A. W. Tozer

Rarefied Air of Reading a Great Book

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ShepStaffHave you read any good books lately?  If you were asked to list the three books which have meant the most to you this year beyond your study of the Bible, which books could you list?  The thoughts that occupy much of our thinking are directly related to the quality of input we give our minds.

In an age of instant communication and effortlessly received information through television, radio, and recordings, it is difficult for us to come to grips with the need we have to feed our minds quality information.  Paul wrote, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).  The body of Christ needs more maturity in the level of its thinking so that we can absorb the truths and riches of the depths of God’s word.

The reticence many have experienced in their approach to Bible study is the result of never cultivating a taste for reading.  Have you ever read anything written by an eighteenth or nineteenth century Christian writer that you could comprehend?  A. W. Tozer has this to say on the subject:

 “Why does today’s Christian find the reading of great books always beyond him? Certainly intellectual powers do not wane from one generation to another.  We are as smart as our fathers, and any thought they could entertain we can entertain if we are sufficiently interested to make the effort.  The major cause of the decline in the quality of current Christian literature is not intellectual but spiritual.  To enjoy a great religious book requires a degree of consecration to God and detachment from the world that few modern Christians have.  The early Christian Fathers, the Mystics, the Puritans, are not hard to understand, but they inhabit the highlands where the air is crisp and rarefied, and none but the God-enamored can come…One reason why people are unable to understand great Christian classics is that they are trying to understand without any intention of obeying them.”

With so many distractions and so little commitment, it is little wonder that reading for the nurture of one’s heart and mind has taken a backseat for too many in the body of Christ.  The capacity we have to understand and apply the truths of God’s word will in many ways be related to our capacity to think clearly.  Obviously the Holy Spirit is our teacher and no word of truth can be grasped apart from the grace of Jesus Christ.  Nevertheless, we should be equipped to “handle accurately the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The challenge is before us to turn aside from worldly pursuits and learn what it is to become absorbed in thinking about and meditating on spiritual insights from the pens of God’s men and women who have recorded for our enrichment the golden nuggets mined from many years in God’s word.  It is to our benefit and God’s glory to enrich our minds setting aside worthless thoughts and replacing them with profitable literature.

Paul summarizes this quite effectively when he says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

So, are you ready to read some good books now?

The Shepherd’s Staff — September 27, 2013

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ShepStaffWhen you have to wait for something, do you take it personally?  It is amazing how many people do!

Much of the marketing and developing technology of our day is designed to address our frustration with having to wait.  Whether it is in the retail store advertising “no lines, no waiting” at the check-out stand, or with the continued efforts of computer manufacturer to increase the speed by which data can be processed, the emphasis in all of our culture is on removing the need to wait.

I don’t know about you but that appeals to something inside of me, that subtle perception that I am too important and my time is too valuable to have to wait on anything.  The problem, of course, is that when I feed that natural, human, selfish instinct, I make it that much harder to learn what it means to wait on the Lord!

Can we ever reach the point where we view waiting as a gift rather than a curse?  Is it possible to turn waiting times into profitable times?  I believe that I have a lot to learn in this area that cannot be found in the frantic pace of a society racing ahead with the accelerator stuck to the floor with no idea of where we are going and what we expect to find when we get there!  It is the classic illustration of the driver who says, “I have no idea where I’m going, but I am making great time!”

 All through the scriptures, God speaks to us of the value of waiting.  In fact, there are so many verses containing either the word “wait” or ideas regarding waiting that one could spend an extended period of time just looking all of them up!  But to put this matter into a biblical perspective, here the words of the psalms:  

“Wait for the LORD; Be strong, and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord…, Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him…” (Psalms 27:14; 37:7).

waitingNot only are our lives filled with examples of failure at this point, but we also find that throughout the Bible there are many who stumbled badly before the Lord because they could not be content to wait on Him.  Abraham knew that the Lord had promised to build a mighty nation of descendants from his seed, but when Sarah remained barren for so long, he took it upon himself to “help God” by taking Hagar to be the mother of his children.  The results were disastrous because of his impatience with God’s delay in keeping His promise.  When Moses was with the Lord on Mount Sinai receiving the Law, down below the Israelites gave up and conspired with Aaron against the Lord by making a golden calf to worship.  They became impatient and launched out on their own course of action.  Saul waited for a while for Samuel to come to offer the sacrifices before the impending battle, but when Samuel was delayed, Saul impatiently substituted his plan for God’s plan and suffered the consequences of that needless urgent act for the rest of his days.  Examples are too numerous to mention here, but the problem of impatience is just as great in our lives today.

The urgent drive we have to gratify instantly our desires overcomes our statement of faith that assures us that it is better to wait upon the Lord.  This impatient urgency which persists in us thrusts us right through many of the times of quiet, the times of stillness where the voice of the Lord and the heart of our Savior can be discovered.  Whenever I think about this great loss, this failure of our souls to gain the knowledge of the Holy One, I am reminded of the distressing words in a little book by A. W. Tozer called The Knowledge of the Holy.

“We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence.  Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit.  The words, ‘Be still, and know that I am God,’ mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshiper in this middle period of the twentieth century” (p. 6).

If that were true in the middle period of the twentieth century, do you think it has gotten better?  If anything, we are more driven, more impatient and less inclined to wait on the Lord now as at any point of human history!

What can be done?  The answer is the same for all of us.  We need to learn how to wait upon the Lord.  Each of us must come to terms with how we are to do so, but the basic solution is what it has always been.  In the midst of our urgent and impatient agendas, we must recognize and welcome the divine interruptions in the course of our busy schedules and welcome them as oases in a dry land.  The long line at the stop light, the telephone operator who puts you on hold, the appointment who shows up late — rather than being impositions become privileges, moments to enter silently into the presence of the Lord and be refreshed!

 Besides these unplanned moments, we must also build into the very core of our days some time to wait, to listen, to abide quietly before Him in “adoring silence” so that He can reveal to us those things that He will never shout to us in the midst of a crowd.  “…Those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength…”(Isaiah 40:31).  What hope and encouragement that promise brings as we learn to wait patiently on Him!