Ten Days with Tozer

“How did I ever manage to live to the age of 51 without having ever once picked up a book written by A.W. Tozer?” That’s the question that I will be asking myself for some time to come, I suppose. This past Friday, I finished up ten days of devotional time spent with The Pursuit of God and my delight in finally having given myself over to Tozer is only matched in intensity by the force with which I have been kicking myself for not having read him sooner.

A.W. Tozer in 1956.

I suppose that I would very much like to gloss over this obvious error by pointing out that, after all, there are hundreds of faithful and wise Christian authors and no one person can possibly keep up with them all. Right? But this lame excuse will not pass muster for even half a minute as my wife read The Pursuit of God four years ago and very nearly begged me to please give it a shot. Making my humiliation complete, Shelly and I have handed out several copies of this devotional to other people! We have been doing this for at least a few years at the end of every semester of DivorceCare – along with her strongest-possible recommendation to the “graduates.”

Apparently, I need to re-dedicate myself to living out Proverbs 12:15: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”

In his book, 50 People Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Spiritual Giants of the Faith, Warren Wiersbe offers the briefest of biographical sketches of the man, preferring to focus largely on the influence that Tozer both felt and contributed to the category of Christian Mysticism, an unfortunate and very-misleading term in that the word “mysticism” carries a lot of negative freight. In a nutshell, Tozer simply believed that the Presence and Truth of God was something every Christian needed to seek in every time, place and event. In short, he actually believed that everyone belonged to God (Ezekiel 18:4) and was inhabited by God, and it was the Christian’s delight – and duty – to constantly seek Him out. Of Tozer, Wiersbe writes:

I heard him preach many times – always with profit – and waited for his books to be published as impatiently as a detective-story addict waits for the next installment of the current serial. I still reread his books regularly, and always find in them something new to think about. There was an intensity about his preaching, as there was about his writing. Tozer walked with God and knew him intimately. To listen to Tozer preach was as safe as opening the door of a blast furnace!

For those who might be inclined to learn from my serious mistake in previously passing over Tozer’s work, Wiersbe recommends that neophytes begin their adventure with The Pursuit of God and then move on to The Divine Conquest followed by The Knowledge of the Holy, both of which I plan to acquire as soon as possible.

My reasons for having been so immediately impressed are fairly straightforward, though I am certain that this list will only continue to grow.

  1. Tozer was self-educated, having never gone to college or seminary. He simply read as much as he possibly could, always asking God to illuminate his mind with the truth of whatever happened to be in view. It is reported, for example, that he read the entire works of Shakespeare on his knees in worship as a means of continually asking God for the wisdom and insight that only He could provide.
  2. Echoing the ache in my own heart, Tozer is clearly not content to “hold right opinions about God” as a pathetic counterfeit for the true, soul-level experience of knowing God in intimate relationship. Although he was not in the least bit opposed to (and very much in favor of) biblical scholarship and education, he simply carried with him the conviction that, while obviously helpful, knowledge about God is insufficient if it is not based upon true relationship with Jesus Christ. Though Tozer did not often quote other authors, he found no better explanation for his position than that of John Wesley, whom he quotes in his preface:
    • Orthodoxy, or right opinion, is, at best, a very slender part of religion. Though right tempers cannot subsist without right opinions, yet right opinions may subsist without right tempers. There may be a right opinion of God without either love or one right temper toward Him. Satan is proof of this.
  3. Tozer’s language is exacting, precise, thoroughly biblical and captivating. Let me say it like this: If an author can grab my caffeine-free attention early in the morning, without having to contend with random thoughts of an imminent breakfast or hot tea, he has done something extraordinary.

With that, I will leave it to my wife – who deserves tremendous credit for patiently pushing this volume in front of me on and off for the past few years – to conclude today’s entry with her own thoughts on how Tozer helped her make fundamental shifts in her own life of faith:

It’s been several years since I first read Tozer’s book, and I’ve been pestering my husband ever since to pick it up. Stubborn, arrogant man that he is, he is slow to take my suggestions and slower still if I repeat them very often. In fact, the more often I tell him he should do something, the less likely he is to do it. This really has nothing whatsoever to do with Tozer – just a fun fact regarding Warren E. Mayer that I somehow feel obligated to broadcast far and wide.

I first read Tozer’s book as part of a semester-long Women’s Bible Study at The Crossing. I was still relatively new to Bible studies in general, and as such had no idea why I chose that study, really. I wanted to understand more of what God’s Word had to say about living obediently as a believer in Christ. I wanted to learn.

I’d taken at least a few other studies and they were helpful, to be sure. But if I am remembering correctly, there were a few studies done in close chronological order to each other that really began to help me understand that while learning more about God is good, it isn’t what we Christians are primarily called to. We are called to be in relationship with Jesus Christ; not to just know about Him but to know Him. The Pursuit of God was one of those books that taught me that distinction. It also fanned in me that desire for authentic relationship with Christ.

I remember one week during that study in particular. I took time away from the house to be alone with my Tozer book. I don’t recall why exactly I chose this unlikely place for “quiet time,” but later in the evening when the shopping crowd had thinned out a bit, I was sitting in the food court of the Columbia Mall, reading The Pursuit of God. The scene is still fairly vivid for me; the carousel was going and a few people waited and watched as their kids went around. People were eating a late meal all around me, although no one was very near me at the time. The noises of this public area were muted, but a low constant buzzing. Bits and snatches of conversation would interrupt my reading, and were a reminder to me that I was surrounded by people even as I sought alone time with God.

As I read, a wave of powerful longing came upon me, to really know at a soul level this God to Whom Tozer was pointing. I had this sense that everything around me, very solid and very real just a few minutes prior, was more of a mist, and that God, whom I had never seen, was the True Reality.

I look back on that study – and that night in particular – and think of it as one of the rare, beautiful gifts that God sometimes gives His children. A clear sense that He is all in all, and everything in this temporal world has much less weight and depth than our senses perceive them to have. To use Paul’s words, the eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17) became more real to me as God became more real to me.

Like all believers, I still find that the heat of my belief waxes and wanes. There are times when the burdens and anxieties of this life draw my eyes away and weigh me down. But more and more, Christ lifts my eyes back to Him, and the weight begins to lift as I am reminded of my life hidden with Christ, my Wonderful Counselor, my Good Shepherd, my Friend. I will be forever grateful to A.W. Tozer for helping me decide with finality where my priorities ought to be.

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