79: Pat Robertson

79: Pat Robertson

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 79 •

Founder of the Christian Broadcast Network and television host of The 700 Club

My first encounter with the full Billy Graham experience was in the summer of 1957 at the crusade Billy Graham held in New York City. I was a theological student at the time, and I was one of the counselors at the crusade. I was overwhelmed by the experience in Madison Square Garden. The Garden holds 20,000 people, and it was filled every night from May to September.

New York is a very sophisticated, blasé city, but that summer it was just turned on its ear. Billy Graham spoke not only at Madison Square Garden but also on Wall Street, near the U.S. Treasury building. There was a huge crowd there, a couple of hundred thousand people. Imagine it — hardened stock and bond traders came during their lunchtime to hear this preacher from North Carolina talking about Jesus!

Billy Graham also spoke in Times Square, and the crowd there was just as huge. The city turned itself inside out to welcome him. It was extraordinary how this one man did something that the business leaders on his team thought was impossible. Here was a man from North Carolina preaching the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ, and New Yorkers were falling over themselves in amazement.

This wasn’t the first time I had heard Billy Graham. My father, who was in the U.S. Senate, had helped him when he came to Washington some years before that, and my mother and father had made contributions to his ministry. They thought the world of him, and I had met him myself in Washington. But this New York crusade was a bigger experience altogether.

It was a normal New York summer, with the typical heat in the city, the crowds, and the hustle and bustle of commercial life. And yet it was as if the city just slowed down to listen to this message. Suddenly these cynical New Yorkers were turning to faith in Jesus. It was astounding.

I think it was word of mouth that helped to produce the huge crowds. The news spread through all the churches. The air was electric that summer. When Billy prayed for the anointing of God it was powerful. The people in Madison Square Garden were just transfixed. They were on the edge of their seats listening to what he had to say. And there I was, a young theological student, amazed at what God was doing.

I was there many nights at the Garden because I was one of the counselors for the crusade. I happened to be in charge of the college follow-up in Queens, New York, as well. When people would come forward at the meetings, a counselor would go along with them, talk to them, and invite them to go to the counseling room on a lower floor. The circus had been there before us and had put the elephants in the room where we were now doing the counseling. It was still a little pungent, so you had to overcome some of the animal odors during the counseling!

What was it about this man Billy Graham that was so compelling? Billy Graham once said, “If God would ever take His hand off of me, my lips would turn to clay.” He knows where the power comes from. It’s God’s spirit. Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.” Billy never drew people to himself. He always pointed them to Jesus. He said constantly, “Don’t look at me, look at Jesus.” I think it was Jesus who was drawing the crowds to the New York Crusade, and Billy was the messenger. He was very handsome, very dynamic, and he lived a life of great integrity. People saw that. There was nothing false about him.

And that’s what people wanted, then and now. New York can be a cold and impersonal place. I lived there for a number of years. You find yourself in these big canyons of buildings, and the subways are jam-packed with people. There are always crowds, and everything is hustle and bustle. You have to fight for a parking place and for whatever you do. In New York, your life seems tenuous because you’re not out in a field or a farm or some natural setting like that — you’re up a high-rise building and if the power gets cut off or some other essential service is interrupted, you don’t have anything. People in New York have that feeling of insecurity. But Billy Graham brought the message of certainty.

In Madison Square Garden, above the podium where he was speaking, there was a large banner that proclaimed the words of Jesus: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” This was the certainty that people sought, and they responded. It was astounding. Every night Billy Graham would give an invitation. He would stand there with his head bowed, his arms across his chest, and wait for them to come. And they came by the thousands. Some people were weeping. Their lives had been transformed, and you could sense they were so happy they had made this decision. They welcomed those of us who were counseling who wanted to say more to them. We answered their questions and prayed with them, and they were so grateful for people who loved them. People are looking for love, and the people at those crusades sensed its presence there.

Billy Graham was the man anointed by God who made all that happen in New York City that summer in 1957. God’s anointing, by which we become aware of the presence of God, is available for all Christians, but some do have more of it than others. Billy is a specially chosen instrument to bring the Lord’s message around the world. He is unique.

At the New York crusade, all the theological students, me included, stood in awe of him. He had tremendous humility, and he always remained an extremely humble man, even though, as the years went by, he had a claim that few human beings have ever had. He walked with U.S. Presidents, he knew world leaders, and yet he always remained a very godly man, a man of prayer.

I’ve been with him on a group prayer retreat. He’s just a humble man under God. He puts on no airs or pretense, none of the “flash and dash.” He lives very simply. He once told me he had been offered an airplane — someone wanted to give him one, but he wouldn’t accept it. He felt that he should not have luxury for himself. People in his kind of position are offered everything, and he said no.

It was that simplicity and humility that characterized his ministry. It was apparent at that crusade in New York in 1957, and all the time I have known him. He loves the Bible, he loves Jesus, he has tremendous faith. And that’s the thing that touches us all. When you see a great man as humble as he is, it has a profound impact on you.

I learned a great deal from him. We’ve been friends now for so many years, and I love and appreciate him. I was with him for his ninetieth birthday party in West Virginia a few years ago. The biggest things I learned from Billy Graham are self-control — living simply, not indulging your appetites — humility, dedication to the Lord, and boldness in proclaiming the Gospel. That’s who he is, it’s what he is known for, and it will be his legacy.

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