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Surrender: Billy Graham’s example

There’s an internal metamorphosis that takes place when a Christian makes that conscious leap of faith and decides to place everything in God’s hands. It’s called surrendering.

Surrender is hard because it’s the opposite of what our stubborn, wayward hearts are inclined to do. By nature, we are sinful, manipulative and controlling. That can change if we consciously turn our lives over to Christ for him to do with us as he wills.

In Matthew 16:24–25, Jesus tells us to surrender to his loving authority. He told his disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (NKJV).

billy graham
Billy Graham prays, 1968 |

And this is exactly what happened to a young Billy Graham during his time as a student at the Florida Bible Institute. In May 1938, Billy found himself recently dumped by the girl he thought he was going to marry. He was heartbroken. The tears eventually subsided and Billy plumbed the depths of his soul and began to look inward. He worked off his inner aching with nightly walks.

It was on one of these walks that Billy got down on his knees and cried, “Oh God, if you want me to serve you, I will.”

Billy listened for God’s voice and, although he didn’t hear anything audibly, he received his answer. He was being enlisted by God to preach. And it was then that Billy decided to fully surrender his life to God.

After this decision, he experienced a newfound love and peace he’d never known before. A burden had been lifted and it gave him greater joy to serve. He saw in himself a new desire to witness and share Christ, a new song in his heart and an unspeakable joy.

In the days that followed, Billy continued his nightly walks to pray — sometimes for three to four hours at a stretch. In rare moments, the Lord gave him a glimpse into the future: in brief flashes, he saw a stadium-sized crowd gathered to hear the Gospel. At the time, Billy was still too humble to think that the crowds were there for him.

Although young Billy had a long journey ahead of him, he sensed something big was about to happen.

By that point, everybody had noticed the dramatic change in Billy. He was serving with greater confidence and an intense desire to make an impact. He was preaching, volunteering, searching the Scriptures and studying the Bible for clarity and understanding. Once in this mindset, Billy had no time to fret over girls.

Billy had to die to himself to live for Christ. He surrendered his life, his will, his privacy, and years later, time with his wife and children in order to further the Gospel.

His son, Franklin, once described his father as a “turtle on a fencepost.” The essence of this Southern colloquialism is that a turtle cannot get to such a place on its own. Billy was put in a position of influence by the hand of God.

Attending a Billy Graham crusade at the age of 20 rocked my world. Not because I came to Christ there, but because I realized that type of ministry was what I wanted to do when I grew up. But even then, I never dreamed I would end up speaking in stadiums like my hero, Billy Graham.

Billy set the kind of example we can follow when it comes to surrendering. While he didn’t know what God had in mind for him when he first accepted the call to preach, turning over his life and his will to Christ led him to unfathomable heights.


This excerpt is adapted from Greg Laurie’s book “Billy Graham: The Man I Knew,” released April 13, 2021, via Salem Books.

Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and of Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist, best-selling author and movie producer. His new book World Changers: How God Uses Ordinary People to Do Extraordinary Things (Baker Books), releases Sept. 1.

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