God so I could become more like Christ. I would spend more time in prayer, not just for myself but for others. I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth, not only for sermon preparation but to apply its message to my life. It is far too easy for someone in my position to read the Bible only with an eye on a future sermon, overlooking the message God has for me through its pages. And I would give more attention to fellowship with other Christians, who could teach me and encourage me (and even rebuke me when necessary.)
“If I had it to do again, I would also avoid any semblance of involvement in partisan politics. On the whole, as I’ve already said, my primary concern in my contacts with political leaders has been as a pastor and spiritual counselor, not as a political adviser. … (Unfortunately his relationship with President Richard Nixon revealed that he could be naïve about political figures.)
“About one thing I have absolutely no regrets, however, and that is my commitment many years ago to accept God’s calling to serve Him as an evangelist of the Gospel of Christ.”