Photo by Paul Walsh
For a lot of people of faith, Billy Graham emits some sort of Moses-esque supernatural glow, as if he regularly comes to us from seeing God face-to-face on the mountain-side.
We follow his unusually long and steady path on the public stage and tell our children that "Every once in a while someone with a special anointing -- someone like Billy Graham -- comes along."
But I don't buy it.
Not entirely anyway.
I do concede that if God wishes to supernaturally intervene on behalf of a person, to set them on a world platform, he can. Whether or not God struck out miraculously on Mr. Graham's behalf, though, is not for me to say.
What I will say is that when the faith world hoists Billy Graham onto our shoulders and tells our children that he's among the "world's anointed," I think we're only giving them half the story.
Do we really think angels descended from heaven and unrolled a red carpet at the doors of the maternity ward where Billy Graham or D. L. Moody or C. S. Lewis were born? That invisible light beams shot down from heaven bestowing them with extraordinary powers?
Because if so, I worry that narrative lets a lot of otherwise talented people off the hook. That we've excused all those who haven't had a burning-bush calling from investing our abilities as much as we could.
I worry that we've missed another really, really important lesson -- maybe in fact the more prominent and more accessible lesson -- threaded through Mr. Graham's many years of service to God and world.
What if the truth is that every one of us has the same anointing as Billy Graham?
This possibility occurred to me in elementary school as I read bios of notable leaders of the faith. Time and time again, the leaders had uncanny things in common. They had great conviction, they were often bold to a fault, they took risks, they put everything they had into their causes, and they were committed over the course of their entire lives.
And from that observation, and from many years of observations since, I propose that it's possible God did not send angels down to single out Billy Graham. But that -- like the Old Testament suggests -- when God's eyes searched to and fro about the world searching for those whose hearts were turned toward him, Billy Graham had the sense and discipline to keep making himself available... not just once, but over and over and over again.
So while I don't assume what God stirs in Billy Graham will express itself in our lives in the exact same ways or with the same amount of perceived fame or success, I believe the feeling of alignment, the desire to abandon ourselves to cause, the fierce satisfaction of being in the right place at the right time, the ability to be used of God... those gifts belong to all of us.
Let me ask you this.
What if you took that thing -- that vision, that idea, that cause you believe has been stirring in your life -- and you decided that you were going to do all you could to bring it to expression? Let's say you have ten or twenty or even thirty or more years of life left should you live a natural lifespan. Could you not make a dent in the cause you care about with that much time?
Or let me put it another way.
If you put twenty, thirty, or forty years into any end, giving yourself to it day after day, year after year, wouldn't it be hard NOT to make an impact?
If you wrote a vision statement today and began sharing it with people. If you wrote a book this year and began distributing it. If you championed a charitable cause this month and began raising funds. If you started a church and preached Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. If you did these things long enough, if you kept showing up again and again, kept speaking your faith to person after person, don't you think eventually your work would spread?
I am not going to tell my children -- now one and four years old -- that Billy Graham had a special anointing. I'm going to tell them that they, like Billy Graham, should seek to make themselves available to God again and again and again.
You may hate the idea of "the next Billy Graham" more than you thought. Because whether or not he or she emerges may depend on your own discipline; on whether or not you make (and keep) yourself available.
This piece inspired by content found in Sarah Cunningham's new book, The Well Balanced World Changer: A Field Guide for Staying Sane While Doing Good (Moody, October 2013).
The Well Balanced World Changer is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold. You can also find great shareable content like the graphic below at her book's Pinterest page. And you can contribute your own life lessons to an online collection of wisdom using the hashtag #worldchangerbook.