The grand advantage

It’s been six years now since he left. On February 21, 2018, Billy Graham exhaled mountain air for the last time and inhaled that heavenly air. He was 99.

Billy lived a remarkable life. He preached the gospel to more people than anyone else in history (nearly 215 million) in more than 185 countries and territories. He reached hundreds of millions more through various forms of media. A prolific and bestselling author, he was also a syndicated columnist, and he started Decision magazine, which is still in circulation today. Presidents sought his counsel, and his appeal spanned both religious and secular arenas.

The secret to Billy’s life? Prayer, and that prayer began with his parents.

Regularly, Frank and Morrow Graham gathered their children to read the Bible and pray. With great care and intention, they cultivated a reverence for God and his word. When the Great Depression came, Frank nearly lost everything, but he continued to trust God. Meanwhile, he and a group of businessmen began meeting at different locations around Charlotte, praying that God would send revival to their city and state and beyond.

On one particular day in May, Frank invited the group to his dairy farm for their prayer meeting. There, under a shady grove at pasture’s edge, something surprising happened. A paper salesman named Vernon Patterson presented a bold, new request:  that God would raise up someone from Charlotte, North Carolina, to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

As the men prayed together, Billy was in the barn, choring as farm boys do, oblivious to what had been set in motion. Then, six months later, a traveling evangelist came to town, and one night under the sound of Dr. Ham’s preaching, Billy Graham chose to put his faith in Christ. It was the truth of God’s love that changed his heart, and the rest is beautiful history.

Throughout his life, Billy spoke fondly and movingly about the powerful prayers of his parents. “What a comfort it was for me to know that no matter where I was in the world, my mother was praying for me.”

“Although the testimony of my mother’s life helped mold me and taught me how to live, the testimony of her last years and her death gave me insight into how to die,” he wrote. Mrs. Graham was faithful to the very end, beginning every day with Scripture and prayer.

“When word (of her death) came, I wept and yet rejoiced at the same time. Of all the people I have ever known, she had the greatest influence on me. I am sure one reason that the Lord has directed and safeguarded me, as well as Ruth and the children, through the years was the prayers of my mother and father.”

Indeed, Billy often tackled the topic of death. He was blunt and straightforward about it, not softening the truth, but offering hope. In four sentences, he summed it up.

  1. Accept the fact that you will die.
  2. Make arrangements.
  3. Make provision for those you are leaving behind.
  4. Make an appointment with God.

He advised people to “invest your lives, not just spend them. Each of us is given the exact same amount of seconds, minutes, and hours per day as anyone else. The difference is how we redeem (them)…You cannot count your days, but you can make your days count.”

Billy did exactly that. In 2005, he preached his last evangelistic crusade. Then, 12 years later on a February day, Billy Graham entered heaven.

Now, you. As I write, I feel compelled to share some weighty truths. The first one is this—if you did not have the grand advantage of praying parents, there is such hope for you. History overflows with stories of God’s divine intervention in not only human affairs, but in individual lives. Even though it may feel that you’re starting late, he can yet enter your life and move in your affairs in ways that are (yes, I shall say it) miraculous. In other words, God can redeem “lost time.”

Second. If you have not been a praying parent, giving your own children that grand advantage, it isn’t too late to start. I have seen the hand of God move on behalf of my sons, and it encourages me to continue. What a blessing it is to pray, not only for them, but for the future generations that will spring from them. In this way, parents actively impact and affect many, many descendants they will never see down here. It is a high and holy privilege, such prayer.

Third. With all my heart and every fiber of my being, I echo Billy’s words, “Make an appointment with God.”

This is the most important decision you will ever make. If you put your faith in Christ, your future is secure. Let the truth of his love change you, and the rest shall be beautiful history. Rather than being feared, death will become nothing more than the doorway into the next life where heaven awaits, and glory, and rest.

“A mystery and wonder of prayer is that God often waits until someone asks.” That’s what Billy said, and I believe him. God, even now, awaits your ‘yes.’ And God, even now, stands ready to bless.

May God bless this America. May he bless you and your family, too.

You can hear America’s small, caffeinated mom every Saturday morning on 77 WABC. In the 9:45 hour, she and Bo Snerdley discuss the week’s essay. It is often lively, often humorous, and always encouraging.

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