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Loving the Lord with All Our Minds

Max Jeganathan shares his story of moving from the political arena to serving as an apologetic evangelist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

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Loving the Lord with All Our Minds

Most Christians may feel that faith and politics have nothing in common. But for Max Jeganathan, his strong background as a lawyer and a political and policy adviser found an interesting match in his new role at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM): defending and unpacking the Christian faith in an intellectually compelling way.

How did he find his way from an active and enjoyable time in Australian politics to a full-time ministry role? According to Max, it was God teaming up with his wife who dragged him into it ‘kicking and screaming.’

The Call into Ministry Need Not Happen Overnight

“I never really sought it out,” he confesses. “I’m a lawyer by training. I worked for it, practiced it, and then wanted to shift to politics. I was very blessed to work with Ministers, the Prime Minister and finally, for the Leader of the Opposition. All of these opportunities were things I had hoped for and that I wanted. The call into ministry was much more gradual and more involuntary, if you like.”

He chuckles as he recounts how his wife was the one who first introduced him to Ravi Zacharias, via podcast.

“My wife is the vehicle,” he explains. “I was struggling with questions in parliament house, being an adviser and simultaneously a follower of Jesus Christ. There were a lot of questions and attacks on the gospel in the public square. I knew there must be good answers to these questions, but I didn’t know what they were”

This discomfort finally found its match when Max’s wife Fiona shared a podcast with him. “It was really my wife who introduced me to this podcast by some random guy—I found it compelling, the call to honour our mandate to love the Lord not just with our hearts but also with our minds. It was meeting the questions of culture in a Godly and intellectually credible way.”

This random guy turned out to be Ravi Zacharias. Max started reading his books, and the books of his colleagues. With the support of their pastor at the time, Max and his wife started thinking and praying about what the Lord had for them outside of their professional lives.

“With the encouragement of my mentors and our pastor, we went for a one-year programme to study at Oxford University. The call began with that. I would say, inch by inch, God called us from that day on.”

Max had grown up in a Christian home. “I am really blessed by the strength of my parents’ faith: they raised me up in the ways of the Lord. I owe them more than I could ever express. My entire understanding of God’s heart and the power of His message radiated from my Appa and Amma.” He was fifteen years old when he made his personal decision to surrender his life to Jesus.

But it was during his time at Oxford University that the possibility came up of serving the Lord in a full-time ministry capacity, taking on the Asia-Pacific arm of RZIM.

Our Experiences Prepared Us for Our Assignment

“I was initially confused as to why God took me through all that law and politics. But the more I do this work as an apologist-evangelist, I see how perfect the fit is,” he reflects. “Good apologetics begins with breaking down concepts to their first principles—so I’m very grateful for my professional experience.”

Max Jeganathan with Julia Gillard (Former Prime Minister of Australia) and team during his time as Senior Social Policy Adviser, Canberra, 2012

 

Max admits his continuing love of politics. “There’s lots about that world that I get to still enjoy in my current role: the travel and the adrenaline, the camaraderie and teamwork. But I do miss politics, that was part of the sacrifice. I worked with some wonderful people in politics, and those years will always have a special place in my heart.”

He explains that, aside from evangelism, politics represents the profession with the maximum potential impact on the quality of life of other people.

“I also enjoyed the combat of ideas, these very intelligent people, ideally not attacking each other,” he says. “I think you really can do good things for society, like lifting people out of poverty and giving them access to things like healthcare and education.”

Max asserts that believers can go to two different extremes when dealing with politics: on the one hand are those who write off politics and the political sphere as being evil and all about money and power. “That is an unbiblical view of politics. Government as we understand it is a gift of God to which we are called to promote and maintain—we are called to this as part of being in community.”

God Isn’t About the Invasion of Legislation

The flip side is when the church goes towards a too-theocratic approach. “We think our job is to legislate the kingdom into our government. But that’s not the case. We do need to stay involved, advocate for certain things, be a passionate voice in the political system, and champion reforms. Some of the biggest human-rights accomplishments, like the abolition of slavery and the minimum wage, are all anchored in a Judeo-Christian moral framework,” he reflects.

“We have a duty to bring Christian moral reasoning, but we shouldn’t get antagonistic if people refuse to embrace it. That’s not a fail. Ultimately, the kingdom of God isn’t about the invasion of legislation, but the invasion of human hearts.”  

But unlike a lot of stories of lawyers who start off as atheists and discover the gospel by their logical study of Scriptures, Max did not go through a similar process.

“As Christians, we do need to advocate for reforms, but in the end, the kingdom of God isn’t about the invasion of legislation, but the invasion of human hearts.” – Max Jeganathan

“I didn’t investigate the faith first,” he admits with a smile. “I don’t really think it matters what order you do that.”

So is it all a road of sunshine and roses, working in RZIM? Max begs to differ, sharing a few of what he feels are the most difficult things he has had to do in this work.

Some of these difficult times happen in one area that he actually enjoys a lot: debates.

He Helps Us Connect Head and Heart

Max speaking in Kasterlee, Belgium, 2016

But one other experience that really marked Max’s journey happened during the question and answer (Q&A) time during that very same debate.

“When you’re doing Q&A, it’s always tough,” he confesses. “In your mind and heart you’re on your knees asking for wisdom, asking the Holy Spirit to give you an answer.”

In this particular scenario, a woman got up and asked a question about suffering. The person was clearly going through immense suffering as a rape victim. “How do you explain your loving God that allows rape?” she asked. “Where was He when I was getting raped?”

“These guys, my opponents, they really grilled me on it,” Max shares. “She asked a very legitimate question. How do you respond to suffering in an intellectually credible way, to someone not really asking for intellectual answers? We need to connect the head and the heart.”

How did he handle that dilemma? “By God’s grace and by the move of the Holy Spirit, I got out an answer. But I struggled with it afterwards, thinking, what could I have said better?”

He proceeded to share what he had told the woman at the meeting. “Unlike other worldviews around suffering, this is the God who came into our world, who took on our suffering. Jesus has scars. He’s willing to give you His hand and heart to walk through this suffering.”

Christ Moves Regardless of Our Performance

It was clear by the way he spoke that Max was really moved by the memory of this experience. “It wasn’t about what the men did to you; the thing that can overpower that is what Jesus did for you two thousand years ago on the cross,” he concludes.

But the story didn’t end there. As it turned out, about ten months after that incident, the moderator and organiser of the debate got in touch with Max.

“He received an email from that girl,” Max shares. “The email said, that answer on that night started her on her journey with the gospel, and eventually led to her giving her life to Jesus Christ.”  

“How do you respond to a question about suffering that goes beyond the intellectual? Our God came into our world. He defeated suffering on the Cross, and now He’s willing to give us His hand and His heart and walk with us through our suffering.” – Max Jeganathan

Max admits that in his own mind, he was evaluating himself and holding himself up to a standard of excellence that he was striving toward. “A question that I had wished could be removed from the debate night was probably the most valuable part of that evening. I wouldn’t be surprised if God orchestrated the whole evening just her. Just for that one girl, it was all worth it.”

He reflects on how God uses broken vessels like himself, as well as broken contexts like human debate. “We’re all struggling for the right answers, but when we put Christ front and centre, when we set aside Christ as Lord in our lives, He moves.”

God Is Willing to Intervene in Everyday Life

From that experience, and many more throughout the past few years, Max’s perspective of God has gotten much bigger.

“I didn’t realise how much he was actually active in the everyday world,” he admits. “I’ve never really questioned His sovereignty, but it was more of doubting His willingness to intervene.”

Throughout the years, he has seen things that don’t make sense but exist for the intervention of God. “His willingness to intervene in activity and day-to-day life, His continued faithfulness in good times and tough times, these are very personal for me,” he shares. “As I spend more time with Him and get to know Him better, what He’s done in my heart has helped me to look back on my life, and see all the instances where He’s been active.”

Why was this a necessary change in Max’s heart? “For the first fifteen years of my journey with Him, I underestimated His faithfulness,” he confesses. “It’s difficult to be an apologist evangelist—actually, it’s difficult to be a Christian, if you’re doing it right,” he adds. “We should be getting ridiculed and mocked from time to time, we should be prepared for uncomfortable conversations. God’s faithfulness has been the biggest backdrop. He’s never failed me, that backdrop lets me do my best. I hope to get better as a speaker and a leader. However, I know I’ll continue to fail, but His faithfulness remains.”

What the Enemy Means for Evil, God Uses for Good

His childhood experience of being a refugee from Sri Lanka at the age of one year old played a big role in his understanding of the heart of God.

“The hardest thing I’ve had to do, alongside these debates, was going back to Sri Lanka and speaking on justice and forgiveness,” Max admits. “This happened last year in July. That was very difficult. That was the first time I told my story in public.”

What it made him realise, and not just as a refugee himself, was that humans are primarily self-interested. When we are the ones wronged, we cry for justice, and when we are the ones who wrong others, we cry for forgiveness.

“What the men did to my family, burning down our home and chasing us and tens of thousands of others out of our country, I found the same darkness in my own heart,” he explains. “It is so obvious. The only hope for humankind is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Perfect mercy, perfect justice, perfect compassion. All these things are natural yearnings of the human heart, the cross is where we can find it.”

And who but God could have orchestrated the talk that Max and Ravi gave together in Sri Lanka, which took place just 1,500 metres from the hospital where Max was born? The trip was a tender moment for Max, as the Lord showed him, “Do you know that your father was 35 years old when you were chased out of this country, and you were one year old?” That really struck him, because Max was, at the time of his talk, also 35 years old and his own son, one!

“It’s complete generational symmetry,” he muses. “Maybe He let us go through all of that just so we could come back here now and share the gospel with these people. My heart for Sri Lankan people has been revived, and I’ve been back since. I’m slowly understanding what Joseph felt when he said that, ‘what men meant for evil, God meant for good.’”

Sometimes it may be difficult to see God’s hand when things are not going well, but may this story inspire us to trust that He is always good.

 

Max with his wife Fiona and 9-month-old son Zachary, Cape Town, 2018

Max is the RZIM Asia-Pacific Regional Director. He is passionate about the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to transform lives. His research interests relate to the relationships between faith, politics, public policy, economics, and moral reasoning.

Stay tuned for the next installment of our series, where Max shares the necessary qualities for a public platform in ministry.

Cover Photo: Max and Fiona with Ravi Zacharias, Oxford, 2015