BAKERSFIELD, CA – Billy Graham asked his close friend of 10 years, Don Wilton, to be his pastor and what followed was a privileged 25 years of sitting at the feet of one of God’s pillar servants—nurturing a friendship and seeing a personal side of Billy that most people have never known, until now. “My relationship with Mr. Graham is close to my heart and humbling for me. It was a very unlikely friendship and how it happened is only by the grace of God,” shares Don.
Don’s recurring theme of describing Billy’s private side is one of humility. He recounts his first personal encounter with Billy when he was invited by him and his wife Ruth to their home. To Don’s surprise, he was treated like royalty. It was a moment stamped in Don’s memory of a “nobody” who thought he was a “somebody” talking to a “somebody” who thought he was a “nobody.” That day set the course for a life-long friendship between Don and, who he affectionately called, “Brother Billy.” Don was invited back week after week, mostly on Saturdays, and they talked, prayed, laughed, and lived life as good friends do.
The Face of God’s Grace
Billy’s spirit of humility had never resided so richly in the heart of a man. He was America’s Pastor—one of the world’s most famous, well-known, and sought-after evangelists and preachers. “Anybody who was ‘anybody’ coming to the United States wanted to meet with Dr. Billy Graham,” said Don. Yet, Billy considered himself the biggest sinner who perpetually reflected on his unworthiness.
The Bible says that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. He will bless and give grace to those with a humble spirit and a servant’s heart. “Mr. Graham showed me the face of God’s grace.” Don reflected.
Billy understood his unrighteousness—his sinfulness and fleshness as a human being. He wrote books and spoke from the depth of his depravity. No one would consider Dr. Billy Graham as a sinner, but he considered himself the chief of sinners. As his pastor and close friend, Don had the privilege of reflecting on these things together from the inside of Billy’s eyes. “I held Mr. Graham’s hand as he went to heaven,” said Don. “Most people, the closer you get to them, the more you realize they have clay feet. But the closer I got to Mr. Graham, I recognized that he had this profound spiritual understanding that “by the grace of God, go I.” He saw himself as the first recipient of the reconciliation of God.”
There was not an ounce of pride in Billy.
Billy often shared his life’s regrets with Don and reflected on what he wished he had done differently. One of his great regrets is not having studied enough. Billy said he wished he studied more and preached less. It was hard for him to turn down the countless speaking requests. The older Billy became, the less he felt he knew about the almightiness of a sovereign God. Don and Billy would talk for endless hours about the magnificence of God. “It was rather odd to me,” Don explains. “Because it doesn’t make sense. He had such a profound sense of God’s order. But he was so profoundly desirous to get to the heartbeat of the unfathomable and, yet, palpable love of God.”
Other regrets were centered on lost time with his family. “I heard him apologize to God for having been so busy preaching the gospel that he was away from family too much.”
Billy repeatedly expressed to Don how he did not spend enough time with his family when they were growing up. “You cannot recapture those years,” Bill would say. Billy would fly off to other countries for months at a time and always have a picture in his mind of his children waving goodbye from their beautiful home.
In learning the personal side of the beloved pastor, Dr. Billy Graham, we learn how he drew attention to Jesus throughout his entire life. Brother Billy’s life reminds us how Jesus uses all of His children in unique ways to be His servants and further His Kingdom.
Don Wilton shares more about his dear friend, Dr. Billy Graham, in greater length and detail in episode 44 of The Influencers Podcast. Listen and subscribe today!
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