Have you ever looked at modern day Christianity in comparison to the Bible and thought to yourself, “I must be missing something.” Such was the case with A.W Tozer. A relatively unknown preacher early in his ministry, Tozer became increasingly aware of the radical joy he saw in great men of God such as the Apostle Paul and the disciples. But when he looked upon professing Christians in his own congregation, he saw a religious faithfulness with a lack of passion. He saw a legalistic approach to worship, as if they came to church just because it was the thing to do.
The result was religiously obedient people who were lacking in joy.
In the late 1940’s, Tozer was under an incredible burden due to this realization. Tozer wrote, “The sight of the languishing church around me, and the operation of a new spiritual power within me, have set up a pressure impossible to resist.”
Tozer received an invitation to preach in McAllen Texas and had to take a long train ride in order to get there. Alone on the train, he had ample time to put his thoughts and concerns down on paper. Tozer wrote all day long, ate a single piece of toast for dinner, and then continued writing throughout the night. He said that the words sprung forth in his mind almost quicker than he could write them down because of this burden of his heart. When Tozer arrived in Texas the next morning, the rough draft of what would become his infamous book, “The Pursuit of God” was complete.
This burden over the lack of passion within the church became the heart cry of Tozer’s ministry. He wrote, “The gravest question before the church is God Himself, and the most critical fact of man is not what he, at a given time, may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. Always the most revealing thing about the church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him, or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech.”
From a very young age, Tozer saw the riches that would lie in fellowshipping with God. He described himself as being “a thirst for God.” When Pastor Tozer would enter his office at the church each morning, the first thing he would do is lie face down on the floor in prayer. Prayer was so precious to Tozer. In fact, one time he was scheduled to speak at a conference and he forgot to show up, missing the conference all together. A.W Tozer had gotten so caught up in his prayer time with God that he completely lost track of time. When asked why he missed, Tozer replied, “I had a more important appointment.”
What made A.W Tozer’s heart aflame with such a burning passion for God? What birthed this insatable hunger for God that is all but foreign to many professing believers in our world today? Tozer wrote, “I am convinced that the lack of great saints in this day is due, at least in part, to our unwillingness to give sufficient time to the cultivation of the knowledge of God.” Tozer once wrote in a prayer, “Oh God, I have tasted thy goodness and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. Show me thy glory, I pray thee, that I may know Thee indeed.”
A.W Tozer possessed a different kind of faith. It was faith that is alien to the great majority of people that attend churches today. Today’s Christians have a religious obedience, much like a person would show up to a job they find no joy in. The employee shows up to work because in his mind, it is what must be done. But internally, there is no joy, no satisfaction, and no hunger for more knowledge within his toil.
Have you ever asked yourself, “What is it that we are missing?”
In the book of Exodus, Moses had gone up upon the mountain to receive the law of God, and when he descended, he found that the people were worshipping a golden calf. Ultimately, God was merciful to His idolatrous people. And Moses goes on to make a startling request of God.
“Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” Exodus 33:18
Now Moses had already seen the glory of God aplenty. He was witness to God speaking through the burning bush, he was privy to seeing the Red Sea parted for the people, and Moses was there when God afflicted Pharaoh and his kingdom with the plagues. Yet Moses wanted more of God.
Years later, it was King David who wrote in Psalm 27,
“One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek; That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord”
David’s one desire was not more wealth, or more power. His one passion was that he would hunger to seek more of God and in that begin to behold the beauty of God. In Psalm 27:8, David went on to say, “When you said, “Seek my face”, my heart said to you “Your face Lord, I will seek.”
Notice seeking the face of God was not a burden or a duty for King David. It was something his heart cried for. It was a passion. King David also described his yearning for God as a deer panting for water. In the same way, he thirsted for God. Paul had this same passion for God even decades after God had shown Himself on the road to Damascus.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Philippians 3:7-8.
Notice Paul echo’s the words written by A.W Tozer, King David, and Moses in regards to knowing God. There was, within their faith, a thirst that could not be quenched. A fire that would not be smite to know more of God.
We can look back to the Puritans and see this same thirst for God. John Bunyan was persecuted and imprisoned for preaching Christ. Bunyan stated, “God is the only desirable good. Nothing without Him is worthy of our hearts. The life, the glory, the blessedness, the soul satisfying goodness that is in God is beyond expression.”
This was a man who had lost his freedom for preaching Christ. He was not rewarded for his faithfulness, at least on this side of Heaven, as many believe God owes us today. Yet in his prison cell, John Bunyan was completely satisfied, feeling entitled to nothing, and instead feeling as if he had everything in the surpassing joys of simply knowing Christ.
Saint Augustine battled his lust of the flesh for years. But after he had come to know the Lord, he called the sins he once desired “fruitless joy” in comparison to knowing God. Much in the same way, German reformer Martin Luther literally agonized over the book of Galatians and the epistles of Paul because he so desperately wanted to know the true God of scripture.
So in looking at the desire for the knowledge of God in these men, why is it that this is such a far cry from what we see in the typical church in our society today? What is it that these men of God possessed that we are missing in contemporary Christian circles? We live in a culture where our prayers to God are centered more around giving us something, be it healing or prosperity, rather than praying as our top request that God would give us more of Himself.
Why is it no one today prays, “Lord, show me your glory?” Why did men in scripture and lovers of God throughout history have such a passion to know God, yet we are so indifferent? Was it because they just knew God better than we do today? Or is it because that this idea of God that we hold in our minds today is so far beneath the true God of scripture? Are we following a God of our own imaginations? Are many of todays professing believers worshipping a God that they have merely inherited from past generations?
If it has been proven that the end result of truly knowing God is a radical, passionate, hunger for more of Him, then we are forced to look at the stagnant state of many churches today and ask…..
Do we really know the God of the Bible?
Because if we truly knew Him, according to the men of scripture and the theologians who walked before us in history, we should have a hunger to know Him and constantly desire more of Him.
Could it be that we really don’t know the God of the Bible?
To answer this question, we must individually ask ourselves, “What do you believe about God?” Not what your church, or parents, or Sunday School teacher say you should believe. But personally, ask yourself what you believe about God. Ask yourself what is the greatest prize in Christianity. Many Christians would say that it is eternal life. Others would quip that the joys of Heaven would be the treasure. But according to scripture, the greatest treasure of the Christian life is to possess the knowledge of God.
The typical picture of knowing God today looks something like this. A person walks an aisle under conviction, says a prayer, and commits being a part of the body life of the church when possible. But there is no further hunger, no desire within to wrestle with and pursue the knowledge of God through prayer and personal study. Its merely a spoon fed faith. The scary part of this picture it is void of the one thing that Jesus desires as proof of salvation, a personal relationship.
This would be much like a husband and wife desiring to commit to one another in marriage, and after the ceremony, seeing each other only a few times a week. Only getting to know each other through what others said about them, and never personally engaging with each other in private. We would say that a marriage such as this would be void of relationship and that although they may say they loved one another, their actions proved otherwise. So how is it that we can justify this same behavior as relationship worthy when it comes to God? So many take no pleasure in a relationship with God. We actually joke about sermons on Sunday morning and their length. We are at times more concerned about getting out on time than desiring more of God.
Going back to the marriage example, try telling your spouse that your time with them is bound to a clock. And when that time is up, you don’t want to hear anymore from them. So again, my question is, with an attitude like this, can we honestly claim that we love and even desire to know Him? We have formed having a relationship with God into an image that makes us comfortable, and in so doing, many have deceived themselves into believing that they know God when instead, they may be strangers that know some things about Him.
Are we so casual with God in our world today because we just know Him so well? Or is it because contrary to what we may believe, we hardly know Him at all?
John 17: says, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Notice the last sentence of that verse. Eternal life is not the joys of Heaven or even eternal life itself. Eternal life is knowing God. That is our joy, and if we are truly followers of Christ, knowing God is our passion. According to Jesus, this is a mark of those that have been given to Jesus. Where on earth did we fall into this once a week customer mentality that our world has come to embrace? This is a false salvation if anyone would think this certifies a true relationship with God.
Much of modern evangelical culture has become flippant about worship, bored by God, and distorted what it Biblically means to KNOW God. In a collection of hymns and prayers, the book “The Valley of Vision” says this; “If your mercy to me Oh God is poverty and strife, blessed be your name.”
To properly understand this, we must think about what is being said. Mercy is a punishment that we as sinners deserve, but God has saved us from. What do we deserve? Eternal Hell. So if to save me from this eternal punishment, God’s mercy towards me is to simply make me a pauper and have a tough life, according to the Puritans, we should praise His name. Why? Because anything this side of Hell given to us is grace. And grace is a gift we receive but do not deserve. But again, our world doesnt view God like this. We become enraged and even begin to doubt God when things are not going well in our lives.
In short, God saving us from Hell is just not good enough. Modern day church culture feels God owes them for merely being on His team. But if we have a right understanding of the Hell that we were saved from, then we view life differently. Be it cancer, the loss of a loved one, or financial strife, if I truly know God and who He is in light of who I am, then I can say through the hardest of times, echoing Paul, “To live is Christ, to die is gain!” Anything better than eternal torment Hell is viewed as mercy.
“Lord I have cancer, but blessed be your name for your mercy in saving my soul.”
“Lord, my loved one has died, but in my mourning, I blessed be your name, you are too good to me for saving my soul.”
“God I have lost everything, but oh, the riches I have found in just knowing you. Tis more than is more than I deserve.”
The grace and mercy of God towards sinners should never be overshadowed by the hardships of our lives. This is not to say that we don’t mourn in loss or grieve in trials. But rather, though it all instead of raging against God for what we don’t have, we remember how good He has already been towards us in giving us the gift of His son Jesus. Through trials, if we truly know Christ, we can say as Job;
“Though he slay me, I will hope in him;” Job 13:15.
We have a mentality, even in the church, that says ‘I serve God, and in return He owes it to me to give certain things.” This only proves that in this thinking, we really don’t know God. In truth, nothing is more satisfying than knowing our God. There are many counter fit ways of knowing God. For starters there is knowing God by hear say. For example, this is someone who would say, “My preacher says….” Or “Well my father says this about God….” or “I read in a book about God…” This is second hand knowledge of knowing God, but not first hand knowledge. If we only have second hand knowledge or spoon fed knowledge and no knowledge reaming from our own intimate time in the word, then we truly don’t know God. And sadly, this is a false type of knowledge that many professing Christians stake their faith on today.
Textual knowledge is also a false knowledge of God. This is someone who would say, “I believe everything in the Bible….I just don’t know much about it.” Or saying, “I love the Lord and believe in the Bible, I just don’t seek him for myself. “This is mistaking an allegiance to the Bible for an actual relationship with God. People will make excuses by saying things like, “Im just not good at reading my Bible”, but in actuality they are just exposing that there is a lack of passion in their lives because they’ve yet to realize the beauty of our savior.
Consider the passion of Paul, David, Moses, and men who walked with God all throughout history. There is a constant pattern in their lives that is marked by an obsession with God. They have come to know Him…truly know Him. And due to this, they desire to know more about Him.
This was the result of true knowledge of God.
“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24.
This is what delights the Lord. Not our church attendance, and not our attempts at good deeds. The one things that God delights in and says we can actually boast in is knowing Him. Do you know God, or just know some things about Him? Do you have a personal intimate time of building a relationship with Him, or do you rely on second hand knowledge only from a Pastor or teacher? Can you, as Jeremiah said, boast in the fact that you truly know Him and have found His deep mercies towards you more precious than the air you breath, or do you feel God owes you?
God’s great mercy and grace towards His children is more than we deserve. And if His mercy towards me be poverty and strife, blessed be His Holy name. Though He slay me, my hope is in Him. I pray sovereign God, show us your glory. As the Apostle Paul said, let us count all things, good and bad, as loss…garbage…when compared to the innumerable riches and joys of knowing you. You are more than enough to satisfy my soul. Amen.