Withdrawal

For a good chunk of the 20thand 21stcenturies a humble man from North Carolina named Billy Graham was considered “America’s Pastor”. Why was he given such a prestigious nickname? I think the facts speak for themselves[1]:

  • 2 billion – estimated number of people who heard him preach.
  • 215 million – estimated number of people he preached the gospel to at live events.
  • 2 million – estimated number of people at his crusades who responded to the invitations to become a Christian.
  • 185 – estimated number of nations and territories where preached.

As you could imagine, from all the success Billy Graham experienced throughout his lifetime of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, many people wanted to know what made him so successful. Was it the way he prepared his sermons? Was it the marketing efforts that drew such large crowds? What was the secret to his success?

When asked this question directly, Billy Graham didn’t hesitate as he responded with three words: “prayer, prayer, and prayer.[2]

When we study the life of Christ, we see Billy Graham’s mantra lived out in a very real way. And while no one directly asked Jesus what made His ministry so successful, Christ’s actions made His answer unmistakably clear. It wasn’t the miracles that made Him successful. It certainly wasn’t the talent of His supporting cast that drew the crowds. What ultimately made Jesus so successful is that He had His priorities in line. Though Christ only had three years to literally save the entire world, Jesus always prioritized spending time with the Father over everything else. To see what I’m talking about, we need only to look at Luke 4 and 5 to see Christ’s priorities on display.

In both of these chapters large crowds gathered around Jesus so that they might hear Him teach and have Him heal their ailments. From all outward appearances, this appeared to be the launching point of Christ’s young earthly ministry. After all, this moment is exactly what every budding ministry wants – a lot of people that are very passionate about being with the ministry’s leader. This had the potential of be the defining moment of Christ’s ministry!

But as we read further, we learn that it was not the large crowds that defined Jesus’ ministry, but His devotion to the LORD. While all of these people certainly needed help and Jesus was the only Person who could meet their needs, Luke 4:42 (NIV) reads, “At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place…” thus leaving the mushrooming crowd to fend for themselves. On a similar occasion, Luke 5:15-16 (NIV) tells us, “Yet the news about [Jesus] spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Isn’t that so strange? Jesus left the crowds who wanted His help. I thought Jesus was here to help those in need? I thought He was supposed to be merciful and compassionate? This doesn’t seem like the Jesus I remember learning about in Sunday School! What’s the deal?

I believe it is in these moments of isolation and withdrawal that Jesus was actually laying out an important principal we must all learn to abide by – whether we are in vocational ministry or not – if you put your mission above your Master, you will always fail. Prioritizing time with others (even if it is in a ministry context) over time with the Almighty is a spiritual death sentence. On top of that, you can’t help others experience the transformation they are seeking. Only God can do that. I know we all believe that statement to be true, but when we fill our days with people and tasks at the expense of time with the Lord, our actions betray our confession.

I have to confess that this is an area that I can often fall victim to. I often confuse motion for ministry, action for achievement, and participation for production. I love the grind of long days and a hefty To-Do list. Because of this, I am prone to “burning the wick at both ends of the candle” by filling by schedule with things to do and assume that a full schedule somehow equates with faithfulness. In doing so, I often forfeit the intimacy with the Lord and the help of the Holy Spirit that Jesus joyfully prioritized in Luke 4 and 5.

Can you relate at all? Do you find yourself so busy that you hardly have time for the Lord? If that’s the case, then let’s both take a page out of Christ’s playbook and learn to create some margin in our schedule by saying “no” to more things and “yes” to more time with the Lord.

Let’s be like Billy Graham as we follow in the footsteps of Christ by prioritizing our time with our Master over executing our mission.

Have you withdrawn to be with the Lord today?

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  • Dawson Mars

    I know that further on in the article, the emphasis on being a successful leader in Christ is to prioritize one’s relationship with God and withdraw if need be, but In the first two paragraphs, are you concluding that Billy Graham’s success was largely due to the numbers “facts” that you listed, and in doing so, are you suggesting that a leader’s success is defined by their numbers?

    • Cody Terrill

      Hey Dawson, that’s a good point to clarify. I don’t think Grant is suggesting that a leader’s success is defined by their numbers at all in ministry. I’m sure you know lots of ministries that have a few people and lots that have thousands, both can be successful at their specific point of ministry. The line right below the numbers says that Billy Graham attributed the success to “prayer, prayer, and prayer”. I think the numbers were included to give a point of reference to how many people Billy Graham reached during his ministry.

      • Dawson White

        Thank you. I see