Ravi Zacharias and Francis Chan addressed the question of whether it’s possible for American Christians — whose faith may be “dulled by affluence and comfort”— to experience God in a similar way to persecuted believers in other parts of the world.
During a Q&A session at the 2019 Church Leaders Conference, held at the Zacharias Institute in Alpharetta, Georiga, Zacharias first explained that in America and in other Western nations, comforts are more accessible and affordable than in other parts of the world.
“It's easy to start climbing up the wrong tree and looking for the fruit on that tree and thinking you have all that you need,” he said.
At the same time, Zacharias pointed out that many parts of the world wouldn’t have heard the Gospel if it weren’t for the generosity of American Christians — and that’s often a “forgotten” reality.
“I'm one of those who was blessed by the giving in Canada and the United States,” he said. “I came to know the Lord in India, but there were missionaries from Canada and the United States there who reached my parents who reached us. And that's because the people here have grown up with an attitude of giving as one of America's greatest gifts.”
“In fact, sometimes a gift that's almost abused. We don't even think to what it is we are giving. We just see a need and start giving without demanding accountability at the same time.”
But now, the role of the American church, Zacharias said, “may be changing.”
“Our role may not be so much in a doing evangelism as enabling evangelism because there's a fine crop of nationals and other possibilities,” he said. “So yes, it is possible for us to get too comfortable. But I also want to say a big thank you for the way this country has supported the cause of world missions all over the globe. And we cannot naysay that side of it.”
But the risk is "always there,” he said. “Whenever you have a plentiful in supply, we just have to take it as from the hand of God and not see it as a license to get free of any responsibility.”
Chan, the former teaching pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California, and author of Crazy Love, acknowledged that the affluence and comfort Americans enjoy isn’t necessarily “our fault.”
“I mean we live in this country and there are just a lot of comforts that come our way," he said.
Still, he argued that Scripture warns against “some of those riches and how they can deaden you and place your heart to where suddenly you treasure your life here ... more than the one to come.”
“There is something about our culture that can soften us. What can we do about it? Does that mean we just resolve and go, ‘Well, I live in America. We can only go so far in our walk with the Lord 'cause we're not persecuted.’ Absolutely not. But there are things we need to do just even in our own prayer lives when Scripture says to be sober-minded and self-controlled for the sake of your prayers."
“That thought of being clear-minded rather than filling your mind with mindless texts and Facebook posts and videos and movies so where, when it’s time to pray, our mind is going everywhere and we lose touch with reality,” Chan added. “And that's the problem. That's what keeps us from some of this depth and this time with the Lord. I see it. I feel it slipping away.”
While America has done much to further the Gospel, the California pastor said it’s “hard sometimes when you go [to] other countries” and “meet saints around the world that have suffered so much for the Gospel.”
“It gets us so excited to want to be like them. And not everyone has that privilege to see that and experience that and to feel their pain and see their intimacy with Christ,” he said. “And so, sometimes in coming back here, I just wanted to let people know what is possible and I really believe it is possible here.”
“But our comforts and our riches really do fight against us in our quest for that.”
The event description states: “What does it look like for the church to be reconciled to God, to forgive one another as the Lord forgave, and to live out our message of reconciliation in a deeply-divided culture?”
In addition to Chan and Zacharias, speakers included Becky Pippert, John Bechtel, Michael Ramsden, Lisa Fields, Abdu Murray, Judy Dabler, Vince Vitale and other members of the RZIM team.