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Open to the World

Why Ravi and Margie Zacharias are convinced God has big plans for your marriage

Most people don't pick up one of Ravi Zacharias's books for leisure reading. He uses words like "heteronomous" and "poststructuralism." He bolsters his arguments by quoting Indian religious scholars, German theologians, a variety of philosophers past and present, even Ted Koppel. He studied at Cambridge, he has spoken in more than 50 countries, and he has lectured at many of the world's greatest universities.

Ravi operates in the realms of logic, philosophy, religion, history and literature. He draws from these disciplines to prove the reality, and the truth, of the Christian faith. "For some people," he says, "the door to the heart is through the window of the mind."

Considering his work and his academic pedigree, you might picture him as an overbearing intellectual in whose presence an ordinary human is reduced to the level of blubbering idiot. But that's not the case. When you meet Ravi and his wife, Margie, there's a warm welcome and the offer of a cup of tea. Their openness and gentleness put you at ease, and they answer questions in a comfortable give-and-take.

The Zachariases believe marriage has the power to change the world for the better. They are convinced that God created marriage, in large part, as a base for ministering to others. And they don't let those of us who feel called to teaching, computer programming, construction or parenthood off the hook. Talk to the Zachariases, and they'll tell you we're all called, primarily, to show God's love to those around us.

Margie was 16 when she met Ravi at church soon after he immigrated from India to Canada. He was being trained to become the banquet manager at a large Toronto hotel, and he assumed he would make his mark in the professional world. But when Margie got to know Ravi, she felt God had bigger plans for him. "At the time," she says, "he did not recognize God's call on him. But everybody who met him did."

Although public speaking doesn't come naturally to Ravi, in 1971 he accepted an invitation to spend three months preaching in war-torn Viet Nam. His messages were heard by U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers, North Vietnamese prisoners of war and Vietnamese civilians. As a result of those meetings, thousands became Christians.

That experience convinced Ravi that God wanted to use him in an evangelistic ministry. Thirteen years later, after he had served as a full-time, salaried evangelist in both Canada and the United States, he formed Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, which focuses on evangelism undergirded by apologetics.

Ravi is the author of several books, including Cries of the Heart, Can Man Live without God and Deliver Us from Evil (all published by Word). He defends the reasonableness of the Christian faith, but also stresses the peace and healing that come only from God. Here's how Ravi and Margie have incorporated that same mission into their life as a married couple.

You have written about the fragmentation of Western culture as a force that keeps people separate. Because you come from two different cultures, do you feel your marriage demonstrates God's power to bring together diverse people?

Ravi: If our marriage speaks to people, it is our prayer that it be because it is a Christian marriage, not that it is intercultural. A couple's home should convey peace to people when they come in. And where people sense that harmony, they will seek your feedback, even in subtle ways. People have come to the Lord in our home. One was a Hindu couple. I would love to think that happened because they sensed God in our home and in our marriage.

Margie: One of the most fulfilling comments that could be made about any home is that it is a place of peace. And not only can friends sense this, but also tradespeople, real estate agents—anyone who has a reason to be there should be able to sense the difference in a Christian home.

Considering the hectic pace of life, it's easy to see why entering a peaceful home would have such a strong appeal. What are the primary needs people have that Christian couples should try to address?

Ravi: There is great hunger and anxiety in the world, and we don't realize the hostility that is out there. Margie once went to a picture-framing store to order pictures for some friends. She said to the woman who was working there, "I'd like some pictures with children in them." And the woman asked, "Do the people you're buying this for have children?" Margie said, "No, but it's not by choice."

'Marriage is meant to point people to God. The family is God's laboratory where his grace and provision are put to the test.'—Margie Zacharias

The woman paused, then, and asked: "Have you ever lost a child?" Margie was startled by the question. Some years ago, Margie did have a miscarriage. But our other three children are all healthy. The woman said, "Do you know the anger that comes when you lose a child?" She told Margie that she had lost two children, that her sister was also losing a child, and that God was cruel. Margie started to cry and was about to say she was sorry. But the woman said, "Don't say a thing!"

Margie: As I was leaving, I told her I would pray for her. But she said, "Don't worry about me. I'm okay. But please pray for my sister." She was so angry that the blood had rushed into her face. I have never seen such raw emotion.

Ravi: Over a period of months we befriended her. We invited her to our home, where we prayed for her. Before she left, she remarked on the peace she sensed just from being in a home where the gospel is at the heart of each member of the family. When one's own home is torn, the Christian home must offer hope.

God's peace seems intangible. How do you establish it in your home?

Ravi: Peace starts with the discipline of respecting your fellow human beings. Be kind to whoever you talk to, and be gentle and gracious in what you're saying. I have always marveled why anybody would be unkind. I'm not kind to Margie because she's my wife; I'm kind to her, first of all, because she's a person. I see people at an airline counter screaming at a flight attendant because the plane is late, as if she had responsibility for it. Think of the peace that is lost right there.

Added to that is the love of Christ, which gives breadth to our kindness. When the love of Christ is in your heart, you're accountable to him for your actions toward others. Christ sheds his love in your heart, and all the more you need to share it with others.

What specifically do visitors notice in your home?

Ravi: One example comes to mind; I was actually humored by it. We were entertaining friends from overseas. We had dinner, and afterward I was helping Margie clean up.

At first, I was not aware that we were being watched. But then I noticed the woman trying to draw her husband's attention to what I was doing. He was astounded, and he sarcastically said to his wife, "Ravi's putting on a show because he has company."

We all laughed because the truth is that in his country you will not find a husband doing dishes. He could not quite believe that the workload should be shared in a marriage, and not thrust upon just one person.

You both have a strong sense of calling and shared mission. How can couples who aren't in the ministry develop a joint ministry?

Margie: Any couple can have a shared ministry, it just may take more creativity in some situations than in others. Whether couples are in career ministry or not, it takes an effort not to get caught up in the career rather than keeping real ministry uppermost in your mind. An engineer is not an engineer first, but a Christian. In the same way, a career minister is not a minister first, but a Christian. In both instances, the primary responsibility is to concretely demonstrate Christ to people around you. And a wife—who may either be at home or working in another job—is also called upon first to demonstrate the love of Christ to those in her sphere. This common ministry of "being Christ" holds couples together, even if they are doing it at different locations.

Ravi: I think inviting people into your home is one of the most effective ways to minister to others. Befriend people, let them get to know you. It's the backyard conversations you have, or the talk you have over coffee or tea with friends or neighbors.

The disciples asked Jesus, "Where do you live?" That tells me the Bible is an Eastern book. Easterners know they're accepted when you invite them into your home. No matter what part of the world you are from, people are lonely and most are longing for a friendship nearby, a home where they can talk freely without the fear of a putdown.

Another natural way to extend hospitality is to open your home to young people. We encourage our children to bring their friends home with them. In our old neighborhood, our son, Nathan, befriended a young fellow. His parents are a very nice couple who had no concept of the gospel, and we befriended them. Now that we have moved to a different area, it is interesting how they keep coming back to our home. When we have special family celebrations, we sometimes invite them. The little that we've done to befriend them, we see its effectiveness in exposing them to a Christian approach to life.

Marriage is the one human relationship that reflects the covenant relationship between God and his people. Is there something implicit in marriage that shows people how God wants us to live?

Margie: Marriage, the way God designed it, is meant to point people to God. The family is God's laboratory where his grace and provision are put to the test. It greatly concerns me that so many Christian marriages have fallen so short of what God intended for marriage. We can never impact our society for God if, in our own families, we can't show the love of Christ.

Ravi: Marriage is the first human relationship God instituted. Before we were ever parents, we were a couple. Adam and Eve had no earthly parents. Their allegiance was first to God and then to each other, under God. That is why the wedding vows are so sacred—they are rooted in God's first gift to humanity, a pure love, an exclusive love, an abiding love.

In our society of broken homes, where can people turn to see the reality of God's love if not to a Christian home? What they see demonstrated there should show them that it will take more than human love to repair their own lives. Christian couples, in the honor and respect they give to one another, can have the privilege of showing God's power at work in a relationship.

Marriage ministry opens doors because the average husband wants to honor his wife. He just doesn't know how. The same is true of the average wife. People are hurting, and Christian couples can help to heal that hurt, if we will just be aware of the opportunities.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Marriage; Ministry; Relationships
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 1998
Posted September 12, 2008

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