On the humility of titans
Updated: May 11
I became a Christian in 2012.
Since then, there have been many times I've grumbled about the smallest of lessons that God has arranged for me. The slightest suffering has been reason for me to question His intentions and contemplate abandoning my spiritual post.
Perhaps that's why, after I heard Ravi Zacharias speak live for the first time, I burst into tears and couldn't stop the waterworks for a few minutes. As I looked furtively around the room, I saw that I wasn't alone. There were others dabbing at their eyes. It wasn't that Ravi had said anything sad. I can't speak for others, but I cried because there arose in me an inexplicable inner knowing that this man was the real deal. Someone anointed by God. Someone who had endured the pruning of suffering and consecrated his life. It humbled me and moved me to tears. I don't believe in placing leaders on pedestals but I waited in line, to shake his hand. I mumbled some kind of thanks and said 'God bless you', completely at a loss to articulate anything else. He asked for my name with a kindly smile and I obliged. He misheard, so what I received in turn was 'God bless you too Puny'. Mortifying, but I decided to roll with it. Puny it is then.
That was two years ago in Sri Lanka at an RZIM event. That day in July, his message was about humility, spirituality and faith. His words on humility, in particular, struck me - Pride is one of the greatest sins, he said - echoing C.S. Lewis. God alone knows how to humble you without humiliating you; and exalt you without flattering you.
The above is only a prelude. What follows is the story that I really want to leave with you. It is one that I came across in Ravi's book The Grand Weaver (p138-139):
At age 39, Ravi seriously injured his back and as time went on, it became evident that he could not avoid surgery. He had to have two fusions of his lumbar vertebrae - L3 and L4, and L4 and L5, in addition to corrections for congenital stenosis and bones spurs inside the vertebrae. Twenty-four hours after his surgery, the pain began to build as expected. Even so, by the second day, he was supposed to be changing positions regularly. This wasn't easy. It took two orderlies to help him turn over, with a special technique involving a sheet.
It so happened that late on the second night, he needed to turn from his back to his side, so he hit the call button for help. A nurse unfamiliar with his case came to help. Ravi requested that she enlist a couple of strong people to help but she replied, 'Oh, I can do it myself. It's not that difficult.'
He protested, but she went on to retort 'I've been a nurse for many years. I know what I'm doing.' Faster than he could even anticipate, she plunged both her hands under his back - and Ravi writes that he nearly passed out from the pain. She roughly withdrew her hands and said, 'What's all that padding you have on your back?'
Terribly upset, Ravi told her that it was the surgical site and she said, 'I thought you had a hip replacement. I didn't know you had back surgery.'
It's a horrible story. But the real gold of what Ravi took away from that experience is why I consider him an exemplar of the Christian faith:
"When I told the doctor about this incident the next day, he was outraged. His job was to mend. The nursing staff was supposed to assist the healing process...yet this nurse didn't even know the nature of my injury. How could she be of any help in the healing process?
I couldn't help but think of my younger years in ministry when I carelessly uttered words of castigation against certain persons, things, and behavior, acting like that nurse as I plunged verbal blades into already sore spots. It's so easy to lash out and cut and condemn with prophetic zeal. Pulling someone down is easy; building someone up is difficult. It takes a mature and patient heart to heal with a tender touch without compromising one's convictions....Was that not the way our Lord handled the Samaritan woman and the woman with the alabaster ointment (see John 4; Matthew 26:6-13)?...But we tend to focus on each other's mistakes and sins. We hurt and injure the already injured. We knock out the already knocked down. We have lost the shared meanings of pain, and so the shared meanings of victory become occasions for jealousy."
During another back surgery in February 2020, doctors discovered a malignant tumor in his sacrum. Since discovery, his tumor has responded well to chemotherapy but unfortunately, the cancer has metastasised and the latest report is that no options for further treatment remain. As of March 2020, Ravi is 74 years old. Since age 17, he has dedicated his life to leaving 'no stone unturned in the pursuit of truth', serving as an itinerant preacher and one of the foremost Christian apologists of our time.
Please join me in praying for Ravi and his family, but also find encouragement and strength in his example.