Gary LeVox: He just blows my mind on a daily basis. So many times I’m so grateful for His love and His mercy and His guidance and His strength to get me through so many things in life that I didn’t even know that He was working in. So I’m just so grateful and thankful that He loves me so unconditionally and that there’s nothing that I can do to ever make Him not love me like He does.
A Love You Can Trust At All Times: Gary LeVox and Dr. Don Wilton – Episode #253
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. When we’re having a bad week and it seems like everything is going wrong, it’s nice to be able to have one constant to look to—something that never changes, is always reliable, and there for us when we need it. This week two men of faith share how God’s love has been that constant in their lives; Grammy award-winning country singer from the group Rascal Flatts, Gary LeVox, and pastor, speaker, and evangelist—who was also the personal pastor of Dr. Billy Graham, Dr. Don Wilton.
First up, let’s hear from Gary LeVox.
Gary LeVox: I’m Gary LeVox, lead singer of Rascal Flatts. I grew up in Westerville, Ohio, just outside of Columbus. And, you know, growing up as a kid, I just loved to be outside. So hunting and fishing and just being outdoors was a big part of who I was.
I grew up playing soccer, basketball, and baseball. So sports was kind of what I did. Ohio State football–you’re kind of born with the scarlet and gray onesie–if you’re born in the state of Ohio.
My grandmother, she would have us at church every Wednesday, twice on Sundays, you know, but went to a Pentecostal church. So music was a huge part of our life. And everybody played something, sang something. I think I learned a harmony part first before I learned how to sing lead or any of that stuff. So everybody played and sang. The first song I ever learned word for word all the way through was the “Old Rugged Cross.” My grandpa would play, I would sing. And I think I was seven.
Taking a Leap of Faith
I worked for the board of DD, Developmental Disabilities, for ten years in Ohio. And one day I was sitting in my mom’s kitchen and I was singing the Brian White song that was on the radio, “Someone Else’s Star.” And I was singing in the kitchen. And it was the weirdest moment of my life. I think I sound like the guy on the radio, and it was so weird, it’s like the Holy Spirit—I was like, “Lord, I think you’ve given me the gift of a gift to sing,” and I just felt so convicted, I was like, “I’m so sorry that I have not used it.” I just didn’t take the shot, and I was like, “You know what, I’m going to do it.”
“I was like, ‘Lord, I think you’ve given me the gift of a gift to sing,’ and I just felt so convicted, I was like, ‘I’m so sorry that I have not used it.’” – Gary LeVox
So I put in a two-week leave of absence, literally sold everything that I had, and took the biggest leap of faith in my life, sold everything, threw everything on my truck, and drove straight to Nashville, knowing I wasn’t going to go back home. And that was the truest test of faith.
Faith in my life has really shaped the man that I am today, because I’ve had such a solid foundation in my upbringing, and I’m so thankful to mom and my grandmother for laying that spiritual foundation. And, you know, faith is believing in the things that you can’t see. That’s the definition of faith. And I’ve always been good at trusting God because I know that He was—you know, it would just stress me completely out when I was just trying to do things. I’d see, This is the way it’s gotta go. And there were so many disappointments where it’s like, Okay, you just have to give up or you’ll be completely miserable and stressed out all the time. So I’ve always been good at trusting God. Not that it’s been easy, but I’ve been really good at being a faith warrior, you know, because I really trust and believe that He’s got everything laid out, His purpose and His plan for me is going to be perfect, even though I don’t see it, sometimes I get so frustrated that I have no other choice but to trust Him. And it’s really shaped the way that I am all the way to me moving to Nashville.
“I really trust and believe that He’s got everything laid out, His purpose and His plan for me is going to be perfect, even though I don’t see it, sometimes I get so frustrated that I have no other choice but to trust Him.” – Gary LeVox
The Rise of Rascal Flatts
You know, Rascal Flatts, there’s no way we could even have dreamt that big of all of the wonderful things, the hits and all the things we’ve been able to do, it’s been—and Rascal Flatts, we were the first to do it, you know, like we’re the first country act to ever play Wrigley Field, sell Madison Square Garden out, all these things. And, you know, we played the World Trade Center. We were there eight days before 9/11. We were the last band to play in between tower one and tower two. I mean, there’s so many gigantic, huge—you know, Joe down from Oklahoma and Jay and I from, you know, Ohio, with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s a fairy tale. It really is. I don’t even know how to put it into words. It’s been the most unbelievable, breathtaking, but I think the ordained chapter of my life, there’s just no way that I can even put it into words, how grateful and thankful [I am].
In the music business, every record that you do, it’s the biggest record of your life. And we’ve had three number ones, so for the next record, that’s the biggest record of your life. So it’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of stress because you just want to keep outdoing yourself and pushing the envelope and growing and all of that. And sometimes, you know, to be honest, you kind of run out of, like, What is next?, you know, and for all three of us in Rascal Flatts, what we’ve done is a lot of times just hit our knees individually and had to go, Okay, well, we’re so lost. Don’t know what to do next, but we’re just going to ask you to cover us. And we know that you’ve got the perfect purpose and plan for our life. So we’re just going to wait on you to reveal it. I’d like for you to hurry, but we’re just going to wait on you.
And thank goodness my spiritual foundation and my walk with Christ and my relationship with Him is truly what got us through.
New Season, New Music
I’m so excited about this new season in life, my new projects, my first solo project. I’ve always wanted to do a gospel record, always. We’ve been going crazy for twenty years now with touring and records and everything else. So this pandemic, something that was so horrific, you know, finally gave me the time. So I just kind of really just locked in and did this project called One On One, and it’s fusing my music with my faith, we’ve always kind of done that, you know, with “Broken Road,” picking and choosing songs like that and we’ve always snuck a little Jesus in on a lot of stuff through the years. But I really had the time to do this gospel record, and I did it with some of the most amazing people on the planet. And I am just so thrilled about it.
Life was so dark and so crazy and so full of fear of what’s next. So I was like, I’m going to try to do something positive out of this thing. I’m always saying, “I’ve always sung for the Lord.” I always will. But this time the solo project, One On One, I get to sing about Him.
I felt like everybody just needed some hope, some encouragement, some “You can get through this, you can push on through.” And, you know, with God, you can go the distance. And that’s what we came up with. And it was the very first song that we wrote for the project.
You know, I hope when people hear “The Distance” and they’re listening to it, they really know that they’re not alone and whatever they’re dealing with, there is hope. And you just call on the name of Jesus and you can get through it. Don’t ever give up. Don’t give up. Life can feel like that sometimes, like you just can’t do it. You can get through it if you call upon His name and trust in Him, you know the SFT: see His face, feel His presence, trust His word that you can do it. You can get through it and don’t ever give up.
The Power of Prayer
I mean there’s so much power in prayer, and you know, I’ve seen it so many times throughout my life, the absolute strength and power that’s in prayer.
Jesus Listens, January 10th.
Please help me learn to appreciate difficult days—being stimulated by the challenges I encounter rather than becoming distressed. As I journey through rough terrain with You, I gain confidence from knowing that together we can handle anything. This knowledge is based on three blessings: Your Presence continually with me, The Bible’s precious promises, and my past experiences of coping successfully by depending on You.
When I look back on my life, I can see how much You have helped me through difficult days in the past. Yet I easily fall into the trap of thinking, “Yes, but that was then, and this is now.” Instead, I need to remember that though my circumstances change immensely, You remain the same throughout time and eternity. Moreover, in You I live and move and have my being. As I live close to You—aware of Your loving Presence—I can go confidently through my toughest times.
In Your worthy Name,
You know, that passage resonates with me so much because there’s so many times through life where I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, you know, because it’s truly the only way that you can get through life. There’s so many times I look back through my musical career and just my life and being a husband and a dad that I’ve looked and have just [seen] where God has shown up, where I have fallen short, where He’s picked it back up and, you know, God has always been with me at times I didn’t even know to help me get through things.
I’m like, Man, I can’t believe it, how did I get out of that? Or, you know, How did that turn out to be so good? Something so awful. And it’s funny because you don’t know right there at that time may be why or how or what or if. But later on in life, it kind of goes back to the footprints thing where it’s like, “Lord, why did you leave me? There was only one set of footprints in the sand.” “Well, that’s when I carried you,” I just love that.
“There are so many times I look back through my musical career and just my life and being a husband and a dad that I’ve looked and have just [seen] where God has shown up, where I have fallen short, where He’s picked it back up and, you know, God has always been with me at times I didn’t even know to help me get through things.“ – Gary LeVox
So many times He’s carried me in my life where I just had no idea, I mean, Rascal Flatts, that kind of stuff doesn’t just happen. I mean, we worked hard and all of that. But I don’t know if we earned every accolade that we got. I think sometimes God just had that plan for us because we were representing Him musically and just being good to people. Our fans are just the greatest. There’s so many times in my life I look back and I’m like, I can’t believe He chose me for this. You know, I did nothing to deserve all of this, just all of these blessings. It’s just crazy. But, yeah, God gets all the glory and all the honor and all the credit.
Narrator: Gary’s new Gospel project, One on One, is now available everywhere music is sold.
Stay tuned to Dr. Don Wilton’s story after a brief message about the new book from Sarah Young that Gary LeVox just read during his interview, called Jesus Listens.
Free Sample: New Jesus Listens Devotional!
Many of us want to develop a deeper prayer life. In this new 365 day devotional, Jesus Listens, Sarah Young offers daily prayers based on Scripture that will help you experience how intentional prayer can connect you to God and change your heart. Learn more about Jesus Listens and download a free sample at JesusCalling.com/jesuslistens.
Our next guest is South African native Dr. Don Wilton, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and founder and president of The Encouraging Word television ministry. Spreading the good news of the gospel has been Dr. Wilton’s calling in life since he was only eight years old, and he dug deep to find the courage to take the leap into a life of ministry, moving to the U.S. as a young married man with virtually nothing but the contents of two suitcases—and saw his dream come to life as his ministry and outreach grew into over forty years of service. For several of those years, Dr. Wilton served as a friend and pastor to the beloved Dr. Reverend Billy Graham. He shares with us about the special lifelong relationship the two men developed, which he has also written about in his new book, Saturdays With Billy.
Dr. Don Wilton: Hello, everyone. My name is Don Wilton, and it’s such a joy to be able to share with you for these few moments together, I know you’ve probably already wondered where on the earth I come from. I was privileged to be born and raised in Africa, actually. I was born in KwaZulu Natal on the east coast of southern Africa, grew up in a home with the most wonderful parents who served the Lord. And my father was a pastor for years and years. I grew up with the wide-open spaces of Africa, a tremendously adventurous life, getting into everything.
But, you know, I had to reckon with the Lord Jesus Christ. At a very early age, I went to boarding school in the mountains of Zululand. In fact, I was just eight years of age and made a decision to give my life to Christ when I was just a boy. I used to ride my horse among the Zulu people and play a little gramophone record with messages of the gospel from the Africa Inland Mission and tried to speak in the Zulu language. But, you know, my own heart needed to come into a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus.
And I eventually moved back into a day school when I was in high school. And I think spiritually my life began to go downhill from then. I was never a rotten scoundrel or anything remarkably bad, except to say that I began to hang around with the wrong company, became the wrong company, was a typical teenager, even graduated eventually from high school, and went to serve in the military in Africa and was searching for meaning and purpose.
I came into a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. And my life has never been the same again because the Lord gave to me a fresh purpose and a new meaning, and He changed my life and my perspective forever. And I will forever be grateful to the Lord and the influence of people in my life.
“I came into a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. And my life has never been the same again, because the Lord gave to me a fresh purpose and a new meaning, and He changed my life and my perspective forever. And I will forever be grateful to the Lord and the influence of people in my life.” – Dr. Don Wilton
Following the Call
Hindsight is wonderful when you take cognizance of the pattern of your life, and now as an adult and as a believer, look in the rearview mirror and I just see the hand of God in my life. God works all things together for the good of those that love Him and to those who are called according to His purpose.
When I came out of the military, my heart was burning. I married this most beautiful young lady, my wife, and she had such an influence in my life; I came into this fresh relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I was studying at university. I already had a couple of master’s degrees. I was teaching, I was being promoted, and the world was looking awfully good. But something was missing.
And on an Easter Sunday with my young bride next to me, I fell upon my knees before the Lord and said, “Lord, what would you have me to do?” And it was there that I surrendered my life to whatever God wanted me to do. And I had little idea what He had in mind because we lived in Africa and were very happy there. And concurrent with that was my call to go and prepare for the ministry. Well, it just so happened that an American preacher from the state of Mississippi came on a mission trip to Africa, was told about me, walked up to me, and said, “Young man, you need to come to America to study for the ministry.” Well, that got my attention.
And so my wife and I, in the matter of three months, resigned everything, we sold everything that we owned, we bought two one way tickets and we arrived in New York City forty-five years ago with two suitcases in our hand and fourteen hundred dollars in our pockets, not knowing where we were going or what we were going to do or how we were going to get there. And so that began our journey of studying for the ministry, and it’s just amazing because we had no idea what God had in store for us.
Saturdays with Billy
It’s one thing to have had the joy and privilege of writing this book about my long relationship with Dr. Billy Graham. But it’s another thing to try and express all the things that are in my heart. I just love Dr. Graham so very much and had the joy of being drawn into his heart and into his life, knowing that he has friends all over the world and I’m just one drop in the bucket, but I did have a very unique relationship with Mr. Graham.
And for many, many years, almost twenty-five years, I had the privilege of sitting at his feet. And most of that time was on Saturdays, and most of that time it was right there at his home in Montreat, North Carolina on that beautiful mountaintop, gazing over the beauty of God’s creation. As the two of us entered into a very intimate personal relationship as pastor and friend and confidante. And it was through that relationship that God blessed me beyond anything that I could possibly imagine.
It’s a book about a real man who lived in a real world, who had a real deep love for a real, most precious, precious wife who had a real, most precious family, who loved playing with these dogs for real. And who loved barbecue and ribs and hot dogs and yogurt. We would go for walks together, we would eat together. We would sit on the front lawn together and play with the dogs and munch on hot dogs. And we would laugh and we would talk about everything under the noonday sun.
To describe the impact of Mr. Graham on my life is almost impossible for me to do. Mr. Graham didn’t just talk to me about how to live. He showed me, up close and personal. I didn’t just watch him. I sat with him. I didn’t just listen to him. I conversed with him. And we became so close. He enabled me to see my own life in a fresh way. He challenged me at the deepest level of my soul spirit. He questioned spiritually the zones of my own leadership, pastoral leadership, the workings of my ministry, the mouthing words of my words, the handlings of the word of God, the dealings with the conflicts that we all experience from the lives of people and places and circumstances. This man, Billy Graham, showed me, but as he showed me, he loved me at such a deep level. That the very love with which he loved me was in and of itself the greatest reflection of [the way] God loves you, which he said over and over and over again to peoples and nations of every tongue and of every tribe and of every race and of every culture.
“To describe the impact of Mr. Graham on my life is almost impossible for me to do. Mr. Graham didn’t just talk to me about how to live. He showed me, up close and personal. I didn’t just watch him. I sat with him. I didn’t just listen to him. I conversed with him. And we became so close. He enabled me to see my own life in a fresh way. He challenged me at the deepest level of my soul spirit.” – Dr. Don Wilton
Well, I began to sit down and pen my thoughts in chapters all centered around circumstances and events related to the symbolism and the actualities of this incredible place, this retreat, this breathing center, this home base, this place where his soul spirit resided, this place where the love of his life lived, this place of his nourishment and his nutrition, the source of his strength for his walk, this place where he prepared this origination, this fountainhead from whence flowed the rich waters of God’s grace that reverberated around the world to the point at which countless numbers of people today know Jesus Christ and are themselves singing in the presence of Christ. This is where it came from.
“The very love with which he loved me was in and of itself the greatest reflection of [the way] God loves you, which he said over and over and over again to peoples and nations of every tongue and of every tribe and of every race and of every culture.” – Dr. Don Wilton
You know, we talk about Dr. Billy Graham. I don’t know how many times he talked to me about the incredible partnerships he has and we have together as believers. Well, we are talking about one of those incredible lights that shine across our world, listening to real-life stories of faith as told by those who have experienced the power of living in His presence on the Jesus Calling Podcast, what an incredible thing that is. Let me say to you that millions of people have been inspired by the words of this number one, best-selling, 365 day devotional Jesus Calling. And lives are being changed and lives are being blessed in so many ways. And so I’m so thankful to the Lord for Sarah Young and for this incredible ministry.
What a joy to be able to read March 21st.
TRUST ME AND DON’T BE AFRAID, for I am your Strength and Song. Think what it means to have Me as your Strength. I spoke the universe into existence; My Power is absolutely unlimited! Human weakness, consecrated to Me, is like a magnet, drawing My Power into your neediness. However, fear can block the flow of My Strength into you. Instead of trying to fight your fears, concentrate on trusting Me. When you relate to Me in confident trust, there is no limit to how much I can strengthen you. Remember that I am also your Song. I want you to share My Joy, living in conscious awareness of My Presence. Rejoice as we journey together toward heaven; join Me in singing My Song.
What a powerful verse. You know, that’s what it’s all about.
Well, try sitting with Mr. Graham for twenty-five years. And even suggest to him that any conversation should be void of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul put it like this, he said, “I save to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” but it was within that context that Dr. Billy Graham showed me, talked to me, loved me, taught me what it means to live the Jesus life. This is about a real conversation between two real people. It’s about real life, it really is only about Jesus.
I have never been around a greater man who was more humble than Dr. Billy Graham. And I will love him for the rest of my life, and I will thank God for him for the rest of my life.
If you’d like to hear more stories about God’s relentless love for us, check out our interview with Lauren Akins.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we hear from All Elite Wrestling star Brandi Rhodes, who shares about the first time she realized that she was a groundbreaker for women in the sport of wrestling.
Brandi: You know, it didn’t really register with me until I announced at my first Wrestle Mania and that’s when a lot of people started throwing stats around because there’s so much news around this and stuff. And I guess that’s when people looked into it and said, “Hey, is she the first one to do this?” And the answer was yes. So it’s something that’s really cool and I’m really proud of. And there are a lot of firsts for me in wrestling.