As a guard against even the appearance of wrongdoing Graham had a policy that he would never be alone with a woman, other than his wife Ruth.
Setting aside the sheer number of people he’s come in contact with throughout his 92 year life – much of it in evangelical ministry – it’s an incredibly prudent and noble intention.
In an age of scandal, Graham wanted to be sure that no one could hold these indiscretions against him, but there’s another side to it: he didn’t want to be lead into temptation.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Think about that for a second.
It’s one of the parts of the Our Father that most of us rattle off without thinking - but there’s something there. The act of contrition many of us pray at the end of confession includes a resolution to “sin no more, and to avoid the near occasion of sin.“
The near occasion of sin is what the ‘Billy Graham Rule’ is all about.
Being a serious Christian means a few things. It means living in relationship with God. It usually involves some sort of conversion experience – either dramatic or gradual. And then it involves a lifetime of growing in holiness.
From my (limited, and sometimes frustrating) experience of trying to grow in holiness, one of the most difficult things is shaking off patterns of sin in my life.
One of the things I struggle with is my temper - I am a passionate person, and a variety of things can get my blood boiling. But allowing that anger to control me or cause me to act without love and respect for others is obviously counter-productive to the primary goal of my life: becoming a saint and getting to Heaven (while hopefully leading my wife and kids there as well.)
A few years ago, I played men’s league hockey with a great group of guys who were, unfortunately, not very good at hockey. I will never claim to be a great hockey player, but I was an average one on this team, and quite often I would come home angry at my inability to help our team win its second or third game of the season. In my second year with this team it got so bad that it became regular that I would smash my stick over the back of the net after a goal, usually breaking that stick (and costing me $20.) As I confessed my lack of self-control to my spiritual director, he asked me why I was playing hockey.
I had started this team because I wanted to relax with a good group of guys and play a sport I’ve loved my whole life. Since playing on this team was doing anything but help me relax, making me angry, and costing me a great deal of money in hockey sticks, I left the team- and play pick-up shinny once or twice a week now instead of league hockey.
For the most part, it’s helped me be less angry at the place I’m supposed to be relaxing… avoiding the near occasion of sin.
Most of us, if we’re serious about our spiritual lives, know the places we struggle most with sin.
Hockey was a place I would get frustrated and angry. For some, being on the computer in the middle of the night leads them into temptation to view pornography.
A young couple serious about being chaste probably shouldn’t be making out on someone’s bed in a dark room- that’s a good recipe to fall into temptation. Many who drink excessively (to get drunk) open the door to all sorts of things they otherwise wouldn’t do, usually in complete opposition to growing in holiness.
Turn away from sin and let God transform us more and more into His image (that is what holiness is.)
Be aware – as Billy Graham has been throughout his ministry – of the risks and temptations. But be brave enough also to do something about it.
And as you pray “lead us not into temptation” – learn to mean it in the areas you struggle the most.