81: Ricky Skaggs

81: Ricky Skaggs

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 81 •
RICKY SKAGGS

Fourteen-time Grammy Award-winning country and bluegrass singer, musician, producer and composer

The first time that I met Dr. Graham was during one of his crusades in the 1980s when I was asked to play a few songs and share my testimony before Dr. Graham began preaching. It was pouring rain. I was on a covered stage, but the audience was sitting in the rain and getting wet. I did one song and was setting up my second song when Dr. Graham came onto the stage. The rain stopped, just as if you had a garden hose and turned it off. I thought, man, this is Old Testament stuff right here. I was really moved by that experience. It was awesome.

Another time, I did a crusade with Dr. Graham and his son, Franklin. Afterwards, Franklin said, “Hey, you want to come up to the room later, and we’ll order some room service?” So I went to my room, and put away my guitar and stuff, and headed up to Franklin’s room. I knocked on the door and walked in, and there’s Dr. Graham sitting with Franklin. Someone said, “What do you want to eat?” Dr. Graham said, “I want a cheeseburger.” Franklin looked at me and said, “You want a cheeseburger, too?” I said, “Yes, sir, I’ll have a cheeseburger with you.” I thought, man, having a cheeseburger with Billy Graham has got to be the coolest thing in the whole wide world.

I once went over to Dr. Graham’s house to sing a few songs for him. I had committed to do a spiritual forty-day fast, drinking water and hot tea and a little coffee. The body is an amazing thing, and you can actually get along without food for quite a while. I’ve had friends that have done two fasts a year for nearly thirteen years. You don’t just jump into something like that without really feeling God inviting you to a fast. It’s a spiritual thing. Fasting was something that was very common in the days when Jesus was walking the earth. But we’ve gotten away from that lifestyle. In other religions it still happens quite a bit, but it seems like in the Christian religion it’s a bygone thing. I got to Dr. Graham’s house around lunchtime. I walked in and of course we hugged and said our hellos. He sat down at his table and said, “Would you have a hot dog with me?” The first thing I thought to myself was, Oh, you’re fasting. You can’t do that. But I really felt like I heard the Lord say, Yes, you will have a hot dog with him. Don’t let the fasting be an offense to him because that nullifies the whole fast if you do that. So, I didn’t tell Dr. Graham anything about the fast because I did not want to make him feel bad that he was eating in front of me, and tempting me. Instead, I said, “Yes, sir, I’d love to have a hot dog with you.” And that was the best hot dog I’ve ever had.

My ministry is totally different from Dr. Graham’s, but he knows that what I do is for Christ. I go to the bars and the clubs and the casinos where I play my music, and I take the church and the Gospel to those places where Dr. Graham may not be as welcome. If he walked into a casino or a bar or a club, the people might not listen. But because of the music that God has put in my heart, I can go in there and play bluegrass for fifteen or twenty minutes and they let me speak about what’s on my mind. If I walked in there and immediately started talking about the Gospel and preaching to them, they just wouldn’t listen.

There’s a great story I heard Johnny Cash tell one time. Johnny and Dr. Graham were like best friends. He loved Johnny Cash, and John loved Dr. Graham and Ruth. They’d go on vacations together or down to Jamaica with John and his wife, June Carter Cash. It was a great relationship. Dr. Graham was never ashamed to be around Johnny Cash and the country music crowd. Johnny told me about one of the first times that he was with Dr. Graham. They were walking into an arena, and all these young people started hollering, “Johnny, hey man, we love you!” Dr. Graham said, “Wow, those are your people.” John said, “Yeah, I’ve got a few people here tonight.” And Dr. Graham was excited to preach to individuals who might otherwise not attend.

I have pictures up in my studio of prophets, pickers and preachers. I’ve got Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs and The Stanley Brothers and people like that who are my musical heroes, but I’ve also got this awesome picture of Dr. Graham, the Youth for Christ picture where he’s standing straight up and is holding his Bible over his head as high as he can reach. The way the picture was shot, he looks like he’s eight feet tall, bigger than life. Everybody that comes into my studio sees that picture. I think they’re touched by the power of Dr. Graham’s life, especially seeing him as a young preacher in his twenties and then seeing him in his nineties, still desiring to see souls saved for the kingdom.

One time, I went to see Dr. Graham at a crusade, and as soon as I walked into the room, I started crying and could not stop. When I think about it now, I still start to well up. He was sitting in a little place they had partitioned off back there in the arena. There were curtains up around him. I just walked in and, bam, I started bawling. It was the humility and the brokenness and the fragrance of Christ that I could really sense in the room. There was a spirit of the Lord that was so on him at that moment. He hugged me and said, “Bless your heart,” and kissed me.

That moment reminded me of the biblical story about the prostitute who took her costly alabaster jar of fragrant oil and broke it so she could anoint Jesus with its perfume. The jar of oil was really for a dowry, an expensive gift to be saved for a wedding. It was as if she was getting married to Christ because of the forgiveness He gave to her. Everyone else was ready to stone her, but she came to Christ, humbly and broken. When she broke the jar, the fragrance filled the room. I think when our lives are broken, our souls are broken in humility because of the love that we have for Christ. I think that when people are around those who preach and sing the Gospel, they can sense the fragrance of forgiveness. That’s how it was when I went to see Dr. Graham and began to weep, feeling the humility, the shared brokenness, and the fragrance of Christ that had filled his room. It was more than just an ordinary visit. Something deeper was going on.

There have been other times I’ve seen Dr. Graham and I’ve always teared up because I’m always wondering if it is the last time I’ll get to see him on this side of heaven. I love him dearly. Every time I’m around him, I get inspired.

When he’s in the arena, in the pulpit, there’s a switch that gets turned on somehow. He turns into Billy Graham the evangelist. There’s no doubt about it. Most of the time I’ve been around him was at a crusade. But there have been times that I’ve been around him where he was just talking about stuff, like his family and his kids. And he loves baseball. He’s just a common man who serves an uncommon God.

I’ve heard the phrase so many times, “You’re just too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” Well, I don’t agree with that. I think Dr. Graham is definitely heavenly minded, but he is definitely earthly good, too.

Not long ago, I visited with Dr. Graham. I walked in and saw him sitting at his desk, and he looked at me. “I’m asking God for one thing,” he said. “Dr. Graham, what is it?” I asked. He answered, “I’m asking God for one more time to preach. If even one more person would come, it would be worth it.” That broke my heart, to see him in his nineties, with his heart and marrow still boiling for souls. I thought, Dr. Graham has probably led more people to Christ than any one person that ever lived. Yet his heart’s desire is to see one more come. It blew my mind. I looked at Dr. Graham and asked, “If you could preach one more time, what would you say?” Before I could get all the words out of my mouth, he said, “Oh, I’d tell them about the cross. I’d tell them that there is no heaven without the cross.” He just went on and on, like he was preaching to me right there in the living room. He just could not stop speaking about God’s love for us.

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