‘When you receive a call from God, you don’t hang up …’ these are the words of Billy Graham, now aged ninety-eight with an evangelical ministry that has spanned over sixty-nine years. The significance is far-reaching. Billy Graham has preached the Gospel across four hundred crusades to nearly two hundred and fifteen million people in more than one hundred and eighty-five countries and territories on six continents. According to his staff, 3.2 million people have responded to the invitation to accept Jesus as their personal saviour, and as of 2008, it has been estimated that across his lifetime, he has reached an estimated audience of 2.2 billion people across television and radio broadcasts. Graham has preached the gospel to more people in person than anyone in the history of Christianity. Alongside evangelism, Billy has stood shoulder to shoulder with Martin Luther King joining the stand against segregation; has acted as a spiritual advisor to two US presidents: Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson; and has founded the Billy Graham Evangelical Association with radio broadcasts, newspaper coverage, magazines and a film company. Pivotally Graham was the first evangelist to speak behind the Iron Curtain; has been named the ‘Greatest Living American’ and has been the first and only preacher to receive a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. Did I mention a marriage that carried through sixty-four years; five children and nineteen grandchildren? All this from a man who still cries every time he sings, ‘Jesus loves me …’
Where did it all begin? A dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina. 1918. An ordinary boy essentially born in the middle of nowhere. A boy who loved the outdoors, hanging from trees and yelling like Tarzan – a yell his dad remarked as being the reason he was led into ministry. A boy who was turned down by the local youth group for being too worldly but was led to an evangelist, Mordecai Ham and committed his life to Jesus. A boy nearly expelled from Bob Jones College as he wrestled with the college’s legalistic and binding overtures. Bob Jones warned him to not throw his life away: ‘At best, all you could amount to would be a poor country Baptist preacher somewhere out in the sticks… You have a voice that pulls. God can use that voice of yours. He can use it mightily.’ Bob was right about the voice but wrong about what God could do with a boy who loved Him.
Graham describes receiving his calling on the eighteenth green of the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club in front of Florida College. A call that found its baby steps with frequent trips to a small island in the river where he would preach to the birds, alligators and cypress stumps. He was no longer a boy but a man of God waiting for any opportunity to preach the Gospel of His Lord and Saviour. It would still be thirteen years before the first crusade but Graham grew in leadership and faith with short stints as pastor; re-launching of a radio program, the full-time evangelist for Youth for Christ and presidency of the Northwestern Bible College. He had little theological training but a call, a purpose and the propensity to act. In 1949 he scheduled a series of revival meetings in Los Angeles which enjoyed extensive media coverage and the launch of a ministry that is still bearing fruit today.
RT Kendall writes in his book, God Meant it for Good: “I can tell you that the great men and women of God – those whom God has used the most – have been those who believed simultaneously in the absolute sovereignty of God on the one hand, and on the other, accepted their full responsibility as though it were utterly up to them… God does not reveal His power and glory to let us do nothing. He says, ‘Make haste. Move. Get on with it. Go. Do it now.”
What is the call of God to you? In everything it will be to share the Gospel but where, when and how will always be unique. What is the unction in your heart? What have you dreamt? What has pulled on the inside of you …? It’s God calling …Don’t hang up.
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