Ravi Zacharias - Building Your Private Life
When I was growing up and I'd just come to know the Lord, there were not too many events such as this, certainly not preparing us for university or that kind of challenge. In those days, the youth for Christ rally was the big thing. It was wonderful to go for that and to enjoy the singing, the music, the preaching, and so on. But, the world has changed so dramatically in half a century, and now, the one thing you can be absolutely certain when you go into a university setting, that your faith is gonna be tested. It'll be challenged. I recall one day, when we were in the previous office here in Atlanta, I got a call from a student at one of the major universities, and he was doing his doctoral studies. He said, "I have a question for you". He said, "The opening line of the professor today at a course was to tell us that his primary goal in that course was to knock God out of everybody in that room. It had nothing to do with the subject on hand, but that was his goal".
Whatever he was going to teach in the rest of the subject, the intention was so that there would be no theistic framework in which to interpret whatever it was he wanted to teach. And he said, "The professor then said this. 'If you are nervous about that and you think you're not gonna be able to withstand my challenge, I'll be glad to give you a passing grade. You can step out of this course now, you don't have to attend any lectures. But if you are attending the lectures, my goal is to knock God out of you completely in any way, shape, size, or form'". So, doctoral level, so this gentleman already had his bachelor's and his master's, and now intimidated in this doctoral level course and given the option of just stepping out and getting a passing grade, or seeing what it was that he had to put up his faith against.
So, what I really want you to think about as you go away is what it is that you've gained over these couple of days here - what it is, you have studied or heard to strengthen your faith. What kind of foundation are you building your belief system on? And, bear just one thing in mind, that it is very easy to challenge a world view, but it is very difficult to present a counter world view which does justice to the questions of life. What do I mean by? One of my professors of philosophy, Norman Geisler, used to say, he said, "Most of my atheistic friends are better at smelling rotten eggs than laying good ones". And his point was, it's easy to make fun of or knock something out, but what do you put in place that answers the basic questions of life, of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny, and will do so with truth on the particular questions, and coherence when all other the questions have been answered?
I hope these days have been helpful to you. May I just make a daring suggestion on behalf of the rest of the team? Once you're in the thick of the fray and you're facing some really strong headwinds, I hope you will feel free to call some of our speakers out here. Take the liberty to do so and just say, "Look, I've just read this book, I've just faced this challenge. How would you respond to something like this that I am facing in our time"? We get calls like this all the time from young students. We want RZIM to be the kind of place where you will take the liberty to call one of those you've studied under here and just say, "Will you please help me? I'm trying to navigate through this particular subject".
I'm grateful for their voices that I stand alongside, and so when I say I really don't know what I'm doing here, I'm not saying it in a trite way. I'm very grateful for the fact that we have these immensely capable instructors that go all over the world, and my particular thanks to Vince and Jo Vitale and their entire team that organizes events like this. An awful lot of effort goes in. I generally come in at the tail end of these, and I'm honored to be asked. My time is fast slipping by. I've done this now for nearly half a century. And so, I'm closer to the finishing line, and it's great to see those who are closer to the starting line who can run this race with patience.
So, talking to you a little bit about your private life, I could give you a full talk on that whole subject, but what I want to do is frame it in the context of a biblical character, and raise this question for you right from the beginning. What does a person look like? What does a person look like who is walking closely with God? That's the first half of the question. And the second half of the question is, is it possible to be fully contented and fulfilled as an individual walking that closely with God? You follow what I'm saying? Number one: what does a person really look like? Who do you look to who demonstrates for you what a close walk with Jesus Christ is? And then, the question that we may not often think about, is it possible to be totally fulfilled in that kind of a life, or are you always going to be seduced and tempted into going off to stolen waters or other ways of finding fulfillment?
The fact of the matter is we all think that stolen waters are sweeter. We all think that there are ways outside of the Christian faith, that the Christian faith restricts us from, that if I only went in that direction, I'll be a happier person. The truth of the matter is, those who've gone in many of those directions will tell you the answers are not there. It is interesting. I've had three conversations this morning, and then a tail end fourth one from right here in Atlanta. The three I had, the first one was in Jakarta, the second one was in Singapore, and the third one was in Beijing. These were all three extremely wealthy and successful individuals who've reached the pinnacle of success at a very early age in their fields. They could boast to you of a real big bank account and a financial empire.
All three of them said the same thing before I hung up. One of them I'd called to just have a time of prayer with them, and he said, "Ravi, we're living in some extremely dangerous and risky times". He said, "I opened the newspapers today and find out that Facebook has lost, what, about 20% to 25% of its value in the last 24 hours, and those who're major stockholders are even calling for the key personnel to either share the power or move aside in a certain way, because it's not going in the direction they had intended". Once upon a time, at the top of their game, icons, and all of them saying it's not looking good, and one of them telling me, I feel so stressed out, not just because I feel I might lose a lot, but there are hundreds of people that depend upon me, in my work, that they will lose a lot in the process, as well.
So, what were they all talking about? One talking to me about coming and speaking to their leadership, another one talking for the need for prayer and wisdom, and a third one basically advising me on how to think of the future and how to prepare the ministry for the future, as well. The answers are very similar. The struggles are very similar. And to those of you in your teens and 20's, I just say to you, you're looking at a world changing at an enormously rapid pace, and overnight, things change, dramatically. Yours is a very high-risk world, because of the drama and the speed of change. I had the privilege of praying with a couple of you before I came down here, and that's really what it's all about. Sange brought a couple of them over to my room, and looking at a couple of these young men sitting amongst you now, to pray with them and to find out that their dad had sent them here, and hoping that they would somehow find a change in their lives.
It's so gratifying when you can look at an 18 and a 19 year-old and see them with their heads bowed, recognizing that only before the feet of God can you really ultimately go and stand in any way in the public arena. So, what does a person look like? I want to read for you a few verses from the book of Daniel, and challenge you with three major thoughts. I promise I won't keep you long, because you've already heard so much. But, here's what I want to ask you to think about as you're listening to this message: be open to what God has to say to you. Just say, "God, you speak to me, and if you want me to make a move in your direction this evening, if there's something I'm still holding onto that's really keeping me from enjoying the fullness of my life with you, you show it to me and give me that instruction in my heart to break away from that and move unhindered towards you".
Setting aside the weight of sin is what the Bible talks about, and running the race with patience. So, what do I want you to think about? You know, years ago, I remember seeing a long-distance race for bicyclists. It was about a 100k race, and they had these little bags strung over their shoulders with bottles of water and other, probably sugar fluids and so on, to keep in that heat, to keep that pace going. And what fascinated me was as they were coming down to the last two or three k's, after doing 90 to 97 of those, every one of them did about the same thing at that certain point, and they were neck and neck. They dipped into the back of their bags, took every bottle they could reach, and just flung it out onto the side of the road they were riding. I thought, 'what is all this littering going on for, almost in unison?' but, they were doing it all for one reason.
What they needed for the major part of the race, they no longer needed as they were coming to the finish line, and every weight that was going to weigh them down, even if it was just half a bottle of water, now it suddenly became a hindrance because they could see the finishing line. So, the picture I want you to think about it: what is it that's hindering you from being that kind of person that God wants you to be? Are you willing today to just cast that weight aside, however good it was or helpful it was at one time, you realize if you're to finish this race well, it is no longer going to be a help to you, and be willing to shed that weight?
Here's the historic backdrop to the book of Daniel and what happens in this book. "In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim, king of Judah, into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his God in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his God. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring him some of the Israelites from the royal family and nobility".
Notice now, please - "Young men, without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that, they were to enter the king's service. Among these were some from Judah - Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, he gave the name Belteshazzar: to Hananiah, Shadrach: to Mishael, Meshach: and to Azariah, Abednego. But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way".
Belteshazzar meant "The prince of Baal", a different God to that, but Daniel meant, "God is my judge". So, his name was changed for him. The language was being changed for him. The literature was being changed for him. The philosophy was being changed. So you see, what's happening is Nebuchadnezzar comes in, raids the city, takes its choicest young people, and he's reprogramming their minds to speak differently, to think differently, to act differently, and even gives them a completely different name. He is changing their identities so that he could co-opt them for his purposes, away from God's. It's a thorough reprogramming that's going on.
First of all, he took the best of them, because he was going to use them to influence all the others that had come in captivity, and if you could change their language — language is that with which you utter the deepest feelings of your soul, and he was reprogramming them with a different terminology, so that the expression of the soul would be different. And the literature — literature is where you get the stories of heritage of the past and all the illustrations that inspire you, and the very philosophy, how you think, how you determine truth. This was a designed program to take the young, win them over, and then use them in turn to change the culture that had been enslaved. It's brilliant thinking on the part of Nebuchadnezzar. He knew exactly what he was doing.
And you know, to you as young men and women, let me say this. Those who seek to instruct you in a way that takes you away from God, they will want you to change your language. They will want you to change the literature you read. They will want you to change the philosophy and what it is that you believe, and how you come to truth decisions. If they can take away that undergirding and that underpinning, they've changed you, and then you will be used in turn to change others. It's this incredible dramatic effect. And the power of the young — never underestimate how much power you have as a young man or a young woman, as an influencer. That's why the advertisers go for you. That's why the music goes for you. That's why the film industry goes for you, because they know the capacity to use you for their purposes is huge, and they want it done by undermining whatever substructure you bring with you into that arena.
What is it that Daniel did? They made three decisions that I think are critical for your private life. The first decision he made was he decided not to enjoy the food at the king's table. He drew his line of resistance by training his appetite. He drew his line of resistance by training his appetite. We think our appetite is only trained for our weight and how it is we look, but the appetites that we develop every day develops our hungers and our desires, as well. What it is that's planted in the imagination, your inward eye, is that which you seek after and want more and more and more, and the irony of that is this. Even if it is something that you know has let you down, you'll still keep going back to it. It has that strong hold of pulling you into its orb. I say to you, especially as the young, what you have access to today can train your appetite in a way that in the years to come could cost you in very, very great ways.
I often times will look at a gentleman who is choosing to walk out on his marriage, or has betrayed his vows, or has done something, and I'll look at him and I'll say to him, "Tell me a little bit about your youth. Tell me what you were like as a young man. What is it you flirted with long before you got married"? And nine times out of ten, you'll find out that the habits were already there when they entered into this relationship, and these habits then wreaked havoc, because they could not honor their relationship, no matter how desperately they wanted. So in other words, the pattern for 20 years from now, in how you relate to the most serious relationships are actually being set in place right now. That's exactly what is happening. If you learn to work with your conscience and somehow appease it and work away from those things, then ten years down the line it is easier to walk away as well from any commitment that you have made.
I often give this illustration about a telephone call that I received late one night, and this was a man who was a surgeon. He used to operate on broken bodies quite a bit, and on this particular day he had a patient, and something went wrong in the process. And my family will tell you, after 9:00 P.M., my world view changes. I'm not a late night guy. I'm an early morning guy, but after 9:00 P.M., I just like to be horizontal and get some sleep, get this day over with. I'll start this day early tomorrow. So, anybody who phones me after that hour is either a wrong number, or somebody has really got an emergency, or someone's trying to mess with my life. And this was an emergency, so I picked it up.
I said, "What's going on"? He said, "I've had a horrible night. I'm sorry to even wake you up. A woman was brought into the emergency room here. The paramedics brought her in. Ravi, I want to tell you something. I have never seen a body so battered, the bones so shattered, so bruised. She was obviously terribly beaten up. When she was brought in, the paramedic said to me, 'Doc, it's not gonna work, she's gone'. And the nurses also said, 'I think you're wasting your time'". He said, "But I looked at her broken body and I thought to myself, 'no way, as a doctor, I'm gonna walk away from this. I'm gonna do my best to rescue this life'".
So, he quickly scrubbed and he said, "The only way I could do something emergent was to cut the side of the rib cage, get my hand into that chest cavity, and hold the heart in my hand and start giving it a direct massage, just in order to get that heart beating". And he said, "As I'm holding that heart, trying to get it beating, it was really like blubber. Nothing was working. I pulled my hand out of there". He said, "You know, as a doctor, you're not supposed to get involved in any way emotionally with what it is you're doing. You have to stay distant from it or you won't do your best". He said, "But when I walked away, I couldn't keep the tears from running down my face. I thought, who did this to this woman? What happened here"? And he said, "Just then, a nurse came by and she said, "Doc, I think you'd better look at this. This is the bag that belonged to her", and emptied everything out. It was drug paraphernalia.
I don't know whether she got caught in a drug ring or whether she was a junkie herself. I don't know what the story was. But, he saw all of these used, horrible needles being dumped out, and she was beaten up by somebody so badly. He said, "As I was wiping my hands, I felt a little bit of pain, and I looked at it and I noticed I'd nicked my finger in the process of putting my hand into the rib cage". He said, "I'm calling you because I'm terrified, as a young dad. She may have diseased blood and I have nicked my finger in the process of trying to rescue her. I may have made contact with this diseased blood. Please, pray for me. I'll get the results, but I don't know what it's gonna be". So I said to him, "Is it a deep cut"? He said, "No, it's not really a deep cut. It's like a paper thin cut".
I said, "You're telling me a paper thin cut making contact with that kind of blood, and you're terrified of what I think you're saying to me"? He said, "It doesn't take anything more than that". It doesn't take anything more than that, a paper thin cut making contact with the kind of blood that could strip you off your complete immunity and your resistance, and make your body totally vulnerable to any other disease that comes your way. And after he said that, and he was struggling and hurting inside, I could hardly go to sleep, and I asked myself a question. Are there paper thin cuts that we put to our souls? Are there those innocent things where we did not draw the line, and after we have crossed over the line, we say to ourselves, what on earth have I done here tonight? What on earth have I done here tonight?
We have a friend who lives in Australia, who was a prostitute working both ways with men and women in Hollywood. We'll be seeing him in a few weeks. Handsome guy, and he made the comment, he said, "I never, ever woke up in the same bed that I went to bed every night". He said, "That was my life. But at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, I would wake up after my third or fourth customer, and my head in the pillow, and I'd say to myself, what am I doing to myself? What am I doing to myself"? And in a remarkable way, even though he had contracted HIV and so on, how God transformed his life. He's a married man now, married to a beautiful pediatrician in Perth, Australia. He gives his story everywhere he goes, but he will tell you how easy it was to get those cuts that ultimately damaged his own life so miserably.
So to you young people, here's the most difficult word in the English language. It's the word, "No". It's the word, "No". When you have anyone wanting you to cross the line, just say "No, I do not wish to move in this direction. If you want a thrill of this nature, I'll tell you what. I'll offer you a substitute. Let's meet elsewhere, do something else. Let's go out. You want to do this? I'll meet you tomorrow and we'll go and watch a ballgame or we'll go and see this, and we'll go and do that". Don't just condemn and don't just push back. Offer a substitute. Offer an alternative so that the person doesn't feel completely rejected or upset by you, but knows that you have set these boundaries and you have set these parameters for yourself.
When David looked at Bathsheba, he crossed a boundary and all of Old Testament history changed. When Joseph looked at Potiphar's wife, his answer was very simple. I cannot do this to you and violate the law of God. That's it! I cannot do this to you and violate the law of God. So, especially to you young men, may I say, when you're walking through life and this terrible scourge of pornography and other things comes your way, the goal of the pornographer is to get the money from your pocket. He doesn't care at what cost he extracts that money. I say to you walk away from it, because the price of this false pleasure you'll be paying for years to come if you don't turn your back upon it. It's a paper thin cut, but it cuts deep into the very soul of your being.
I like Daniel, who trains himself into thinking, "I am not going to enjoy this because if I do I will get spoiled: and once I get spoiled, I'll be at the mercy of the king: he could do whatever he wants with me". So he drew his line of resistance. Secondly, he drew his line of dependence. What was that line of dependence? It wasn't just his education, it wasn't just his knowledge. He went to God in prayer. And that is so critical for your private life. Prayer is very critical for your private life. If you tell me today what your prayer life is like, I can tell you today what your spiritual life is like. So the first conviction that he had in his private life was learning to resist and cross the line in the privacy of his decision. The second aspect for wisdom was the privacy was his life of prayer.
You notice in Daniel 6 and in Daniel 9, in Daniel 6 actually, the only accusation his detractors could make against him was that he was a man of prayer. That's what they had against him. We see him three times a day, like clockwork. They couldn't find anything morally wrong with him. What they wanted to use against him was his prayer life. And so, I say to you, young people, develop this habit early in your life to be a young man or a young woman of prayer. When you walk in the Lord, with the Lord, in a prayer life, not only will you hear his voice, he will make you his dream. He will make you his dream, the kind of child he wants to raise. That's what C.S. Lewis says. "They tell me, Lord, that when I pray, only one voice is heard: that I am dreaming, you're not there, this whole thing is absurd. Maybe they're right, Lord. Maybe they're right, that this whole thing is a dream and there's only one voice. But if it is one voice, it's not mine, it's yours. And I'm not dreaming. You are the dreamer and I am your dream. You are the dreamer, o Lord, and I am your dream".
If I could make one challenge to you at the end of this study, it is this, make up your mind every day to begin your time with God. It's much wiser to begin with God and then look at the world through his eyes rather than going into the world and looking at him through the world's eyes. Your day must begin on your knees. You know, Nathan Betts, my nephew, his mother is my sister Prin: and he lost his father a couple of years ago, and it was a sudden death of a wonderful man. He lived such a beautiful life. And every Sunday morning, after they went to the early service, he and his wife would go out for brunch or lunch or whatever. This day, he said he was not feeling too good. And she said, "Then, let's go home. I'll get some toast and tea and whatever". He said, "Let's do that". He was not a guy to complain, and almost never had been unwell.
So he comes home and he goes into the deck, takes the Bible, puts it on his lap, and he's reading. She goes to the kitchen to get some toast or something. By the time she came back to the deck, he had fallen over backwards and he was gone. Just like that. And my sister, who was so shaken, my younger sister, and had me speak at his funeral, she paid the greatest tribute to him that anybody could ever pay. Do you know what she said? "I've been married to this man for 40 years. I don't recall a single morning but that when I woke up he was either on his knees or singing in prayer with a Bible on his lap, talking to the Lord". Forty years: never woke up to any other site but that. And she said it was fitting the way he went. His last breath was taken with a Bible on his lap, talking to the Lord.
David Livingston, "Send me anywhere, only go with me: lay any burden on me, only sustain me: sever any ties but the ties that bind me to your service and to your heart: and through it all, the words of God came to me, 'lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age,'" 'til the closing days came and he was racked with pain and fever. And two of his African national friends who took care of him while his body was caving and loved him so much took him into his little place of dwelling and they wanted to stay with him. He said, "No, I want to be alone with God". They stepped out. He got on his knees. They looked in a little later and he was still on his knees. Came back, looked in again, he was still on his knees. They said, "It's not right. He needs to get to bed". They went and shook him on the shoulder to get to bed. He was gone. He died on his knees. No, not a perfect man. Probably many mistakes were made. But he wanted most of all to live in the presence of his Lord. And when he bid this world farewell, he did it on his knees.
Can I challenge you to make prayer your priority every day? Begin your day, end your day, even if you are driving in your car, just talk to the Lord. Get a glimpse of his presence, because that's where you will get wisdom. So he drew his line of resistance, he drew his line of dependence, and lastly, he drew his line of confidence. He didn't care what was ultimately going to happen to him. He really didn't. He said, "What I wanted to say is this, whether they kill me or not, whether God delivers me or not, I don't know: but I will not bow my knee to a false God. "Whether God delivers me or not, I don't know: but I will not bow my knee to a false God". He took his stand. On his knees. On his feet. In his walk. That's what his private life was like, from an ego way of disciplining his appetite to the way of disciplining his prayer, to the way of disciplining his trust. And his trust, he said, "I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm not going to bend my knee to this false God".
You know what the net result was? Three monarchs in a row followed him and gave their lives to God. He never crossed over. He never crossed over. And the beautiful thing about Daniel's life is that when you study his history today and see all that he accomplished in changing and getting his people back, it was a reMarkable story. You can be used by God to help people cross over from their side to yours, because your side is really not your side. Your side is the side you want to follow for God. What does a person look like who walks in faith? He looks like Daniel. He has made his decision of what he's going to desire. He's made his commitment to be daily with God for several times a day. He's made his decision: even if they kill him, he is not going to give up his faith.
You know, today, I was talking to a very prominent ballplayer who was inducted into the hall of fame. I won't name him. He's a good friend. We were talking today, at least texting back and forth today, and I said, "Love to have a meal with you sometime, you and your wife, me and my wife". He said, "I'd love to, Ravi. Let's do it". And out of the blue, he sends me this, and I wrote back and said, "Wow". He said, "You are so welcome for this". I'd asked him to do me a favor. He said, "I want you to know this, Ravi. Just getting to the hall of fame where 80% or more of the guys think it's heaven and needed for their significance, thankfully I know where my significance comes from and what heaven really is like. The greatest of the greats are here, and most of them are empty. Pretty sobering". "The greatest of the greats are here, and most of them are empty. It's pretty sobering".
This is a hall of famer. If I named him, most of you heard his name. But what I want to say to you is this, that he recognizes in his own heart that being inducted into the hall of fame was a noble accomplishment. You've played that game competitively. Nothing wrong with it. But it's not what they make it out to be. You can have a great ministry and you can be blessed with great colleagues, but that's really not what it's all about. What it's really all about is what does Jesus think of me, what have I done to make him proud that I am one of his own and delighted to be a follower?
And so, with all of your seeking and all of your ambition and all of your pursuits, draw the lines in the right places: the line of resistance, the line of dependence, and the line of confidence. And your private life is where these lines are really drawn. Those of you see me in public have no idea what I'm like in private. God does. God does. And I encourage you today to make that commitment and say, "I'm going to be the man in private that'll one day receive the divine accolade, 'well done, thou good and faithful servant.'" when I get a little text message like that, I get all teary. He was a muscle-bound guy. The accolades of the world are his. The millions are his. And he says, "It's empty: what really matters is what God thinks of me and my relationship with God". Oh, that all of us might be like that.