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.

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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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Photo by Billy Pasco on Unsplash

Contrasting Two Kingdoms

When I read The Myth of a Christian Nation last year, I took a lot of notes about the kingdom of God before launching into a self study of kingdom parables. The author, Gregory A. Boyd, responded to God-and-country believers who conflate religion and politics, by contrasting the ways of the world with the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ’s kingdom is not of this world; if it were, Jesus would have told his followers to fight as the world fights.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

John 18:36

How do you use your power?

The kingdom of this world trusts the power of the sword. Boyd used the word sword to represent more than physical force. The sword symbolizes all the ways people use power over people. Individually, we use power over people to get our own way – to bend people to our own will. The strong use their power over the weak. The rich use their power over the poor.

The government uses its power over people to control the behavior of its citizens. Of course we need laws to protect our rights and to prevent people from harming other people, but there are limits to the power of the sword. Many Christians want the government to use the power of the sword to force people to obey God’s laws. The problem with this is that laws change a person’s behavior but do not have the power to change the heart.

The kingdom of God has a completely different concept of power. It is based on the power of the cross – the power of redemption. When you put your trust in Jesus, he changes you on the inside. When you have been redeemed, you want to follow God’s laws.

The kingdom of this world responds to conflict by engaging in a tit for tat. If we are insulted or injured, we respond in kind – an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. We may hit back even harder, trying to outdo the other person’s meanness. In God’s kingdom, the injured person responds by returning evil with good – turn the other cheek, bless those who curse you.

The hope of the world lies in a kingdom that is not of this world, a kingdom that doesn’t participate in tit for tat, a kingdom that operates with a completely different understanding of power.

Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation

Instead of using power over people to force them into compliance or engaging in a constant tit for tat, Boyd encourages us to use our power differently, following the example of Jesus. When you respond to another person with gentleness and self-sacrificing love, they may see the injustice of their own ways. Love has the power to transform the enemy’s heart. When we return evil with good, we stop the endless cycle of violence fueled by hatred. Let the Spirit purge your heart of bitterness, wrath and anger (Eph. 4:31).

Who is the center of your universe?

In the kingdom of the world, people are motivated by self-interest and personal will. Our culture encourages us to be self-centered, to put the self first. We compete with each other to be on top. We trample each other to get ahead. We covet what others have. Instead of living sacrificially, we are self-indulgent and greedy.

The kingdom of God is based on God’s will and the interests of others. God’s will is that we love others as we love ourselves. In God’s kingdom, we don’t look just to the interest of ourselves, but to the interest of others. We don’t exist to be served but to serve. In the kingdom of God, grace abounds. In the kingdom of God, humility abounds. There is no room in God’s kingdom for selfish, self-important people.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:4 (ESV)

How big is your world?

The kingdom of this world is tribal. We choose sides. We circle the wagons. We ostracize. We build walls to keep people out. We insult and demean others. We look down on and exclude people who are different. We defend our own team at all costs. At our worst, we identify so strongly with our own tribe, we demonize our enemies and treat them inhumanely.

The kingdom of God is full of unconditional love and boundless grace. In God’s kingdom, we love one another, even our enemies. The kingdom of God isn’t limited to people who look like you and act like you. There is room in God’s kingdom for everyone – every racial, sexual, ethnic, and socioeconomic group. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

I long for the kingdom that is not of this place. As I know all too well, it is easy to conform myself to the ways of this world, to engage in selfish power struggles. If I want to be transformed by the Spirit, I must humble myself and become like a child. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

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Scottish Castle Photo by John Roberts on Unsplash

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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