Next Saturday is Billy Graham’s 97th birthday. No individual has had a greater impact in shaping our spiritual landscape in the last century. In 2014, he was named to the Gallup Poll’s list of men Americans most admire for the 58th time.
He first rose to prominence in 1949 when he preached an evangelistic crusade in Los Angeles, California that was extended for eight weeks. That event launched a career that spanned more than half a century with Crusades in more than 150 countries. More than three million professed faith in Christ in Graham Crusades, but they are only a fraction of the number impacted by his messages via radio, television, books and movies.
I first heard Billy Graham preach in 1971 at Texas Stadium in Irving, the Dallas Cowboys’ famous open roofed structure. Tom Landry, the legendary coach for the Cowboys, gave his testimony that night quoting Augustine, “Our hearts are restless indeed, O God, until they find their rest in thee.”
Billy Graham’s life has been more than remarkable. He served as a spiritual confidant for every president since Harry S. Truman. He took bold stands as a leader for integration during the civil rights movement and was close friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. Unlike many “televangelists,” he had himself placed on a salary early in his career to avoid any hint of scandal. He and his wife, Ruth, had an exemplary marriage for sixty-three years before her death in June, 2007.
In 2012 the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association met in Chicago and chose Billy Graham’s book Nearing Home as the “Best Christian Book of the Year.” Dr. Graham’s book is filled with hope and inspiration while taking an honest look at the challenges of old age. He writes, “I can’t truthfully say that I have liked growing older. At times I wish I could still do everything I once did – but I can’t. I wish I didn’t have to face the infirmities and uncertainties that seem to be part of this stage of life – but I do.” He asks the important question, “Is old age only a cruel burden that grows heavier and heavier as the years go by, with nothing to look forward to but death? Or can it be something more?”
In his book, he says, “Growing old has been the greatest surprise of my life. … When granted many years of life, growing old in age is natural, but growing old in grace is a choice. Growing older with grace is possible to all who set their hearts and minds on the Giver of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Writing recently in Decision magazine, Dr. Graham said, “The only way that we can have our lives changed and find peace, joy and the fulfillment of life; the only way to have sin forgiven; the only way to know that you are going to Heaven, is to receive Christ as your Lord, Savior and Master. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).