Receptive to God’s presence

Wherever we are, God is here. No point is nearer to God than any other point. No one is in mere distance any farther from or any nearer to God than any other person is. A.W. Tozer wrote these truths about the omnipresence of God in the fifth chapter of The Pursuit of God, The Universal Presence. He then asked the question, if God is everywhere, then why doesn’t mankind celebrate that fact? The answer is simple: men do not know that God is here.

In previous chapters, Tozer wrote about the manifest presence of God. The presence of God and the manifest presence of God are not the same thing. God is manifest when we are aware of his presence but God is always here whether His presence is clear to us or not.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139:7-10

Why does God manifest His presence to some people and not to others? Does God love them more? Or does the answer lie with us?

Tozer pointed out that if you think about any of the great saints whose lives and stories are well-known (not just people from the Bible), you will see that they were all unique individuals. Moses was not like Isaiah. John was not like Paul. C.S. Lewis was not like St. Francis. God did not choose to reveal Himself to these men because there was something really special about them.

What quality do all of these people have in common? Tozer concluded that it was spiritual receptivity – being open to God and being responsive to that inward longing that so many of us feel. Spiritual receptivity is not just one thing; it is “a blending of several elements within the soul.” Spiritual receptivity is not a constant quality; people possess it to varying degrees. We must actively cultivate these “elements within the soul” if we want to be open to God’s manifest presence.

God is here but man does not always know it.

During this Lenten season, my church is reading Scot McKnight’s 40 Days: Living the Jesus Creed. In the reading for day nine, McKnight wrote about a God who is “on call.” When Scot was a teenager, he foolishly drove an old car 100 mph on a two-lane highway. The road crested slightly and the car was slightly airborne. Then the road curved and Scot realized he couldn’t make the curve at such a high speed. Through the mercy of the God who is always on call, Scot was able to slow down enough to navigate the curve.

We are made aware of God’s presence through personal experience. Like Scot McKnight, I have had a couple of near-misses on the highway when I was very aware of and thankful for God’s protective presence! I have felt God’s comforting presence in moments of grief and emotional turmoil. I am aware of God’s guiding presence as I navigate the difficult spiritual tests of this life.

Tozer did not attempt to identify any of the elements of spiritual receptivity. From my own experience, I’ve listed a few elements of the soul that open me up to God’s manifest presence.

Devotion

The greatest commandment (part of what McKnight calls The Jesus Creed) is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Simply said, it is to love God with everything you’ve got! It is having a personal relationship with God and making God the most important part of your life.

Many religious people treat God as just an icon or a set of beliefs. Loving God is more than loving the idea of God. As Jason Gray sings, this is more like falling in love than religion. I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes. It’s gotta be more like falling in love than something to believe in. More like losing my heart than giving my allegiance. Jesus made God real to me and swept me off my feet!

Humility

I just read a non-religious article about the power of intellectual humility. The author wrote that humble people are more open to learning from others because personal growth is their goal, not social status. Likewise, spiritual humility is the key to spiritual growth.

I think of humility in two ways. One, I am the small ‘c’ created being and God is the the big ‘C’ Creator. He is omniscient. There is so much I do not know about countless topics, even in comparison to other mortals. I can’t see the future; God already knows it. He is powerful; I am weak. Two, God is holy. He is the source of all that is good and moral. I am confronted daily with my sinfulness and inability to ever be pure in my thoughts and deeds.

Humility makes us receptive to God because we have to first acknowledge our fallibility and weakness to seek God’s help. Humble people are open to learning from Him. Humble people get their courage and strength from God.

Honesty and Openness

I believe that God reveals himself to those who are honest with themselves and with Him. We can’t hide our thoughts and feelings from God. Before an all-knowing God, it’s pointless to pretend to be something we are not. Before an all-seeing God, it’s pointless to cover up our thoughts and feelings. God is not fooled or impressed with our pretenses.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

In the psalms, I find the kind of honesty and openness that characterizes a person who is receptive to God’s presence and to the transforming power of the Spirit. David was honest with God about his fears. At times, David felt ignored and rejected by God. He was honest about his frustrations with injustice. In Psalm 10, David asked, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” He then went on to complain at length about the actions of the wicked before acknowledging that God sees the troubles of the afflicted. God hears the cries of the afflicted. God is not indifferent to our suffering. God defends the oppressed. God is here.

Hunger

I eat several times a day. It’s hard for me to ignore hunger and the allure of my favorite foods. I am fortunate that I never have to be hungry for long because food is almost always readily available.

To be receptive to the presence of God, we have to long for God just as much as we long for our favorite snacks. God is readily available. We must long to fill that gnawing spiritual emptiness that exists when we are not fed by God.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:6

Lord, you are here. You are always near, even when it feels like you are far off. You are always on call. I am always in your hands. Thank you for loving me and protecting me from harm. I pray that you will cultivate the elements of my soul that make me receptive to your presence. Search me and show me the errors of my ways. Fill me with your goodness! Give me eyes that see and ears that hear your truth. Amen.

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Apprehending God

The fourth chapter of The Pursuit of God is titled, Apprehending God. Clearly A.W. Tozer wasn’t using the meaning of apprehend that I am most familiar with – to arrest someone for a crime. To avoid confusion, I thought about using the word perceiving in my own title, but then I realized that the nuances of the word apprehend are perfect for the subject. To apprehend is to perceive or understand – to grasp something either physically or mentally.

apprehend – from French appréhender or Latin apprehendere, from ad- ‘towards’ + prehendere ‘lay hold of’

How many people really grasp who God is? To many people, God is unknowable. He is merely an inference or a deduction based on the evidence of creation. Others see God as an ideal or another name for that which is good. You would think that Christians would know God as well as anyone can but for millions of them, God is no more real than he is to non-believers.

Tozer wrote that the scriptures suggest that God is just as knowable as any person or thing we experience with our five senses. Taste and see that the Lord is good. My sheep listen to my voice. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. The implication is that we have the means in our hearts to perceive God just as we have the ability to experience material things with our five senses.

Jesus gives believers the ability to know God. Our spiritual faculties are awakened when we are born again! The Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:6) and it is in spirit that worshipers commune with God.

God is spirit and his worshipers must worship him in Spirit and in truth.

John 4:24

Tozer asked, why then do some Christians know so little about the “habitual conscious communion with God” that is prevalent in scripture? One reason is unbelief. We are prone to doubt the reality of the hidden spiritual kingdom that is all around us. The visible, physical world continuously assaults our five senses. We tend to draw a line between material things and the invisible, spiritual world. But the spiritual is real and constantly present.

Perhaps another reason we don’t commune with God is spiritual laziness. If you want to perceive God, if you want to comprehend the heart of God, you must love and pursue him with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.

Faith enables our spiritual sense to function. Where faith is defective, the result will be inward insensibility and numbness toward spiritual things.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Tozer wrote that we need to break the bad habit of ignoring the spiritual. “For the great unseen reality is God.” If we truly want to seek God, we must seek to be otherworldly. Deliberately choose the kingdom of God as the focus of your interest, even if people think you’re crazy for doing so. Don’t make the mistake of pushing the kingdom of God into the future. The kingdom of God is here and now, existing parallel to our physical world.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Heavenly Father, thank you for the senses that allow me to experience and enjoy the material world. What a beautiful world it is! But the physical world overwhelms my five senses and when it does, I stop paying attention to my spiritual sense. I stop paying attention to you. Help me break my bad habits. Remind me to be still and know that you are God. Holy Spirit, remind me 50 times a day if you have to, that you are with me. As Francesca sings so beautifully,

Holy Spirit You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your Glory God is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your Presence Lord

Jesus, I believe. But sometimes I am a doubting Thomas. Thank you for showing me the heart of God! Thank you for showing me that the kingdom of God is here. When I have my moments of doubt, help me overcome my unbelief!

Father, Son and Spirit, even with my limited faculties, I grasp who you are. I lift my hands up to you in praise and apprehend that you are my God.

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Lord, remove the veil

In chapter three of The Pursuit of God, Removing the Veil, A.W. Tozer wrote about the Holy of Holies, the innermost and most sacred part of the ancient tabernacle in Jerusalem. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place and only once a year during the Day of Atonement. An ornate veil made of blue, purple, and crimson yarn separated the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place where Levites and priests were permitted.

When Jesus was crucified, the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom! The veil that had restricted access to the presence of God was removed, allowing all who believe to freely approach God and hear His voice. When Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins, he opened the door to all worshipers to enter God’s presence.

Of course, God is always present; He is omnipresent. He is everywhere. He reveals himself to us through creation. But we don’t all experience his manifest presence. Even those of us who know He is with us, long for more of Him. My thirsty soul is restless and pants for God. My chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?

Psalm 42:1-2

Tozer asked, since the veil was removed by Jesus death, what prevents us from entering God’s presence? Is there a veil in our hearts that shuts out the light and hides the face of God? Yes, there is a barrier. “It is the close-woven veil of the self-life which we have never truly acknowledged…”

The self-life. The long list of hyphenated sins of the heart: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-indulgence, self-love, self-centeredness, self-promotion, etc.

Self is the opaque veil that hides the face of God from us.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Tozer says that we must bring our self- sins to the cross for judgment. Removing the veil is not an easy or pleasant process. To remove the veil is to tear apart a part of yourself. We can’t do it alone. God must do the work for us. Our job is to yield and put our trust in Him.

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Lord Jesus, thank you for breaking down the barrier between me and my God, for reconciling me to the Father. Son of God, Son of Man, thank you for showing me who God is. You make real to me his never ending love, mercy and forgiveness.

Dear God, please forgive me. I know that my sin separates me from you. I fall short of your glory and am not worthy to be in your presence. And yet my soul pants for you like a deer pants for streams of water. I long for your manifest presence.

Father God, I don’t like to think of myself as self-centered and yet I know that I am too often centered on myself. I struggle with self-righteousness. When I concern myself with the morality of others, it is easy to ignore my own sinfulness. My independence leads to a feeling of self-sufficiency and yet I am not sufficient. I need you.

Lord Jesus, you showed me how to walk in your Light and yet, I still struggle with self-control. You taught me who I should be but there is another power in me that is at war with my mind and my heart. I want to what is good, but I don’t. I want to control my tongue, but I don’t. I want to control my thoughts, but I don’t.

Lord, I can’t do this soul work without you. You are the potter; I am the clay. Mold me into the person I should be. Transform me. Renew me. Tear down the veil in my heart. In the precious name of Jesus, amen.

The Blessedness of a Poor Spirit

Chapter two of The Pursuit of God, The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing, left me feeling uncomfortable with myself. What is fighting for first place in my heart?

Men have now, by nature, no peace within their hearts, for God is crowned there no longer, but there in the moral dusk, stubborn and aggressive usurpers fight among themselves for first place on the throne.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Dear God, I have been doing a lot of soul searching since I read what A.W. Tozer had to say about possessiveness. He called the love of things a disease that takes the place of you in the heart. So I have to ask myself: am I too attached to material things?

Tozer said that the way to have deeper knowledge of you is “through the lonely valleys of soul poverty and giving up all things.” Lord Jesus, this reminded me of the time you challenged a rich man to sell all of his possessions, give the money to the poor, then come and follow you. He walked away sad because he had a lot of possessions. How would I respond if you asked me to sell all my earthly possessions? I have to confess that I don’t want to give away everything I have. But I do want to follow you. And I know that I have everything I need in you.

When I was a kid, we were poor and I didn’t like it. It wasn’t because I had to do without things; it was because people looked down on us and made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. You used physical poverty to teach me that my worth isn’t determined by what I have but by who I am. I learned to have empathy for the “least of these” because I know what it like to be one. I learned that money and things are not the keys to happiness. Thank you for teaching me these things.

Lord, you have blessed me greatly. I have a nice, comfortable home. I have a lot of stuff. Everything I have, I owe to you – not just my physical possessions, but my talents and abilities. More importantly, you paid my spiritual debts in full. Sin had left a crimson stain, you washed it white as snow.

Tozer wrote about Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to you. Even though he was a rich man, he possessed nothing. This, Tozer said, is the spiritual secret. The secret is not to have nothing; it is to possess nothing. It is to renounce possessions and to make you the real treasure of the heart.

I know, God, that it isn’t just things that take your place in my heart. Sometimes for me, it is the desire for social acceptance and approval or the desire to be in control. Lord, thank you again for all you have given me. Please reveal all the things that fight you for first place in my heart and root them from my heart.

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Jesus Paid It All

  1. I hear the Savior say,
    “Thy strength indeed is small;
    Child of weakness, watch and pray,
    Find in Me thine all in all.”
    • Refrain:
      Jesus paid it all,
      All to Him I owe;
      Sin had left a crimson stain,
      He washed it white as snow.
  2. For nothing good have I
    Whereby Thy grace to claim;
    I’ll wash my garments white
    In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.
  3. And now complete in Him,
    My robe, His righteousness,
    Close sheltered ’neath His side,
    I am divinely blest.
  4. Lord, now indeed I find
    Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
    Can change the leper’s spots
    And melt the heart of stone.
  5. When from my dying bed
    My ransomed soul shall rise,
    “Jesus died my soul to save,”
    Shall rend the vaulted skies.
  6. And when before the throne
    I stand in Him complete,
    I’ll lay my trophies down,
    All down at Jesus’ feet.

Following hard after You

I’ve already gotten off to a wrong start. It feels like I’m treating the pursuit of God like just another academic exercise. But this isn’t about my head; it’s about my heart. This is between me and my God.

Dear God, I want to know you. I want to find you. In every season, in every moment, before I bring my need, I will bring my heart and seek you first.

Lord, thank you for seeking me before I sought you. You drew me to you when I was just a little girl learning about Jesus. You’ve been there for me in all the good times and in all my difficulties. You’ve never left me, even when I wandered away from you. You put the desire in me to follow you. I don’t know why you chose me but I am so grateful that you did. Even as I continue to seek you, I take comfort in knowing that I am already in your hands.

Yes, I continue to seek you even though I found you long ago. I know you but I want to know you more. I already have you but I want more of you. I feel your presence and yet I long to be even closer to you. To most of the world, my pursuit of you is a mystery. I can only say that I believe in you. I adore you. I need you. I belong to you. I am Yours and you are mine.

I want to follow hard after you, Lord but I confess that I am too easily distracted by less important things. I am spiritually lazy. I tell myself that if only I had a quiet, secluded place and more time, I would focus more on you. But that is just an excuse, Lord. You’re right here. In every moment, in every place, you are with me. Give me the discipline to make time for you.

Lord, you created my inmost being. You have searched me and you know me, inside and out. You perceive my every thought. Before a word leaves my lips, you know it. I cannot hide anything from you. All the days of my life were written in your book before one of them came to be.

God, you are everything I need all wrapped up in One. You are my reason for being. You give my life purpose. You guide me. You shelter me in the storms of life. You are my rock and my redeemer. There is no greater love than the love you have for me. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me.

Lord, I pray that your Spirit will guide me as I follow hard after you. Search me and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. Show me my offensive ways and give me the courage to face the truths about myself that only you can reveal. Amen.

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In the first chapter of The Pursuit of God, “Following Hard after God,” A.W. Tozer wrote about prevenient grace. The grace of God precedes human action. As Tozer put it, “before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man.” God must enlighten us and put the urge in us to purse him.

Tozer wrote that all human interactions are a response of personality to personality. God created us in his image so we have the capacity to know him. Some of our social encounters are casual and others are more full and intimate. Genuine religion “is in essence the response of created personalities to the creating personality, God.” Just as it takes more than one encounter to really know a person, it takes more than one encounter to know God. I love this image of God as a multi-faceted personality who knows my emotions and desires so well.

For those of us who wish that God would speak to us audibly, Tozer has encouraging words: “God communicates with us through the avenues of our minds, our wills, and our emotions.” He goes on to say that the “continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the spirit of the redeemed man is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion.” This is a perfect description of prayer – spirit speaking to Spirit with the mind and the heart. It is raw, honest, and unembarrassed, just like Psalm 139.

Tozer wrote that complacency is the enemy of spiritual growth. Some people, once they have been “saved” or have “accepted Christ,” are not hungry or thirsty for God. They are self-satisfied. They practice religion with no “jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego.” This is a shame because God does not want us to be lukewarm. He is a jealous God.

Tozer wrote that to have found God and to still pursue him is a paradox of love. This pursuit is a desire scorned by the self-satisfied but it is the joy of those whose hearts burn for God. The Spirit gives birth to spirit and when we are reborn, we sense our kinship with God. Our spirit leaps in joyous recognition. I am a child of God!

To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.

A.W. Tozer

Tozer’s advice for those of us who are determined to find God is to simplify our approach to Him. Strip down all the religious teaching to the essentials of our faith. Come to God as a child, without any pretenses.

Here I am God, your little girl. Fill my longing heart.

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