Editor’s note: The following interview is published by permission of Bill Burk.
An Interview With
Note: the following interview with well-known gospel preacher Johnny Ramsey was conducted 11 August 2006 by Bill Burk and Mike Vestal. A gospel preacher for nearly 60 years, he has written thousands of articles for gospel publications, preached in almost 1200 gospel meetings, and is affectionately known as a “walking Bible.” Johnny, now 76, has been greatly slowed in recent times due to heart difficulties and complications arising from diabetes. However, he still maintains the same indomitable spirit and great faith in our Lord that have endeared him to thousands across the brotherhood.
Question: “What would be the number one message you would want to get across to churches everywhere?” Response: The blessing and friendship of brethren. Once when I was a younger preacher my dad said to me, “Johnny, you had a great personality when you were younger. Why not use it today more as a gospel preacher?” Because I didn’t want to compromise the truth of God’s word, I sometimes withdrew and was too aloof. With good intentions, I may have blocked off others when I didn’t need to. I’ve come to realize even more the place and value of our brethren. There were some times I used “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26) and “Do I seek the approval of men or of God?” (Galatians 1:10) to justify that aloofness. And while those verses make a point, there were times I took them farther than I should have. Over the years, I’ve come to better appreciate that one can hold to truth firmly and be friendly and gracious to others. My wife Iris has been such a role model in this regard through the years. She has always loved others and it showed! I loved others, but didn’t always show it the way I should have. We need to be careful not to alienate others when we could wisely and lovingly cultivate the soil. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, by your love one for another” (John 13:34-35).
Question: “What especially impacted you as a younger preacher?” I was blessed to be surrounded by gospel preachers when I was growing up. I asked them a lot of questions and admired them. One of the things that really influenced me was the depth of conviction and consistent emphases of some of the preachers I knew. There was no mistaking the power of the gospel in their sermons or in their lives. God’s preacher was to surrender himself fully to the Lord. This also led to a conviction that weak-kneed preachers who soft-pedaled truth hurt the Lord and the cause of Christ. Having the mind of Christ, seeking to exalt him by possessing the spirit of service, can do a lot to help every gospel preacher go to bed with a clear conscience (Philippians 2:5-8; Romans 8:9). When I saw and heard preachers powerfully preach and live the gospel, it was what I was looking for, even though I was young and didn’t know Scripture well enough at the time.
Question: “How would you describe Iris as a preacher’s wife?” In a sense, she NEVER thought of herself in all these years much as a “preacher’s wife.” There’s to be no clergy-laity system in the body of Christ (1 Peter 2:5-9). Iris always has seen herself as a Christian woman, helping and loving others. Attitude is important! If I’ve ever known anyone who could “speak the truth in love,” it’s Iris. This is good, because I needed a double-dose of that quality myself. There’s no question that she’s one of the better Bible students I’ve ever been around. She’s a God-send. Her love of truth and sweet spirit often has melted people’s hearts over the years. She never was impressed with bold arguments without love, and has reminded me that a preacher is not a policeman but a proclaimer of God’s will.
Question: “What things might you do differently if you could turn back the clock?” For one thing, I would not be gone as much. I was so in love with preaching that I probably did neglect my family in some ways, although I did work hard to off-set that in others. I remember driving a lot of miles so I could make it in time for a ball game or school function. Our family has been close knit in many ways. We did have quality time together, but looking back, I wish there was more. I remember giving my sons a Bible assignment and being thrilled when they would complete it. Probably, I played as large a role as many dads did in the lives of their children. But we had four children. And Iris probably had to operate as both mother and father too much because I was away, and that was unfair to her. I do feel that I spent a lot of hands-on time with them as they were growing up.
Question: “Have your views on local work changed through the years?” I’ve thought about that a lot. It’s not how long can a preacher stay, but how well can he do while laboring with the congregation. But some preachers do move too much. And there’s also something about providing stability for the church and for the family. When I think about our family moving to do missionary work in Australia, I believe our children received an education in the process that was invaluable. The make-up and personalities in a family have got to be considered too. Iris always has been perfectly content wherever. Perhaps I did move too much, but I think of the wonderful friends we made and the education our family received and how the Lord has been so good to us.
Question: “What passages of Scripture have sustained you when discouraged?” There are so many. Here’s some that just quickly come to mind. “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” and “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:5-6). “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7). “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and a shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee” (Psalm 84:10-12). “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1). It thrills my soul to think of how many times these verses (and many others) have brought strength and comfort to my heart. They remind us to trust God – to surrender and to put our confidence in him.
Question: “Will you please elaborate on the place of prayer in your life?” That is a great question. I’ve always believed in the power of prayer, but I’ve come to know greater peace through prayer as I’ve gotten older. Many years ago, when I was preaching in Odessa, TX, John Gipson walked in to find me face-flat on the floor praying. I wasn’t doing it “to be seen of men” (Matthew 6:1-8), but because I sincerely wanted to humble myself before the Lord in prayer. When I was a younger Christian, I do think I had a strong faith in many ways. But in time my faith and relationship with God matured. I pray more unselfishly now, and acknowledge my dependence on the Lord. Coming home from gospel meetings, I’d often pray and sing to the Lord. Those were some of the most spiritually uplifting times in my life! I’d also say that I pray with greater confidence now – that I have a more mature reliance on him. In recent years, Iris and I have prayed even more together, and we’ve drawn closer to God and each other as a result. Serious illness has also made me deeply search my own soul in prayer. I’m so glad we can always go to the throne of God’s grace to find mercy and help (Hebrews 4:16).
Question: “What counsel would you give to elders regarding preachers?” There are so many things clamoring for the attention of a gospel preacher. Elders and preachers need to encourage one another more than they often do, and elders particularly need to encourage preachers about the priority of preaching. They need to encourage him to get deeper in the word than he would by simply being an errand boy. Preachers certainly should visit the sick and love people, but gospel preachers do these things because they are Christians and not simply because they are preachers. Preachers are privileged to be given extra time to study, to fill their buckets with truth, in order to exalt Jesus, become more spiritually minded ourselves, and to help strengthen the souls of others. That is something we must take seriously; it should be both a habit and a discipline. I would hope elders would also encourage preachers to be family men. For some time, Iris and I have had daily Bible study with one another. Before Iris’ mother died, we regularly studied the Bible and prayed with her. This emphasis on study and prayer with Iris and family members helped all of us immensely, and we were able to view each day in a better way. I truly believe our home has more of a spiritual atmosphere now than ever.
Question: “What concerns you most about the church of today?” So few people know their Bibles. Sadly, there are some who don’t even seem to care to know God’s word. Some have been members of the body of Christ for years, but are not very spiritually minded. It is amazing how some who’ve been Christians for years can ask some of the most shallow questions that one could drum up. On the other hand, one of the most encouraging things on earth is to see people grow in the Lord (2 Peter 3:18). It is especially wonderful to see those who grow older and wiser, sweeter, and more encouraging as the years go by. My soul has thrilled over the years to hear brethren sincerely say, “Your preaching excites me and makes God’s word come alive!” or “The things you’ve taught me from the Bible have helped me more than you’ll ever know.” How we always need people like Ezra who “seek the will of the Lord” (Ezra 7:10).
Question: “How do you want to be remembered?” I hope I will be remembered as someone who truly loved the Lord, someone who challenged people to dig deeper into the fountain of truth, and as someone who encouraged young men to preach the word. Psalm 92:14 says, “They shall bring forth fruit in old age.” That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. One of the greatest joys (and occasional heartbreaks) I’ve had over the years is the blessing of being able to help young preachers who have grown and are leaving a legacy of good. I’ve been blessed to help train over 1000 men in 5 different schools of preaching. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many faithful witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” To see the influence, impact and intensity of a number of the men I was blessed to help teach is a great encouragement that the investment has more than paid off. They have contributed greatly to the joy I have in the Lord. God has blessed me so richly; he’s given me so many opportunities. God has been so good to me!
Due to poor health, Johnny is presently unable to preach and teach publicly, but he continues to write and to encourage countless Christians. He may be reached at 627 Rodeo, Mt. Vernon, TX , 75459.