I WILL PRAISE YOUR NAME,
FOR YOU HAVE DONE WONDERFUL THINGS.
It was one of the more memorable evenings of my life. Standing near the top of the Sydney Showground, I looked down upon 60,000 people gathered to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But tonight there was something special. Two thousand nurses, drawn from every hospital in the environs of Sydney, were making their way into the center of the arena. Each wore a colorful cape representing their training institution. When they all rose quietly to be recognized at Cliff Barrow's request, they made a splash of brilliance in the Showground that brought Australians to their feet cheering.
I stood amazed at what I saw. These young women were not on official duty. They were not on parade. Neither were they attracted by royalty or patriotism or professional leadership. No outward lure or compulsion had brought them to the Showground. Instead, something deep inside them had responded to the drawing of the Spirit of God to hear the unspeakable riches of Christ proclaimed by a forty-year-old Baptist minister in North Carolina.
When the invitation came urging people to give their hearts and lives to the Savior, it was thrilling to see scores of colorfully caped inquirers blending in with the thousands who came to the altar.
I thought to myself, This is like heaven joy and music. The choir was singing softly, but where I stood under the open sky, I was listening for another choir, rendering the sounds of a heavenly symphony. Can you believe that? Pythagoras, the Greek Philosopher, said 2,500 years ago that the stars in their orbits emit harmonious music.
At the close of the meeting, I returned to the platform. As Billy Graham stepped down, he told me to see him before I left for Honolulu and home the next day.
Our meeting took place very early the following morning. Grady Wilson escorted me into Billy's hotel bedroom, and then withdrew. Billy was still in bed, sitting up, hair tousled and a smile on his face. He gave me the word I would be moving to Minneapolis where the managing editor of the new magazine would be my close associate. This man was George M. Wilson (no relation to Grady). He was Billy's business manager, director of his main offices in Minneapolis, and secretary and treasurer of his board of trustees.
Billy thanked me for coming to Australia and said he would be writing me with some fresh ideas regarding the magazine. I thanked him in return, but I had been so moved the night before that the words did not come easily. Finally I said, "Could we have a prayer before I go?"
"Certainly." Billy jumped out of bed in his pajamas and knelt beside me, and I knelt alongside him. After all these years, don't expect me to tell you exactly what we prayed. But I remember something unique about the prayer. There was a special note of joy in it.
Let me digress a minute on that subject. Millions of books have been written on prayer, and some of them are very good. But many people, as every minister knows, have a hard time trying to pray to God. As children they may have had no problem, but as adults they often feel that there is "nothing out there," and they "can't get past the ceiling." Even people at the point of suicide admit to trying prayer and finding "it doesn't work."
When I was younger, even after I entered the ministry, so often my prayers for myself were plagued with guilt and sounded as if I had been chewing on cardboard. They either annoyed me to distraction or bored me to death. I could hear Satan whispering, "Is this an act?
Who are you kidding?" What C.S. Lewis called "the real I" was smothered by my self-consciousness.
When I finally learned from some godly men how to pray for others, the Holy Spirit put wings to my words. I became an intercessor and began to have fun. I was caught up in the magnificent realization of how good and how great God is. Talk about fellowship! Prayer became a time of joy and praise.
I learned that once we stop asking for something and start giving thanks to God instead, the whole nature of prayer changes. Instead of tedium, there is sparkle. I learned too that the reason God wants us to glorify Him is so we will stop glorifying ourselves.
Billy and I did not waste time that morning prayer for ourselves; we prayed for each other, for our families, and for the people of Australia. What a ball that was! What excitement! What power of intercession! I could have stayed there a long time.
Are you having trouble with your prayer life? Get together with somebody and pour some praise into your prayers. You'll find out, as Augustine did, that the reason God gave us tongues in the furst place was so we could pray and talk with Him.1 If you are tired of mournful, wailing prayers, so is He! If you're cooped up in some kind of solitary retreat like a hermit, He doesn't like that any more than you do. Laugh, sing, shout even make merry, without any false or artificial stimulus, and God will join you. Make prayer the high point of the day. He'll love it.
After Billy and I spent a few minutes on our knees together, I rose feeling greatly refreshed. A final word, a handshake, and I was out the door and on my way to the airport and across the Pacific, bursting with anticipation at what the Lord was about to do.
In due time a lengthy letter arrived from Billy. It was all about the new magazine. He said he was convinced that profound truths could be expressed in simple language. He wanted the magazine to be relevant, thought-provoking, timely, spiritual, devotional, yet with a breezy, easy-to-read style.
After several more paragraphs of detailed instruction, Billy concluded, "This is quite a big order; however I believe it can be done and will meet a real need. I believe the Lord has led you to this important
ministry and am thankful for your willingness to obey His voice in this matter. With warmest personal greetings, Billy Graham."
This letter brought me back to earth. The words "big order ... important ministry" required me to face certain facts. That I could write I knew but to edit a magazine? In my heart of hearts I confessed I had not the slightest idea how to do it.
Newspapers were a piece of cake. I had worked on four of them in California, Hawaii, and Alaska. I knew page layouts, dummies, linotype machines, and flatbed presses. But artwork? Photojournalism? Lithographic plates? Halftones, duotones, silverprints, color keys? They were words that had not yet entered my vocabulary.
A week later, when on an errand in San Francisco, I paid a visit to the offices of Sunset magazine. With some embarrassment I asked a girl in the business office, "Can anybody here give me some information on putting out a magazine? I mean, what do you do?" The people to whom I was referred were kind and pleasant but busy. No one could help me. Sunset, they pointed out, was not a religious magazine. A summary of their advice was "just do it!"
Since the magazine would be published in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the international headquarters of the Billy Graham evangelistic Association, I arranged for our family to move east. We drove into Minneapolis on July 1, 1959. The following Monday I was given an office in the BGEA and went to work.
The first thing I discovered was that the staff people who work for Billy Graham are of very special quality. They welcomed my family with a genuine warmth that reflected the love of Christ. In fact, they did not (and still do not) consider themselves as working for an individual person at all, but rather for the Savior of mankind, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I learned that while they attend a wide variety of churches, they are single-minded when it comes to the cause of evangelism. As personnel in a business office, their main function is receiving and answering mail, which they do with great efficiency. On the personal side, they neither smoke nor swear. They do not tell off-color stories or engage in office politics or pad their expense books or complain
or strike or harass. They are honest with God's money. They pray a lot, and they also smile a lot. In fact, they are God's unique, beautiful servants, and in the seventeen years I spent in their midst, they had a salutary effect on me. I counted it a singular privilege to labor alongside them.
Now that my feet were planted in the upper Midwest, I was forced to bite the bullet, and vocational shock set in. No longer was I a pastor with a Sunday sermon to prepare. I had become an organization man, and the time had passed when I could put off the dismal truth: As a magazine editor, I was a failure before I even started. I didn't know how to "just do it."
Billy had sent me copies of British Christian magazines, and American periodicals were available in the Billy Graham headquarters. I spent hours and days thumbing through them and became increasingly perturbed. It was evident that the message of salvation, the message Billy preached, was not "hot copy." The magazines were without exception topical. Denominational subjects were of primary interest. As a newspaperman, I had spent many of my working hours reporting local news of people going here and there and doing this and that. Scanning the religious magazines, I realized that they were publishing the same kind of thing, the only difference being that the people they wrote about were in some way "religious."
This was intolerable. Billy Graham wanted a magazine that would bring Christ to the nations. He wanted to take on the Devil himself. He wanted to shake up the church and put it on the front lines. While we were in Australia, Dr. Raymond Edman, then president of Wheaton College, told me that back in 1949 and 1950 when Billy and Cliff and their teammates first saw the amazing response to their meeting everywhere they went, they actually came to believe God was going to change the human race and bring the world to Christ!
And here I was to be their editor.
"God," I prayed, "what have I gotten into? Billy doesn't want me to publish his message; he wants me to publish Your message. He wants to proclaim Jesus Christ to everybody everywhere, and that's what I want. How in heaven's name can I do it?"
Gradually I began to assemble some preliminary thoughts as to what such a magazine should say. It should glorify God and nobody else. It should talk about basic things and avoid pushing some pet position or other. It should be interesting, even fascinating, with exciting stories about God and people. It should reflect the Holy Spirit and also the spirit of Billy and the team. It should make people laugh and cry just as Jesus did. It should leap over every barrier that Christians set up against each other. It should love everybody and discriminate against nobody. It should underscore the trustworthiness of the Bible. It should hate sin but love the sinner. It should bring people to the Cross. It should be upbeat and cheerful, knowing that Jesus is coming soon for His own.
I took a large sheet of paper and began to make a dummy of what I thought the front page of the first issue of the magazine should look like. Then the buzzer sounded. In the churches I served there were no buzzers, but the Billy Graham Evangelical Association is no church. So this new organization man sighed, rose up, put on a smile, and dutifully went to the cafeteria for coffee.
Chapter 8 || Table of Contents
1. Augustine's Confessions translated from Latin by S.E. Wirt as Love Song (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 10.