The word sanctification is one of those big Christian words that get thrown around by preachers that most people don’t understand what it means. Sanctification means to be set aside, to be separated, to be dedicated, to commit yourself wholly and completely to something or someone.
How do I know that Ruth Graham was a woman who was sanctified? I know because early in her life, she chose Christ as her centre, her home, her purpose, her example, and her vision. Ruth separated herself completely to the ownership of the Lord. She took everything that she wanted in this world and gave it to the Lord. First, she gave of herself, then she gave the very thing she prayed for years.
As a child, Ruth desired to die as a martyr for Jesus. In China, Ruth had experienced that problems and persecution were a normal part of Christian life. Ruth considered her entire life as a service to God. Her faith was her entire way of life. In her younger years, Ruth sometimes climbed a tree to be alone with God.
For years, Ruth had felt that God was calling her to be a missionary in Tibet, but she let go of it all, knowing full well that God has brought her and Billy together who also felt a strong calling by God to preach the Gospel as an evangelist. Their only guide was God’s will for their lives.
Ruth later on reflecting on her decision said, “Perhaps, if I had insisted on having my way, I would have lasted in Tibet four years at the longest. Then that part of the world closed to foreign missionaries. And I would have missed the opportunity of a lifetime of serving God with the finest man I know.”
Graham’s evangelist campaigns in Europe – especially in Great Britain, Finland and Germany – remains the biggest Christian events ever to take place in those countries. The same is true for Australia and New Zealand and many other countries around the world.
I’ve heard people often say marriage is made in Heaven. Well, so is thunder and lighting! People often forget the maintenance work of marriage is done on earth. On hearing the Dalai Lama once say (while speaking on a news channel) that “all men are the ones that cause all the problems in the world, but women are the ones that cause problems at home,” Katie Melua shared are thought on it by saying, “I don’t really know which one is worse.”
Ruth sometimes had difficulties with her husband, mainly in the early years of their marriage, because he was not used to having a wife who had her own opinions. Once, when she hit the gas pedal instead of the brake and ended up downhill from their home, Billy wanted to forbid her to drive again, whereupon Ruth replied, “Abraham did not take the camel away from Sara either. When Ruth was asked on camera if she had ever considered divorcing her husband, she replied with a twinkle in her eyes, “Divorcing never, but killing several times.”
Billy Graham is by nature an extremely friendly gentleman who certainly wouldn’t want to offend anyone. That’s why he always found conflicts very difficult, in contrast to Ruth. When they married, someone told Ruth, “If two agree on anything, one is unnecessary”
Billy dedicated the following testimony to her on the occasion of her passing: “Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team. No one else could have borne the load that she carried.”
Ruth saw the home as her main area of responsibility. She once said that her husband had only one project, and she had several: their children. Ruth was a good observer, loving but occasionally quite mischievous. Many of those around her got a taste of it! When once a child misbehaved, a visitor asked Ruth how it was possible that Billy Graham’s children could do such things. Ruth replied, “They have me in them too.” Ruth always distinguished between moral misconduct (e.g. rudeness), for which she held her children accountable, and age-specific things (e.g. loud music), which she tolerated as long as it was not bothering anyone.
Ruth and Billy Graham were not perfect Christians. They had strength and weakness like all of us, and they failed time after time. They openly shared about their mistakes time and again. Billy was not always the “tower of strength” he appeared to be from the outside. Without God, without Ruth, and without his closest co-workers, who always encouraged him, he would not have been the steadfast voice of faith he was for an entire generation.
Ruth had a great gift for encouraging others. She was convinced that many people fail because of lack of encouragement than for any other reason. She once wrote in her diary, “Never let a single day pass without saying an encouraging word to each child”
While Ruth passed on the gospel in a more personal setting, Billy usually did it from a podium. When people confided their troubles in her, which was often the case, she would immediately say, “Let’s bring it to the Lord.”
Ruth had a special affinity for people on the darker side of life and for those who had failed in the eyes of others. She always tried to see them through God’s eyes. She once bought a broken vase, to the potter’s great astonishment, remarking that God loved broken things.
Whenever she spoke about God’s love and faithfulness in her life, something lit up in her eyes, similar to what you see when people have just fallen in love- and fortunately also in people who have been in love for a long time.
One of Billy’s greatest strength was always his acceptance of people in spite of their earthly status. He treated the lowly the same way he treated celebrities and vice versa. He treated sinners the same way he treated saints. In his company, one felt like a king. Many who met Billy personally later shared that they felt perplexed in his presence, confused about who the “very important person” was, Graham or themselves.
In 1953, at a mission in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he removed the ropes that separated the whites from the blacks with his own hands as people were entering. Graham had been convinced by God’s Word that any discrimination according to the colour of someone’s skin did not correspond to God’s will. Graham said, “We are made of one blood. The ground is level at the cross of Christ. There are no second-class citizens before God.” He referred to the Bible, which clearly states all are equal (Gal. 3:28)
Graham continually tried to draw the attention away from himself toward God. If the audience applauded him, he demonstratively applauded with them to demonstrate that God alone deserved all the praise. Ruth also was quite embarrassed when people praised her too much. She emphasized that the focus should always be on God and His faithfulness, not on people. Above all else, both Ruth and Billy emphasized that people should not look at them as examples of faith, but to look to Christ alone.
Russ Busby, who as a photographer accompanied Graham on the most diverse occasions, from crusades to meetings with kings and presidents, concluded that the main reason God used Graham is that he leads people not to himself but to God.
Graham wrote in his autobiography: “I never go to see important people-or anyone else-without having the deep realisation that I am –first and foremost- an ambassador of the King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Ruth and Billy saw themselves as ambassadors of Christ and not of the United States, and they constantly sought to maintain the integrity of the message of the cross, not weakening or watering it down by trying to be “relevant. Ruth and Billy displayed an extraordinary faithfulness to God and His Word, the Bible. They were convinced that the biblical message is relevant to all and did not need to be made relevant. Even with all of his openness toward different expressions of faith, Billy never compromised on the content of his message. “The Bible says” became his trademark.
Ruth and Billy separated themselves from the influence of the world but never from world influencers. They were convinced that if we want to touch the people with the gospel, we have to stand with them in their heartbreaks. People do not care what we believe until they believe that we care.
Ruth and Billy did not consider themselves wise. Instead, they sought God’s wisdom. They made it a habit of beginning each day by reading a chapter of Proverbs as well as five psalms. One time Ruth was with a friend, watching on television how an unsympathetic interviewer tried to trap Billy with a trick question. Billy answered the question very wisely. Ruth remarked to her friend, “You and I both know Billy is not that smart. That was God.”
Billy was a man who was aware of his utter dependence on God, a man who realised his inadequacy in the face of the challenge before him. At a press conference, Graham was asked what his most frequent prayer had been in recent times. He answered without disarming honesty, “Lord, help me!“
Graham emphasized that he did not want to ever stand in the pulpit and preach without the power of the Holy Spirit. When somebody once remarked that Billy wasn’t exactly the best preacher, Ruth replied that this was then proof of how powerful the Holy Spirit was. During his time at the Bible school in Florida, he told God that he did not necessarily want to become a great preacher but a great soul winner.
Ruth and Billy had a deep trust in the power of prayer. Both spent an extraordinary amount of time in prayer. During the initial years of his ministry. Billy spent so much time on his knees in prayer that the doctor feared Billy’s knees would be damaged. Ruth also cultivated an intensive prayer life and always tried to remain “online” with God throughout the day. She was convinced that prayer is the best weapon in the battle against the enemy of God and that prayer changes not only circumstances but also ourselves.
Ruth calls her prayer continuous conversation with God. She was often found by her bed, on her knees. She loved nothing more than to read the Bible. She had her Bible anywhere she was in the house, sometimes even on the ironing board. There would be a verse that she would be gleaning and meditating upon. She also had the habit of rising early, seeking God and reading His Word. God spoke to her through the Bible; she spoke to God in prayer.
Ruth’s daughter (Ruth, known as Bunny) told a moving story that shows how important Ruth intimate moments with her Father in heaven were for her mother. Ruth was very frail and bound to a wheelchair because of many surgeries and advancing arthritis in the last years of her life. When one of the caregivers checked on her late in the evening, she saw Ruth on her knees, her body leaning against the bed, her hands folded, deep in prayer. Bunny added:
“She who had every excuse in the book not to get down on her knees, she who knew intense pain as an ever-present reality, had somehow in her frailty mustered the strength to get down from her bed to the floor in order to worship God in the same manner she had done for most of her life.”
I personally believe with all my heart that we would be absolutely astonished if we have the records of godly women who have prayed, we will be amazed at the incredible things that God did in history, that God responded to as the result of the prayers of godly women. I am convinced that the world owes more to the prayers of godly women than we will ever know on this side of heaven. Throughout history, great things have happened as a direct result of godly women’s prayer.
If it wasn’t for the prayer of Susanna Wesley, spending hours praying for each one of her 19 children, we would never have heard of John and Charles Wesley. We would never have had the Methodist revival that swept across the land, and as a consequence of that, we had the emancipation of the slave and the YMCA movement and on and on and on, all because there was a faithful woman, Susanna who prayed for her children. Truly, no man is poor who has a godly mother.
To Billy, praying is as necessary as breathing. When she was still living at home, Graham’s daughter Anne noticed, “Sometimes when Daddy comes to the breakfast table, he’s too tired to eat. One morning he told me he’d been up all night praying.” He was convinced that the cross that called Jesus to a sacrificial death also calls his followers to a sacrificial life.
Ruth knew who she was in Jesus Christ. Day after day, she trusted in the Holy Spirit’s support. She was an example of a life fully dependent on God. Her youngest son, Ned, testifies to this in a lovely way:
“With Mother, I have seen true righteousness in a human being on a level that I’ve never seen before. There was absolutely no insecurity in the woman. There was total peace and confidence of who she was in God through Christ. There was a complete dependence and openness to the work of the Holy Spirit in her life. She hungered and thirsted after righteousness constantly. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Ruth had a close relationship with her earthly father. She inherited from him her wide range of interests but also an intimate relationship with God. Ruth was also quite adventurous. She wanted to try out what was popular with young people. She even tried to ride a Harley Davidson once, but as she forgot to ask how to stop the motorcycle, the ride ended in a ditch. She also wanted to fly a hang glider at least once, which also ended in a fiasco.
Ruth was the same person everywhere: unaffected, natural, but also warmhearted and perceptive; pious in the positive sense, but at the same time always with a witty remark at hand, which relaxed the atmosphere around her. People felt at ease in her presence because they could just be themselves. Ruth at times could confront people very bluntly, to the point of irritating them.
Because she was also very sensitive, she was often disappointed with herself and expressed her feelings of failure again and again in her poems. Ruth was not spared of depression either. In commenting on a prolonged time of depression she experienced during her pregnancy with her youngest child, Ned, she emphasized the positive side of it: “I’m glad I had that because it helps to understand how people feel… Thank God that David wasn’t always on a perpetual high. What would we do without the Psalms?”
A dear lady who modified the Word of the scripture which says in Ecclesiastes 11, “Cast your bread upon the water and it will not return to you void” She used to say, “Cast your bread upon the water and it will return to you toasted.“
If you want to understand Ruth Graham’s heart, you have to read her poems. Her poems are often prayers, and in the poem below she was praying for God to change the laws of nature for her. Its take a life that is sanctified, set aside and totally dedicated to God to pray such a prayer.
A little more time, Lord,
Just a little more time.
There’s so much to do,
So much undone.
If it’s all right with You, Lord,
Please stop the sun.
There’s forever before me
forever with You;
but a little more time
for the so much to do.
I intentionally set out to write about Ruth Graham but found it impossible to leave out Billy Graham’s side of the story while trying to do so with this blog post. Ever since hearing the tribute song (Give me Jesus by Fernando Ortega) to Ruth, I developed a keen interest to learn a thing or two about who this godly woman I knew nothing about. Most of the words incorporated in this blog post are borrowed from the two sources below. I’ll give it back when I’m done. To be clear, I’ve highlighted my own incorporated words in the colour indigo (which is very little).
I’m not really into reading biographies, but the very first ever biography book I read is the number 1 below. I think one of the dangers of biographies is that we can naturally take our eyes off Jesus when we look to people as our role model. However, we should follow their example inasmuch as they follow the example of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). As someone who doesn’t believe in mediocre, I appreciate that the biography is able to portray how God uses ordinary people to accomplish the extraordinary – all to the glory of God. It takes a heart after God’s own heart to say, “I want my life to count for something great for God.”
- Ruth and Billy Graham: The Legacy of a Couple (Biography by Hanspeter Nüesch)
- Ruth Bell Graham: A Life Well Lived (Online article by Kristen Driscoll)