Rarely has a book touched me like Ravi Zacharias’ autobiography Walking from East to West. I’m not prone to cry easily when reading a book, but this one reached deep into my heart and brought tears to my eyes on several occasions.
In the first half of the book, Zacharias paints a fascinating picture of life in the vast subcontinent of India, the land of his childhood. He describes in respectful ways its cultures and religions, its contradictions and mysteries. What I enjoyed the most was not just the picture of life in India, but the vivid picture of his own life there. He described it in such vulnerable and sensitive ways. I was saddened by his difficult childhood and his desperate desire to find some kind of meaning in life as a teenager, but I was comforted that looking back Zacharias now clearly sees that during those hard years and in the challenging years that followed, God was “in the shadows all along.”
In writing the book, Zacharias seemed to be seeking to understand who he is as a person by reflecting deeply on his family, his life experiences, and the many people who influenced him along the way. This has caused me to become a bit more reflective about my own life – what influences God has used to mold me into the person I am today.
Zacharias’ love for his homeland, especially for its poor, really touched me and maybe even surprised me a bit, though it shouldn’t have. I knew Ravi Zacharias only as an intelligent apologist-evangelist who convincingly teaches around the world that a coherent worldview must be able to satisfactorily answer four questions: that of origin, meaning of life, morality, and destiny. However, in his autobiography I also found Zacharias to be humble, gentle, compassionate, sensitive, and insightful.
The last half of the book touched me the most deeply because it’s full of true stories of the good news of Jesus powerfully transforming lives – his own, his proud father’s, and those of many other people. It convinced me again that the gospel truly is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” This was the aspect of the book that reached the deepest into my soul – it seemed to rekindle a desire for the lost to hear the wonderful message of Jesus and to be changed by its power.
Over and over again in the book, I remarked how Zacharias seemed in awe, almost surprised, that lives were being touched as he preached the Word of God.
I liked that Zacharias freely admitted his flaws and struggles. For example, he wrote about preparing to address the United Nations in this way, “As I work on the speech, some old familiar but fleeting familiar feelings come back: ‘I am so unfit for this. I am unsure of myself. Why do these people want to listen to me? I would never have wanted this. It’s not my natural inclination.’ Slowly, those thoughts aligned into the right perspective: ‘Only the Lord could have put these pieces together. No human being could have engineered this.’”
Not only was I inspired by the book, I was also instructed by it. Take for example, the wisdom in the next three paragraphs:
- “Apologetics is not just giving answers to questions – it is questioning people’s answers, and even questioning their questions. When you question someone’s question, you compel him or her to open up about his or her own assumptions. Our assumptions must be examined.”
- “If you’re predictable in your approach – if your listeners know where you’re going – they will turn you off. If you hand people outlines, they’re already ahead of you, just filling in the blanks. If you tell them that they need love, they already know that. The task is to find the means to stretch their thinking in unpredictable ways, to take them in directions they are not expecting to go. Sometimes it is through an argument, sometimes through an illustration, sometimes through a stretch of the imagination. But you’ve got to take them in a radius of directions like the spokes of a wheel. That is an Easterner’s natural way of thinking, while the typical Westerner’s way is more linear.”
- “I don’t think older Christians can ever fully know what an important role they play in the affirmation of younger believers. When you’re just a youth, it means so much to have someone who’s further along the road say to you, ‘I see something in you, and I want you to be encouraged in it.'”
Not the end
As Zacharias concludes his book, it became obvious to me that he doesn’t see the book of his life as completely written. His passion for serving God continues. On the last page he writes, “God is in the shadows in many ways, but He is also in the bright light of what His servants do every day. My prayer is that He will find me faithful, and that until He calls me home I’ll be willing to go anywhere, to bear any burden for Him, and to recommit to Him afresh. It’s a tall dream, and without His strength it cannot be done. Yet with His strength, all things are possible.”