Billy Graham has many spiritual descendants as he turns 99

As renowned evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham celebrated his 99th birthday Tuesday, I thanked the Lord for Graham’s inspiration and influence on so many lives – including mine – and for God’s faithfulness and favor in continuing to preserve Graham to fulfill God’s purpose at this life-stage.

During more than 60 years of crusade ministry, Graham faithfully proclaimed a timeless message in a timely way at the intersection of faith and culture. But he did more than just preach the Gospel. He lived it daily in his walk with the Lord.

Over the nearly 34 years we worked together while I was privileged to serve as his personal media spokesman, Graham modeled for me and countless others that the principles of Jesus that one lifts up and lives out are far more powerful than the mere words one says. And that is the greatest sermon I have ever heard, and will always remember.

Over the past 10 days, I have been traveling with a delegation of American Evangelicals in Egypt and Jordan, the land of Abraham. For the Old Testament patriarch, his later years were arguably his most productive, as “…from that one man, so many people came that they were like stars in the sky” (Hebrews 11:12).

People often ask me what one word describes Billy Graham’s distinctive witness. I have to use three: faithfulness (to his calling,) authenticity (the same person one-on-one as in the pulpit) and integrity (doing the right thing, beyond doing things right).

Abraham first responded in obedience to God’s call on his life at the mature age of 75. When he was 99-years-old, as Graham is now, Abraham received some surprising news. God made a covenant with him in his advanced years that he would become the father of nations. What faith it must have required for him to trust God’s at that point in his life!

I am reminded of, and thankful for, the similar faith Graham has exhibited through the years, when it may have seemed that God was asking the impossible of him. But much like Abraham, time and again he stepped out in obedience, following God’s call when the way didn’t seem clear. 

Just as Abraham had many physical descendants, Billy Graham’s passion for souls and devotion to his evangelistic calling has resulted in countless spiritual descendants who look to him as their father or grandfather in the faith.

Graham never veered from his calling to faithfully preach the Gospel. As someone who had a front row seat for more than three decades observing all God accomplished around the world through his faithfulness, there has been no greater representative for the Christian faith.

People often ask me what one word describes Billy Graham’s distinctive witness. I have to use three: faithfulness (to his calling,) authenticity (the same person one-on-one as in the pulpit) and integrity (doing the right thing, beyond doing things right).

One of the distinctive qualities of his ministry was his ability to make positive points for the Gospel in any media situation, and in doing so God honored his faithfulness.

Graham never sacrificed the long-term viability of his ministry for the short-term visibility of media publicity and promotion. Rather, he understood and cultivated the character and calling that came with his station. He sought platforms for his message, not publicity for his ministry, to communicate biblical truth beyond audiences that attended his crusades.

Hebrews 11 reminds us that the prophet Enoch was commended as “one who pleased God.” I can’t help but imagine that is what the Lord thinks of Graham, as a result of his “well-done” fidelity to God’s calling on his life for more than 60 years.

Like the other “great cloud of witnesses” who lived by faith, no doubt at this life-stage the evangelist is also longing for all God has planned and promised in his “heavenly country.” Meanwhile, our nation groans under the weight of the battle for its collective soul, and could benefit from his sage wisdom and spiritual insight as in years past.

Things of this world are measured in minutes, hours, days and years. But what a comfort it is to read in Psalm 31:15 that says “my times are in Your hands.…” We will have as many birthdays as the Lord planned for us from the beginning of eternity.

Everyone who knows Billy Graham’s name continues to pray that God will give him many more years, and that his extraordinary life and the transferable ministry principles of his unique legacy will continue to inspire current and future generations.

Larry Ross is president of A. Larry Ross Communications, a Dallas-based media/public relations agency that provides crossover media liaison emanating from or targeted to the Christian market. For more than 32 years, he served as director of media/public relations for evangelist Billy Graham - over one-half of his public ministry.  Follow him on Twitter @alrcand Facebook