I had not originally planned to reread The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer for Carrie‘s Reading to Know Classics Book Club, this month because I thought I had read it just last year. When I actually checked, however, what I had read last year was Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. (Good thing I don’t rely much on my memory. 🙂 ) It had been years since I had read The Pursuit of God and I couldn’t remember much about it, so I decided to delve into it again. And I am glad I did.
In his preface, Tozer expresses concern that though there are good Bible teachers teaching vital right doctrine and the fundamentals of the faith, they seem “strangely unaware that in their ministry there is no manifest Presence,” that “God’s children [are] starving while actually seated at the Father’s table,” that “there may be a right opinion of God without either love or…right temper toward Him (pp. 8-9). “The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts” (p. 10). This book is his “modest attempt to aid God’s hungry children so to find Him” (p. 10).
The ten chapters explore different aspects or pursuing God. I had thought about jotting a few notes about each chapter as I finished and wish I had now.
The first chapter, “Following Hard After God,” reminds us that our pursuit of God is preceded by His pursuit of us. Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44a). “The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him” (p. 12). “We Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word. We have almost forgotten that God is a person and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can” (p. 13). We still pursue Him even after we first find Him, as Moses and David and others did. “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present” (p. 17). One of my all-time favorite quotes closes this chapter:
O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long (p. 20).
The second chapter. “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing,” according to the introduction “reflected his desperate struggle to turn his only daughter over to God” (p. 7). He begins by acknowledging that all good gifts come from God, but we have a tendency to grasp them for ourselves and even elevate them in our hearts rather than Him. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.” In our pursuit of God, we need to come to a place of “having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (II Corinthians 6:10b), holding all things, as some have said, with an open hand, remembering that they are His to do with as He will.
We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety; this is especially true when those treasures are loved relatives and friends. But we need have no such fears. Our Lord came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe which we commit to Him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed.
Our gifts and talents should also be turned over to Him. They should be recognized for what they are, God’s loan to us, and should never be considered in any sense our own. We have no more right to claim credit for special abilities than for blue eyes or strong muscles. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?”
Since these truths must be learned by experience and not just as facts, sooner or later God will bring every one of His children through such a test as Abraham underwent with Isaac. Though the struggle is immense, when all is yielded to God, blessedness follows.
Chapter 3 speaks of removing the veil of self-life (“self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them”) which hinders our following God and our need of renunciating it. Chapter 4 talks about the reality of the invisible world and our need to set our hearts on unseen and eternal realities. Chapter 5 excellently explains the difference between pantheism (the mistaken thought that God is in everything) and God’s immanence, which means that God is everywhere. Since God is everywhere and wants to manifest Himself to people, “Why do some persons ‘find’ God in a way that others do not? Why does God manifest His Presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience?” (p. 67).
I venture to suggest that the one vital quality which they had in common was spiritual receptivity. Something in them was open to heaven, something which urged them Godward. Without attempting anything like a profound analysis I shall say simply that they had spiritual awareness and that they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing in their lives. They differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing they did something about it. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response. They were not disobedient to the heavenly vision. As David put it neatly, “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek” (p. 67).
Receptivity is not a single thing; it is a compound rather, a blending of several elements within the soul. It is an affinity for, a bent toward, a sympathetic response to, a desire to have. From this it may be gathered that it can be present in degrees, that we may have little or more or less, depending upon the individual. It may be increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect. It is not a sovereign and irresistible force which comes upon us as a seizure from above. It is a gift of God, indeed, but one which must be recognized and cultivated as any other gift if it is to realize the purpose for which it was given (pp. 68-69).
He then reminds that this takes time, something our instant and push-button generation needs to reminds ourselves of. “And always He is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His overtures. (And this we call pursuing God!) We will know Him in increasing degree as our receptivity becomes more perfect by faith and love and practice” (p. 71).
Chapter 6 explores the ways God speaks to us. Chapter 7, “The Gaze of the Soul,” perhaps my favorite, is about faith: not so much a definition as a study of how it works, what it looks like.
In the New Testament this important bit of history [Numbers 21:4-9] is interpreted for us by no less an authority than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is explaining to His hearers how they may be saved. He tells them that it is by believing. Then to make it clear He refers to this incident in the Book of Numbers. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Our plain man in reading this would make an important discovery. He would notice that “look” and “believe” were synonymous terms. “Looking” on the Old Testament serpent is identical with “believing” on the New Testament Christ. That is, the looking and the believing are the same thing. And he would understand that while Israel looked with their external eyes, believing is done with the heart. I think he would conclude that faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God. (pp. 88-89).
I made a note in my book that that is perhaps one reason why God often puts us in situations where we must look to Him, not just for salvation but for our everyday lives as well. “The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do” (p. 91).
“Neither does place matter in this blessed work of believing God. Lift your heart and let it rest upon Jesus and you are instantly in a sanctuary though it be a Pullman berth or a factory or a kitchen. You can see God from anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him” (pp. 94-95).
Another of my all-time favorite quotes is from this chapter:
Someone may fear that we are magnifying private religion out of all proportion, that the “us” of the New Testament is being displaced by a selfish “I.” Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole Church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and a higher life (p. 96).
This is refreshing to me because there is such an emphasis on community today – a needed emphasis, but we can always get unbalanced one way or another. I don’t hear as much these days about being individually “tuned” to the Lord as I used to, yet without that, we’re not going to be of much use to each other when we do come together in community. But if each individual member is growing closer to the Lord and more like Christ, then we’ll become closer to and more unified with each other.
In chapter 8, “Restoring the Creator-Creature Relation, I have far too many places marked to reproduce here, and chapter 9, “Meekness and Rest,” contains another favorite and piercing quote:
The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed. Think for yourself whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking slightingly of you. As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to offer affront to your idol. How then can you hope to have inward peace? The heart’s fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest. Continue this fight through the years and the burden will become intolerable. Yet the sons of earth are carrying this burden continually, challenging every word spoken against them, cringing under every criticism, smarting under each fancied slight, tossing sleepless if another is preferred before them.
Such a burden as this is not necessary to bear. Jesus calls us to His rest, and meekness is His method (p. 112).
Chapter 10, “The Sacrament of Living,” talks about what it means to truly “do all to the glory of God” – not just spiritual exercises, but everyday life.
The “layman” need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary. His entire life will be a priestly ministration. As he performs his never so simple task he will hear the voice of the seraphim saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (p. 127).
I echo Tozer’s closing prayer in the book” “I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise Thee” (p. 128).
I hope you’ll forgive the lengthiness of this review. I was just thinking recently, in wondering how to cultivate time for other writing, whether to make shorter work of the book reviews I write, especially since they don’t seem to be viewed as much as other blog posts. But I write them not just for blog readers, but also as a reminder to myself not only as I go through a book but also as I look back on it in the future.
There is good reason this book is a Christian classic, and I heartily recommend it to you. I am sure I will revisit it again a number of times in the future. At the moment it is 99 cents for the Kindle and free online at Project Gutenberg, and of course it is available as a paper and ink or audiobook as well.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)