All Posts /

What I Learned from Billy Graham, by Luis Palau

What I Learned from Billy Graham, by Luis Palau

Evangelists are not easily satisfied. We tend to feel the burden of every empty seat in the crowd. It can be easy, especially when you’re young, to lose perspective.

It was encouraging to find out that Billy Graham struggled with this too. “Even when you think the stadium will be full, it may not be,” he once told me. “So change your expectations. I’ve learned to hope for whatever room I’m preaching in—church or stadium—to be half full. Anything more than that? I’m exhilarated.”

Evangelism leaves no place for braggadocio. Ministry is never about us. How quickly our humility can simply become a showpiece virtue.

This is why Billy Graham’s example did more for my heart than nearly any other. Seeing up close the authenticity and integrity of his ministry inspired me to do the simple things that fuel a person’s inner life. It inspired me to continually crucify my ego. It made me feel both completely seen and valued by God, yet it also showed God’s willingness to use anyone willing to empty themselves in humility.

The moment I, a hotshot from Argentina, started to feel like an indispensable part of God’s plan, I’d see in my mind’s eye the moment that these lips would turn to clay, and I would seek anew the joyous weight of God’s mighty hand as I’d been shown it by my teacher, encourager, mentor, friend, and heartfelt example, Billy Graham.

Later in life, Billy’s letters to me became shorter and shorter, eventually taking the form of apologies—usually for not being able to communicate effectively on a call that we’d had. His handwriting became shakier and shakier as Parkinson’s slowly took its due from him, until finally they simply stopped, replaced by kind notes from his longtime secretary.

The great man’s journey continued into the dark suffering of his long-lasting illness. It was on the day that he died, February 21, 2018, that I fully committed to writing this book.

Honestly, being called the Billy Graham of Latin America was a little embarrassing at the beginning. After all, Billy Graham was the Billy Graham of Latin America!

Pride is a unique vice, because it can be so disconnected from any real thing. The most prideful people are often those with the least right to be. It is all in their mind and in their heart. A prideful person’s self-image is unmoored from their abilities, accomplishments, or achievements.

But praise God, humility can be a virtue of the same kind of disconnection! Just as one can be prideful with not a single reason to support it, so can one be genuinely humble when you have every reason in the world, in earthly terms, to puff yourself up.

Can you think of a preacher with more cause for pride than Billy Graham? The man was a confidant of presidents, a friend to world leaders. He led more people to Jesus than live in some countries! His integrity was unquestioned; his faithfulness to the Gospel, remarkable.

Never did I know him to gloat, puff himself up, indulge in smugness, or pat himself on the back, even in our private conversations. He viewed his accomplishments with honesty and immediately credited his successes to God and the hard work of many others. His simplicity of spirit was profound.

Ego has always dogged me. A real temptation to pride runs to my core. I’m sure that temptation was there for Billy—why else would he have advised me to resist pride unless the temptation was real? If I did not have his example towering above me, I could have gradually slipped into a personal life defined by pride. I could have hidden it well, but it would have soured everything I did. Praise God, I think that I genuinely avoided pride. Not perfectly, but consistently.

How about you, reader? Where is your heart? Is it giving in to the profound temptation of pride? Or is it humbling itself beneath the mighty hand responsible for all our victories?

Whether we are lowly or exalted, God’s hands can touch our lips—even if they are of clay—and free them to speak His Good News.

We all can make a difference for the world’s good and God’s glory. If—and that is an enormous “if”—we are willing to become nothing so that God can become everything in us.

Adapted from Palau: A Life on Fire by Luis Palau with Paul J. Pastor

How to Use This Book

In Palau: A Life on Fire, Luis shares his legacy message and spiritual memoir for the first time. Tracing his faith journey from humble beginnings on the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to sharing the good news with millions and counseling world leaders, Luis’ life has been filled with adventure, risk, and faith. With each chapter, Luis shares a foundational lesson that influenced his life and will inspire and challenge you in your ministry. Palau: A Life on Fire is a deeply spiritual and intimate interview with one of the most respected evangelists of our day who knows life is drawing to an end, and who is passing along to others in ministry the powerful guiding principles that can only find expression after a lifetime of living them out.