In 1948 A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) wrote in his classic, The Pursuit of God…The Human Thirst for the Divine, p.17: “Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us.” Imagine how Tozer would feel if he were alive today. Nothing is simple. Our schedules are loaded, our deadlines frantic, and the world distracts.
Yet Tozer offers us clues to that simple life. Let me entice you in; I have but touched the surface. A Kindle version was free last time I looked; or dust off the old copy you’ve neglected on your bookshelf, as I have. Following are my take-homes, chapter by chapter. PS: the entire book is in the public domain.
1.Following Hard After God
We begin with prevenient grace: “before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man. …We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit.” (p.11-12). I pray with Tozer: “O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more.” (p.20).
Reminds me of that God-shaped vacuum attributed to Pascal. However, the original Pascal quote reveals the truth even more dramatically:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”—Blaise Pascal, Pensees, p.75; Penguin Books, 1966
2.The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing
Tozer follows Pascal’s line of thinking—that eons ago, in the beginning, a “true happiness” prevailed in man. God created for man “a world of useful and pleasant things for his sustenance and delight…meant always to be external in the man and subservient to him. …Within him was God; without a thousand gifts which God had showered upon him.” (p.21). Man had it all; yet God was all that mattered.
Along came the fall, characterized by the dual enemies within of self and possessions. Tozer: “The way to deeper knowledge of God is through the lonely valleys of soul poverty and the abnegation (rejection) of all things.” (p.23). Jesus said, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”(Matthew 14:26, NIV).
3.Removing the Veil
The veil of the Holy of Holies dropped into place. God waited until the time was right: Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom (Mark 15:37-38, NIV). Every child of God was granted the privilege to enter in by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body (Hebrews 10:20, NIV). Unfortunately, all too often the sinful nature of self, that “opaque veil that hides the face of God from us” (p.43), blurs the glory of His presence. “Lord, rend the veil of our self-life from the top down.” (p.45).
Apprehending—what a great word: catching, grasping mentally, comprehending. Apprehending the reality of God becomes of the essence to Tozer. “To most people God is an inference, not a reality…personally unknown to the individual. ‘He must be,’ they say, ‘therefore we believe He is.’” (p.47). But they never experience Him with all their senses: Taste and see that the LORD is good (Psalm 34:8, NIV). Of course, “the spiritual faculties of the unregenerate man lie asleep” (p.49) until faith awakens them: Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists (Hebrews 11:6, NIV).
God is real. A reality is “that which has existence apart from any idea any mind may have of it, and which would exist if there were no mind anywhere to entertain a thought of it. …It does not depend upon the observer for its validity.”(p.50). And notably “all other reality is contingent upon His.” (p.52).
5.The Universal Presence
While God is transcendent (above), God is also here (immanent), vying for our attention. It is the Spirit’s job to show us the Father and the Son, our job to cultivate the “spiritual receptivity” of the saints of old—”something in them was open to heaven.” (p.63).
6.The Speaking Voice
God is, by nature, “continuously articulate”. John called Jesus the Word…with God…was God (John 1:1) even in the beginning, hence antedating time. The world was spoken into being: “the expression of the will of God is the breath of God filling the world with living potentiality…all energy is here only because the power-filled Word (spoke it).” (p.70).
We have the beauty of the written Word. We also have the whisper of revelation: ”He spoke a Book and lives in His spoken words…causing the power of them to persist across the years.” (p.71). Call it light to the soul! Expect it to speak: “First a sound as of a Presence walking in the garden. Then a Voice, more intelligible, but still far from clear. Then the happy moment when the Spirit begins to illuminate the Scriptures.” (p.76). “Lord, teach me to listen.” (p.78).
7.The Gaze of the Soul
Tozer then tells us the first truth an earnest seeker will come upon in Scripture is the doctrine of faith: Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists (Hebrews 11:6, NIV). Faith is not well defined, the only attempt in Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (NIV), which really states “what faith is in operation, not what it is in essence.” (p.81). Yes, It isthe gift of God (Ephesians 2:8, NIV); and faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17, NIV).
Jesus pictured faith to Nicodemus: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15, NIV). That makes “‘looking’ on the Old Testament serpent identical with ‘believing’ on the New Testament Christ.” (p.83). “Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God. …Believing, then, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus.” (p.83-84). So simple—look to Jesus!
8.Restoring the Creator-Creature Relation
That wily snake in the garden sure did complicate things though. Adam and Eve took their eyes off God. The solution: Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2, NIV). The saving gaze returns us to the proper center, the preeminent “I Am”—“first in sequential order, above in rank and station, exalted in dignity and honor.” (p.95). “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:11, NIV).
9.Meekness and Rest
Keeping our eyes on Jesus gives us “soul rest” from the burdens of our day: pride, pretense, prestige. “Lord, I would be simple and artless as a little child.” (p.110). “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29, NIV).
10.The Sacrament of Living
With our eyes fixed on Jesus, all our days have the potential of a “sacrament“ to the glory of God; but the “sacred-secular antithesis” catches us in its trap. We “try to walk the tightrope between two kingdoms and find no peace in either.” (p.113). Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV) is then our aim. All—consider allsacred; do allas a sacrament, an act of worship. Bathe each day in “a thousand thought-prayers as you go about the job of living.” (p.117).
Will it be simple? Tozer closes with this: “Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. …Lord, I would be altogether thine. ...I want to live so fully in the Spirit that all my thoughts may be a sweet incense ascending to Thee and every act of my life may be an act of worship.” (p.121).
May we all be in hot pursuit of God, thirsting for more, lingering with the divine, resting in simplicity. Soli Deo Gloria!