Arguably the world best-known evangelist, Billy Graham died yesterday at the ripe age of 99. Known as "America's Pastor," Graham lived a life of consistent integrity and fulfilled an incredibly fruitful ministry. As a full-time gospel minister, I can't help but be in awe as I imagine the hours and effort required to lead out 417 evangelistic crusades & music events, speaking live to an estimated 215 million precious souls across the globe in his lifetime (3.2 million of which accepted Christ in those crusades) and literally billions more via radio & television waves.
Wow, what a legacy! Talk about reach! I pray for the ability to impact my neighborhood of 20 homes and my community of 60,000, and here is a man God used to influence billions around the world. I'll admit, as I read a few headlines, tributes, and statistics yesterday afternoon about this once-in-a-generation evangelist, I found myself feeling small to the task of making lasting, eternal impact. A tinge of insignificance crept into my heart about the effectiveness of my personal reach for the kingdom.
But then something happened just a couple hours later. I found myself in my neighbor's living room, enjoying some homemade cookies and catch up time. The doorbell rang just a few minutes after my arrival, and in walked Andy, one of my church members...maybe the smiliest guy you'll ever meet. It was a small gathering that God had ordained. When my neighbor inquired about my understanding of Bible prophecy just a few weeks before, God spun the conversation toward studying more and watching DVDs of a Shawn Boonstra prophecy seminar together. Last night was our first watch party. And when my neighbor offered a prayer of surrender and gratitude by the end of the night with an eager anticipation of 20+ more hours of watch parties down the road, I knew I was witnessing waves of evangelistic impact. It may not have been from a pulpit, but the warmth of personal contact provided the kind of stage for Andy to offer words of reflection and encouragement, the ripple effects of which we have yet to see in full. Talking with Andy afterward, I realized that my neighbor is not the only person he's been sharing these videos with. Andy may not say this himself, but God is using his influence to impact people's eternities. The numbers may not be jaw-dropping, but the significance is just as eternal.
In a well-written USA Today piece, I couldn't help but take note of the kinds of qualities that made for Billy Graham's impact:
"He was so real, he made Christianity come true," Susan Harding, an anthropologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz.
"...because he yielded himself to God, he was used to accomplish the extraordinary — forever impacting the lives of countless people," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
We may not all be evangelists on the scale of a Billy Graham, but I am convinced that we’ve all been commissioned to proclaim through word and deed the beauty of the gospel in whatever sphere God plants us. Oh that we would engage our “audiences” with fervor and urgency whether we have a microphone or not, whether a camera/spotlight is on us or not. May the Lord use each one of us in our own uniqueness to make "Christianity come true." May we yield ourselves to our Lord day by day so He can use us to accomplish the extraordinary and even the ordinary.