Monthly Archives: January 2014

AW Tozer – Reverence is Necessary for Freedom in Worship

Worship the Lord with reverence,
And rejoice with trembling.
(Psalm 2:11)

For many years there has been a discussion in the church regarding styles of worship, but under this discussion (or should I say argument?) was a current of thought that often went unnoticed.  In fact, in the midst of the “worship wars” regarding what kinds of music was proper and appropriate inside the walls of the church, there was a fundamental foundation for worship that was seldom discussed or considered: that of planning worship.

I have written about and explained various systems, or theories, of planning worship in this column previously. I have sought to equally weigh the benefits of liturgically planned services that rely on a pre-set form which shapes each service, in comparison to freer planning (that characterizes the Bible church movement in particular) which allows for many and varied forms week by week (even to the point of non-planning). Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses.

Imagine how my thoughts were engaged when I read the following from A.W. Tozer:

The theory held in some churches seems to be that if the service is unplanned [or free worship] the Holy Spirit will work freely.  Now that would be true if all the worshipers were reverent and Spirit-filled. But mostly there is neither order nor Spirit, just a routine prayer that is, except for minor variations, the same week after week, and a few songs that were never much to start with and have long ago lost all significance by meaningless repetition!

I am intrigued that Tozer places the burden on the quality of worship not on the planning, but upon the worshiper. This is not to say that worship planners should be lazy, but in many ways, it relieves the burden of effectiveness on them and places it elsewhere. First, responsibility lies on the Holy Spirit as the Mover in the hearts of men and women, and secondly on those being moved by the Spirit. Certainly the worship planners in our churches must also rely on the Holy Spirit moving to plan services that will be both spiritual and effective.  While at the same time, only as the people respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit will true worship take place.

Tozer goes on:

We of the nonliturgical churches tend to look with some disdain upon those churches that follow a carefully prescribed form of service, and certainly there must be a good deal in such services that has little or no meaning for the average participant – this is not because it is carefully prescribed but because the average participant is what he is.”

Here we see Tozer turning his gaze on liturgical churches. Interestingly, he draws the same conclusion from his observation of these carefully planned and regulated services. It is not the planning, nor the prescribed liturgical elements, that cause attendees to find little meaning in the services they attend. It is the “averageness” of the participant. While the Holy Spirit can work through careful planning, His work is only effective as the worshiper’s heart is ready to respond to Him.

So we find that, in both liturgical and nonliturgical settings, the unresponsive heart of worshipers leaves the spirit of reverence wanting in worship.  No matter how well the craft of worship planning is practiced, deadness of heart will produce deadness of worship.  This gives us a broader insight into the relational character of worship in the life of the church. The worship planner and the worshipers must be vitally connected and ready for the movement of the Spirit of God. When we are all ready for Him to move, worship will capture us like we’ve never experienced!

Even in recognizing the importance of willing hearts, Tozer closes his comments noting the importance of the form of worship in allowing room for the Spirit to move. This reminds us that the skillful worship planner is a partner with God in the very form of the service overall.

The liturgical service is at least beautiful, carefully worked out through the centuries to preserve a spirit of reverence among the worshipers.  In many of our meetings [free worship] there is scarcely a trace of reverent thought, no recognition of the unity of the body, little sense of the divine Presence, no moment of stillness, no solemnity, no wonder, no holy fear!

Worship planning is a skill that requires the balance of many skills. Beginning with a ready heart to be led by the Spirit in the process of planning, one must also have skills regarding theology, music, public speaking, pastoral care, and others.  One must be able and willing to reflect the biblical ebb and flow in our corporate worship settings. Praise and worship is only one aspect, yet it is the primary diet of many churches today. Where is the reverence?  Where is the sense of divine Presence?  The stillness?  The solemn?  The wonder?  The fear?  Where is the worship planning that reflects fully the emotional and spiritual variety found in the Psalms?

Tozer’s words are important for this generation of worship planners and worship leaders to hear.  It’s important for the next generation, too. But trapped in the setting of the entertainment industry, one wonders how long it will take for worship to recover from its wanderings?  There is no way to know. However, we can start with ourselves and, as Tozer suggests, we can deal with our own average preparation for meeting God as He works in the midst of His gathered people.

*All quotes from “Renewed Day by Day:  A Daily Devotional” by A.W. Tozer, compiled by G.B. Smith (Old Tappan, NJ:  Fleming H. Revell Company, 1980).

(Original Post on April 24, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19617-reverence-is-necessary-for-freedom-in-worship)

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AW Tozer – Only Mankind has a Capacity for Worship

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)

There are many currents in our culture that seek to raise the value of non-human forms of life.  Sometimes this line of thought desires that we place a value on all life equally.  We are told that the whales, or the owls, or even our pet dogs deserve to be considered as valuable as any human being (and maybe more so!).  Mankind, in the extreme views, is seen as a parasite that infects the earth.

Some elements of this thinking have taken on a life of their own.  We can easily find them in the ever present fund-raising for various causes.  Simply type the words “save the” in a Google search, and on the very first page of results one will be encouraged to save the frogs, the manatees, the whales and the elephants!

We have also experienced this heightened sense of awareness for our “animal friends” in the personification of animals in cartoons for many years, and more recently we are even confronted with living, breathing, talking fruits and vegetables.

It is with these things in mind that we turn to the words of A.W. Tozer:

The one mark which forever distinguishes man from all other forms of life on earth is that he is a worshiper:  he has a bent toward and a capacity for worship.1

Mankind is different.  We are different because of our response to the Creator.  Certainly we know that all of creation declares the glory of God and worships Him.  We learn as much in Psalm 19, as well as other passages of Scripture.  However, only man responds to his Creator willfully to worship.  And, in the negative, some of our fellow human beings also respond willfully to deny Him the worship that is due.  This is the uniqueness of mankind.

Tozer goes on:

Apart from his position as a worshiper of God, man has no sure key to his own being; he is but a higher animal, being born much as any other animal, going through the cycle of his life here on earth and dying at last without knowing what the whole thing is about.

If that is all for him, if he has no more reason than the beasts for living, then it is an odd thing indeed that he is the only one of the animals that worries about himself, that wonders, that asks questions of the universe.

The very fact that he does these things tells the wise man that somewhere there is One to whom he owes allegiance.  One before whom he should kneel and do homage.

This is a wonderful and fulfilling realization.  Mankind is the only self-realized being on the earth.  This is, in part, what the founding Fathers of America meant by some things that were “self-evident.”  Man’s awareness of himself leads him to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  In fact, these men saw this as truth that was self-evident.  It would certainly be an odd thing to say that a dog thinks of himself in a certain way, like we might say about ourselves and our own self-learning.  But man clearly thinks of himself, how he can improve, what he can own and care for, and what the meaning of life truly is.

And Tozer points out that a man who is wise will notice these things about himself and realize there is Something greater than self to which he owes his allegiance.  This realization puts us into the perspective amongst all of life that we see around us.  Thus we note the foolishness of the man that places himself at the forefront of his own allegiance, dethroning the Creator from His rightful position.

The Christian revelation tells us that that One is God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, who is to be worshiped in the Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

That is enough for us.  Without trying to reason it out we may proceed from there.

And proceed from there we must.  It reminds us of Saint Anselm’s great dictum, falling in step with Augustine, “I believe in order that I may understand.”   This is a reasonable and fair place to begin our worship.  Our faith and our reason are complementary to one another, not in opposition.  And both our faith and our reason confirm that mankind is different than all other living things.  It is because of this realization that we are prompted toward the worship of God out of the depths of our being.

Before we finish, let me revisit my opening comments about frogs, manatees, whales and elephants – along with the talking vegetables.  We are reminded by Tozer’s comments that men and women are created differently – in the very image of God!  In being aware of this difference, we are also responsible for all living beings that are otherwise created.

God’s image in man includes the responsibility to care for the world around him.  Kind and humane treatment of the animal kingdom is a necessary and important part of the cultural mandate.  So as we seek to do so, we may choose to support some causes that care for this part of God’s creative work.  We may do the same in ways that support farming, healthy crops, and educating people around the world on how to grow food in a sustainable manner.

We also want to be creative in our communication efforts and education.  So, the use of personification in artistic endeavors is an effective tool that can break down barriers to help a message get to those who need to hear it.  Our concern here has been that the message be one that is consistent within a biblical worldview – that mankind is significantly different and of the highest value within the created realm.

*All quotes from “Renewed Day by Day:  A Daily Devotional” by A.W. Tozer, compiled by G.B. Smith (Old Tappan, NJ:  Fleming H. Revell Company, 1980).

(Original Post on May 22, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19765-only-mankind-has-a-capacity-for-worship)

AW Tozer – Wonder and Awe in Worship

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky… ” (Acts 1:9-10)

There is no doubt that the Apostles stood dumbfounded at the events that had unfolded before their eyes. The One they had recognized as the Messiah had been cruelly executed, only to appear once again after rising from the dead. And as He departed from them once more, they stood speechless and staring into the sky. Words could not express what was happening, so they stood silently as Jesus ascended to the Father’s right hand.

“There is a point in true worship where the mind may cease to understand and goes over a kind of delightful astonishment …” 1 A.W. Tozer

It seems apparent from the text in Acts that the response of the Apostles was not one of resolved disappointment that Christ was leaving, but truly was a momentary inability to verbalize the situation. In fact, two angels had to jar the Apostles out of this state of astonishment and remind them to go about the task that Christ had commanded. Christ had not abandoned them, but would return in the same way. Pulled from their musings, they headed back to Jerusalem to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Tozer considers this kind of speechless worship.

That kind of worship is found throughout the Bible (though it is only fair to say that the lesser degrees of worship are found there also).  Abraham fell on his face in holy wonderment as God spoke to him.  Moses hid his face before the presence of God in the burning bush.  Paul could hardly tell whether he was in or out of the body when he was allowed to see the unspeakable glories of the third heaven.  When John saw Jesus walking among His churches, he fell at His feet as dead.”

These biblical examples are but a few that could be gleaned from the pages of sacred text. There are enough of them that we must ask whether this is some kind of phenomenon peculiar to those whose stories we find in the pages of the Bible, or whether this is something that is common to believers of any age.  Tozer points out that the examples he uses are “unusual circumstances,” but then makes the explicit statement, “It is always true that an encounter with God brings wonderment and awe.”

That phrase, “an encounter with God brings wonderment and awe,” stops me and makes me think.  Is it “always true,” as Tozer suggests, or is he being dramatic for emphasis?  As I consider his point, I can’t help but agree with his conclusion. A true encounter with the living God is life-changing and will alter our perspective on everything. This is the point of the Christian message—that Christ will transform us from within—and it is as men and women submit to that reality and their need for Him that words often fail.

Tozer finds this to be true in Christian history as well, for those pages are “sweet with the testimonies of enraptured worshipers who met with God in intimate experience and could find no words to express wall they felt and saw and heard?”  Surely, the reading of Christian biographies would underscore the truth of this claim, not to mention the telling and hearing of unwritten stories that have passed from person-to-person, both past and present.

Tozer ends his comments with one exception:

Christian hymnody takes us where the efforts of common prose break down, and brings the wings of poetic feeling to the aid of the wondering saint.  Open an old hymnal and turn to the sections on worship and the divine perfections and you will see the part that wonder has played in worship through the centuries.”

Wonder in worship has played its role throughout the centuries, and it still plays a role today, but we must be careful to allow room for the experience of it. Worship in many settings is often completely focused on upbeat and exciting songs. Music that will move the emotions and the body.  But we must be careful that the constant presence of sound does not drown out the wonder and awe of silence, or quiet and deliberate reverence.

The Apostles experienced a corporate sense of awe that caused communal silence as Christ ascended before them. Is Christ really being raised up in our corporate worship so that, at times, we all stop and stare in wonder and awe?  What does it really mean to encounter God in such as way that we find ourselves speechless? Not only as individuals, but as a whole group of worshipers?

I don’t think that we can manufacture these experiences, and we must be careful to avoid manipulating the emotions of a worshiping community to create a false sense of reverence.  These kinds of events must be the work of God in the midst of the congregation. We, as leaders and worshipers, must pray that God would show Himself to us in such a way, and then be ready to allow this same kind of gazing and dumbstruck response that we see in the Apostles and other examples we have considered.

*All quotes from “Renewed Day by Day:  A Daily Devotional” by A.W. Tozer, compiled by G.B. Smith (Old Tappan, NJ:  Fleming H. Revell Company, 1980).

(Original Post on April 17, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19584-wonder-and-awe-in-worship)

Who is A.W. Tozer? and, Why Should We Listen to Him?

A.W. Tozer was a mid-Twentieth Century pastor and Christian writer. His writings have had a profound impact on many Christians, and after having posted several articles using quotes and thoughts from A.W. Tozer, I thought it would be prudent to explain who he is and why he matters. After all, there are plenty of great things being written today, so why bother reading from a man such as Tozer?

TozerFor a short biography, we should start with the name. A.W. stands for Aiden Wilson. He lived from 1897-1963, serving his entire ministry with The Alliance (The Christian and Missionary Alliance). Most notably were his thirty years spent at Southside Alliance Church in Chicago. It was during his time in Chicago that he was appointed the editor of the Alliance Weekly Magazine, through which he expanded his ministry beyond the reaches of his Chicago church.[1] It was in the pages of this magazine that much of his thinking and writing was expressed, as well as in many books and tracts.

Of his writings, two books are considered classics. The first, titled “The Pursuit of God”, explores the Christian’s need for discovering the depths of a personal relationship with God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. In it he moves the reader toward an experience of God that is not stuck in cold-hearted theology and a cognitive assent to Christian doctrine.  Rather, it is in the direct interaction with the God of the Universe in which man can truly discover meaning and truth. It was such writings that led some to call Tozer a Christian mystic, and anyone willing to spend time considering his thoughts through his writings will find a willing mentor into the deeper things of God.

The second work considered a Christian classic is “The Knowledge of the Holy.” In this work, Tozer unwraps the wonder of God as a Person. Although this is a treatment of the attributes of God, it is in no way similar to what one might encounter in a standard theology text. In fact, Tozer seeks to restore our understanding of God’s majesty and preeminence.  He states,

“The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking worshiping men…The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the case of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us.”[2]

As he describes and unravels each aspect of God’s character, he pushes back on our easy-to-digest ideas of who God is and reminds us of whom He really is as Creator, Sustainer and Lord of the universe.  In so doing, he seeks to once again give Christians a high view of God which will, in turn, lead to holy living and the redemption of humanity.

Having reviewed a snapshot of the man, let me explain the three areas that I think make Tozer important for today. First, his prophetic ideas, articulated in the middle of the Twentieth Century, are as true today as they were then. Maybe more so, since so many Christians ignored his warnings that much of what he said about the diminishing influence of the church has come true.  As quoted above, the Church’s “low view of God” is an infection within the Evangelical Church that, in many ways, remains embedded in the culture and teachings across denominational lines.  The result is a widespread ineffectiveness in dealing with the social and cultural decay we are currently experiencing.  Tozer believed, and rightly so, that as Christians yield to the reality of God’s greatness that it would transform them, and thus transform the Church, as well as the world.

Secondly, his voice was clear regarding the trappings of external success, to which many Churches succumb. He was able to see through the glitz and glamour that was growing in his own time and identify the real issues—the heart issues—that Christians were experiencing. This was especially true as he noted the decline experienced by the Church as its leaders were wooed by popularity and fame. The shallow reality of spiritual health was glazed over by what the Church appeared to be in the midst of its own apparent success. We certainly have not come much further today, and the trappings of popularity are even closer at hand through the increased role of new types of media.

Thirdly, he points to Christ and the life of holiness as the proper expression of what being a Christian is really about. From that standpoint, the Christian can truly live each day through the power of the Holy Spirit as He glorifies God through us. Upon the foundation of willing submission and ready obedience, God will once again move the Church into a transformative organism in culture.  Even so, today, we desperately need this kind of revival.

Parenthetically, we of the Colson Center desire to see this kind of revival of Christians, leading to renewal in families and churches, and ultimately, an awakening of all people to redemption found in Jesus Christ.  For a further discussion regarding this vision see T.M. Moore’s article, “What We Seek:  A Kingdom Manifesto.”

Knowledge_of_the_Holy_by_TozerSo, this is A.W. Tozer. As you see more articles reflecting his thinking and pursuit of God, I hope you will hear the prompting of God’s Spirit as he continues to use this man’s voice to encourage the church toward holy living and transforming presence.

 

(Original Post on April 10, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19543-who-is-aw-tozer-and-why-should-we-listen-to-him)

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