The Pursuit of God is a book that I’ve heard of plenty of times before, but it did not jump out to me as “must read” for quite some time. When a friend of mine was moving away, he happened to have a copy (he previously ran his own Christian book store and had a lot of great material he couldn’t bring with him … I benefitted greatly) and I was happy to add it to my collection.
But it still wasn’t one I immediately thought I needed to get to right away. That is, until I started thinking about the core content of this newsletter and my goals for 2017. As I started to flesh out the content plan for 2017 and beyond, I realized I wanted to do more learning on the topics myself and started looking for materials. And Pursuit of God seemed to fit well, so I added it to the list.
And I’m so very glad to have made that decision.
Tozer reminds me a lot of C.S. Lewis (this book reminds me a lot of Lewis’s Mere Christianity). They both have a way with words; they can communicate massive concepts in simple fashion. Their writing is unlike how you are used to people speaking, yet it’s not hard to read or comprehend. At all. I started on Pursuit of God just after finishing the Confessions of St Augustine and there is a marked difference between the language used. Where as something like Confessions is hard to follow from one sentence to the next, Tozer’s writing flows and I found myself swept away in the ideas he was expressing.
What were those ideas? Chiefly, how each person in Christ can (and should) exercise the gift they’ve been given and deepen their relationship with God. Tozer helps the reader to better understand that God is not far off, he is all around, and is seeking communion with his children. And he does a lovely job of communicating that truth through this short book (126 pages of middling length).
To be sure, the author is also lamenting the spiritual state of the nation at the time. Set in the late 1940’s, he remarks often about the lack of fervour, the lack of the Spirit in the American church. I don’t think he’d be too pleased with things today either, so it was easy to imagine that he was writing to us here and now.
How does this all fit in with The Weekly Review? Going back to the thoughts I shared on the paradox of Christianity, how do our works contribute to our faith and our walk with God, I was glad to see Tozer contribute some fantastic thinking to this subject. Specifically, he makes a great point in the chapter titled The Universal Presence.
In this chapter, he remarks how there have been people throughout history, both in the Biblical account and in the centuries since, who have seemed to experience God in a deeper way than most. He asks the following questions:
Why do some persons “find” God in a way that others do not? Why does God manifest His presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience?
He goes on to answer the question by stating that the difference does not lie with God, but with us. He goes further, stating that these people, the likes of the apostle Paul, the prophets Elijah and Moses, but also Luther and St. Francis and Thomas a Kempis, all had something in a greater degree: spiritual receptivity.
Something in them was open to heaven, something which urged them Godward … They differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing they did something about it. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response.
This begins to sound like shaky ground, putting more emphasis on our works than I am comfortable with. But Tozer immediately refutes that idea:
As with everything good in human life, back of this receptivity is God. The sovereignty of God is here, and is felt even by those who have not placed particular stress upon it theologically.
So if this spiritual receptivity originates with God, what are we to do ourselves? This comes back to the heart of my point in the piece I linked to above. And Tozer’s response is what caused my heart to soar, so glad to have found someone who has articulated the multi-faceted truth so well (emphasis mine):
Receptivity is not a single thing; it is a compound rather, a blending of several elements with the soul. It is an affinity for, a bent toward, a sympathetic response to, a desire to have. From this it may be gathered that it can be present in degrees, that we may have little or more or less, depending on the individual. It may be increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect … It is a gift of God, indeed, but one which must be recognized and cultivated as any gift if it is to realize the purpose for which it was given.
And this gets at the heart of my focus for 2017. Yes, our faith is a gift from God. And our receptivity to him also starts with him. But that gift, like a piece of art you receive from a friend, can be either displayed prominently in your home, or tucked away in the least used room in the basement.
We require godly exercise. This is only possible because of the work of Christ, but it also leads to the sharpening of our spirit, an increase of the receptivity Tozer speaks of.
And so I would heartily recommend The Pursuit of God. It’s the best book I’ve read in some time!
This was a good reminder for me. Jon Bloom shares how he’s adapted his reading goals year over year. What really got my attention was the section titled “We are pursuing transformation, not information.”
God’s purpose in our learning is that we become Christlike (Romans 8:29), not that we become information databases.
Amen. And ouch — that hits home for me. I find it easy to get into the intellectual aspects of theology and study, but personal relationship? That’s another matter. I’ve been quickly working my way through A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God and it has also hits home in a similar manner.
Men of the breaking hearts had a quality about them not known to or understood by common men. They had been in the Presence of God and they reported what they saw there. They were prophets, not scribes, for the scribe tells us what he has read, and the prophet tells us what he has seen.
Oof. Lord, let me be transformed, not merely knowledgable.
Back to Jon Bloom, his reading goal for 2017:
That’s why this year I’ve decided to set my reading goal by hours spent, rather than pages read. I want to stop aiming at volume so I’m freer to linger, meditate, memorize, and record what I need to press deeper into my soul.
It’s so easy to read in order to check off another notch in our reading belt. But we read in order to be changed and that does take time. For myself, my own reading goal was 18 books (up from 12 last year), but also to read better.
Socks from Icebreaker
I have two short but seemingly contrasting convictions.
Spend well when buying products
The first helps me to remember that life is not enjoyed through an abundance of things. Indeed, the older I get, the less I want the headache of managing more “things”.
The second may sound like a contrast, but in reality it supports the first. If you have a need, then make a purchase that will cost you more upfront, but save you time and energy in the long run. A good recent example for me is the socks from Icebreaker.
Now, I realize not everyone gets excited about socks. But I happen to be one who does: there are not many things more enjoyable than pulling on a good pair of socks. And I’ve never experienced better socks than the ones I’ve gotten from Icebreaker.
This is a company where you pay a premium price. I made my first purchase from Icebreaker 3+ years ago, a light jacket that cost over $300. That’s not an insignificant cost for a single income family of six. But it was a great investment: it’s the best jacket I’ve ever owned and is holding up very well.
Fast forward to Christmas 2015 and I receive a pair of Icebreaker socks from my wife. These are amazing socks. They lasted almost an entire year, which is far better than the average 10–12 weeks I might see from the kinds of socks you get in a pack of 6 at Costco. Not only that, but the socks from Icebreaker felt great all year. They begin to form themselves to your feet and, being a good part Merino wool, they rarely had to be washed and did not smell. At all.
So when it came to Christmas 2016, I insisted my wife get me another pair. She got me two, bless her soul. And I followed up on Boxing Day and purchased 3 more pairs. I’m tired of hunting through pairs of polyester bargain socks to find 2 with no holes in them. I’d rather pay $25 a pair than $15 for a six pack of junk that doesn’t last.
Related to that last thought is a subject dear to my heart. Ferris Jabr makes the case for walking above all other activities for doing our best work. He starts:
What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain.
And where as some physical activities require our focus, walking does not:
Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre.
And the end benefit is a worthy one:
Perhaps the most profound relationship between walking, thinking, and writing reveals itself at the end of a stroll, back at the desk. There, it becomes apparent that writing and walking are extremely similar feats, equal parts physical and mental.
There are a few other activities I can add to walking for my own life. Shovelling snow and chopping wood offer the same benefits, allowing my mind to be free while my hands are busy.
And this all fits very well with the idea of meditating productively. I have learned to take these moments to set my mind on a specific problem and come up with a plan. It’s important to also give yourself time to let your mind simply wander, to allow your subconscious to come up with solutions while you ponder other things. But both meditating productively and subconscious thinking benefit from walking.
The Primary Paradox of Christianity: Faith & Works
There is one aspect of Christianity that causes more confusion and uncertainty than any other. At least, that has been my experience. In my life, and from what I’ve seen in the lives of others.
How do my actions contribute to my faith?
This is a heavy concept and I realize it will be so easy for people from all different backgrounds to read some of these words and come away with a different idea than what’s kicking around in my head. But I’ll try my best to articulate it clearly and plainly.
The Bible is a big book and there are times when one verse can seem to contradict another. And that’s why I used the term “paradox” in the title. By definition, a paradox is:
a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true
The key word there is “seemingly”. For a good overview of what makes a paradox, as well as contradictions and mysteries, and how they’re involved in Scripture, see this bit from one of RC Sproul’s books.
And the paradox I’m referring to comes down to faith versus works. There are many verses in the Scriptures exhorting readers to do this or don’t do that. Many passages are practical advice on how to live your life and get along with others. But there are also many other verses that clearly state that salvation comes from faith alone … and that faith is a gift from God. It is not something we can earn, but a gift. And as faith cannot be earned, nor can our salvation.
And so there is a paradox where the Bible seems to be saying two different things. One, my standing with God is dependent wholly on him. Two, my standing with God is largely affected by my actions. Two big ideas that appear to be saying different things.
Let’s back it up just a little. Hopefully, we all agree that our justification (being saved from our sins and declared innocent by God) is not our work. However, the process laid out in Scripture shows that once justified, a person will be glorified by God.
As Romans 8:29–30 points out, our path looks like this:
Foreknown -> Called -> Justified -> Glorified
But before that happens, the process of sanctification takes place. So I find the important question to be “how do my actions contribute to my faith?” For Scripture seems clear that my faith itself starts with God and is a gift, but what after that? Can I lose my faith? Do my actions affect my standing with God?
So the process I mentioned above ends with justification turning to glorification (which is just mind blowing). But something happens in between those two pieces, that is spelled out in many other places in Scripture. Before we are glorified, we are sanctified.
What is sanctification? I like this definition:
Sanctification is the process of being set apart for God's work and being conformed to the image of Christ.
This is the contribution I’m referring to in my big question. The question then, is this: is our sanctification our work or God’s?
I would say both. There are plenty of verses that show God is involved.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
But on the other hand, there are plenty of examples like this:
Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Throughout the writings of Paul, you cannot come away with a sense of his being lackadaisical. Far from it. While he strongly emphasizes the source of this faith (a free gift from God), he also clearly indicates that our very best efforts are required to make the most of this gift. To live for God, day by day.
Louis Berkhof sums this up well in his systematic theology, introducing the section on sanctification:
It is a work of God in which believers cooperate. When it is said that man takes part in the work of sanctification, this does not mean that man is an independent agent in the work, so as to make it partly the work of God and partly the work of man; but merely, that God effects the work in part through the instrumentality of man as a rational being, by requiring of him prayerful and intelligent co-operation with the Spirit. That man must co-operate with the Spirit of God follows: a) from the repeated warnings against evils and temptations, which clear imply that man must be active in avoiding the pitfalls of life; and b) from the constant exhortations to holy living. These imply that a believer must be diligent in the employment of the means at his command for the moral and spiritual improvements of his life.
Kenneth Boa, in Conformed to His Image, puts it this way:
The biblical balance is that the spiritual life is both human and divine … we are responsible to work out, not work for, our salvation. On the divine side, God gives us the desire and empowerment to accomplish his purposes.
That matches so well Philippians 2:12,13 (emphasis mine):
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
We’re to work out our salvation, but it is God who works in us to give us the desire to do so and to enable us to act on the desire.
But trouble comes when we begin to lose sight of the original gift and focus instead on our efforts. It’s easy to go from living and doing through the peace that comes from a right relationship, to bearing burdens we were never meant to carry. To be law-focused, rather than Spirit-led.
So If I’m going to pursue a life of depth, if I’m going to actively pursue God, to seek him and knock on the door, how will I go about it? How can I follow the exhortations I see in Scripture, to be holy as he is holy, without moving my focus from him to my works?
These are exact questions I’d like to answer in 2017.
For newer readers, I shared the direction of this newsletter and the results of a survey last fall. My focus here is to encourage depth & focus for Christians in the digital age and that starts with identifying exactly what role our efforts play in our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Our efforts do not save us from our sins. And they do not affect our legal standing with God. But they do have a part to play on our journey to joining Christ in the fullness of his kingdom and sharing in his glory.
Each month will have one newsletter that focuses on this primary theme. Where do we go from here? Find out next month!
While I’m not crazy about the term “lifestyle design”, this post has some good tips. Srinivas Rao opens the piece by defining the problem of people wanting to “hack their lives”:
When people think of the words Lifestyle Design images of working from a laptop, location independence, The Four Hour Workweek and digital nomads pop into their head. What they don’t think about is the actual work that goes into those accomplishments, all of which are a byproduct of days and environments that have been deliberately designed.
As I shared recently, this quote from Shawn Blanc in Day 3 of The Focus Course nails it:
It’s one thing to be able to define what our most important tasks are; it’s another thing entirely to make the time and put forth the energy to do those tasks.
We’re all good at identifying the things we’d like to do. But having the discipline to sit down and do the work itself is another matter. In this article, Rao uses the term “design” to describe changing your life, but it’s more commonly discussed in terms of habits and routines.
The kind of stuff we care about ‘round these parts!