The Middle Way

Recently, my pastor shared a quote from Blaise Pascal. The quote I found online at Good Reads was translated differently:

The knowledge of God without that of man’s misery causes pride. The knowledge of man’s misery without that of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle course, because in Him we find both God and our misery.

Blaise Pascal

In the version shared by my pastor, the word ‘wretchedness’ was used in place of the word ‘misery.’ For me to better understand the quote, I have to make it more wordy.

The knowledge of God without knowledge of your wretchedness results in pride. The knowledge of your wretchedness without knowledge of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle way because in Him we find both God and the cure for our wretchedness.

The knowledge of God without knowledge of your wretchedness results in pride.

The first part of the quote makes me think of two types of people. One type is the person who says things like, “I’m a good person. I’ve made mistakes but I’m doing fine on my own. I don’t need religion. I don’t need to be saved.” This person uses other people as their measure of goodness. When talk of religion comes up, this person may bring up the second type – the religious hypocrite.

The word ‘hypocrite’ comes from the Greek word ‘hypokrites,’ meaning ‘an actor.’ The religious hypocrite has knowledge of the Ten Commandments and religious virtues but lacks knowledge of their own wretchedness. They are self-righteous and self-important, pious, holier-than-thou. They make a display of their good works. They look down on and condemn other sinners.

Both types of people are relying on themselves to earn salvation. Thinking you are morally superior to others is a form of pride. But anyone who does not acknowledge their own sinfulness in relation to God is using a false measure of righteousness. The proper measure of righteousness is not other people. The right measure is God. We all fall miserably short of our glorious, holy Father.

The knowledge of your wretchedness without knowledge of God causes despair.

The second sentence makes me think about people who compare themselves to others and conclude that they are inferior, unworthy of love. They may even say, “I’m a bad person. I’m a failure.” Perhaps they have been criticized and verbally abused by others so much that they have no self-esteem. They feel remorse for their mistakes and wish they could undo them. They feel wretched. They can’t stop thinking about the things they have done wrong.

The person who has knowledge of their wretchedness but no knowledge of God may feel hopeless, especially if they have never been shown grace. They know that they can’t earn their way to salvation. They know they don’t deserve to be forgiven.

Jesus is the middle way.

In Jesus, we find both God and the cure for our wretchedness. Many people have knowledge of God but they don’t know God. Jesus shows us who God is because He is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:6-7

My sinfulness created a vast canyon between me and God. Jesus is the bridge between us. Jesus makes it possible for me to have a personal relationship with God.

Jesus taught me that God’s commands are more than a list of do’s and don’ts. God’s commands are about love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Jesus pushes me to be a better person than I would be if I just followed the Ten Commandments. Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Turn the other check.

Jesus taught me that the contents of my heart are just as important as my behavior. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.

Jesus sees right through hypocrisy and condemns it. Do not do what they do for they do not practice what they preach. Everything they do is done for people to see.

Jesus taught me that God has compassion for sinners, for the outcast, for the least among us.

Jesus taught me that God rejoices when the lost are found. Even in our wretchedness, we are as precious to Him as rare pearls.

Lord Jesus, you are the way and the truth and the light. You are the cure for my wretchedness. Thank you for saving a wretch like me. In you, I see God and know His love and mercy.

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Matthew 5

Matthew 22:37-40

Luke 15

Colossians 1:15-22

Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash

Get Acquainted with God

A.W. Tozer said that he wrote The Knowledge of the Holy because he believed that modern Christianity wasn’t producing the kind of Christian who can experience life in the Spirit. In writing his little book, Tozer hoped to promote “personal heart religion” and to encourage others to practice “reverent meditation on the being of God.” Although Tozer’s writing style seems archaic to me, with lots of thee’s and thy’s and verbs ending in “eth,” his message is as relevant now as it was sixty years ago. There is a need today for personal spiritual revival and the key to this revival is to get acquainted with the holy God.

We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence.

A.W. Tozer

Tozer believed that the root of the problem is the Church losing its sense of the majesty of God. Many Christians (e.g. prosperity gospel followers) think of God in utilitarian terms – i.e. what can God do for me? The modern Christian has created God in our own image. I believe that one of the most perverse and false images of God in America today is the image of God and guns.

Christians are the Church, the body of believers. Whatever we are doing is what the Church is doing. Transforming the Church begins with the individual Christian. If we want the Church to change, we need to change. We need to transform our own vision of God. We need to give God the glory and reverence He deserves.

In the last chapter of the book, Tozer shared the “open secret” about how to acquaint yourself with God and gain knowledge of the Holy. Knowledge of the Holy is a free gift available to anyone who chooses to pursue it. This knowledge isn’t acquired through religious study; it takes spiritual discernment.

Tozer listed six conditions that must be met if if we are to know the true, holy God. Tozer noted that these conditions are taught in the Bible but he didn’t cite any scriptures.

Prerequisites to Knowledge of the Holy

1. Forsake your sin.

Tozer’s use of the verb forsake was interesting to me because Christians typically use the verb repent when speaking about sin. When I think of the verb forsake, I think of God’s promise to never leave or forsake us. But just as true repentance requires a commitment to change your actions, forsaking sin is to leave it behind, to renounce it, to give it up.

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 (NIV)

Forsaking sin is an important condition for knowing God because sin separates us from Him. When we are disobedient to God, He turns away from us. Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God (John 8:47).

As Tozer wrote, we should approach God with a good, pure heart. We should seek him with simplicity of heart. As Jesus said, the kingdom of God belongs to those who receive it like a little child (Luke 18:15-17).

2. Commit your whole life to Christ in faith.

Commit your whole life, not just your Sundays, not just Christian holidays. Commitment is a deep emotional attachment to Christ. If you love anyone or anything more than you love Christ, you are not worthy of him.

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:37-39

Take up your cross and follow Jesus. This means being willing to publicly identify with him, to experience opposition because of your faith, and even to be persecuted or face death.

3. Die to your old self and open yourself up to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again (John 3). To be born again is to be born anew, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives believers wisdom and the ability to understand spiritual realities (1 Corinthians 2). The Spirit dispenses spiritual gifts as God sees fit (1 Corinthians 12).

Even those who are born again must resist the temptations of the flesh. Our sinful natures lead us to act in ways that are not pleasing to God. Temptations of the flesh are not just sexual sins; it includes sins of the heart – jealousy, hatred, rage, selfish ambition, etc. If we want to know the holy God, we must live in the Spirit and walk with the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-25

4. Repudiate the values of the world.

The world’s values are cheap in comparison to the treasures of the kingdom of God. Worldly people place too much value on money, possessions, status, popularity and fame. Worldly people act out of self ambition, self interest, and self indulgence. If you want to know God, you must detach yourself spiritually from the things non-believers set their hearts upon. Keep a tight rein on your tongue and do not let yourself become polluted by the world (James 1:26-27),

Instead of following the ways of the world, follow the example of Jesus who said, store up for yourself treasures in heaven. You have to make a choice. You can’t serve both God and money (Matthew 6:19-24).

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

5. Meditate upon the majesty of God.

To meditate upon the majesty of God is to practice true worship. As you become better acquainted with God, you may need to alter previously held beliefs about Him. You may need to break away from the lifeless, frivolous worship that prevails in so many churches. At my old church, I stopped going to the large, formal service on Sundays and attended the smaller, more contemplative service where we were given time to sit quietly to reflect and pray.

Withdraw inwardly and meet God in adoring silence. Pause and reflect on his omniscience, his omnipotence, his omnipresence, his immutability, his sovereignty, his holiness, his benevolence, his mercy, his grace, his glory. God’s majesty is more than the human mind can fathom!

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

John 3:23-24

6. Serve your fellow man.

How is serving others a condition for gaining knowledge of God? The more we know God, the more we want to share his love and mercy with others. When we help those in need, we are helping Jesus and bringing glory to God.

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:40

The more we know God, the more we want to follow the example of Jesus in serving others. To know Jesus, the Son of God, the One with whom God was well pleased, is to be like-minded. It is to humbly look to the interests of others and not just to your own (Philippians 2).

In The Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer wrote about the individual’s relationship with God. As we become more intimately and personally acquainted with God, we will affect others around us in the Christian community. Tozer wrote that we can do this most effectively if we make the majesty of God the focus of our public service – in our singing, our witness, our preaching, in our writing.

Glory to God in the highest!

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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

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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.

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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.