Billy Graham: The Exemplary Life of an Extraordinary Evangelist

By Julie Roys

I still tear up when I hear the iconic hymn “Just as I Am.”  Forever etched in my mind are the hundreds, even thousands, of people streaming down the aisles at a Billy Graham Crusade to  give their lives to Christ as the choir sings that song.

As a kid, I watched practically every Billy Graham Crusade that was ever televised in my small Pennsylvania town.  And I can remember watching spellbound as people would go forward to repent of their sins and pray to receive Christ.  “What must the rejoicing be like in heaven?” I would wonder.  “How many people – at this very moment – are passing from death to life?” 

I couldn’t hold back tears then.  And even now, I get misty-eyed writing about it.

Billy Graham, who died today at the age of 99, was one of the most anointed and effective communicators of the gospel the world has ever known. In his more than 400 crusades, Billy preached the gospel to 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories. He reached millions more through TV, books, and videos.

I gave my life to Christ when I was just six years old, but every time I listened to Billy Graham, I wanted to do it all over again. Billy had this remarkable way of making that old story new again.  His message was incredibly simple, but also incredibly powerful. 

I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior . . .

As he said at his final crusade in 2005, “I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins.”

Over the years, I have met numerous people who came to faith through the witness of this one man. Though I’m sure some of his converts never followed through on their commitment to Christ, every one I have ever met was a solid believer, active in the church. Perhaps the most prominent of these was George Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilization, a 50-year-old missions organization with more than 6,800 volunteers and staff serving in 118 nations. 

As a teenage boy, George recalls that he was more interested in girlie magazines than religion. But then he attended a Billy Graham Crusade.  And that night, he prayed to receive Christ and his life changed forever. And as a result of George’s changed life, thousands of other lives were changed as well.

I once had the privilege of serving as a counselor at a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) sponsored event.  I remember the BGEA team visited our area weeks before the event so they could train volunteers.  They wanted to ensure that we not only knew how to pray with people to receive Christ, but also knew how to connect them with a local church for follow up. 

It was clear that Billy Graham and his organization cared more about making true disciples than mere converts.  I have always appreciated that about Billy Graham. 

“Unlike so many other popular evangelists, Billy avoided the snares of immorality and greed. He lived his message, and because of that, the world today is listening.”

But today, I am also appreciating Graham’s faithfulness.  The world often makes fun of the Billy Graham Rule – Graham’s commitment to not spend time alone with women other than his wife.  But I am so grateful today that Billy was faithful to the end.

Unlike so many other popular evangelists, Billy avoided the snares of immorality and greed. He lived his message, and because of that, the world today is listening. 

I would not be surprised if thousands come to Christ in the next few days as clips of Billy’s sermons are played, and the media cover his funeral. How many living in despair will hear the gospel for the first time and take note on the impact it had on Billy’s life?

Before coming to Christ, Billy said he was more interested in baseball than religion.  But God grabbed Billy’s heart when he was just 15 and attended revival meetings held by traveling evangelist Mordecai Fowler Ham.  “The Spirit of God began to speak to me as I went back night after night,” Graham wrote.  “One night, when the invitation was given to accept Jesus, I just said, ‘Lord, I’m going.’ I knew I was headed in a new direction.’”

Billy stayed on that direction for the remainder of his 84 years on earth.  As I think of his life today, I’m reminded of the popular poem written by Robertson McQuilken, former president of Columbia International University. 

“I fear not death,” McQuilken wrote, “for that grim foe betrays himself at last, thrusting me forever into life.” But McQuilken expressed another fear – “That I should end before I finish or finish, but not well.  That I should stain Your honor, shame Your name, grieve Your loving heart.  Few, they tell me, finish well.”

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

By God’s grace, McQuilken finished well in 2016 – and today, so did Billy Graham. I can only imagine the temptations that fame and fortune presented Graham, yet he never yielded. He remained true.

As so today, Billy Graham is receiving his heavenly reward. As he famously said  in his autobiography, God’s Ambassador: “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Today, I imagine Billy Graham is hearing from God, “Well done, good and faithful servant! . . .  Come and share your master’s happiness!”  I also imagine he’s hearing thank you from tens of thousands, or even millions, who once walked the aisles at one of his crusades – or bowed their heads while watching the broadcast – and now are enjoying eternity with God.

Someday, I hope to express my thanks to Billy too.  His message and example made a profound impact on my life, and he’s one of my heroes.  Till then, I’m praying God helps me to follow his example – to speak and live the truth, and then to finish well. 



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10 thoughts on “Billy Graham: The Exemplary Life of an Extraordinary Evangelist”

  1. Susan Vonder Heide

    Good point about the wonderful potential for people coming to Christ through news clips of Billy Graham. Obviously, news organizations had obituary footage ready to roll (as would be expected with the death of any elderly famous person) but this obituary footage was very special in that it contained within it the truth of the gospel.

  2. Susan Vonder Heide

    It has been sad to see the leftist and atheist hatred directed toward Billy Graham in the last 24 hours. No, he was not perfect (none of us are) but haters hating are not impressive to anybody but themselves.

  3. In some cultures, like the Chinese, they ofter choose to celebrate a person’s day of fertilization rather than one’s birthday! They call the favored day, “Conception Day,” without too much certainty about what precise date that party should be planned. Despite many variables in determining anyone’s conception day, the idea has merit. Science tells us that whatever day parental ovum and sperm are united, on that date the baby’s gender and individual DNA are instantly set forever. A new person has been created—a “work in progress” to be sure. At every stage of development, both pre- and post-natal, both infant and adult, a person is in ongoing development. But it all begins at conception! All relevant Bible texts support this fact, and many people celebrate this fact. Besides the Chinese and their conception day observances, millions of Christians, accepting as sufficient specificity a nine-month gestation for the Lord Jesus, celebrate March 25, exactly nine months before December 25, Christmas, as Annunciation Day. It is the day when Mary recieved the angel’s news of the Savior’s birth and, also, the day she recieved the Holy Spirit’s miraculous fertilization of her seed in the womb (Luke 1:26-38; note “also” in v. 36). The incarnation of the Son of God occurred on that day!
    February 7, 2018, exactly nine months before November 7, Billy Graham’s 100th birthday, was his conception day. One hundred years ago on that day, God gave mankind the extraordinary gift of a faithful evangelist of Christ for the millions. And, in the deepest sense, that gift of God in North Carolina was, to unnumbered believers, “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We celebrate Billy Graham’s centennial beginning on that very day.

  4. Thank you for sharing this very poignant and beautiful remembrance of a great man of God. I cried, too, when I learned of his home-going—tears of gratefulness for how he impacted my life as a little girl and then growing woman, tears of joy for his coming reward with his Master, and tears for us that no one seems to be on the national stage now who has such integrity, humility, faithfulness, and fruitfulness in evangelism. Oh Lord, raise up many for our hour is dark! Thank you for the gift Billy Graham was to many generations in this country and beyond!

  5. I saw this article on Billy Graham right after reading your article about judging and what is biblical judgment. I love truth and I don’t say anything unless I search it out, because a false witness the Lord hates. Billy Graham has done more to hurt Christianity than any false teacher in our time. He didn’t believe in the entire truth of God’s word. He believed that there are other ways to heaven, and not necessarily through Jesus Christ only. He taught the Muslims, Buddhism, and all those who love God but never heard of Jesus will be with us in heaven. In other words he was a Universalist. He didn’t believe there is a hell and he was part of the Ecumenical movement joining in fellowship with the Roman Catholic Church. Can you imagine how many people where lead astray and are in hell now because they trusted Billy Graham? We should never make a mere man a idol and throw the truth a side. He denied our Lord by saying there are other ways to the Father. Read John McArthur and Dave Hunt and many others who weren’t afraid to tell the truth of this man. I don’t judge the him personally, I judge his doctrine and he didn’t preach the real Jesus. He was also a 33 degree mason. You can’t belong to this Satanic brotherhood and proclaim Christ.

  6. Brenda
    Thank you for restating history and what I sent to Julie but not here in reply to her observations. I participated in the early 1960″s in the Twin Cities Crusade having been trained by the Billy Graham Advance Team for the purpose of serving as a counselor and to mentor those who would respond to the invitation. The first night of the crusade I was excited to share the Gospel with someone who would respond at the end of the message. When I went down to the field and stood within 50 feet of the edge of the platform I got caught up in singing another verse of the hymn, then it dawned on me that I wasn’t there to worship God but to provide spiritual counsel to someone who wanted to accept God’s gift of salvation. I turned around and began walking back through the crowd hoping I could find someone who was not wearing the same identification badge that the counselors had been given. I only saw one man who had four counselors surrounding him, so since he was adequately covered I moved on. I walked all the way back to where I had entered the field without seeing one man who did not have the counselor identification packet around his neck. I was shocked beyond words. I felt I had just participated in the largest bamboozle event of all time. I went back to the Missionary Training Fellowship where I was enrolled as a student and saw numerous articles in Christian periodicals that stated just what you said. So many people have been misled by Godless media reporting as to what actually what went on. If so many people were effected by the message as folks claim, then who led them to Christ if everyone who responded went as a seeker?

  7. Julie you seem so enamored of billy graham.You do not speak truth at all.Billy Graham led more people down the road of destruction than any other person of our time.He did this by letting Catholics stay Catholic and not preaching the gospel to them so as not to offend them.He also preached a false gospel of lordship salvation that one must turn from their sin in order to be saved.As for Greed the man is worth 25 million dollars.He was a free mason.

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