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“Just As I Am”

Friday, October 20, 2006
“Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so to win over as many as possible”[1]

In reading “Just As I Am” by Dr. Billy Graham what strikes this reader is that Graham has become a slave to all for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how the Lord Jesus used Graham as His Instrument. There can be no mistake that the Lord God has and continues to use Graham to act as an agent of Divine Mercy to a world which so desperately needs the Merciful Hand of God.
One of the things that impressed me was how Graham prepared the way spiritually far in advance of a potential crusade in order to open the right doors and soften hearts. In speaking of his desire to go to India[2] Graham writes “…I had prayed that someday God might open the door for us to go there”. Graham knew then as he does today the importance of spiritual preparation prior to any work that God calls us to do in order to be more effective. Like Nehemiah[3] from Biblical times Graham used prayer as an effective weapon to change the hearts of those he was about to meet with. It is God who can change the hearts and minds of people not a effective preaching style or even a virtuous life however through the Lord God of Hosts hearts and minds can be softened and changed so that He can use us in a manner which brings Him glory and honor and thus souls are won for the King.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God”.[4] I also saw from Graham’s book that despite the misconception between well intentioned Protestants and Catholics that both can work together effectively for the greater glory of God so to win souls. Far too often we get bogged down on items that while they may be important take our focus away from proclaiming Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen to the farthest corners of the world. Graham writes about his experience working with Catholic Christians that “ [it] taught me that most people were not going to take us seriously if we spent all our time debating our differences instead of uniting at the Cross”.[5] He writes prior to that statement that “Protestants and Catholics- were slowly growing in our understanding of each other and of our mutual commitment to those teachings we hold in common”.[6] One of the oldest tactics in warfare is the concept of divide and conquer and the father of all lies being a excellent and intelligent tactician tries to ensnare well intentioned Christians into backbiting and inter-religious infighting in order to take our focus of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ thereby endangering not only the souls of others but our own souls also in pulling us into the pit of hatred and darkness. Graham as most faithful Christian leaders know that at this critical junction in the history of humankind that all Christians must keep their focus upon the Cross of the Crucified One. Souls depend upon each of us rising above self and looking to the Cross and proclaiming with loud united voices that the only hope for the world and for individual souls comes from Our Lord Jesus Christ.
It came to me in prayer recently that God uses the ordinary events and circumstances in our lives to manifest His infinite power and glory. It is in those ordinary coincidences of life that God working through a soul(s) can be transformed into extraordinary opportunities of grace and blessing. Only God can take the countless seemingly meaningless encounters in our day and create them to better serve Him. One such example in “Just As I Am” that I can quickly recall is the story of when Graham was at the Urbana Missions Conference and suffered a life threatening thrombophlebitis[7]. A medical student just happened to be right there who quickly ascertained the danger and helped Graham receive the life saving help he needed. God planted that young medical student in that place at that time to serve His glory. The story continues though as the medical student later becomes even a better physician by going to the Mayo Clinic for advanced studies and so again the world has a better physician who can act as an instrument of God’s healing power to a hurting world. A chance encounter between two souls on fire for the Lord Jesus and now I can only imagine the number of spiritual and physical healings that have taken place because these two men allowed God to take the ordinary and make it extra ordinary. The other encounter of note is that of the encounters between John Foster Dulles and Graham. While lives and souls benefited then and now from the obvious encounters they had it is interesting to note that the young Avery Dulles did go on to a vocation as a Jesuit priest and years later was created cardinal by Pope John Paul II and is recognized as one of the greatest Christian theological minds alive today. These are but a few of the many chance encounters where God is allowed to work and souls are transformed through His grace. In the book “The Practice of the Presence of God” there is a quote from a conversation with Brother Lawrence which I feel is fitting to shine further light upon the subject of how God is glorified through the ordinary events of our lives.
“That relying on the infinite merits of Our Lord, we should, with complete confidence, ask for His grace regardless of our sins, that God never failed to grant us His grace in each action; that he [Brother Lawrence] perceived this clearly and never failed to do so unless he was distracted from the presence of God, or he had forgotten to ask Him for His aid. That in time of doubt God never failed to enlighten us when we had no other purpose but to please Him and act for His love. That our sanctification depended not upon changing our works but in doing for God what we ordinarily do for ourselves. That it was a pitty to see how many people always mistake the means for the end, attaching great importance to certain works that they do very imperfectly for reasons of human respect. That he found the best way of reaching God was by doing ordinary tasks, which he was obligated to perform under obedience, entirely for the love of God and not for the human attitude towards them.”[8]
In trying to quickly answer the question posed is ‘Just as I am’ a Christian classic I would say that as far as contemporary Christian literature goes then yes the book would certainly qualify. If the book meets the test of time and the discerning eyes of future generations would be a question best posed to The One Whom is outside time and knows the future. I would say that it has many of the characteristics of a potential classic in Christian literature but will let time play itself out to determine the fate of the book. We can only hope that other generations find the book to be one of inspiration and grace as I did.
In closing this reader found it interesting that Graham, and I dare say most Christian leaders would agree, stated that one of his regrets was to not grow closer to Christ in the time he was allotted in life. All the sermons, works and numerous conversions through Graham and other Christian leaders and we come back to the central focus of why we are created—to love and serve the Lord in this life so as to be with Him in the next. If a important Christian leader like Graham can have the devotion and the humility to state that the most important aspect of our lives is to draw close and be conformed to the Crucified One then all of us should take notice and follow his wise words. God is love and all the works even those of God are in vain if we do not put on Christ daily and draw closer into His Heart burning with love.
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and knowledge, if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away over everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing…..When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man I put aside childish things…..but the greatest of these is love.”[9]
[1] 1 Cor 9:19
[2] Page 264, “Just As I Am”, Billy Graham, Harper, San Francisco, 1997
[3] Neh 1:5-2:9
[4] Mt 5:9
[5] Ibid, p. 273
[6] Ibid, p. 273
[7] Ibid, p. 424-425
[8] Page 38, “The Practice of the Presence of God”, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Image/ Doubleday, New York
[9] 1 Cor 13:1-13
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