In about 1972 my first cousin brought me a cassette of an exciting speaker she had just heard for the first time. She was a member of the First Christian and Missionary Alliance Church on North Druid Hills Road in Atlanta. The visiting speaker was an ethnic Indian, Canadian National, named Ravi Zacharias. It was immediately obvious that he was especially gifted.
Plus he was different.
I took exception to the fact that he said we should not sing the hymn “Come, Thou Fount.” Or at least we should not sing the line that begins, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.” He insisted that it was a terrible thing to say to the Lord. I objected to his point of view-not only because I love the hymn, but because I AM prone to wander and it’s useless to hide it.
I suppose I’ve heard him make thousands of declarations in the nearly 50 intervening years, and maybe only two or three times did I hear him say anything else I disagreed with. Not that agreement with me is a sign of greatness or a proof of orthodoxy.
I remember hearing him once at Second Presbyterian Church, Memphis, and I couldn’t stop weeping. I don’t think he said one thing I had never heard, but he was moving me. And I was deeply conscious of the fact that he was anointed. Another time at High Point Church in Memphis I listened while thinking, “This may be the best message I’ve ever heard.”
Twice I was favored with personal time with him.
Once for only four or five minutes.
I sat behind him on a flight from Washington National to Atlanta about twenty years ago. We were both coming back from the National Prayer Breakfast. During the flight I closely observed the way he related to his wife. He passed with high marks.
After the flight when I introduced myself, I mentioned a rather dated secular book I was reading at the time and quite impressed with (Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver). In spite of the fact that the book was written in 1948 Ravi knew all about it and began citing particulars. I soon realized that I was even more impressed with Ravi than the book.
I had another ten minutes alone with him at a mutual friend’s house in about 2005. He seemed genuinely sincere about asking me to follow up with him. I never did because I knew that, gentleman that he was, he opened that door to thousands more worthy than myself. I thought his time would be better stewarded with the unconvinced or the half-convinced, not the fully convinced like myself.
Because he walked with God, because he drew from deep reserves, and because he understood the importance of being gracious to those who remain outside the camp of the saints, he was startlingly good on his feet, fielding questions from intellectual challengers. I for one believe that was when he shone brightest.
Three years ago I would have said that the spokesmen for the Christian faith I felt most comfortable with standing up to unbelief (vocally and in person, not necessarily in writing) would have been R.C. Sproul and Ravi Zacharias.
Now swiftly, and in short order, they are gone.
Lord Jesus, minister compensation to your stricken and bereaved church.
Your soon appearing would be the greatest compensation of all.