I came across these striking word from A. W. Tozer recently while reading through the title essay from the book I Talk Back to the Devil. Like many great books, this one had gone out of print. Thankfully, it is now back in print and available for a new audience.
Some of you go to the ball game and you come back whispering because you are hoarse from shouting and cheering. But no one in our day ever goes home from church with a voice hoarse from shouts brought about by a manifestation of the glory of God among us.
Actually our apathy about praise in worship is like an inward chill in our beings. We are under a shadow and we are still wearing the grave clothes. You can sense this in much of our singing in the contemporary church. Perhaps you will agree that in most cases it is a kind of plodding along, without the inward life of blessing and victory and resurrection joy and overcoming in Jesus’ name.
Why is this? It is largely because we are looking at what we are, rather than responding to who Jesus Christ is!
This past week, I read Lyle Dorsett’s recent biography of Aiden W. Tozer (1897-1963), A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer. Tozer is the author of many books but is especially well-regarded for his timeless works The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy (one of my favorite books of all time). I read the book out of my great respect for Tozer but also because Lyle Dorsett was a mentor of mine through college and afterwards.
Here are five things that I gleaned from this book that have me thinking about my faith and ministry differently these days:
- A. W. Tozer was a man of prayer. While many of speak about prayer and urge the necessity of prayer, Aiden Tozer was a man who prayed. Dorsett writes: “Tozer spent incalculable hours in prayer. Most of his prolonged prayer time – with his bible and hymnals as his only companions – took place in his church office…He maintained that anyone who wanted to know Christ better and love Him more must devote time to closet prayer” (122-123). Surely we can pray without ceasing throughout our days, but I must ask whether or not we are the kind of people who draw near in prayer alone with God daily?
- A. W. Tozer spoke prophetically. In an era that was dominated by ever-increasing attention to ‘trends’ in the church and effective ‘methods’ of ministry, Tozer spoke out powerfully for a return to biblical Christianity focused on the greatness of God. Tozer was not impressed with what he termed “the Hollywood mentality” (179) of sensational activity and big name preachers that was invading the church of his time. He spoke out against it strongly and was unpopular for it. Still, his words resound today as a critique of the times in which we find ourselves.
- A. W. Tozer sought the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Shortly after his conversion as a teenager, Tozer was lead into a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit through the prayers of others. While not necessarily Pentecostal in outlook, Tozer had what Dorsett termed “a robust view of the Holy Spirit.” This impacted Tozer’s view of God but also his approach to ministry. He was dramatically reliant upon the Holy Spirit for effectiveness in ministry, which leads right into this next point about his preaching.
- A. W. Tozer preached from his experience of God not just abstract knowledge. Pastors are sometimes tempted to talk about God at arm’s length, as if the Holy One is a subject to be examined. Tozer did nothing of the sort. His talk about God flowed from his experience of God. Dorsett reflects: “Tozer’s investment in prayer time with God was…the source of his anointing and power through the pulpit and pen” (132). It was from his personal encounters with the Holy God that Tozer could communicate so powerfully about the Holy God to others. I was challenged as a pastor to consider whether I am doing the same.
- A. W. Tozer loved Jesus, but was not affectionate with his family. One theme that runs through Dorsett’s biography of Tozer is the fact that although Tozer loved Jesus Christ thoroughly and was completely surrendered in ministry, he failed to really give the necessary emotional and practical support to his wife, Ada, and seven children. This was succinctly summarized by his wife Ada’s statement, where she reflected on her life after Aiden’s death and second marriage to Leonard Odam: “I have never been happier in my life. Aiden loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me” (160). As I reflected on this with my own wife, Kelly, she mentioned that ideally love of Jesus would flow into healthy love of others, particularly our families. I agree, but the story is too often the same that those who are deeply committed to the ministry of Jesus seem to overlook their families. As pastors, we do well to give attention to our own ‘little flock’ of family!
Further online resources related to A. W. Tozer are: