When I heard the news of Billy Graham’s passing, it brought to mind a story I heard about him several years ago. Billy came to a small Bible conference in Western Michigan and asked to speak at the evening service. The leaders of the Bible conference politely turned him down. But over the next few days, they noticed that the attendance at their services began to thin until it was only a handful. Billy had set up on the beach and a crowd had gathered. Nearly everyone who was supposed to be attending the services at the Bible conference was coming to hear him instead.
I’m pretty sure that if I had been one of the leaders of that Bible conference, I would have made the same decision they did. How were they to know that the bold young man who invited himself into their pulpit would eventually become the Billy Graham we know of today? This was before the days of the Los Angeles crusade that made the evangelist a household name. It was long before Graham achieved the status of “America’s Pastor.” In those days Billy was just another unknown preacher looking for an audience. Did they make the wrong choice? Most of us would probably say yes. But that’s only because we know what Billy Graham eventually became.
How do we distinguish between presumption and the call of God? Often it is only history that enables us to know the difference. There are many things we would like to do but might not have the ability. There are other things that we might able to do but will never be granted the opportunity. The race does not always go to the swift or the battle to the strong (Eccl. 9:11).
The fact that you can do something does not automatically mean that you will do it or even that you should. The fact that you are better at the task than someone else, does not necessarily mean that God will choose you to accomplish that task. The prophet thought it was a good idea for David to build the temple until God said otherwise (2 Sam. 7:3). God’s choice for the task was Solomon, a man who eventually proved to be of lesser character.
So what does all of this mean for our dreams and aspirations? It means, at least, that we need to leave room for God to have the last word about how they will turn out. His plans usually unfold differently from those we envision for ourselves. It means that we need to be careful about the conclusions we draw about our successes. The fact that more people show up on the beach to hear us may not say as much about our own skill or effort as we might think. We should be even more careful with the conclusions we draw about our perceived failures. The outcome is hardly ever up to us and we rarely know the whole story.