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Jenkins: Chronicling Graham’s life a transforming experience

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Journalists typically do not expect interviews to be spiritually transformational. But interviewing Billy Graham proved to be an exception to this rule for best-selling author Jerry Jenkins.

Jenkins, coauthor of the popular “Left Behind” series, delivered the keynote address at the Baptist Press Excellence in Journalism banquet Oct. 11 at the Wyndham Union Station Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. Jenkins spoke of his writing career, including his work with evangelist Billy Graham.

Jenkins told a crowd of more than 125 journalism students and guests how helping to write Graham’s memoirs offered a challenging glimpse of the evangelist’s humility and devotion to Christ.

“When I was asked to assist him with his memoirs, it was such a rare privilege, really the privilege of a lifetime,” Jenkins said. “You really wonder, is he the same person behind closed doors that he is in public, truly humble, [that] attracts people to him?

“He’s really shy in person, doesn’t want attention, yet that very humility is what has drawn people, and I think it is a characteristic of Christ,” Jenkins said.

One example of Graham’s humility came as he and Jenkins watched a documentary about Graham crusades during the 1950s and 1960s, Jenkins said. The documentary showed tens of thousands committing their lives to Christ.

“And as we watched, he wept,” Jenkins said. “He was weeping, and you could hear it. And I remember thinking, ‘… What must it be like to be so popular and so well-known and so effective in your ministry that people stream out in those numbers just to hear you preach?’ But he doesn’t think in those terms. As soon as the movie was over, he just said, ‘Let’s pray.'”

Jenkins continued, “It had been so long since he had seen [the documentary] that he didn’t remember much of it. He was just as thrilled and moved by it as we were. And my question about what it must be like to be that popular and that well known just simply went by.”

On another occasion, Jenkins asked Graham how he felt about being a spiritual leader and role model to so many people.

Graham answered, “‘When I think of the number of times I have failed the Lord, I feel this low,'” Jenkins recounted. “And he reached out of the chair and put his hand flat on the floor. And that really moved me. I thought, here is Billy Graham … truly feeling low because of the times he failed the Lord.”

After several months of working with Graham, Jenkins “wanted to find out what it was about Mr. Graham that made him different.” So he inquired about Graham’s personal spiritual disciplines.

“I [asked], ‘How can you maintain your own spiritual disciplines?’ With that, he kind of came alive and said, ‘It’s certainly not a secret. It’s not hidden from us. There’s no secret key in the Bible. There are two things that we’re instructed to do: That’s to pray without ceasing and to search the Scriptures,'” Jenkins said.

Jenkins recounted how he pursued the subject further.

“I said, ‘Do you pray without ceasing?’ [Graham] said, ‘I do.’ … He was still being humble, looking me straight in the eye as he was saying, ‘I pray without ceasing.’ And he said, ‘I have every waking moment since I became a believer as a teenager.'”

Uncertain how to respond, Jenkins asked Graham about his Scripture reading habits.

“[Graham] said, ‘Wherever I am in the world, I open my Bible somewhere. In a hotel room or in my own home or as a guest in someone else’s home or in my office, so that whenever I come and see my Bible, I just stop. And I’ll read a verse or two or a chapter or two or for an hour or two.’ He said, ‘This is not for sermon preparation. This is my own spiritual food,'” Jenkins said.

“And I looked over his shoulder, and sure enough, there on his desk was his Bible open and turned out so that he could just read it as he passed by,” he said.

When Jenkins asked Graham how he resumes his Bible reading routine after missing one or two days, Graham answered, “I don’t think I’ve ever done that. … It’s my spiritual food. I don’t want to miss a meal.”

People often wonder why Graham has enjoyed such success in ministry, Jenkins said. But after learning about his devotion to God, there was little doubt in Jenkins’ mind about the reason for Graham’s success.

“People always wonder, why is Billy Graham’s ministry so blessed?” Jenkins said. “Why has God’s hand so clearly been upon him? There are better preachers. There are better theologians, that type of thing. Yet something is blessed there. He preaches and gives an invitation and people stream forward.

“I started thinking: … The Bible tells us what to do: pray without ceasing, search the Scriptures,” Jenkins said. “The difference between Billy Graham and the typical minister, the typical Christian, is that he does it.”

Jenkins concluded, “If we want to know what it takes to be blessed like that, that’s it. That’s my challenge to you.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: GLEANING FROM GRAHAM.