The Sacrament of Living
“Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.”
Laments like that are commonplace among contemporary observers of the church scene. What makes this quotation so noteworthy, poignant in fact, is that it was not written about the contemporary church. It was written in 1948. A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.
Tozer wants to correct the omnipresent sterility in the church. How? By encouraging exactly what the title suggests: the pursuit of God. “The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire.” Or, from one of the prayers with which Tozer ends each of the chapters, he wants us all to say, “I am ashamed of my lack of desire, O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still.”
Right away, we begin to realize that Tozer wrote this book with a particular audience in mind. This is not the book for the person who does not have at least a nodding profession of Christianity. The pursuit of God in the title is not why a non-Christian should start pursuing God. Tozer spends a brief moment having a merry time at the expense of the “idealists” who dispute the reality of things external to the mind and the “relativists” who like to assert there are no fixed Truths.
"These idealists and relativists are not mentally sick. They prove their soundness by living their lives according to the very notions of reality they in theory repudiate and by counting upon the very fixed points that they prove are not there. They could earn a lot more respect for their notions if they were willing to live by them; but this they are careful not to do. Their ideas are brain-deep, not life-deep."
Just so. But this book is also not intended for the subspecies of Christian who wants to delve into the deep waters of theology. There are, Tozer argues, the scribes (those who tell us what they have read) and the prophets (those who tell us what they have seen). People who review books, like this here reviewer, are mere scribes. Tozer is a prophet. Scribes, Tozer laments, have dominated the discussion in the modern church. Scribes do silly things like wonder about predestination and divine sovereignty. “Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints.” We really do not need people who tell us what they have read in books.
So, if Tozer does not want a reader like me who is going to talk about what I learned in a book, whom does he want to read his book? Tozer is a prophet who wants to tell us what he has seen, not what he has read. He sees sterility. He sees Christians who say they believe, but have become stuck in a rut in which God is just some distant Being who may have done a good thing or two (like dying on a cross), but has no immediate relevance in deciding how we live on a Tuesday afternoon. One of the greatest problems, Tozer argues, is the tendency of Christians to divide life into secular and scared spaces. The Pursuit of God is ultimately collapsing those two spaces into one, to pursue God always, at all times and all places. Tozer wants to awaken you from your slumber, to spur you on. This book is a call to action for the somnolent Christian.
Tozer’s audience is thus clear. You don’t read this book to plumb theological mysteries or to get persuasive arguments for why Christianity is true. You read this book because your faith has become sterile and you want to make it fruitful. You read this book because you want a gentle yet firm author telling you what he has seen when he faced God directly.
It starts here: “Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and to bring Him nearer to our own image.” God is the fixed point; He created everything and He is present in everything. Chapter by chapter, Tozer wants to tell you how to lead your life pursing that fixed point and not your own desires.
The fundamental challenge: understand the need for a personal and intimate acquaintance with God. For many Christians, “God is not more real than He is to the non-Christian. They go through life trying to love an ideal and be loyal to a mere principle.” The chapter titles alone tell you what this sort of life it is that Tozer is arguing you should want to live. Apprehend God. Understand that God is universally present. Remove the veil separating you from God. Give up your possessions, your toys. Hear the voice of God. Gaze on the beauty of God. Remember you are a creature, not the Creator. Learn to be meek.
The ultimate call of this book is to practice the Sacrament of Living. All the admonitions point the same way: your life can be spent in the pursuit of God. If you want a patient and insistent guide to learning how to live a life like that, then this is a great book for you. It’s no surprise that the book is still in print; it is far crisper and more direct than most of the similar books being written today. For those who like this sort of thing, it is a book which will happily sit on your bedside table, always ready for another read.