Collective Writings from the Books of A.W. Tozer
QUESTION: In the light of the many promises to answer prayer how do you account for the Lord’s refusal to hear Paul’s prayer for deliverance from his thorn in the flesh? God never makes unconditional promises. King Herod made an unconditional promise to his stepdaughter Salome, and was compelled to fulfill it, though to do so cost him bitter remorse and forced him to commit a murder. God, being sovereign (i.e., free to do what He wills to do), does not put Himself at the disposal of His creatures by making promises with no conditions attached. He never gets into a position where He must answer prayer against His will. Certain extremists, to encourage faith, teach that God has made a unilateral covenant from which He cannot escape, and all we need to do is to believe to assure our getting anything we want. Such teaching is in radical contradiction to the letter as well as the spirit of the Holy Scriptures. Paul’s thorn presents a tough problem for the Bible teacher; but if we do not know what it means we may at least know what it does not mean; and it does not mean that in refusing to remove the thorn in answer to prayer God became guilty of a breach of promise. “Let God be true, but every man a liar.” “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” God answered Paul’s prayer by granting him grace instead of deliverance, and Paul was well content. Isn’t it odd that the apostle who was directly and intimately concerned in the matter should be so very happy about the whole thing and we who are not in any way affected should be the ones to complain about it!
Posted: December 16, 2017, 2:00 pm
QUESTION: I am a Christian, but I do not feel as strong love for Christ as I know I should. What can I do about this? The fact that you mourn your lack of love is all in your favor. No one is likely to deplore the coldness of his heart unless there is some warmth there already. It takes love to desire love. There has scarcely been a Christian, however devout, who has not grieved because he loved Christ so little. This appears to be the one mark of saintliness that is almost universal. Further, you must remember that your love for God is not primarily an emotion, but an act of the will. True Christian love is the love of willing, not the love of feeling, though it is likely to bring a great deal of joyous emotion along with it. Our Lord made the test of love to lie in obedience to His commandments (John 14:21-24). Feeling is a by-product of obedience. The order is: (1) believing, (2) willing, (3) obeying, (4) feeling. QUESTION: My occupation is distasteful to me and God has not answered my prayer to have it changed. Can God be using it as a “thorn in my flesh” and refusing to hear my prayer for that reason? This is extremely doubtful. Paul’s thorn was not his occupation, but something far more personal than that. God may be delaying the answer to your prayer because He knows that your trouble does not lie in your occupation, but in yourself. It is a fallacy to believe that we are unhappy because of external circumstances, and that if we only get our circumstances straightened out we will become happy automatically. I once heard a great preacher say, “You’ll never be contented anywhere until you can be contented anywhere,” and I agree with him fully. Peace of heart is a gift from God to the man who has met certain spiritual terms. It has nothing to do with occupation or living conditions. “My peace I leave with you” was spoken to persons who were to know little else but trouble for the rest of their lives. God usually changes our circumstances by changing us internally. Allow Him to lift you above your present occupation and He may lead you into a better one.
Posted: December 15, 2017, 2:00 pm
QUESTION: I am in government service and deeply dislike my work. I feel that I am not accomplishing anything worthwhile. Is it right for me to pray to be led into a different kind of work? It is always right to take our problems to God in prayer. He has promised to bring the blind by a way that they knew not (Isa. 42:16), and He assures us that if we keep Him in our thoughts our path will be directed (Prov. 3:5,6). We should not, however, allow ourselves to get wrought up about anything. It is the consensus among superior souls (as revealed in their books of devotion) that the Spirit leads without agitation, while the enemy, when he tries to imitate the Spirit, usually whips us up to a state of confusion and mental distress. The best rule is to pray, trust God fully and then follow His providences. Do not insist upon an earthquake or a whirlwind as the only evidences of divine guidance. God may lead you by a still small voice or by quietly arranging a set of circumstances so ordinary as to seem commonplace. Faith accepts quiet guidance; only unbelief demands a miracle. QUESTION: I am a university student and my problem is this: If I study enough to pass my tests I have a feeling of guilt for having neglected my prayer life. If I pray enough to satisfy my heart I neglect my studies. What shall I do? I think you are creating a problem where none exists. You have fallen into the common error of living a divided life, counting prayer as sacred and study as secular. God’s will never contradicts itself; neither does He lay upon us duties that conflict with one another. Here is my advice: Consecrate your studies to God as a living sacrifice. Ask Him to accept your intellectual labors as an offering of love. To the spiritual man everything is sacred; nothing is secular. William Law says, “Miranda does not divide her duty between God, her neighbor and herself; but she considers all as due to God, and so does everything . . for His sake.” Begin to think of your college work as intellectual worship acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. This will make the dullest subject enjoyable and, incidentally, it will sharpen your brain so you can grasp difficult ideas a lot more easily. The notion that prayer is to be made in retirement only is erroneous. That prayer which consists of an address to the Deity (which the Pharisees made on the street corner and which our Lord said should be made in the closet) is only one kind of prayer. A well-lived life is a prayer if it is lived in the faith of Christ. The hands may pray by doing honest work, the feet by carrying us to that work; sleep can be prayer when it refreshes us to serve our fellow men and eating may be prayer if it is done with thanksgiving. There is no reason to doubt that your college studies are an acceptable form of spiritual service. Of course, you should spend as much time as possible in prayerful retirement; only don’t get under bondage to it. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Posted: December 14, 2017, 2:00 pm
QUESTION: Can one pray to have a personal desire fulfilled and still be fully surrendered to God’s will? A personal desire, yes, but not a selfish one. There is a difference. A prayer may be personal and still have no element of selfishness in it. The motive is everything. To be free from selfishness a prayer must be (a) according to the will of God as that will is revealed in the Scriptures; (b) for the honor of God rather than for the mere fulfillment of carnal ambition; (c) made in unaffected love for God and men. Of course this rules out covetousness, competition and all evil desire. A few Biblical examples of personal requests which were honored by the Lord are found in the prayers of Abraham, David, Hannah, the woman of Shunem, Jabez, Hezekiah, Ezekiel, the leper in Matthew 8, Bartimaeus and Paul. QUESTION: You warn against “using God” and “trying to employ Him to achieve our own ends.” Would not asking God for something personal be an attempt to “use” Him? A truly spiritual man will be so united to Christ that he will have no desires apart from Him. If we Christians lived in the Spirit as perfectly as we should and could, our common interests would touch not only ourselves but the honor of God and the welfare of mankind as well. In answering a “personal” prayer God would then be helping the individual, blessing mankind and bringing glory to His own name all in one act. We need not hesitate to ask God to help us to achieve ends that lie in God. Our difficulty comes from asking Him to help us to reach ends that lie outside of Him.
Posted: December 13, 2017, 2:00 pm
The idea that since the emergence of Christ into our world there is no longer any sin problem is completely preposterous, and not less so is the notion that the approach of the lost man to God is theological instead of moral. Yet this is what the not-the-sin-question thing has taught the religious world to believe. This idea has been expanded, extended and illustrated in how many thousand sermons over the last fifty years till it has become part of the total belief of evangelical groups all over the world. I have personally heard earnest men tell their hearers that they need never fear being sent to hell because of their sins; that the only thing that could possibly condemn them is their failure to “accept” Christ. Thus the whole terrible sin question has been reduced to a theological technicality, and sin itself, that damning and destructive enemy of God and men, has been whitewashed and rendered tolerable, contrary to the whole spirit and mood of the Scriptures and to the beliefs of Christians since the days of the apostles. Regardless of what men may say, we are still face to face with the sin question, and no man who has neglected to deal with his sins can even remotely understand the question of the deity of Christ and the mystery of the Godhead. Until the sinner has been brought before the bar of God and convicted of personal guilt, any notions he may have about Christ are bound to be academic, nothing more, and wholly unrelated to life. One deadly result of our failure to face up to the fact of sin is the widespread moral insensitivity which characterizes Christians these days. Because there is only a Son question and not a sin question at all, there is little or no repentance required as a preparation for saving faith. The new convert accepts Christ and adopts a certain easy code — a bit above that of the irreligious world, to be sure, but infinitely below that of the New Testament. The nerve has died in the Christian conscience and the sin that would have driven our Christian fathers to their knees in a paroxysm of repentance leaves us almost untouched. It’s lots easier to shift the whole thing over to the “Son question” and escape the pains of repentance. Lots easier, but extremely dangerous, and this latter is what we appear to have forgotten.
Posted: December 12, 2017, 2:00 pm
A generation ago when the deity of Christ was under attack from several directions at once and was being stoutly defended by Bible-believing Christians everywhere, a little aphorism was often heard uttered with emphatic finality: “It’s not the sin question, it’s the Son question!” This was a short way of saying that the great problem before the human race was not its sin but its opinion of Jesus Christ, and that the disposition of the individual soul on the final day would be based not upon its relation to sin but upon its having accepted the deity of Christ as an article of faith. If we take into consideration that this saying was a blunt sword forged for the heat of theological battle we can understand its popularity and sympathize with those who swung it so boldly against the enemies of truth; nevertheless we need not overlook its weakness nor accept it as a complete truth, which it certainly is not. One count against this aphorism is that it is an aphorism. If great truth could be compressed into an epigram we have several hundred pages of Scripture to account for that need never have been written. I shy away from every effort to expound difficult doctrine by means of a pious quip; it’s just too neat and at best can present only one facet of the truth, leaving the other two or ten or fifty facets hidden from view. We’ll pass over the alliteration, which is of course wholly artificial and only one degree removed from a pun, and state simply that the whole thing is false to the facts. Granted that solid truth might once in a rare while get itself crammed into an epigram, and even that the epigram might conceivably contain a pun, this “not the sin question but the Son question” is still not true. It dismisses too lightly something that God takes mighty seriously; viz., the fact of human sin and the solemn responsibility of every man for the sins he has committed.
Posted: December 11, 2017, 2:00 pm
It is of great practical importance to us to know that the Christ who lived again still lives. “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36), said Peter on the day of Pentecost; and this accorded with our Lord’s own words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18), and with the words of Hebrews, “The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (8:1). Not only does He still live, but He can never die again. “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him” (Romans 6:9). Finally, all that Christ is, all that He has accomplished for us is available to us now if we obey and trust. We are more than conquerors, through our Captain’s triumph; Let us shout the victory as we onward go.
Posted: December 10, 2017, 2:00 pm
In spite of the tomb and the watch and the seal, in spite of death itself, the Man who had been laid in the place of death walked out alive after three days. That is the simple historical fact attested by more than 500 trustworthy persons, among them being a man who is said by some scholars to have had one of the mightiest intellects of all time. That man of course was Saul, who later became a disciple of Jesus and was known as Paul the apostle. This is what the church has believed and celebrated throughout the centuries. . . . Granted that this is all true, what does it or can it mean to us who live so far removed in space from the event and so far away in time? Several thousand miles and nearly two thousand years separate us from that first bright Easter morning. Apart from or in addition to the joy of returning spring and the sweet music and the sense of cheerfulness associated with the day, what practical significance does Easter have for us? To borrow the words of Paul, “Much in every way!” (Romans 3:2). For one thing, any question about Christ’s death was forever cleared away by His resurrection. He “through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). Also His place in the intricate web of Old Testament prophecy was fully established when He arose. When He walked with the two discouraged disciples after His resurrection, He chided them for their unbelief and then asked, “ `Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:26-27). Then it should be remembered that He could not save us by the cross alone. He must rise from the dead to give validity to His finished work. A dead Christ would be as helpless as the ones He tried to save. He “was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25), said Paul, and in so saying declared that our hope of righteousness depended upon our Lord’s ability to beat death and rise beyond its power.
Posted: December 9, 2017, 2:00 pm
The celebration of Easter began very early in the Church and has continued without interruption to this day. There is scarcely a church anywhere but will observe the day in some manner, whether it be by simply singing a resurrection hymn or by the performance of the most elaborate rites. Ignoring the etymological derivation of the word Easter and the controversy that once gathered around the question of the date on which it should be observed, and admitting as we must that to millions the whole thing is little more than a pagan festival, I want to ask and try to answer two questions about Easter. The first question is, What is Easter all about? and the second, What practical meaning does it have for the plain Christian of today? The first may be answered briefly or its answer could run into a thousand pages. The real significance of the day stems from an event, a solid historical incident that took place on a certain day in a geographical location that can be identified on any good map of the world. It was first announced by the two men who stood beside the empty tomb and said simply, “He is not here; he has risen” (Matthew 28:6), and was later affirmed in the solemnly beautiful words of one who saw Him after His resurrection: But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). That is what Easter is about. The Man called Jesus is alive after having been publicly put to death by crucifixion. The Roman soldiers nailed Him to the cross and watched Him till the life had gone from Him. Then a responsible company of persons, headed by one Joseph of Arimathea, took the body down from the cross and laid it in a tomb, after which the Roman authorities sealed the tomb and set a watch before it to make sure the body would not be stolen away by zealous but misguided disciples. This last precaution was the brain child of the priests and the Pharisees, and how it backfired on them is known to the ages, for it went far to confirm the fact that the body was completely dead and that it could have gotten out of the tomb only by some miracle.
Posted: December 8, 2017, 2:00 pm
In the Old Testament it is recorded that after years of bad leadership had brought Judah to her knees, a new king, Hezekiah, came to the throne. Immediately he called the priests and Levites together and said to them, “Listen to me, Levites, consecrate yourselves now and consecrate the temple of the LORD, the God of your fathers. Remove all defilement from the sanctuary.” The priests went into the sanctuary of the LORD to purify it. They brought out to the courtyard of the LORD’s temple everything unclean that they found in the temple of the LORD. The Levites took it and carried it out to the Kidron Valley (2 Chronicles 29:5, 16). It took a week to get rid of the junk, but when they had obeyed God there followed immediately a sunburst of revival; and the good effects lasted nearly thirty years. I do not wish to draw too close a parallel between conditions under Ahaz and conditions in the churches today, but every enlightened soul can see how we languish for fearless leaders and bold reformers who will dare to pass holy judgment upon the unscriptural goings on that are being substituted for New Testament Christianity in the majority of our churches. Somewhere there may be a freckle-faced stripling as yet unknown who will hear the call of God and go forth in dauntless love to become a conscience to the churches. Too many prophets of Jehovah these days are hiding in their caves, but somewhere there may be an Elijah. The bloodless softlings will say at first that he is uncharitable and harsh, but when he gets the prophets of Baal on the run they will tag along behind him, trying to look as if they had been on his side all the time. Well, he can’t come a day too soon.
Posted: December 7, 2017, 2:00 pm
It is ironic that the modernistic churches which deny the theology of the great hymns nevertheless sing them, and regenerated Christians who believe them are yet not singing them; in their stead are songs without theological content set to music without beauty. Not our religious literature only and our hymnody have suffered from the notion that love to be true to itself must be silent in the presence of any and every abomination, but almost every phase of our church life has suffered also. Once a Bible and a hymnbook were enough to allow gospel Christians to express their joy in the public assembly, but now it requires tons of gadgets to satisfy the pagan appetites of persons who call themselves Christians.
Posted: December 6, 2017, 2:00 pm
As long as it is held to be an evidence of advanced spirituality to approve whatever is written by gospel Christians and a mark of carnality to criticize anything they write, our direction can only continue to be down. If things go on in their present course, we conservatives will soon be living in a world of soft unreality where smiling, timorous brethren walk about praising the Lord and complimenting each other for literary works so atrocious both in content and style that they would not get past the office boy in a first-class publishing house. It can only be a cause for deep regret that the fear of offending has silenced the voices of so many men of discernment and put Bible Christianity at the mercy of the undiscerning. Religious music has long ago fallen victim to this weak and twisted philosophy of godliness. Good hymnody has been betrayed and subverted by noisy, uncouth persons who have too long operated under the immunity afforded them by the timidity of the saints. The tragic result is that for one entire generation we have been rearing Christians who are in complete ignorance of the golden treasury of songs and hymns left us by the ages. The tin horn has been substituted for the silver trumpet, and our religious leaders have been afraid to protest.
Posted: December 5, 2017, 2:00 pm
It is unfortunate for the cause of truth that the thinnest skin in the world is that which wraps the saints. God’s children are as easily injured as new-hatched hummingbirds, and worst of all, they do not heal readily. I was reminded of this some time ago when I wrote what was meant to be a good-natured, if realistic, appraisal of a bad book. Not morally bad, understand, but just bad as a book. I was not mad at anybody, and I even tried to soften my review with a bit of what I supposed was recognizable humor. To the credit of the book’s author, he simply ignored me and my review; but a few of my friends were appalled by what I had written. They felt that I had, by my frankness, hurt my Christian testimony and sinned against the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. Had I actually been living the victorious life, they reasoned, I would never have expressed myself so bluntly about a book written by another Christian. I suppose there will always be sensitive souls who think that the only way to keep sweet is to keep quiet, and who mistake honesty for carnality. These tender-minded saints confuse humility with timidity and believe that credulity and sanctification are synonymous. As they see it, every book written by an evangelical, no matter how sub-standard it may be, should have the wholehearted endorsement of all other evangelicals. Anything less is uncharitable and un-Christian. One result of this weak attitude is that mediocrity has become normal in the field of evangelical literature. Shoddy thinking and shoddier writing are accepted as earmarks of orthodoxy, to the grief of all better minds and to the delight of the enemies of Christ.
Posted: December 4, 2017, 2:00 pm
It has been the experience of some great souls that the Spirit actually rests the human organism into which He enters. The Bible would seem to support this belief. Could this be what Isaiah had in mind when he wrote, till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your oxen and donkeys range free (32:15-20). Maybe we have been missing something very wonderful and very necessary. It might be well if we gave the matter some prayerful attention. Who knows but we may discover a secret of health long hidden from the rank and file of Christians. And God knows we need it.
Posted: December 3, 2017, 2:00 pm
It is possible to work far beyond the normal strength of the human constitution and yet experience little or no fatigue because the energy for the work has been provided, not by the burning up of human tissue, but by the indwelling Spirit of power. This has been realized by a few unusual souls, and the pity is that they are unusual. Attention has recently been focused upon the fact that ministers suffer a disproportionately high number of nervous breakdowns compared with other men. The reasons are many, and for the most part they reflect credit on the men of God. Still I wonder if it is all necessary. I wonder whether we who claim to be sons of the new creation are not allowing ourselves to be cheated out of our heritage. Surely it should not be necessary to do spiritual work in the strength of our natural talents. God has provided supernatural energies for supernatural tasks. The attempt to do the work of the Spirit without the Spirit’s enabling may explain the propensity to nervous collapse on the part of Christian ministers.
Posted: December 2, 2017, 2:00 pm