7 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Billy Graham

Evangelist Billy Graham speaks at the dedication of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, May 31, 2007.
Evangelist Billy Graham speaks at the dedication of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, May 31, 2007. (REUTERS/Robert Padgett/Files)
Billy Graham preached the gospel to more people than anyone in history. Now he is home with the Lord he so faithfully served. What an abundant entrance into heaven he must have received! Just imagine his "receiving line" of millions who are in heaven because of his ministry. The church worldwide gives thanks for the immense impact of Mr. Graham's life in advancing the gospel here and around the world. His legacy will live until Christ returns. Billy Graham modeled for us many crucial life lessons.

He showed us that integrity matters. When God called me to preach the gospel as a teenager, the model for ministry integrity was Billy Graham. Five decades later, he is still the model. His integrity remained sterling since he came to national prominence in 1949. Now, that's long-term faithfulness. Early in his ministry, Mr. Graham and his associates signed the "Modesto Manifesto," voluntarily imposing safeguards regarding money, sex and truthfulness. Later he would be instrumental in forming the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, of which Global Advance is a member.

He was committed to the Bible. While still a young preacher, Mr. Graham determined to take God at His word and rely on the truthfulness of Scripture. I once counted the number of times Mr. Graham quoted all or part of a Bible text in a single message. In that particular sermon Mr. Graham quoted the Bible an astounding sixty-nine times. Billy Graham had confidence in God's promise: "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isa. 55:11).

He stayed focused on his evangelistic calling. For 70 years of ministry, the message never changed. "God so loved the world that He gave His Son" was his singular theme. "Christ and Him crucified" was his watchword. His appeal to his hearers to place their faith in Christ never wavered. Mr. Graham could take any text or any subject and relate it to the gospel. He was much like Philip, the church's first evangelist. When Philip saw the Ethiopian reading from Isaiah, "beginning with the same Scripture, [he] preached Jesus to him" (Acts 8:35). Billy Graham did the same. When America was grieving in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Graham's clear gospel presentation at the National Prayer Service enabled the message of God's love in Christ to be heard by more people—including more radical terrorists—than ever in history.

He practiced a broad embrace. Billy Graham was winsome and gracious, even with those who opposed him. For many, his life defined evangelical Christianity at its best. Without compromising the gospel, he befriended the poor as well as the most powerful people in the world. And no one could convene all stripes of Christians across all sorts of divides better than Billy Graham. Without being judgmental, he did not soften the demands of the gospel and the lordship of Christ.

He launched bold evangelistic initiatives. From the early days of his ministry as one of the pioneers of Youth for Christ, Billy Graham used innovative approaches to share the Good News. He was one of the first to use films to spread the gospel. Ralph Carmichael's musical score for The Restless Ones —a Billy Graham WorldWide Films release in 1967—helped launch the entirely new genre of contemporary Christian music. It was Mr. Graham's idea to create Christianity Today as an intellectually strong magazine to counter theological liberalism. And his satellite-transmitted crusade from Puerto Rico was the first truly global, real-time evangelistic outreach.

He modeled great love for his wife and family. In an era when ministers' marriages often proved less than exemplary, Billy and Ruth Graham portrayed an ongoing, beautiful love story. The fact that all five of their children love Jesus Christ and have each been involved in some ministry speaks volumes.

He had a heart for preachers around the world. In addition to his personal evangelistic ministry in 185 countries, he helped train international evangelists from at least that many nations. It was my privilege to participate in three of the Graham Association's Amsterdam conferences that drew thousands of itinerate evangelists from around the world. On August 6, 2000, Mr. Graham issued this challenge to all of us gathered in Amsterdam: "Let us light a fire of commitment to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth, using every resource at our command and with every ounce of our strength." 

Billy Graham truly invested every resource at your command and every ounce of his strength to spread the gospel. Now we embrace his challenge and commit to his call. His death marks the end of an era. May it also mark a rebirth of Christ-exalting gospel proclamation throughout America and the world.

David Shibley is the founder / world representative for GLOBAL ADVANCE.

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