Ken's Letter for February
One of my favourite writers, among many, is the American pastor, theologian and author of the last century Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897 – 1963) whose books are known the world over for their keen insight into the nature and the workings of the relationship we have with God through Christ.
Converted at age 17 after an encounter with a street preacher he had no formal Bible training but went on to exercise a ministry that spanned over forty years. Self-educated he was a disciplined reader and student of the Bible. He taught himself not only doctrine and church history but above all the habit of lingering long in the presence of God. It was his practice to lie prostrate on the floor of his study for several hours a day and there to simply wait upon God. This appointment with the Lord he jealously guarded even to the extent that other engagements could occasionally slip his mind. Once being remonstrated with for missing a speaking engagement he had overlooked he simply remarked that he had had a more important appointment to keep! I’m not sure how this went down in his day as an excuse for absence: probably about as effective as it would be today! But how many ministers today are likely to leave at least ten books that have held their place in the affections of the Christians of succeeding generations as he has done? His works have stood the test of time and are considered spiritual classics; and this literary legacy is only a small part of his life’s work. How different from modern day ministry with its demands for social media engagement, instant email replies and ever more sophisticated and convenient means of communication. How much of the verbiage that we turn out will be remembered or even archived long after we have gone? For most of us I suspect very little.
And who among modern day minsters has time to spend several hours a day in prayer and contemplation? But perhaps the results of all this modern day busyness are telling! Of course many other differences have to be taken into account between the first half of the twentieth century and the first half of the twenty first, but Tozer lived and ministered through two world wars let’s not forget. I wonder if we are chasing our goals sometimes unaware of the law of diminishing returns, where more and more activity leads to fewer and fewer tangible results! A part of Tozer’s secret was, I think, that he insisted through changing times that God was unchanging, and he sought to know this God and not one of the creation of the times in which he lived. Any such creation is mere idolatry, surely as offensive to divine sensitivities as the setting up of an actual physical image.
Yesterday we were given the grim news that the United Kingdom has joined five other nations to become the sixth to record a coronavirus death toll in excess of one hundred thousand. The times in which we live are indeed challenging. Yet God is unchanging, and we are, each and every one of us, likewise invited to linger long in His presence, just as Tozer was. God is unchanging yet not unfeeling; He is moved by our actions and by our emotions. Just as the hymn writer George Herbert wrote centuries before Tozer:
King of glory, King of Peace,
I will love thee;
And that love may never cease
I will move thee.
This doctrine of God’s unchangeable nature, referred to as his immutability, is supremely reassuring for us. If God willed one thing today and another thing tomorrow who would be able to confidently confide in Him or be encouraged by Him. God is always the same:
“Infinite in wisdom, there can be no error in [his plans’] conception; infinite in power, there can be no failure in their accomplishment.”
[ Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (London: James Clarke & Co., 1960), p. 390.]
The times change but God does not. He is not caught unawares by Covid-19. On the subject of God’s immutability Tozer writes:
What peace it brings to the Christian’s heart to realize that our heavenly Father never differs from himself. In coming to him at any time we need not wonder whether we shall find him in a receptive mood. He is always receptive to misery and need, as well as to love and faith. He does not keep office hours nor set aside periods when he will see no one. Neither does he change his mind about anything. Today, this moment, he feels toward his creatures, toward babies, toward the sick, the fallen, the sinful, exactly as he did when he sent his only-begotten Son into the world to die for mankind. God never changes his moods or cools off in his affections or loses his enthusiasm.