I have recently been reading a book by Ravi Zacharias, entitled Recapture the Wonder. The book is well worth reading in its entirety, but in this post I just want to summarize the key themes of the book, in which Ravi explores what wonder really is, why it is so often lost after childhood, and how it can be recaptured and retained perpetually.
What is wonder?
We see amazing and wonderful realities all around us in creation, and children seem to be possessed with an innate sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around them. Ancient philosophers reasoned that as children grew to adulthood wonder was replaced and dispelled by knowledge. But are wonder and knowledge in fact mutually exclusive? Ravi asks, “Can it not be our hope… that the shadows and beliefs of childlikeness become only greater and more wonderful when dispelled by knowledge?” (pg. 19)
Ravi defines wonder as “that possession of the mind that enchants the emotions while never surrendering reason. It is a grasp on reality that does not need constant high points in order to be maintained, nor is it made vulnerable by the low points of life’s struggle. It sees in the ordinary the extraordinary, and it finds in the extraordinary the reaffirmations for what it already knows. Wonder clasps the soul (the spiritual) and is felt in the body (the material). Wonder interprets life through the eyes of eternity while enjoying the moment, but never lets the momentary vision exhaust the eternal.” (pg. 20)
Ravi says that “wonder is one of those ‘possessions’ that needs disciplined guarding and thoughtful guiding (pg. 56) and that “our estrangement from wonder is because of our misdirected search” (pg. 57). He goes on to look at some of the places that we mistakenly look for wonder and that end up leaving us empty and desolate.
How then can wonder truly be recovered? Having looked at the misdirected search for wonder, Ravi suggests 4 keys that are essential for recapturing true wonder. The first is gratitude.
“Gratitude is the freeing expression of a free heart toward one who freely gave…. It is the transformation of a mind that is more grateful for the giver than for the gift, for the purpose than for the present, for life itself rather than for abundance. It values a relationship rather than any benefit made possible by the relationship. Even more, it is the capacity to receive, rather than the gift itself, to trust even when the moment is devoid of immediate fulfillment. It is more than happiness. It is more than peace. In short, where there is no gratitude, there is no wonder.” (pg. 88)
“At the cross, Jesus gave the final and ultimate gift of unmerited favor…. Gratitude fills the heart when the gift has been understood, and wonder fills the soul when gratitude is expressed to the fullest…. The heart celebrates the privilege of knowing the Giver who will withhold no good thing from them who love Him” (pg. 93-94)
The second component of wonder he suggests is truth. “If gratitude impels the sense of wonder, truth compels the mind in its convictions…. The world of an adult must move from what is merely fantastic to what is fantastically true…. If you want to know what truth is, look at Jesus Christ…. To know Him is to know the consummate expression of wonder. It is defined in Him.” (pg. 95, 102)
Ravi points out that both gratitude and truth are ultimately inseparable from the Person of Jesus Christ. “Just as gratitude requires someone to whom we can be grateful, truth requires someone because of whom truth is possible. In both instances, personhood is indispensable to wonder.” (pg. 104-105) And there is a third component of wonder that is equally tied to personhood.
“The third component of wonder [is] to understand and experience love…. (pg. 110) The idea that God loves us can easily become a theoretical statement…. We forget the immensity of the truth that God loves us just as we are, in the frailty and the struggle with which we live. Understanding this must more than inform the mind; it must stir the heart with emotion. That is the understanding that feeds wonder (pg. 114).”
“True love is a thing of the heart and must be raised to what God intends it to be. It can never be fully expressed until it has been given first to God…. How does one enjoy love? By being totally sold out in the heart to God Himself.” (pg. 123)
The final component of wonder is hope, or what Ravi calls a “convinced sense of security” – knowing who we are in Christ and living in the eternal security that we have in Christ. Ravi says, “Not only is wonder attached to [recognizing] my individual uniqueness but there is also an eternal perspective. By rising from the dead, Jesus confirms within your heart and mind that while surrounded by death and the limitations of time, there is a reality that stretches beyond the now to the very presence of God. The wonder of time can only be understood in eternity.” (pg. 124-127) Our hope for eternity rests fully on our relationship with and identify in Jesus Christ!
So we see that every element of wonder – gratitude, truth, love, and hope - is centered in the Person of Christ and our relationship with Him! “…wonder is fulfilled in the culmination of gratitude, truth, love, and hope. When we recognize in our hearts our gratitude to God, when we live by His truth, and when we enjoy His love, our hope is strengthened till the day we see Him in the purity of our being as we encounter the pure presence of God.” (pg. 133)
How then is wonder continually sustained?
Ravi moves next from the necessary components of wonder to the disciplines by which wonder can be retained in our lives. The first is the discipline of studying God’s Word.
“[We must] learn to treasure this Word and look through it to the source of all life… heaven and earth may pass away but His Word abides forever. We may change, but His Word does not change because it is true for every stage of life, in every circumstance. It keeps us in touch with the new. It keeps us real in our expectations, promising not a trouble-free trip but God’s presence in every trial. It keeps our feet in tune with our head and provides strength for the journey, all the way.” (pg. 151)
Closely connected to studying is the discipline of reading. Ravi points out, however, that “there is more to reading than the Word alone” (pg. 151). He challenges us to consider whether our reading has been shallow or deep. “If wonder is to be retained in our mind, reading and reading well is indispensable to the imagination and the heart. Good reading is like looking for something you have lost and finding it, but in the search finding something else that had also been lost. That is how wonder is constantly replenished.” (pg. 153)
The third discipline Ravi says we must learn to cultivate is the discipline of reflection. He suggests that this is one of the primary reasons why God instituted the festivals for the nation of Israel. “Wonder is retained by wise pondering. Unless we learn to think and reflect on things above we will reflect the hollowness of a world moving fast but slow to think.” (pg. 156)
Reflection requires making time to listen in a world full of noise. Ravi says, “…at the end of the day if you have spoken but not listened, you have spent without income and sooner or later an expenditure of words without an income of ideas will lead to conceptual bankruptcy. Wonder enriches you when you take the time to reflect and to ponder the greatness of our faith in Jesus Christ.” (pg. 159)
In addition to reading and reflecting, Ravi challenges us to cultivate the habit of discussion. In fact, good discussion can fuel reflection as we sharpen each other and interact on a deep level with others. He encourages us to “plan time with those who think well, who think deeply, and who think about things that really matter…. [Find] a group of people committed to deepening their walk with Christ and who are disciplined in study and interaction.” (pg. 160)
Finally, Ravi challenges us to consider that “wonder can never be retained apart from learning the discipline and delight of prayer. In the closet of our lives lies the fullness of His riches. In the secret place lie unmined treasures…. The discipline of praying is the seedbed of retaining wonder. For here God brings our wills into alignment with His, enabling us to face both the grim and the triumphant and put them in the context of the greater story. Prayer is not the means of bringing our wills to pass but the means by which He brings our will into line to gladly receive His will.” (pg. 162)
Ravi sums up the themes of the book with this statement:
“The components of gratitude and truth, love and hope bring the realization of wonder. The disciplines of study, of reading and reflecting, of dialoguing in depth and praying with belief sustain the wonder. In short, wonder is captured in one word – worship. When we have learned what worship is, we have experienced what wonder is…. [In worship] the emotion, propelled by the will, touches deep into the imagination to lift the spirit into the very presence of God…. He is the one who lifts [our] sights and [our] heart through the wonders that are all around to the greatest wonder of all – Himself.” (pg. 164-166)