The Sacrament of Living

I finally finished rereading The Pursuit of God. In the last chapter, A.W. Tozer wrote about the way too many Christians divide their lives between the sacred and the secular. We have life in the Spirit but live in the natural world. The two parts of our lives may seem starkly different and separate. Tozer said that if we try to “walk the tightrope between two kingdoms,” we will not live a unified life. We will not experience internal peace.

All for the glory of God

Religious activities that Christians engage in – praying, worshiping, reading the Bible, singing songs of praise, etc. – are meaningful and satisfying because we know they are pleasing to God. As spiritual beings, we have our eyes on the kingdom of heaven and look forward to eternal life in a place where there is no evil and no suffering. But as human beings, we spend our days doing ordinary human things – working, eating, sleeping, cleaning, etc. The ordinary acts of living can seem tedious and frustrating in comparison to sacred acts of worship.

And yet, as the Apostle Paul wrote, we are to do everything – even the most ordinary acts of living – for the glory of God.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 

1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV

When Paul wrote to the Colossians, he told them to set your hearts and your minds on things above. He reminded them that as God’s chosen people, they should be kind, humble, gentle and patient. They should love and forgive others. When we work, we are to work at it as if we are working for the Lord. When we serve others, we are to serve as if we are serving Christ.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

Sacramental Living

The dictionary says a sacrament is “a religious ceremony or ritual regarded as imparting divine grace, such as baptism, the Eucharist and (in the Roman Catholic and many Orthodox Churches) penance and the anointing of the sick.” Tozer described a sacrament as “an external expression of an inward grace.” If we accept this truth, then we can see the ordinary acts of our lives as sacred. We can consecrate our total selves to God.

Tozer addressed a couple of issues that get in the way of sacramental everyday living. One is “the sacred-secular antithesis as applied to places.” He asks, how can anyone who has read the New Testament still believe that there is something inherently sacred about a place? In the Old Testament, God taught the people of Israel the difference between what is holy and unholy. What they should have learned is that God is holy; things or places are not holy. In the New Testament, the woman at the well told Jesus, you Jews claim that the place we must worship is in Jerusalem. Jesus said, the time has come when true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.

A second issue that may get in the way of sacramental living is the ritualism and religious observances in which many Christians engage. Here Tozer directed criticism specifically at the Roman Catholic Church. Christians started out with two sacraments, baptism and holy communion. The Catholic church eventually came to recognize seven. Tozer believed that in adding sacraments and in observing days and times, Catholics and fundamentalists artificially divide religion from everyday life.

Am I walking a tightrope?

When I first started reading what Tozer had to say about the way Christians mistakenly divide their lives between the sacred and the secular, I immediately felt convicted but not for the reasons he laid out. There was no social media when The Pursuit of God was published (1948). In an effort to not offend or alienate nonreligious friends and family on social media, I tend to hold back on expressions of my faith. In a way, this is dividing the sacred from the secular and I am left feeling divided.

While Tozer wrote about the important truth that even laypeople can do ordinary, everyday things for the glory of God, I struggled to get to the truth I was seeking. I already know that I can honor God when I work and do ordinary things. Something was missing from his discussion. My struggle with the sacred-secular dichotomy is not the struggle he described.

At one point, Tozer wrote about sins of the body – “perversions, misuse and abuse” – but then quickly moved on. He said:

Let us think of a Christian believer in whose life the twin wonders of repentance and the new birth have been wrought. He is now living according to the will of God, as he understands it from the written word.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

What about those of us whose lives have the twin wonders of repentance and rebirth who still struggle with sins of the heart? It’s easy to be righteous when you’re sitting in church praising God or when you’re reading the Bible or praying. It is everyday, ordinary life that brings out the hard truth that I am still a sinner in need of God’s grace.

The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good.  So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

Romans 7:15-20, New Living Translation

I am all too human, a slave to sin. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature, I am a slave to sin. Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Jesus Christ.

While Tozer did not write about the fact that our very humanity separates the sacred from the secular, he acknowledged that old habits die hard. It takes practice to learn new habits. We must offer all our acts to God and pray “a thousand thought-prayers as we go about the job of living.” We must remind ourselves that Christ dwells in us. We cannot be fruitful unless we remain in Jesus and his words remain in us.

Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.

A.W. Tozer

****

Photo by Loic Leray on Unsplash

Meekness and Rest

In one of his most profound statements in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Even then, this was an astonishing statement. The world sees meekness as weakness. According to Vocabulary.com: “The adjective meek describes a person who is willing to go along with whatever other people want to do, like a meek classmate who won’t speak up, even when he or she is treated unfairly.” Why then did Jesus suggest that meekness is a strength?

In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer pointed out that the world turns every virtue of The Beatitudes wrong side out. Instead of displaying poverty of spirit, mankind displays the worst forms of pride. Instead of mourning sin and suffering, man indulges himself with every kind of pleasure. Instead of walking humbly and meekly before God, man struts around inflated with pride and self-importance. Instead of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, man chases money and things. Instead of striving to be pure in heart, man delights in sin and corruption. Instead of making peace, man quarrels and sows discord. Instead of accepting mistreatment at the hands of others, man fights back with every weapon at hand.

Unlike most people, Jesus was meek and humble. Although he did not fight back when he was treated unfairly, no one would ever claim that Jesus was a pushover who did whatever other people wanted to do.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me. For I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.

Mathew 11:28-30 (Modern English Version)

Tozer made an interesting connection between the meekness of Jesus and his promise to give rest to those who are heavily burdened. Was Jesus speaking about physical labor? What is this heavy burden borne by mankind?

Pride is a terrible burden. Look at how hard we work to build the self up and to defend the self from insult, slights and criticism. It is hard and tiring labor to constantly fight to protect and defend our wounded pride.

The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.

We don’t have to bear this burden. Jesus calls us to him for rest. Being meek like Jesus is the way we find rest from the heavy burden of pride.

A meek man sees himself honestly, both the good and the bad. He knows that the world will never see him as God sees him. He know that he doesn’t have to be perfect to be beloved by God!

Pretense is also a heavy burden. It takes a lot of energy to pretend to be what you’re not. It takes tremendous effort to always put your best foot forward, to always make a good impression, to craft the perfect social media image. It is indeed a heavy burden to hide the pain, the failures, the awkwardness, the self-doubt, and imperfection.

In Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr also addressed the issue of pretense but he referred to it as your shadow self.

Your shadow is what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see. The more you have cultivated and protected a chosen persona, the more shadow work you will have to do.

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

Rohr wrote, “your self-image is not worth protecting, promoting or denying.” But letting go of this desire to protect the self is not easy. Today, I found myself automatically wanting to defend myself from criticism that wounded my pride. I had to tell myself, let it go. It’s not worth it.

When we learn to die to the self, we are free from the bondage of pride.

Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me just as I am, flawed and imperfect. Help me to think of myself less. Help me to be meek and lowly in heart. Free me from the heavy burdens of pride and pretense.

****

Photo by GUNJAN BHATTACHARJEE on Unsplash

Restoring the Right Relationship Between Creature and Creator

Unless I use the expression, “creature of habit,” I don’t refer to myself as a creature but as one created by God. My choice of words symbolizes the human habit of elevating ourselves above animals and lower life forms. It isn’t wrong to do so. After all, God gave man “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” But humans also tend to elevate ourselves above the Creator and to deny that we are lowly creatures of the Most High God.

In the eighth chapter of The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer wrote about the importance of restoring the proper relationship between ourselves as creatures and God as our Creator. God created all things. We all belong to God. We exist because of Him and for Him. The right relationship to God is to be in submission to Him and to see yourself as a lower being.

Salvation restores the right relationship between man and his Creator. But even those who are saved try to make God in our own image. We take the parts of God we like (e.g. love and mercy), toss out the parts we don’t like (e.g. anger and punishment), and sculpt an image of God that serves our desires.

As Tozer said, if we want to be in right relationship with God, we must choose to exalt Him above all else. We must accept God as He is and adjust ourselves to conform to His likeness. As God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” We must surrender our whole being in true worship of Him. We must love the Lord our God, with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.

The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all, we step out of the world’s parade.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Tozer pointed out something that anyone who genuinely honors God above all else knows all too well. The world does not honor God. Millions of people pay some measure of respect to God. They worship Him on Easter and Christmas Day. They insist that God be exalted on US currency with the words “in God we trust.”

Many people give lip service to honoring God but their lives say otherwise. If you look at what people do, if you look at what people choose, you’ll see that they don’t honor God much. If asked to choose, people choose money over God, they choose success over God, they choose human relationships over God, they choose self over God. The proof is in the choices we make.

Choosing to exalt God changes your viewpoint. God is the center. God gives you your moral bearings. God becomes your pilot. Exalting God is the key that unlocks the door to grace. You see how much you fall short of the glory of God. You see yourself and your relationship to others more clearly. It humbles you. It renews your mind. It simplifies your life.

People don’t want to be humbled. I have often thought that pride is the reason many people do not believe in God. It is in our sinful nature to put the self at the center. Tozer quoted a question posed by Jesus that suggests that the root of unbelief is the desire to be honored by other people. People care more about receiving glory from other people than about seeking the glory that comes from God. Truly, the desire to be held in high esteem by other people gets in the way of glorifying and honoring God.

How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

John 5:44 (Modern English Version)

Tozer closed every chapter of The Pursuit of God with a prayer. I’ve paraphrased his prayer without the “thous.”

Lord, be exalted over my comforts

Lord, be exalted over my possessions

Lord, be exalted over my friendships

Lord, be exalted over my family

Lord, be exalted over my ambitions

Lord, be exalted over my reputation

Lord, be exalted over all

Lord, rise into your proper place of honor in my life, above my friends and family, above my likes and dislikes, above my ambitions, above my health, above life itself.

The Gaze of the Soul

In the seventh chapter of The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer wrote about a spiritual concept that is mentioned often in the Bible but defined only once: faith. I did my own search for the word faith on BibleGateway.com and brought up 458 results from the New International Version of the Bible. What is faith? As Tozer noted, Hebrews 11 gives a functional definition of faith – explaining what faith is in action, not what it is in essence.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

Tozer next explained a New Testament reference to an Old Testament story. In Numbers 21, we read that God sent venomous snakes after the people of Israel spoke out against Him and many of them were bitten and died. The people came to Moses and said, we have sinned. Moses prayed for the people. God then told Moses to put a bronze snake on a pole. Anyone who was bitten could look at the bronze snake and live.

When Jesus explained how people can be saved, He said that it is by believing. He compared believing in Him to the story in Numbers:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

John 3:14-15

“Looking” at the Old Testament serpent was synonymous with “believing” in the New Testament Christ! The people of Israel looked at an object with their external eyes and were saved; we believe with the heart and are saved. With this connection between looking and believing, Tozer defined what faith is in essence.

Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.

Faith isn’t just a one-time act, it is “a continuous gaze of the heart at the triune God. Sin turns our vision toward inward and makes us think too much of ourselves. Faith causes us to turn our eyes away from the self and towards God. “Faith is a redirecting of our sight…”

Simplicity

As I continued to read chapter seven, I found myself feeling emotional about the timeliness of Tozer’s message about the simplicity of faith. We do not need special equipment or a special place or a special time to look upon a saving God! I cannot go to church on Sunday. It’s been closed by a pandemic. It doesn’t matter whether I am allowed to go to a place of worship on Palm Sunday or Easter. My soul can gaze upon my Savior any hour of any day, whether I am sitting in a pew or taking a walk down a deserted street!

Those of us who believe in the risen Jesus have found the secret of seeing God from anywhere. Something in our hearts sees God.

Heavenly Father, for the past three days, I have begun the day quietly gazing at You and giving You praise even as this nation battles the coronavirus. I lift my eyes up to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. I praise You for giving me eyes to see You! Lord, may the gaze of my soul be my inward habit, even when this storm passes. Amen.

****

Praise You in This Storm (Casting Crowns)

I was sure by now, God you would have reached down
And wiped our tears away,
Stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
That it’s still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear your whisper through the rain
I’m with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away

And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth
I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth

*****

Photo by Chetan Menaria on Unsplash

Word of God, speak

The sixth chapter of The Pursuit of God (The Speaking Voice), began with one of my favorite verses in the Bible – John 1:1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. A.W Tozer wrote, “it is the nature of God to speak, to communicate His thoughts to others.” God spoke the universe into being. God spoke to nothingness and it became something. God still fills the world with his speaking voice. The question is, do we recognize it?

The Bible is the written word of God but it is admittedly subject to the limitations of paper and ink. Tozer wrote that the Bible isn’t a record of a brief period of time when God was in the mood to speak. And God didn’t just write a book and send it by messenger to be read by “unaided minds.” He sends the Spirit to reveal His truth. His speaking voice gives the written word the power to affect the reader’s heart.

Tozer wrote that ancient Hebrews referred to the universal voice of God as wisdom. He also believed that human creativity is a response to the creative voice of God.

As I reflected on what Tozer wrote about God’s speaking voice, I recalled a Bible study my church group did a few years ago. I don’t remember the name of the book but I remember that we read about God’s call to Samuel. The voice of God sounded so much like a person to Samuel that he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” I came away from the Bible study wondering if I am doing something wrong if I don’t hear the audible voice of God, or even worse, that God doesn’t want to speak to me.

I’ve learned that my expectations for that Bible study were wrong. I should not expect to hear God speak to me out loud. God is Spirit and he speaks to the human spirit. God’s speaking voice is a gentle whisper. I’ve heard that whisper loud and clear when I have needed to hear it. Once, when I was feeling really hopeless and rejected, I sat on the floor crying to God about how badly I had messed things up. I heard Him say to me, “A broken and contrite heart, I will not despise.” God’s living word from Psalm 51 transcended the limitations of paper and spoke to my heart when I was ready to hear it.

The truth is, God still speaks to people, even ordinary people like me. God has never been silent. His voice is alive and free.

Imagine you get in a car and turn on the radio to listen to some music. You’re in a busy city in range of many stations. You turn the knob from station to station and scan through a variety of genres. Classical, jazz, rock, country, R&B, hip hop, gospel, the blues. Now imagine you’re driving in an isolated area like the great plains. You turn the knob and hear a station that’s just out of range. You can’t make out the words or the tune. You keep turning the knob and hear nothing but static.

The point is, if we want to hear the speaking voice of God, we must draw near to Him. We must tune in. We can’t let the noises of this world distract us from the living God who wants to be heard. No one is ever out of His range.

Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Jesus was with God from the beginning. The Word became flesh and and made his dwelling among us. Through his example and his words, Jesus expressed who God is. His voice still speaks to those who hear with their hearts. His voice is a light that shines in the darkness and gives understanding to the simple.

The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.

Psalm 119:130

Lord, I thank you for sending the Word to become flesh and to live among us. Give us ears to hear and hearts that understand Your quiet, gentle voice. Unfold your words and give understanding to the simple.

********

Photo by Mpho Mojapelo on Unsplash