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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Scrappy Christians

This phrase was coined by my lovely friend Elaine today as we chatted about my recent discovery of Tozer. Scrappy Christians: those who are discontent with their current experience of God, plagued by holy dissatisfaction, always wanting more and digging their heels in until they get it; those with hearts set on God who will not be swayed from a lifelong pursuit of Him, who will lay hold of Him until they receive the blessing of knowing Him more than they currently do. Jacob was a scrappy Christian: he determined to know God. He wrestled with him in the long hours of the night. His searching left him bruised and battered, but convicted of the truth of God’s power and presence.

I want to be a scrappy Christian.

In the opening chapter of Tozer’s ‘The Pursuit of God’, which I whole-heartedly recommend with the precursor that it will leave you somewhat wrecked, Tozer mourns the current state of the church, the plight of the “too easily satisfied religionist” who does not know what he or she is missing. In contrast, he points back to those saints of the past who knew what it was to pursue God:

“Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire for God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they found him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.” (p.10)

Tozer’s critique of the church is a double edged sword: on the one hand, he mourns for those who do not believe that an intimate relationship with God is possible – who insist that walking with Jesus is a matter of cold-hearted duty and obligation removed from joy and feeling; but on the other, he despairs of the frenetic charismatic who leaps from one meeting to the next, seeking only an experience of God without being prepared to go at it for the long haul.

This is not a scrappy attitude. The scrappy Christian knows that to seek God is to fight daily to meet with Him. There are no quick fixes.

“The idea of cultivation, so dear to the saints of old, has now no common place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We demand glamour and dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer returned from afar.” (p.52)


Tozer is not pleasant reading. This is hard stuff. Hard because I recognise the truth of it in my own life: the box ticking which I hope will somehow feed my soul, a deep inward bankruptcy which cannot be satisfied by the perfunctory daily quiet time. I – theoretically, at least – long for closeness with God. I crave intimacy with Him and am haunted by the half-notion that there must be more than this; that it is in fact possible to have a deeper awareness of His presence and to live in closer communion with Him. But that half-notion is easily silenced. Quickly pushed to one side by the pressures of life and by the well-meaning advice of others. Such a pursuit is too time-consuming, too labour-some. There are too many things that need to be done and who do you think you are anyway? What are you trying to prove? Be satisfied with your salvation and get on with it.

But I am not satisfied. I am hungry. I am scrappy. Or at least trying to be.

“We have been too blind to see, or too timid to speak out, or too self-satisfied to desire anything better than the poor average diet with which others are satisfied. To put it differently, we have accepted one another’s notions, copied one another’s lives and made one another’s experiences the model for our own. And for a generation the trend has been downward. Now we have reached a low place of sand and burnt wire and grass and, worse of all, we have made the Word of Truth conform to our experience and accepted this low plane as the very pasture of the blessed. It will require a determined heart and more than a little courage to wrench ourselves loose from the grip of our times and return to Biblical ways.” (p.53)

It will require scrappy Christians.

It will require making the Word of God the standard to which we conform.

It will require looking to the Saints of old, to Jacob, to Moses, to David, to Paul and to the way in which they pursued their God with their whole heart.

It will require setting our hearts on a vision of what could be, of what might be in ten years’ time if we put the ground work in, if we cultivate an awareness of God’s presence, if we refuse to be satisfied by anything less, if we set the Lord daily before us, if we do not take our eyes off Him.

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire, O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee. I long to be filled with longing. I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, “Rise up, my fair one, and come away.” Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from the misty lowland where I have wandered so long. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.  (p.14)

All quotes taken from, Tozer, A.W. The Pursuit of God. ( 

People of the Presence

Hamish and I are trying to get into a bit of a rhythm of reading two psalms a day, one in the evening and one in the morning. Yesterday's evening psalm was 114, which completely stopped me in my tracks. It's one of those all-too-easy-to-skip-over psalms: neither ridiculously long (like 119) or surprisingly short (117), not usually read at weddings of funerals and about Israel's history and therefore slightly harder to do any kind of generic immediate application with. But it is an absolute gem.

When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.

The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.

Why is it, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.

The Israelites were awed to have the presence of God in their midst. And yet, for them, that presence was untouchable: a huge, towering pillar of fire guiding their way (Exodus 13:21) initially and then, later, once the temple was completed, that presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies. A place of awful beauty and fear. A place where no one dare to tread, where only the high priest was allowed once a year and never without blood. (Hebrews 7:9) To look upon the face of God was to die (Exodus 33:20). To be in the presence of the living God was an unthinkable and terrifying privilege. (Isaiah 6:5)

How utterly incredible then, how almost blasphemous, would it have seemed to the disciples when Jesus told them that the presence of the living God was no longer going to dwell in a temple, but inside their very hearts? That they, and the generations after them, would be those to fulfil the prophecy of Ezekiel and be given a new heart that was able to host the Spirit of God. (Ezekiel 36:26)

"I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them...Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." John 14:15-23

We are too quick to judge the dullness of the disciples; we join in with Jesus when he rebukes them for their lack of faith and yet surely these words from Jesus would have been entirely unpalatable to them. How could the Spirit of the living God possibly dwell inside them? Such a thing would have seemed unattainable. God did not dwell within dirty vessels. God's perfect holiness could not come into contact with the frailty of fallen humanity. 

We are of a generation that has forgotten the awesome, sacredness of this truth: we are the people of the presence. Moses was so dependant on the presence of God that he would not move without being absolutely sure that God would go with him: Do not bring us up from this place without your presence? What else will distinguish us from the peoples of the world? (Exodus 33:15-16) For Moses, he spoke of the cloud; he spoke of the fiery pillar. For us we know that God will go with us because His Spirit dwells inside us. Where we go, we take the presence with us. 

This is radical. Beautiful. Compelling. And yet terrifying. We are those who host the presence of the living God. This should make all the difference in the world. How is it possible that we so easily forget the truth of God with us? God in us? Jesus followers should be the most distinctive, most scintillating people on the planet. We should be distinct. But all too often we forget to communicate with the Spirit within us. We ignore Him. We forget about him in the midst of everyday life. We grieve him by our failure to ask his opinion. If Jesus could only do what he saw his Father doing as it was revealed to him by the Spirit (John 5:19) then surely we must ask the Spirit the same questions. Holy Spirit, what is my Father doing right now? What can I join in with? 

O God and Father, I repent of my sinful preoccupation with visible things. The world has been too much with me. Thou hast been here and I knew it not. I have been blind to thy Presence. Open my eyes that I may behold Thee in and around me. For Christ's sake, Amen. (A.W. Tozer, 'The Pursuit of God.')