Standing in the Gap: The Power of Pathos, Prayer, Proximity and Preparation




Standing in the Gap: The Power of Pathos,
Prayer, Proximity and Preparation

by Ravi Zacharias,
Founder and President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

BROADCAST TALKS presents ideas to cultivate Christ-like thinking and living. Each issue features a transcription of a talk presented at an event of The C. S. Lewis Institute. The following is adapted from a talk given by Dr. Ravi Zacharias at the C.S. Lewis Institute’s 14th Annual Partnership Banquet which took place on April 23, 2015 at the Fairview Park Marriott in Falls Church, VA.

he challenges that we face in our time are incredible. I’ve crisscrossed the globe now for four decades, and I’ve watched this world change – especially the West. We used to say the East is the east, the West is the west and the twain shall never meet. My goodness, have they ever met! And do we now have a changing world!

When I moved to Canada, I was twenty. I lived in Toronto for ten or eleven years, and had the Lord change my life and my studies. Today what I’m doing is nothing that I ever anticipated I’d be doing with my life. Just watching over the last twenty, thirty years, beginning from the sixties and the cultural revolution and all that was taking place, and the upheaval of our values. Chesterton used to say, “Whenever you remove any fence, always pause long enough to ask why it was put there in the first place.” They don’t ask that anymore. They’re rewriting everything, removing fences, and we think we can do that with impunity.

Two Great Challenges

There are two great challenges that we face in our time: The first is the challenge of the Intellect. As we face that challenge, we seem to be hearing from the sciences and the philosophy departments how daunting it is now to actually believe in God. The Richard Dawkinses of this world have done their havoc and continue to challenge everything that is sacred, to a point of even mocking belief in God. Some of his statements are totally atrocious – when I think that an intellectual could have such disregard for the faith of billions of people, but so it is! This hubris, this rapacity, the idea that we can sound thoroughly intellectual because now, with the scientific single vision, we can pull down everything metaphysical.

I was stunned to see Stephen Hawking’s statement in his book The Grand Design, where he says, “Philosophy is dead.” My goodness! My goodness! Theologians didn’t have to battle against that book – the Philosophy Department rose up to it at Cambridge. I studied under that department, and the chair of the department made the comment, “Maybe it’s about time that the oracular Professor Hawking realizes he has not kept up as much with our discipline as we have with his.”

And this kind of challenge that we face is significant. David Berlinski, a skeptic, responding to Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, wrote The Devil’s Delusion. Now here’s Berlinski, a total skeptic, but listen to what it says in the flap of the book cover:

Has anyone provided a proof of God’s inexistence?
Not even close.
Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here?
Not even close.
Have the sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life?
Not even close.
Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought?
Close enough.
Has rationalism in moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral?
Not close enough.
Has secularism in the terrible twentieth century been a force for good?
Not even close to being close.
Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy of thought and opinion within the sciences?
Close enough.
Does anything in the sciences or in their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational?
Not even ballpark.
Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt?
Dead on.

The scientists themselves are cautioning other scientists and reminding them of the epistemological track on which they are – how they arrive at truth, how they glean knowledge, not to make that cardinal blunder of expelling all other disciplines, for, after all, the very purpose of a university is to find unity in diversity. You take all the disciplines and find a confluence of how you arrive at truth within these, ultimately to form your worldview and your own metaphysical framework.

So we face the attack of the intellectual! The people like Dawkins and Dennett, write in such a prolific way, challenging what we believe.

But then there is also the religious challenge that comes from worldviews that challenge the perspective that framed this nation. I want you to think very carefully of the statement in the Declaration of Independence, that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that we’re all created equal and endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Here’s what I want to ask you: Do you know of any other worldview that would have generated that statement other than the Judeo-Christian worldview? I challenge you, there isn’t. It would not have come from pantheism. It would not have come from the other monotheistic religions, impossible to have come from them. Certainly it could not have come from naturalism. So the framing ideas that gave us the ethical foundation on which to pursue life, liberty, and personal fulfillment and happiness were framed because there was a belief that there are some truths that are indeed self-evident. And we have lost even the place of natural law. So that’s the headwind we face intellectually.

But there’s also the headwind of cultural disorientation. One of the greatest privileges of my life was to spend an afternoon with Malcolm Muggeridge. He was my great hero. I don’t know of any journalist, with a possible toss-up between him and Chesterton, to be branded the greatest journalist of the twentieth century. I spent that afternoon with Muggeridge, shared a talk with him; he was going to be writing the introduction to my first book, but he passed away before that year was over, in 1990. I talked to him about the time he left Edinburgh University where he was chaplain, and he told me what all had happened. Here’s a paragraph from his Farewell Address:

So dear Edinburgh students, this may well be the last time I address you, and this is what I want to say – and I don’t really care whether it means anything to you or not, whether you think there is anything in it or not. I want you to believe that this row I have had with your elected officials has nothing to do with any puritanical attitudes on my part. I have no belief in abstinence for abstinence’s own sake, no wish under any circumstances to check any fulfillment of your life and being. But I have to say to you this: that whatever life is or is not about, it is not to be expressed in terms of the drug stupefaction and casual sexual relations. However we may venture into the unknown it is not, I assure you, on the plastic wings of Playboy magazine or psychedelic fancies.

A powerful closing statement because what was being debated at the campus at that time – I won’t go into it, but it had to do with this very issue that he addressed in these terms. Intellectual attack, cultural disorientation, fences coming down. How do we stand in the gap?

Nehemiah’s Model Response

There was a man in the mid-400s B.C. His name was Nehemiah. He was a civil engineer. He wasn’t a theologian. He was a civil engineer, and he was working in the king’s palace. The irony of it all is that he was a man of such trustworthiness that this man [the king] who had enslaved Nehemiah’s people brought Nehemiah to be the cup bearer so that Nehemiah would be the last person to taste the food before giving it to the king. That was the character of Nehemiah – he was trustworthy and truthful. If he gave his word, the king took him at his word.

And so the king looks at him one day and says, “You’re looking terribly despondent; what’s going on?” He said, “King, the reason I’ve been looking like this for the last four months is that my brother came from Jerusalem, and I asked him a question: ‘How is the city of my fathers?’ And my brother said, ‘You’re going to be sorry you asked. The city lies in ruins. The walls are broken down. We are being attacked from all sides. We have nothing to protect us anymore.’” And Nehemiah said, “From the day my brother left, I have not been able to sleep properly, King. My heart is broken because of my beloved city of Jerusalem.” It would be like Washington to us here. All the history, all the markings of what has been accomplished – if its walls were in ruins and broken down and the city were desolate and you were in a faraway land and somebody said to you, “What’s keeping you down?”

I was in Bangkok, Thailand, when 9/11 hit. Because I make friends with all of them in the hotels, the receptionist phoned me and said, “Mr. Zacharias, have you watched the news?” I said, “No.” She said, “I think you should turn it on. Your country is being bombed.” What was she talking about? I looked at my cell phone and noticed there were numerous calls through the night, but they would just ring and then I wouldn’t hear it. It was my children and wife trying to get hold of me, telling me what had just happened. And as I watched that – you all can remember where you were and watching this horrific sight – we will never forget it. Never forget it.

We are not aware how deeply the moral structures are collapsing before our eyes. The smoke of that may not be visible, but the entailment of what is happening is huge, huge – where we are redefining everything without having a definition for the definer.

What does it mean to be human? We have no answer for that, but we are listening to humanistic definitions. The definer is undefined and the definer and the definitions will one day be sucked into the vortex of quicksand, nothing left standing. It’s serious, with all that I’ve mentioned to you. So I look at Nehemiah, and I ask myself, “What do I do?”

When God wants to drill a man, and thrill a man, and skill a man;
When God wants to mold a man to play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart to create so great and bold a man
That all the world might be amazed;
Watch His methods, watch His ways.
How He ruthlessly perfects whom He royally elects.
How He hammers and hurts him, and with mighty blows converts him,
Into trial shapes of clay which only God understands,
While his tortured heart is crying and he lifts beseeching hands.
Yet he bends but never breaks, when his good He undertakes.
How He uses whom He chooses and with every purpose fuses him,
With mighty acts induces him to try His splendor out.
God knows what He’s about. (author unknown)

God is molding, shaping men and women like you. That’s what the C.S. Lewis Institute is all about. Molding, shaping, presenting people into the arena of life with the ability to deal with the hard and the soft questions, and to so live with argument and story that it draws in the mind and the heart of the listener, till they say, “What must I do to be saved? Where do I go?”

Nehemiah took these steps. I don’t have time to go into all of it. Number 1: He felt a pathos for his people. You will never lighten any load until you feel the pressure in your own soul.

There’s nobody here who can bear the aggregate of human suffering. There is only one place, and that is in the heart of God. And God takes that aggregate and breaks it down into bearable-sized portions, gives some of it to you and some of it to me. I’m asking you, have you sought Him for the burden He wants you to carry? You can’t carry it all, but you will lighten some load and the only load you will lighten is that which burdens your heart. People ask me, “Do you really enjoy the task of apologetics?” I’d be dishonest if I said I did. I know it sounds very spiritual to say it’s wonderful. No, I’m not a masochist. I don’t want to be standing in front of audiences where I know some of them are desperately hoping I can be tripped up, fall on my face, state a misquote, or be taken to task. It’s my calling. It’s my calling.

But what did Nehemiah do? He felt the priority of his mission in prayer. Eleven times in thirteen chapters, he said, “So I prayed to the Lord of heaven, so I prayed to the Lord of heaven, so I prayed to the Lord of heaven.” And I can tell you this much: If you want to know where your spiritual life is, ask yourself the question, what is your prayer life like? You see, this can become a show window. I’m in front of people, but when the door is shut, and I’m on my knees, there’s nothing showy about it then. It’s me alone with my Maker, speaking my heart and confessing my sin and seeking His will and His glory. Prayer is so critical. What was it Robert Browning said?

Go on, you shall no more move my gravity
Than, when I see boys ride a-cockhorse
I find it in my heart to embarrass them
By hinting that their stick’s a mock horse,
And they really carry what they say carries them.

You see, if you’re a praying Christian, your faith in God will carry you. If you’re not a praying Christian, you’ll be carrying your faith and you’ll get exhausted bearing the infinite. These battles are won on our knees, day by day by day, and I want to challenge you, never let the day begin for you without those moments alone with God, because the news out there can just drag you down, it can just drag you down, but get your heart so conditioned.

Prayer does three things. Number 1: It helps you to see your own heart, so that before we even start judging the world, we start judging ourselves and seeing how frail and how weak and how wicked we are. Greatness is always preceded by humility of heart and a confession before God. Prayer helps you to see your own heart.

Second: Prayer will always recognize the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign, and it is critical we always remember that. He doesn’t begin the day by saying, “My word, I wasn’t expecting this.” He’s weaving a pattern, a grand pattern.

When I applied to the Indian Air Force, I placed number three out of three hundred. They were only going to select ten. I phoned home and told my mom and dad, “I’m in.” Number three! I’d done well on all the testing, endurance, physical, this, that, and all. I went and saw this Churchillian-looking wing commander who was interviewing me – a huge guy – and he looked at me and asked me a lot of questions and then he leaned forward and said, “Beta (that’s Hindi for ‘son’), you’re a nice young man. I am going to reject you.” “What?” I said, “You’re going to reject me, Sir?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Can you tell me why?” He said, “This job is about killing. And you are psychologically not equipped to kill.”

When I walked out of there, I said, “What on earth has just happened?” I got on the train heading back to Delhi, and there were my parents and friends with garlands to congratulate me. If I had been accepted into the Indian Air Force, I would have had a minimum of twenty-plus years committed. That following year, my father moved us to Canada, and two years after that I was in theological training in philosophy. And the rest is God’s grand design. He slammed the door! He shut the door! God is sovereign over individuals and over nations. He’s sovereign over our nation.

But the third thing is this: He helps you become what He wants you to become when you’re in prayer. A poem copied down by C.S. Lewis by an unknown author expresses it this way:

They tell me Lord, that when I pray,
Only one voice is heard;
That I’m dreaming, You’re not there,
This whole thing is absurd.
Maybe they’re right, Lord, Maybe they’re right.
Maybe there’s only one voice that’s heard.
But if there’s only one voice that’s heard,
Lord, it’s not mine, it’s your voice.
I’m not dreaming; you are the dreamer.
And I am your dream.

You become the dream of God. God shapes and molds you to His will when you are a praying person.

Pathos for his people, priority of prayer, and thirdly, pondered in proximity. He got close. He went close to the broken walls. We must get close to the issues. Those of you who serve in politics, thank God for you. Yours is the most unenviable calling of our time. Those of you who are in the academe, thank you for being there, serving Christ. Those of you in law, those in the armed forces, those of you in business, those of you being at home taking care of your kids because you want to raise them up in a worldview and a thinking that will help them get a future, those of you who are engineers or witnesses in the marketplace, professional sports, whatever, we need to get close to those who need to hear the truth articulated verbally and embodied in life. Get close.

Fourth, I’ll just say this: There’s a process of preparation. We must pay our dues. This day is a day where you can’t set a tepid Christianity beside a scorching paganism. We need to be well armed, well instructed, well taught. Go all the way in your education, study! Those of you who are going to be CSLI Fellows, do it well. God may open further doors and further doors, so that all the credentials He gives to you would be like the apostle Paul who said, “I count all this but loss so that I can gain the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.” But it is your passport to be heard by others: the process of preparation.

And then I say to you, he avoided the paralysis of pessimism. Don’t lose heart. The last chapter is not written yet.

Our story is not over yet. I see young men and women all over the United States; they’re going to make a difference. They will backpack around the world. They will carry that gospel in their heart. They are brave and they are bold, and they will carry that message. And that’s why people like you are being prepared out here.

But lastly I want to say to you, he brought peace for his people. He built the wall in a handful of days. You can go to Israel today and see portions of that wall still standing. You see, leadership had destroyed it – the untamed passions of a gifted man, Solomon; wonton power in a weak man, Rehoboam; the unteachable temperament of a privileged man, Jeroboam, who brought the nation down. Then came the Nehemiahs, the Ezras, and one by one by one they turned the hearts of the people back to God, till Daniel had come on the scene, and three kings in a row crossed over from their side to his. Don’t lose heart. God will one day bring peace for His people when we who are called by His name will humble ourselves and pray and turn from our wicked ways. He will heal or mend.

In 1939 the world was a mess, and England’s stuttering king, George VI, took to the microphone and spoke one of the era’s most powerful messages. The most memorable lines were these:

I said to the man at the gate of the year, “Give me a light that I may walk safely into the unknown.” And he said to me, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. It shall be to you better than the light and safer than the known.”

The best way to put your hand into the hand of God is to let His Word dwell in your heart and take it in to become a fire within your bones. His truth will enter your very being and be your guide and be your light. Then you stand in the gap and make a difference for a world that needs men and women like you who are here. I am honored to be with you. I want to thank you for this privilege, and I want to thank you for supporting a work like the C.S. Lewis Institute. Without people like you, it could never go on. I know. I’m part of a ministry myself, and I know how important it is for those who gather around us to stand with us and lighten that burden that otherwise becomes more weighty. So thank you for doing what you are doing. The C.S. Lewis Institute will be the better for it, and this nation and the world will be a better place because of our mutual sacrifice. God bless you.

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Ravi Zacharias, Founder and President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), is a well known Christian apologist and a noted author. He has been invited to present the claims of the Judeo-Christian worldview at numerous forms around the world for the past 44 years. He has addressed writers of the peace accord in South Africa, the president’s cabinet and parliament in Peru, military officers at the Lenin Military Academy and the Center for Geopolitical Strategy in Moscow, as well as students at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins to name a few. Dr. Zacharias is the author of more than twenty books on topics including theology, comparative religions, apologetics and philosophy. He hosts the international radio programs Let My People Think and Just Thinking



COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Broadcast Talks is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.



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