As I was reading Jay Watts tribute to Ravi Zacharias, I was reminded of how influential he was on my life as an early Christian. I was provoked in the best kind of way to speak of my own experience with one of the most eloquent Christians of my day.
To say that Ravi Zacharias had a profound influence on me would be an understatement. Having grown up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama, I was only briefly introduced to any apologetic material in a Sunday School class when I was around 13 years old. It was Josh McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict.” I remember looking at it and thinking that it looked about as exciting as a Websters dictionary; my takeaway though was that Christianity had good answers. And it might have been this one thing that grounded me through the next 8 years of substance abuse and poor choices. In the midst of my very unruly lifestyle, I never doubted God’s existence. Something stuck with me through those years.
When I was around 20 or 21 years of age, I had several experiences of what I can only describe as revelatory dreams and visions of God and his purpose for me. When I hear Muslims talk about having dreams about Jesus before converting to Christianity, I can relate. This was very much my experience of returning to the Faith. It was around this time that I was introduced to Ravi Zacharias.
In the mid to late 90’s, the local Christian radio station in Birmingham was primarily a talk radio station; airing sermons and commentaries. At the time, I was not theologically astute in any sense of the word, and I would listen to Dr. Vernon McGee in one segment and suddenly segue to Kenneth Hagin. I could tell there was a difference between the two speakers, but at the end of the day, at that time at least, I chalked it all up to the idea of a big kingdom in which I got something out of both. Knowing now how polar opposite these two men are, I find myself chuckling about it. But one man stood out above the rest and not only made me want to dig into the Word of God, but compelled me to read and listen to other great thinkers in the Christian Faith.
When I would hear the RZIM segment of a snippet of one of Ravi’s sermons it always, without a doubt, left me wanting more. His emphasis on simple, and compelling arguments for the belief in God was inspirational to say the least. Even though the teachings were very relatable, there were layers upon layers of ideas and philosophies that undergirded each of his lectures. He was probably the first person to introduce me to G.K. Chesterton. Ravi had a Chestertonian way of looking at the world. The concepts that I had swallowed wholeheartedly from the shallow waters of the world, were suddenly turned upside down and left meaningless, with powerful and beautiful rhetoric. When I listened to Ravi, I realized that it was I that was upside down in my thinking, along with the rest of the world.
Through this man, I was introduced to a world of ideas. He gave me the ability to understand that knowing and reading philosophical works was not only a good thing, but it was something that we should be compelled to do through the love of God. That if we truly love the lost, we should strive to understand where they are coming from. It was in this striving that I realized just how wet with the culture I was. This idea that hard thinking was not anathema to God was kind of a new thing for me. I most likely picked this up from Word of Faith preachers like Hagin.
Ravi reminded me that it was the God of the Bible, yes, even the Old Testament, that said “Come, let us reason together”. This idea of God as one that was eager to work out our problems with us through emotional, intellectual, and spiritual exercises was revolutionary to me, especially the intellectual aspect. For the first time, I saw that the reasoning faculties that God gave me could be used to glorify God.
In his book “Recapture the Wonder”, Ravi tells a story of one of his children taking pleasure in a simple act of playfulness. That a childlike love can say, infinitely “do it again Daddy” was related to the love that God has for His Creation. That God can say to the Sun “rise again” every day without end and without boredom, is a beautiful depiction of the glory of God. I imagine now that Ravi is in the presence of the Almighty, saying something like “Do it again Abba” and he will have an infinite amount of pleasure simply being in His presence.