The Pursuit of God is sort of a book on how to be an evangelical mystic, that is knowing and experiencing God as a personality. Since God is a person, we can cultivate a relationship with Him like any other person. In fact, genuine religion is the response of the created personalities to the Creator-personality. God is inviting us to this relationship, but we need to respond for the invitation to blossom into a relationship. When we come, we will find Him most fully when we come simply, not trying to impress Him with anything (such as our righteousness), but seeking Him alone. When we do, and as we explore the relationship over time, we will have “the continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemed man [that] is the throbbing heart of the New Testament religion.”
One of the barriers to knowing God fully is that our hearts have been given over to things. The “things” were prepared serve us for our usage and enjoyment, but when we rejected God as the occupant of the deep shrine in our hearts, we let “things” occupy that spot. We must remove these things, the process Jesus described as losing our life but finding it; we will have everything yet possess nothing. The process of separating the roots of our heart from the things they have been entwined around is “taking our cross and following Me.” The things can only be torn out violently (for example, Abraham had to come to the brink of sacrificing Isaac after his heart had become entwined around his promised son), but it is this process of renunciation that leads to intimacy with God.
Similarly, the flesh, the self-*, are a veil that separates us from God. Self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-love, etc. prevent us from seeing God. This can only be removed by God, because this is what the flesh is. As we allow Him to remove our flesh, though, we will see the manifest Presence of God, the experiential Presence of God. As we see Him, we will display Him differently, with authority, because we do not just know about Him, but we have experienced Him directly. And our hearts will find the rest which Augustine observes that our hearts are restlessly seeking.
“To most people God is an inference, not a reality. He is a deduction from evidence which they consider adequate; but He remains personally unknown to the individual.” Yet the Bible constantly invites us to experience God personally, takes it for granted, in fact. We are invited to taste and see that God is good and reminded that Jesus sheep hear his voice. So why do you not get this experience in most churches? Because of unbelief—we have separated the world into the material world (reality) and the spiritual world, which is less real. But in reality, the spiritual world parallels the natural world, and as we focus on God we begin to see the things of the spiritual world.
God is everywhere—David says that he could not flee from God’s presence—so why is God not known everywhere? Simply because we do not perceive His Presence; as Jacob said, “surely God was in this place and I knew it not.” Yet some Christians have experienced God’s Presence to a much larger extent than others. These saints are of quite a great variety, and the only commonality between them seems to be that they cultivated an awareness of God’s Presence. “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. They were not disobedient to the heavenly vision.”
God is always Present, and He is always speaking, but He speaks in different forms of clarity. One of the least clear is the universal Voice speaking throughout Creation was called Wisdom by the ancient Hebrews. Tozer believes that genius is tapping into that Voice and floundering trying to incompletely express what is heard, regardless of whether the hearer is a lover or hater of God. The Bible is a clearer form of Voice, one that is also continually speaking. God was not silent before the Bible, spoke while it was written, and became silent afterwards; you cannot hear God’s speaking voice in the Bible until you accept that He is speaking, now, and always, in the universe.
The Bible talks a lot about faith, but shows it in action rather than defining it. However, we can get a good definition, nonetheless. Jesus compares belief in him to looking at the serpent Moses made for healing; from this we can conclude that faith is looking at God in a reliant way. We can refine this further by observing that Jesus said that the source of his power was from watching his Father (John 5:19-21). So faith is continually looking to God. (The opposite is true: unbelief is looking at ourself.) The beauty is that faith, looking at God, is available to us no matter our situation, whether in health and wealth or poverty, oppression, or at death’s door. As we continually look to God, all the things we were trying to fix will start fixing themselves (by the Holy Spirit). As we look at God together as a community, we will grow in unity as well.
Pursuing God requires that we conform ourselves completely to His nature. We owe everything to God, and were created for His pleasure, so the proper creature-Creator is that we exalt God “worshipful submission.” We must choose to exalt God, but we must choose it with our will, not just our mind. Should we be hesitant, we can remember that we are a slave to something, either God or sin, but God’s burden is light. Also, God honors those who honor Him. Tozer also suggests that it is seeking honor from others that gave rise to the Pharisees, and ultimately, to them killing God. When we exalt ourselves instead of God we get self-righteous religion.
An antidote for exalting ourselves is meekness. Meekness is not thinking ourselves as inferior, but thinking of ourselves as God thinks of us. We are weak, yes, but also valued more than the angels. As we see ourselves as God sees us, we can give Him the burden of needing to be validated and we will find rest. This burden is not external, imposed on us, but internal, as we try to protect our self-worth against the slights that come or appear to come against us. Likewise, it delivers us from the burden of pretense, needing for the world to see us without the mess.
Finally, Tozer notes that the (heretical) sacred-secular divide is a major hindrance to rest. We inhabit both the natural and the spiritual worlds, and the Bible does not view our bodies with embarrassment or see our work in the natural life as less than spiritual work. Jesus said that he always did the work of the Father, which included natural acts as well as spiritual ones. It is not the nature of what we do that makes it sacred or secular, but the heart behind it. If we have a heart completely surrendered to God, everything can be sacred. Not everything is of the same importance, but everything can be sacred.
The Pursuit of God is an excellent book. Tozer clearly describes the process of pursuing God and some hindrances, and in so doing he has created a book that really challenges the reader. I found I had to process this book with God after reading one or two chapters, because it was so convicting. I also found that Tozer deftly identified some of the main barriers hindering me from experiencing God, barriers that I sort of was vaguely aware, but which he crystallized out.
I have been a little surprised that evangelicals like this book, partly because Tozer blasts evangelicals and fundamentalists (not extreme conservatives, the branch of evangelicals created in reaction to liberal theology) in pretty much every chapter, while advocating a relationship with God closer to Charismatics or Catholic mystics than the obey-God, do His work “relationship” that was what I experienced in 20 years of evangelical churches. On the other hand, he seems solidly evangelical in that it is the Word that God speaks through most clearly; no direct revelation or conversations of the Charismatics, and no visions and mystical experiences of the mystics. Yet even so, he talks about perceiving God, so regardless of the means of revelation, the experience he describes is decidedly different than the analytical approach of evangelical Bible study.
The Pursuit of God describe the components for a personal, experiential, mystical relationship with God more clearly than any other book I have read. (At least, it seems like it; I do not consider myself to have arrived anywhere close.) I read a book relating the experiences of a spiritual child of Father Porphyrios, a 20th-century priest who lived in Greece who was recently canonized as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox church. Father Prophyrios’ relationship with God did not seem to get passed down to the author of the book, which left me wondering what it was that made the saint different. Tozer clearly identifies it, most notably, to my mind, the complete surrender of the will to God in loving exaltation and the possession of nothing (not in lack of ownership, but in the sense of things owning you). The clarity of Tozer’s insights and writing will challenge and direct readers for decades to come.
- We cannot come to God unless God first draws us, yet if we do not come, the drawing will be in vain.
- God is a person, so a relationship can be cultivated like any other person. And like any relationship, it takes time to explore it.
- Genuine religion is the response of created personalities with the Creating Personality.
- “He communicates with us through the avenues of our minds, our wills, and our emotions.” (13)
- “The continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemed man is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion.” (13-14)
- As we know God, we become hungrier to know Him better.
- Moses asked to see God’s glory, and God was pleased with his request.
- To come to God we must come simply. “We must put away all effort to impress, and come with the guileless candor of childhood.” (18)
- Seeking God-and is evil, and prevents us from finding Him fully.
- The author of The Cloud of Unknowing recommends for prayer, “‘it sufficeth enough, a naked intent direct unto God without any other cause than Himself.’” (19)
- God is the richest treasure one may have.
- “Before the Lord God made man upon the earth He first
prepared for him by creating a world of useful and pleasant things for
his sustenance and delight. In the Genesis account of the creation
these are called simply ‘things.’ They were made for man’s uses,
but they were always meant to be external to the man and subservient to
him. In the deep heart of the man was a shrine where none but God
was worthy to come. ...
“But sin has introduced complications and has made those very gifts of God a potential source of ruin to the soul.
“Our woes began when God was forced out of His central shrine and ‘things’ were allowed to enter.” (21)
- The constant use “my” and “mine” are the real nature of unredeemed man. “The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended.” (22)
- Keeping on to “things” is what Jesus is talking about when he says that those who save their life will lose it.
- The only effective way to destroy our need for things is to “take our cross and follow me.”
- “The blessed ones who possess the Kingdom are they who have repudiated every external thing and have rooted from their hearts all sense of possessing. These are the ‘poor in spirit.’ ... Though free from all sense of possessing, they yet possess all things. ‘Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’” (23)
- The best illustration of dying to things is Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham’s heart was perilously attached to Isaac, so God told him to sacrifice Isaac. That night, Abraham must have wrestled with God, and since God had promised an uncountable number of descendants, if he sacrificed Isaac, God must be going to raise him back from the dead. And when Abraham had irrevocably committed himself to sacrificing his son, the rootlet had been pulled up and God told him not to kill Isaac. “Now he was a man wholly surrendered, a man utterly obedient, a man who possessed nothing. ... He had [much wealth], but he possessed nothing. There is the spiritual secret.” (27)
- This can only be learned through experience.
- “Our gifts and talents should also be turned over to Him. They should be recognized for what they are, God’s loan to us, and should never be considered in any sense our own.” (28)
- The rootlet does not go easily; it must be torn out by violence and in agony.
- To grow in intimacy with God requires the path of renunciation.
- God made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him (Augustine). But we revolted, and now we have fled from God’s manifest presence (we can’t flee from His universal presence). Jesus died so we could be restored to the place where we experience His manifest presence.
- The most important part of the Tabernacle was that God’s Presence was there. (Yet the church today [written in 1942] is content with the judicial possessions and not the personal experience.
- The Presence of God in-between the cherubim was called the shekinah glory, and when the Temple was obsoleted, the Holy Spirit’s glory rested on each disciple as tongues of flame.
- “Hearts that are ‘fit to break’ with love for the Godhead are those who have been in the Presence and have looked with opened eye upon the majesty of the Deity. Men of the breaking hearts had a quality about them not known to or understood by common men. They habitually spoke with spiritual authority. 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 what he has seen. ... Between the scribe who has read and the prophet who has seen there is a difference as wide as the sea. We are today overrun with orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they?” (43)
- The veil which separates us from God is the self-*: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love, etc.
- The veil can only be removed by God, because this is our very flesh, and to kill it means killing us, and we cannot do it.
Ch. 4: Apprehending God
- “To most people God is an inference, not a reality. He is a deduction from evidence which they consider adequate; but He remains personally unknown to the individual.” (49)
- “The Bible assumes as a self-evident fact that men can know God with at least the same degree of immediacy as they know any other person or thing that comes within the field of their experience. ... ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.’ ... ‘My sheep hear my voice.’ ‘Blessed are the pure in hear, for they shall see God.’” (51)
- It is assumed henceforth that one must be saved before one can experience this. However, you would expect Christians to experience it, yet walk into most churches and they won’t be experiencing it.
- This is because of unbelief: we (Christians) believe that the material world is real and the spiritual world is less real.
- (The Christian view of reality is what exists when you aren’t thinking about it. Philosophers that prove that nothing exists unless we are thinking about it, or that there is no such thing as reality are fooling themselves—they live their lives as if there were an actual, external reality. The people who live as if reality were relative or defined by themselves are madmen, but it is only because they act as if their beliefs are true.)
- “Our uncorrected thinking, influenced by the blindness of our natural hearts and the intrusive ubiquity of visible things, tends to draw a contrast between the spiritual and the real; but actually no such contrast exists. The antithesis lies elsewhere: between the real and the imaginary, between the spiritual and the material, between the temporal and the eternal, but between the spiritual and the real, never. The spiritual is real.” (56-7)
- We can’t push the other world into the future; it parallels our world, and they are accessible to each other.
- “As we being to focus upon God the things of the spirit will take shape before our inner eyes.” (58)
- Divine immanence is “necessary to all truth as the primary colors are found in and necessary to the finished painting.” (61)
- God dwells in all His creation; wherever you go, God is here.
- Few Christians believe it fully.
- This is not pantheism; God is completely of a difference kind than the created things. Matter, law, and mind are not self-causing.
- “Adam sinned and in his panic, frantically tried to do the impossible: he tried to hide from the Presence of God. David also must have had wild thoughts of trying to escape from the Presence, for he wrote, ‘Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?’” (63)
- So why is God not celebrated everywhere? Because His Presence is not perceived. Jacob says “surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not.”
- The manifest Presence is when we are aware of His Presence.
- “God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His Presence. On our part there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work it is to show us the Father and the Son. If we co-operate with Him in loving obedience God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.” (64)
- (The use of “light of His face” is consistent with Bill Johnson saying that the experience of God is use experiencing the face of God.)
- The thing in common among the great variety of great saints is that they were spiritually receptive.
- “Something in them was open to heaven, something which urged them Godward. Without attempting anything like a profound analysis I shall say simply that they had spiritual awareness and that they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing in their lives. 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. They were not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” (67)
- Failure to acquire this receptivity has resulted in the shallowness of evangelicalism, which tries to make up for it by doing.
- John 1:1 immediately suggests that it is the nature of God to speak.
- It is a low view of God to think that he made creation by contact with physical things; the Bible says that He simply spoke. God’s words create something from nothing, order from chaos.
- God is always speaking.
- “God did not write a book and send it by messenger to be read at a distance by unaided minds. He spoke a Book and lives in His spoken words, constantly speaking His words and causing the power of them to persist across the years.
- “This universal voice [of God constantly speaking] was by the ancient Hebrews often called Wisdom, and was said to be everywhere sounding and searching throughout the earth, seeking some response from the sons of men.” (76-77)
- “This universal Voice has ever sounded, and it has often troubled men even when they did not understand the source of their fears. Could it be that this Voice distilling like a mist upon the hearts of men has been the undiscovered cause of the troubled conscience and the longing for immortality confessed by millions since the dawn of recorded history?” (77)
- “When God spoke out of heaven to our Lord, self-centered men who heard it explained it by natural causes: they said, ‘It thundered.’” This habit of explaining the Voice by appeals to natural law is at the very root of modern science.” (77-78)
- “It is my own belief ... that every good and beautiful thing which man has produced in the world has been the result of his faulty and sin-blocked response to the creative Voice sounding over the earth. ... Could it be that a genius is a man haunted by the speaking Voice, laboring and striving like one possessed to achieve ends which he only vaguely understand?” (79)
- They may have missed God or spoken against Him; we need the revelation of the Bible and faith in Jesus to bring us to communion with the Voice.
- This Voice is friendly (because Jesus died so to restore us).
- The process of hearing the Voice: “I think for the average person the progression [of hearing God speak in our hearts] will be something like this: First a sound as of a Presence walking in the garden. Then a voice, more intelligible, but far from clear. Then the happy moment when the Spirit begins to illuminate the Scriptures, and that which had been only a sound, or at best a voice, now becomes an intelligible word, warm and intimate and clear as the word of a dear friend.” (81)
- We cannot experience the Bible as living until we accept that God is speaking in His universe. If we think that God was silent, then spoke in a book, and when He was finished, He became silent again, that is hard to believe.
- We can’t have the attitude that the Book was spoken once; it is speaking now.
- Faith one of the main things the Bible teaches. The Bible does not define what faith is, though, it only shows what it looks like.
- Jesus compares the son of man being lifted up to the serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness; whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:14-15, Num 21:4-9) Comparing the two passages suggests that looking and believing are the same thing.
- “... faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” (89)
- Other passages similarly suggest looking at God are Ps 34:5, Ps 123:1-2, Matt 14:19 (Jesus looks to heaven while blessing and breaking the bread), John 5:19-21 (Jesus’ power came from continually looking at God)
- “From all this we learn that faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the Triune God.” (90)
- Looking at God/Christ will start fixing all the things that we were trying to fix ourselves (since the Holy Spirit is willing that process)
- “Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus. ... Unbelief has put self where God should be ...” (92)
- Note that since faith comes from the heart, it is always available, no matter your situation, level of oppression, health, etc.
- A note on unity: when everyone focuses on the same thing, you automatically become unified, but when you focus on unity you cannot become unified. “Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified.” (97)
- True happiness lies in the proper Creator-creature relationship. Salvation is the restoration of that relationship.
- “A satisfactory spiritual life will begin with a complete change in relation between God and the sinner; not a judicial change merely, but a conscious and experienced change affecting the sinner’s whole nature. The atonement in Jesus’ blood makes such a change judicially possible and the working of the Holy Spirit makes it emotionally satisfying.” (100)
- We owe everything to God, so the only proper relationship is that He be lord and us be completely submitted.
- “The pursuit of God will embrace the labor of bringing our total personality into conformity to His. And this not judicially, but actually. I do not here refer to the act of justification by faith in Christ. I speak of a voluntary exalting of God to His proper station over us and a willing surrender of our whole being to the place of worshipful submission which the Creator-creature circumstance makes proper.” (102)
- This is cause a rift with respect to us and the world.
- “Be thou exalted” must be the point that our heart aims for and returns to when blown off-course.
- Exalting God does not degrade us, but rather exalts us to the place of being in God’s image.
- If you aren’t crazy about surrendering your will, we must be the servant to something, either God or sin. “The sinner prides himself on his independence, completely overlooking the fact that he is the weak slave of the sins that rule his membrs.” (104) By contrast, the Master’s yoke is easy and His burden light.
- God said “Those that honor me I will honor.” Hence, it is a good idea to honor God. The story of Eli the priest illustrates what happens when you don’t honor God
- “Another saying of Jesus, and a most disturbing one, was put in the form of a question, ‘How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God alone?’ If I understand this correctly Christ taught here the alarming doctrine that the desire for honor among men made belief impossible. Is this sin at the root of religious unbelief? Could it be that those ‘intellectural difficulties’ which men blame for their inability to believe are but smoke screens to conceal the real cause that lies behind them? Was it this greedy desire for honor from man that made men into Pharisees and Pharisees into Deicides? Is this the secret back of religious self-righteousness and empty worship? I believe it may be. ... We exalt ourselves instead of God and the curse follows.” (106-7)
- We can’t just let our mind agree; we must have our whole will agree.
- “No one who prays [exalting God above all others including ourself] thus in sincerity need wait long for tokens of divine acceptance. God will unveil His glory before His servant’s eyes, and He will place all His treasures at the disposal of such a one, for He knows that His honor is safe in such consecrated hands.” (108)
- The conduct of the human race is basically the opposite of the Beatitudes.
- Jesus says “meek” in the Beatitudes, but does not define it until later.
- “Come to me you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” The burden is not poverty, oppression, etc. It is not an exterior burden, but an interior one, for example, self-love and pride requires a defense from every slight, bad opinions, etc. It’s a burden that gets harder to carry as the years pass. Rest, by contrast, is not bearing this burden.
- Meekness is the method of rest: “The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort.” (112) The world will never see his value, and he is content to wait for the time when God makes everything have its true value.
- Meekness is not a strong sense of your inferiority, but rather, taking God’s view of himself—weak and helpless, and at the same time, more important than angels.
- Meekness will also deliver from the burden of pretense, that is, having to hide our inner lack from the gaze of the world. This burden makes us fear that someone will be more cultured, richer, more fashionable, etc. than we are.
- “One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas, the sacred and the secular.” (117) This comes because we inhabit both the spiritual and the natural worlds at the same time.
- The natural acts, including taking care of our bodies, is no less sacred than spiritual activities. Jesus said he always did the will of his Father.
- The Bible has a sense of modesty, but it does not contain prudery or shame about our bodies.
- “Let us think of a Christian believer in whose life the twin wonders of repentance and the new birth have been wrought. He is now living according to the will of God as he understands it from the written Word. Of such a one it may be said that every act of his live is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s Supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; it is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament. If a sacrament is an external expression of an inward grace than we need not hesitate to accept the above thesis.” (121)
- Jesus said of the donkey he rode in to Jerusalem “the Lord has need of him” and this can equally apply to us.
- We need to practice living this way, and with aggressive faith, offering all that we do to God, believing that He accepts them.
- Likewise, there are no sacred/non-sacred places. That kind of thinking comes from Israel’s history: in Egypt they lost the sense of the holy, so God had to teach them, but we Jesus came, He opened up the Holy of Holies, and Paul declared that everything was clean and holy.
- As time progressed, the Church added sacraments from the original two to seven, added special seasons and days, and say some places and people as more special. Roman Catholicism made a complete separation between the two, and even modern conservatives are in the process of doing the same.
- Not everything is of equal importance (planting a garden is less important than saving a soul), but they can be equally sacred.
- “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. ... Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act.” (127)