The late Rev. Billy Graham’s remarkable influence stretched across the nations. He preached to millions, young and old, rich and poor—and the number of those who came to Christ as a result of his message is nothing short of miraculous.
There were also many highly influential figures who were profoundly impacted by his ministry. One of those is George W. Bush. In a recent op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal, the former president recounted his personal, life-changing experience with the late evangelist.
“I was captivated by him,” Bush wrote of his first encounter with Graham in 1985, at his grandmother’s home in Maine. “He had a powerful presence, full of kindness and grace, and a keen mind. He asked about my life in Texas. I talked to him about Laura and our little girls.”
Bush explained how he mentioned the Bible, noting that it has a great potential to make people “better.” Graham then highlighted something of vital importance.
“He told me about one of the Bible’s most fundamental lessons: One should strive to be better, but we’re all sinners who earn God’s love not through our good deeds, but through His grace,” Bush recalled. “It was a profound concept, one I did not fully grasp that day. But Billy had planted a seed. His thoughtful explanation made the soil less hard, the brambles less thick.”
Not long after Bush returned home, he received a package. Graham had sent him a copy of the Living Bible.
“He had inscribed it and included a reference to Philippians 1:6: ‘And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns,'” the former president noted.
The impact Graham’s teaching had on Bush’s life was profoundly personal—in fact, he credits the minister for helping him stop drinking.
“God’s work within me began in earnest with Billy’s outreach. His care and his teachings were the real beginning of my faith walk—and the start of the end of my drinking,” Bush wrote. “I couldn’t have given up alcohol on my own. But in 1986, at 40, I finally found the strength to quit. That strength came from love I had felt from my earliest days and from faith I didn’t fully discover until my later years.”
In an amazing moment caught on camera during a 2010 book signing at the Billy Graham Library, Bush turns to the evangelist and comments on his recent gospel message.
“It was awesome,” Bush says. “It worked perfectly, the message that it is not about Billy Graham, it’s about Christ, was perfectly done.”
There is no doubt that the pair had a special connection. In his column, Bush reflected on many stories involving the famed pastor:
“When I was governor of Texas, I sat behind Billy at one of his crusades in San Antonio. His powerful message of God’s love moved people to tears and motivated hundreds to come forward to commit themselves to Christ,” Bush recalled. “I remember thinking about all the crusades Billy had led over the years around the world, and his capacity to open up hearts to Jesus. This good man was truly a shepherd of the Lord.”
Bush remembers asking Billy to address the nation at the Washington Cathedral following the tragedy of the 9/11 terror attacks.
“I asked Billy to lead the ecumenical service at Washington National Cathedral. It was no easy task. America was on bended knee—frightened, angry, uncertain. As only Billy Graham could, he helped us feel God’s arms wrapped around our mourning country.”
Previously, Bush has shared of Billy’s remarkable ability to relate to each and every person.
“He’s willing to preach to the most powerful and the least powerful,” Bush said in a 2010 interview, adding that Graham’s humility completely “disarms you,” making him a highly gifted minister. “When I was president I was thankful that Billy came to the White House. He had no political agenda; he had an agenda of the Lord.”
“His humility and love for God and Christ can overwhelm the cynic. And I was a cynical person. His spirit overwhelmed me,” Bush added.
The 43rd President of the United States went on to explain how Graham gradually changed the spiritual direction of his life completely.
“He started helping me plant seeds. The ground was pretty hard but after meeting Billy the ground became more fertile for the seed. He helped change my life. I was a questioning person, drinking a lot. I would listen but never hear, but Billy Graham helped me understand the redemptive power of the risen Lord.”
Watch the full interview HERE.