Several years ago I was preparing a message called, “A History of the Holy Spirit.” I came across this story about Billy Graham from a book called, A Personal Look at Billy Graham, the World’s Best-loved Evangelist, by Sherwood Eliot Wurt, It is one of the most powerful Billy Graham stories I have read. In 1946 he had an experience with the Holy Spirit that changed his life and ministry.
Here is an excerpt from that book:
During his visit to Britain in October 1946, a meeting was arranged at Hildenborough Hall in Kent where Billy was to be introduced to Christian leaders before his evangelistic tour of cities in England, Ireland, and Wales. He arrived in time for the closing service of a youth conference, at which the speaker was Stephen Olford.
Olford, born of missionary parents in Angola, had planned to be an engineer, but a motorcycle accident in England brought him face to face with God while he was recovering in a hospital. He attended St. Luke’s College and served as World War II chaplain to His Majesty’s Forces, who were leaving for the Dunkirk action. Later he became an itinerant evangelist.
At Hildenborough Hall Olford preached a fervent message on the text: “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit.”1 When he had finished, he seated himself and rested his head in his hands. He became aware of someone nearby and looked up to see Billy Graham standing over him.
“Mr. Olford,” said Billy, “I just want to ask one question: Why didn’t you give an invitation? I would have been the first one to come forward. You’ve spoken of something that I don’t have. I want the fullness of the Holy Spirit in my life too.”
Billy told his biographer John Pollock, “I was seeking for more of God in my life, and I felt that here was a man who could help me. He had a dynamic, a thrill, an exhilaration about him I wanted to capture.”
They arranged to meet in Wales where Billy was scheduled to preach in a town named Pontypridd, eleven miles from the home of Olford’s parents . In a room in a stone hotel in Pontypridd, Stephen and Billy spent two days together. Billy told Stephen. “This is serious business. I have to learn what this is that the Lord has been teaching you.”
The first day was spent, according to Stephen, “on the Word and on what it really means to expose oneself to the Word in the quiet time.” They spent the hours turning the pages of the Bible, studying passages and verses. Billy prayed, “Lord, I don’t want to go on without knowing this anointing You’ve given my brother.”
That night Billy preached to a small crowd. The sermon was “ordinary,” according to Stephen, and “not the Welsh kind of preaching.” Billy gave an invitation, but the response was sparse.
The next day they met again, and Stephen began concentrating on the work of the Holy Spirit by declaring, “There is no Pentecost without Calvary,” and that we “must be broken” like the apostle Paul, who declared himself “crucified with Christ.” He then told Billy how God completely turned his life inside out. It was, he said, “an experience of the Holy Spirit in His fullness and anointing.” He explained that “where the Spirit is truly Lord over the life, there is liberty, there is release — the sublime freedom of complete submission of oneself in a continuous state of surrender to the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit.”
According to Stephen, Billy cried, “Stephen, I see it. That’s what I want.” His eyes filled with tears — something rare with Billy. It seems he had no appetite that day, only taking a sip of water occasionally. Stephen continued to expound the meaning of the filling of the Spirit in the life of a believer. He said it meant “bowing daily and hourly to the sovereignty of Christ and to the authority of the Word.”
From talking and discussing, the two men went to their knees praying and praising. It was about midafternoon on the second day that Billy began pouring out his heart “in a prayer of total dedication to the Lord.” According to Stephen, “all heaven broke loose in that dreary little room. It was like Jacob laying hold of God and crying , ‘Lord, I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me.’ “
They came to a time of rest from prayer. Billy exclaimed, “My heart is so flooded with the Holy Spirit!” They alternately wept and laughed, and Billy began walking back and forth across the room, saying, “I have it! I’m filled. I’m filled. This is the turning point of my life. This will revolutionize my ministry.”
Said Olford, “That night Billy was to speak at a large Baptist church nearby. When he rose to preach, he was a man absolutely anointed.” Billy’s Welsh audience seemed to sense it. They came forward to pray even before the invitation was given. Later when it was given, Olford said, “The Welsh listeners jammed the aisles. There was chaos. Practically the entire audience came rushing forward.”
Stephen drove back to his parents’ home that night, deeply moved by Billy’s new authority and strength. “When I came in the door,” he said later, “my father looked at my face and asked, ‘What on earth has happened?’
“I sat down at the kitchen table said, ‘Dad, something has happened to Billy Graham. The world is going to hear from his man. He is going to make his mark in history.’ ” The heavenly reservoir had overflowed.
A close colleague of Billy’s before Pontypridd, Chuck Templeton, heard the young preacher after that experience. Astonished, Templeton remarked that Billy’s preaching had taken on “a certain magnificence of effect…fascinating…really impressive.”