I wasn’t born in time to hear Billy Graham at his peak. I attended my first crusade in my mid-twenties, here in Nashville, while serving as one of the hundreds of counselors trusted with follow-up at the event. Rev. Graham was past his peak by then and, well, mediocre at best.
He spoke slowly, his rate and volume rarely varying, his body language muted by old age’s limitations on his mobility. His outline was barely discernable. His thoughts didn’t always follow logically from one to the next. His verbage was outdated and his illustrations far from contemporary as well. The nuts and bolts of his oratory skill had obviously rusted since his sharp and firey younger years.
When he concluded his message with an invitation to leave the stands and come to the field below, I didn’t expect much. I told Becky, who was counseling that day as well, that there’d probably be more of us counselors than converts on the grass that day.
But instead, thousands streamed down the dozens of aisles and onto the field, submitted their lives sincerely to God, believed on Jesus and had their hearts changed by Him forever.
I remember being on that field and smiling – literally laughing – at my arrogance, at my previous assumption that God couldn’t do great things without a great performance.
I remember the sting of that lesson and the excitement that followed it – realizing that our excellence is fine and good but it often unintentionally robs God of credit. But, oh, when great things happen through the ho-hum, the average, even the poorly executed? There’s no explanation but “God was here.” And isn’t that what we crave deep down: proof?
My most persistent struggle in life is doubt. And I’ve found no greater cure than the nonsensical miraculous fruit God produces from our so-often mediocre efforts.
I’m speaking at a lot of festivals this Summer on behalf of Compassion International – 10 at last count – and I’m downright mediocre at it so far. I’m more at ease in front of the small concert crowds I’ve practiced on for a decade now. Festivals are another animal altogether – a rabid animal hopped up on funnel cakes and Mountain Dew.
Imagine tens of thousands of people stretching, talking, eating, making one last trip to the restroom before their favorite artist takes the stage. Imagine the buzz of so many doing so many things at once. Now imagine you’re handed the microphone. You – not the artist they’ve waited all day and paid money to see. You’re a living commercial interruption.
And you’re given ten to fifteen minutes to make these bees shush, make them care about children living in poverty, about the power of the local church to meet the needs of the poor, about the importance of sharing our wealth and our faith. Imagine you have ten to fifteen minutes to convince thousands to love strangers as if they’re family (1 John 4), as if they’re Jesus (Matthew 25), to give up their seats and walk to a Compassion tent and fill out paperwork.
Ten to fifteen minutes to make miracles happen.
I can’t do it.
Truth is, I’ve never done it – not at one of my concerts over the last ten years. Not even at my most comfortable and most excellent. I’ve never opened a heart or a wallet to the will of God. Not once.
I’m getting better at this festival speaking thing every weekend. And in time – a lot of time – maybe I’ll even become excellent. But for now, I’m thankful I’m mediocre. And thankful God is here. And thankful that my mediocrity makes His power and presence obvious.