With the passing of Billy Graham, much has been written about his remarkable life. Several years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Billy Graham. While it was only for a few moments, his genuine warmth and Christ-like humility encouraged me.
Billy Graham’s inspiring example of moral and financial integrity exhibited in his Modesto Manifesto was a breath of fresh air in the midst of many well-publicized failures of other evangelical leaders. Yet perhaps Billy Graham’s greatest influence on my life was his transparent words, not about his life accomplishments, but his life regrets.
In his riveting autobiography, Just As I Am, Billy Graham writes, “Although I have much to be grateful for as I look back on my life, I also have many regrets. I have failed many times, and I would do many things differently.”
What would Billy Graham have done differently? What were his life regrets?
The first item on his regret list may be surprising. Billy Graham would have spoken less and studied more. As Billy Graham got older, he increasingly valued the life of the mind. Pragmatism and activism needed to be better balanced with more contemplation and deeper thought.
The second regret was that he would have spent more time with his family. The demands of his work and extensive travel detrimentally impacted his family life. Both his wife and children have spoken transparently about the challenges they faced with a father and spouse who was so often absent.
The third regret was not spending enough time in the spiritual nurture of his own soul and fellowship with other Christians who could have taught him, encouraged him, and rebuked him when necessary.
The fourth regret may also be surprising. It was the regret of endorsing partisan politics. As a pastor to presidents and politicians, Billy Graham puts it this way, “There have been times I undoubtedly stepped over the line between politics and my calling as an evangelist.”
Billy Graham’s words of regret are wise reminders not only to Christian leaders, but also to every apprentice of Jesus. Do we grasp the importance of cultivating the mind, nurturing family life, pursuing spiritual formation and Christian fellowship, as well as carefully navigating divisive political partisanship that can shatter our witness and sidetrack our gospel mission as the people of God? Though he had his regrets, Billy Graham passionately lived before an Audience of One and pursued his calling with integrity of heart and skillful hands. What did Billy Graham not regret? He put it this way: “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.”
My heart is filled with gratitude to God for his servant Billy Graham whose radiant life and radiant death is an inspiring example to each one of us. May we be fruitful in our vocational callings and may we too one day hear our Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”