I don’t grow as fast as I want to. Ten weeks is shorter than it sounds. I have low output and a low capacity, and I hate myself for it sometimes. But I’m learning to understand and set realistic expectations. All that said because I had hoped to be on approximately “seattle ten” by now. Hah. Here goes.
One morning last week, I woke up and talked on the phone with my friend. We talked about the day and the week and the difficulty of processing what’s in our hearts. I told her about this book I’d just finished reading: The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer. I said it was the most convicting book I have read for awhile. She asked what was convicting about it.
I appreciate being able to talk with friends who respond to my somewhat faltering, intermittent way of speaking with patience. I appreciate reciprocity. I have such a hard time sharing what’s really going on in my head because it’s kind of crazy sometimes, and because you never know who’s going to stay. It takes awhile. Friendship is a long road, but it’s so rewarding when you walk far enough together that you can be unfazed by what you hear. I’m hard to faze anyway…but I assume that others are easily driven away. The best way to put it is a lyric from one of Nick’s songs about me… “If you know her half as well as she knows you, then you know you’re gettin’ there.” It’s usually true. It feels nice to be known by him in that way, but it’s also a line that I suppose makes me disappointed with myself. I’ve read about the enneagram 4 (me, as far as I know: 4 with a 5 wing…if that means anything to ya) that we’ll tend that way. I desperately want to be close to people – closer than most people want to go – but I can’t go there without knowing that those people are going to be forever-friends. So I have to be okay with only having such closeness with a few people. I might not have a group of friends that all know and love each other this way because my closest friends tend to be those who also don’t fit with a group – who just have a few besties, too. Friend is such a unique and serious role to play in someone else’s life…it should be.
So I tell my friend that I’m so convicted because I’m so lacking. I don’t pursue God like I should; I don’t pray like I should; I don’t expect God to be present with me; I choose to do other things when I could spend time seeking him. We talked about uncertainty and that process of doubting God’s existence and then responding to ourselves with the Bible, which we believe to be true. What a funny thing to do, and proof of some faith that still lives. It can be scary and disorienting…can seem unspeakable to have any such thoughts/feelings because you’re supposed to be a church member, a seminary student, a ministry leader. But if no one ever talks about it, no one ever will, right? I talked with my friend about human insanity. It turned out to be something she understood, something she felt in her own way.
When I pray, something happens. When I pray for things people talk to me about, those prayers often are directly answered. When I pray for Nick – in a circumstance or emotion – I see the changes happen, without telling him about the prayer or the change. When I pray for clarity or peace or my own circumstances, my prayers are answered in some way that is clear to me. It’s pretty crazy, and I know that God is not a wish-granter or a vending machine. I think that was hammered into me so hard that I stopped expecting him to answer prayers at all. I stopped thinking he could really hear me. So when he began to respond to me that way…it was like he was saying, “I hear you.” I may never have heard God’s audible speaking voice…but he has been listening to me. This is how he’s teaching me that he’s here, that he’s real – that he’s in the details and the big picture.
So why don’t I pray all the time? What am I doing when I sit down to read the Bible and have some spiritual time, but I close it and move on without a word in God’s direction? What am I afraid of? That he won’t answer, or that he will? That if he’s in my life and in this world, I might have to change something? That I might be committed to following him forever and doing things that are scary and uncomfortable? I’m sure I would rather dictate my own life and make choices based on my own will. This tension is nothing new in the Christian life. And yet, there is something so much more comforting about knowing he is taking care and making ways for me to live despite my fear/baggage/inattentiveness. He’s loving me, the unloving, undeserving recipient.
I worry and wonder what God’s doing and what I’m supposed to be doing. But I don’t talk to him about it? What even is that? I laughed over the absurdity with my friend. We noted the ways that we ebb and flow in spirituality. The times Nick has had to sustain our evening prayer life without my input. When all I could muster was “amen” at the end. This not because of anything terrible going on in my life, just for the periodic darkness or the weakness of my heart. It was the first time I had talked to a friend about the fear that we might fall out of this faith and the strange way that God uses what we’re not sure we believe to assure us that we do.
There was about one year when I felt joy and gratitude acutely…and for the rest of my life, I struggle. It’s nice to talk to others who aren’t naturally happy people. Other people who can do melancholy and not be sad or uncomfortable, but find it natural. Yet because I believe that God loves me…isn’t joy/hope/gratitude/happiness the most appropriate, necessary response? And why can’t I muster it the way some can? And does that mean there’s something wrong with me, or something missing in my faith? OR does it mean that I’m well-suited to see the needs, the things to pray for, the people who need love and don’t have it? To be with people who are struggling without blinding them with: BE GRATEFUL LOOK AT ALL THIS JOY! I think this is true. But I know where I need to grow. What to pray for and seek: restore to me the joy of your salvation. Psalm 51 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.
I wanted to write about this Tozer book, though. Man, it brought me around. I have been feeling out of touch – exiled from my internal world. I guess theologians forever have been right about that connection between knowing God and knowing self. Imagine that. As I seek God, it gets easier to see myself. Mystery. Please continue to bear with this scatterbrained post: your patience is appreciated.
At the end of each short chapter, Tozer writes a prayer that deals with the themes he’s just talked about. I need to ask God to, “Begin in mercy a new work of love within me.”
Tozer believed in the need to wake up and remember what we’re here for, and who brought us here. Everything I’m writing about now…just assume that Tozer said it, and I’m processing.
Do I ever experience God’s REAL presence? Why don’t I feel him with me? Have I ever asked for him to show himself, to be here in a special way, to reveal his presence to me? I really haven’t asked, and I haven’t had a great big experience. But why not? People are afraid of giving up whatever fulfills us instead of God. Our “toys” are God’s rivals. I’ve dealt with this before, so I’m good, right? Then what is keeping me from coming close to God and expecting him to be close to me?
Is God more of an inference from accepted evidence, or a person who is real to me?
I need the ability to perceive spiritually. “He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His presence.” (64) “Our pursuit of God is successful just because He is forever seeking to manifest Himself to us.” (65) We might use “near” and “far” to describe our proximity to God, and these are relational terms. I can actually cultivate a spiritual awareness and receptivity – in order to gain the perception I need.
Do we confine God’s word to what we can read in the Bible, or do we recognize that he can still speak to our hearts?
I don’t leave space for God to speak. I move from one word to the next, down the page, close the book, stand up, and move on. We need to be still. Find a way to be still and wait on God: be alone, and bring the Bible. “Then if we will we may draw near to God and begin to hear Him speak to us in our hearts.” The Bible speaks continually for God. Can I breathe in between passages, or sentences, and pause long enough to learn something?
We don’t get much toward a definition of faith in the Bible as a whole – just what Hebrews 11:1 has to say: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Tozer describes faith as “the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” The faithful heart is bent by its intention to look on Jesus forever, and it forms the habit. Faith is focused on the object, not on itself. It’s not self-consciously examining and questioning. It’s seeking something beyond itself. My faith can be pretty self-conscious at times…no surprise.
On believing: “It would be like God to make the most vital thing easy and place it within the range of possibility for the weakest and poorest of us.” (94) Real faith looks pretty simple. It requires nothing fancy. What do we need to do? Pray, meditate on God’s word, serve others, participate in the life of the church…behold God. Anyone can do this, but I like to make things complicated by over-thinking and wondering – could this really be possible for me?
On church: “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?” (96)
It’s important for us to see that salvation is “…not a judicial change merely, but a conscious and experienced change affecting the sinner’s whole nature.” (100) It can be so easy in my denomination to stop with the language of legal change. In talking about justification, we use legal language because it is appropriate to do so. Yet it can sound somewhat cold or sanitized.
Bible teacher: “God took your record of wrongs and applied it to Jesus. He took Jesus’ record of rights and applied it to you.”
Me: *shakes Jesus’ hand* “Thanks, that was unbelievably kind of you.”
Also me: “Jesus died for my sins, and he gave me his righteousness. I’m going to heaven, yay!”
It can’t stop there, given that there’s probably a lot of time between now and that future, so what happens in the meantime?
One of the main questions I had to answer satisfactorily when I interviewed for a ministry position was: “What are justification and sanctification – and how are they different?” One of the main objectives in a class called “Sin, Christ, and Salvation” was to answer this question. These are wonderful things – it’s so important to understand God’s work and how it applies to us. Yet I can define these words so perfectly without feeling myself changed and without living in the presence of God. It’s not enough to watch the courtroom scene and read the sentence we’ve been given (not guilty) if we don’t walk out understanding everything that means for our future.
One of my favorite seminars/sermons I’ve ever heard was about glorification. I’ve listened to this two-part talk about four times. No one in my church background had ever pointed so clearly, so earnestly, and so matter-of-factly to what the future holds if we believe. Contrary to what some might think, this didn’t make me sit back dissatisfied with life, set to wait for that time after death. It didn’t make me wish for everything to look like heaven immediately. It made me want to live in such a way that other people could hear about this…to live in a way that might point toward glory in a world where things really don’t. That doesn’t mean making our houses look like castles. It means exhibiting a knowing joy. Reminds me of yet another favorite passage, 1 Corinthians 15:51-55:
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?'”
If we’re going to believe…we have to realize that we owe God everything. We’ll use everything we have to glorify him. We don’t lose our dignity by offering everything up this way – he has dignified us innately. Any desire for human honor gets squarely in the way of our desire for God. He wants all of us: our heads, hearts, and hands (to borrow a seminary phrase). We can pray that he would have us, that he would be exalted over our possessions, friendships, comforts, reputation, ambitions, preferences, family, health, and life…that we wouldn’t value these things more highly than we value him. If we walk out into the world and feel free from the burden of sin but don’t feel any gratitude or obligation to Jesus for what he did…we don’t really get it, do we?
Rest in Christ is the release from burdens. We’re burdened by pride, pretense, artificiality, competition, posing. We need to stop being fooled about ourselves, as Tozer puts it. We are really weak and helpless, but God gives us tremendous significance. Let God defend you – don’t be defensive. I am so sensitive…SO sensitive. Some people are so defensive – like, defensive before anyone has been on the offensive. We can’t rest until we “…accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend.” (116)
“The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather…he has stopped being fooled about himself…He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring.” (113) Meekness brings peace. This is what I mean by “I don’t really care what people think,” on my very best days. Or at least I mean I’m trying for this. I don’t mean that I disregard people’s feelings or thoughts. I don’t mean that I’m above caring about opinions. I just mean that we have to put those things in their proper place, knowing and being concerned primarily with what God has told us to be true. In a sense, we are looking above the general human murmur because we answer to someone greater.
Everything we do can be done to God’s glory. This is the goal – not to gain approval, success, personal fulfillment, status, wealth, or any kind of personal glory you can think of. The goal is to work at something that will bring God glory, or to do the work set before you in a way that he would approve. Jesus’ life wasn’t divided into sacred/secular categories. There was no spiritual/natural dichotomy for him to navigate. The only dilemma here is one that humans have created. Tozer uses the example of the body to explain this: “God created our bodies, and we do not offend Him by placing the responsibility where it belongs.” (120) So modesty is biblical, but prudery and shame are not. (All these nuggets are from Tozer, not me. I’m just your friendly blogging paraphraser.) I’m grateful to go to a seminary that understands the body this way and encourages us to stop seeing our bodies (and the physical and the world as a whole) negatively. Instead, we interrogate their nature, the way they reflect God, their purpose in his kingdom.
Everything we do can be given up to the kingdom of God, turning life into a sacramental act of worship. This should be “the complexion of our thoughts” and what we practice, meditate, pray…leading to a “restful unity of life.” But it requires “aggressive faith.” (122-123) “Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.” Then nothing we do can be called common. This is something I need to hear… I can affirm this so easily when someone else posts about it on Instagram. I can look at people doing work that the world (or my heart) might not count as Meaningful, and I can see that God makes it meaningful…I can see their commitment to it as sacred. But when it comes to doing the menial tasks of my day…to serving others in small ways…to sacrificing the time I want to spend on Purposeful, Inspiring tasks…I will grumble inside. I have a long way to go.
“I long to live in restful sincerity of heart.” (127) This is from another of Tozer’s prayers. And it’s like…exactly right. I cannot think of a better summary of what I long for and what I find so elusive. I long to live in restful sincerity of heart. Those are words my soul can adopt. It’s a mantra I can get behind. It’s what I will be praying for, as I clear away the distractions and enter a space that will hopefully grow larger forever as God fills it with himself.
There is so much more I could say…so much about the Holy Spirit. So much from a paper I wrote last semester about the kingdom of God. But this is a blog, and it has already taken me three days to write this post. I’m going to let it be.
Music while writing this: The Avett Brothers (Emotionalism) and Horse Feathers (So It Is With Us) – Gonna see Horse Feathers open for Blind Pilot this weekend with another dear friend. EXCITEMENT
Recommendations: The Lowland (book) by Jhumpa Lahiri – my first book-cry of the summer.
And of course, The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer