96: Danny Wuerffel

96: Danny Wuerffel

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 96 •

NFL/NCAA champion football quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner and director of Desire Street Ministries

My first exposure to Billy Graham and his preaching style came when I was in fifth grade and I went with my youth group to a Billy Graham Crusade in Denver, Colorado. I was growing up in a Christian home and my father was a chaplain. But this was the first massive public Christian event I had attended. It was unapologetically Christian, yet it was very public and in a football stadium that was filled to the upper deck. That made it clear to me that faith is who you are and doesn’t have to be something that’s expressed only in private. Billy Graham’s example of living out his faith was very sincere, unapologetic, and bold but it was also very respectful and tasteful.

That approach to Christian life and preaching has been a model for me, as I too have been blessed to have a public platform. I try to model Billy Graham by being true and authentic to who I am and what I believe in a way that brings glory and honor to the Lord without creating unnecessary conflict and tension.

Billy Graham is world renowned as an individual, but he never let it go to his head. He was always very humble. That’s a lesson I’ve had to learn on several occasions. A couple of years ago, for example, I was in New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and there were a bunch of people wanting autographs from many of us former winners. One young boy chased me into the bathroom. As I left he handed me an orange Florida Gator helmet, so I grabbed it and pulled out my pen. I said to the young boy, “Who do you want me to make this out to?” He replied, “I don’t know who you are but I was hoping you could take this into the other room and have Tim Tebow sign it for me.” That’s a funny reminder we are never who we think we are.

Not that long ago, I received another lesson in humility. I was going through the Atlanta airport and stopped to get my shoes shined. I wondered if the man shining my shoes was a football fan, and if he would think it was cool to be working on the shoes of a Heisman Trophy winner. Part of this was just curiosity, but I’m sure it was also tied into my own ego. I broached the subject casually, asking him, “In all your time have you gotten to meet any celebrities?” The guy stopped, very slowly looked up at me and said, “In my world, son, there are no celebrities. Anyone that’s up on a pedestal is only there because they put themselves there, and it don’t make no never mind to me.” He put his head down and resumed shining my shoes.

That incident was another reminder to me of what Billy Graham has modeled very well: a humble servant’s heart along with a world-renowned platform. Time and time again you see Billy Graham using his platform to bring honor and glory to the Lord. You don’t see him trying to build a personal empire, or leveraging his status for his own gain. There are some leaders who are popular and know it, and almost feed off their celebrity status. Billy Graham, however, pays attention to everyone, whether he’s talking to presidents or to the person cleaning the plates off the banquet table.

I think these qualities of modesty and humility have played a large part in enabling Billy Graham to live a life full of consistent and faithful ministry. Few people manage to achieve this. There are a lot of people in ministry who for all sorts of reasons become ineffectual, or burn out and experience different kinds of failure. At Desire Street a big part of our mission is learning how to avoid this. We see so many young inner-city ministry leaders who have vision and passion and then burn out. There are very few inner-city leaders who finish well. Billy Graham’s example is a resource to help other inner-city leaders finish well. Not just in ministry, but personally and with family. There are so many detours and traps in life. It’s a lot easier to ruin a life than to build one. To see somebody who finished well is very encouraging and inspiring to me.

It seems the people who can be humble and teachable do a whole lot better over the long haul than those who think they have all the answers. A lot of people try to do too many things. Being focused and having a simple organizational mission is key. When I think of Billy Graham, I think of someone who invested his life in sharing the good news of the love of Christ and our need for Jesus. That is the profound yet simple part of his DNA that drove his life. He isn’t trying to do twenty things at once. That’s a huge part of why he is finishing well.

As we work with leaders, the concept of self-care is just so important. What does appropriate, healthy, self-care look like over the course of one’s life? It looks like Billy Graham.

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