One of the difficulties accompanying some of my recent health issues has been in the areas of reading and concentration. Physically, it was tricky holding a book and turning the pages; mentally, it was a challenge to follow the train of thought. After 2020, I resolved to push through and try to regain some of that lost ground in this wonderful pleasure and necessary discipline of reading. Regrettably, my 2021 list does not include any juggernauts of recent scholarship or “nosebleed inducing” towers of rhetoric (though I long to navigate those types of books again). Instead, I sought out the comfort of mostly older, familiar materials with a few exceptions. Here is a selection of some of those old friends.
The Knowledge of the Holy and The Pursuit of God by Aiden Wilson Tozer. In my own sense of the seasons, January is acquainted with these books as some associate the new year with resolutions, calendars, and dieting resolve. In my heart, I so struggle with having only an appreciation of God in an antiseptic or strictly academic fashion. If the great sin of Bible preaching is to “bore” the hearer with grand themes of the Holy Scriptures, then certainly the concomitant violation of the exegete is to be underwhelmed by the awesome Trinitarian God. The regular visitation with these books helps warm my heart to the awesomeness and intimacy that “following hard after God” necessitates. Tozer’s writing lends itself to being eminently quotable. A few of my favorites are as follows:
From The Knowledge of the Holy:
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” (Kindle Location 36).
The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking. With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. (Kindle Locations 9-12).
It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is. (Kindle Locations 19-20).
From The Pursuit of God:
We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. “No man can come to me,” said our Lord, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him,” and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: “Thy right hand upholdeth me.” (Amazon Classics Edition) (p. 7).
The doctrine of justification by faith—a Biblical truth, and a blessed relief from sterile legalism and unavailing self-effort—has in our time fallen into evil company and been interpreted by many in such manner as actually to bar men from the knowledge of God. The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be “received” without creating any special love for Him in the soul of the receiver. The man is “saved,” but he is not hungry nor thirsty after God. In fact he is specifically taught to be satisfied and encouraged to be content with little. (Amazon Classics Edition) (p. 8).
The modern scientist has lost God amid the wonders of His world; we Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word. We have almost forgotten that God is a Person and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can. (Amazon Classics Edition) (p. 8).
Even though God has allowed me to read through these books and many of Tozer’s other writings on multiple occasions, I am always grateful for the work God does in my heart each time.
Another book that was undoubtedly apropos in the midst of pandemic ministering was a shorter tome by John MacArthur entitled Remaining Faithful in Ministry: 9 Essential Convictions for Every Pastor. In a scant 82 pages, the author encourages those in ministry to emulate the character of the apostle Paul. Using 2 Corinthians 4 as a backdrop, he extrapolates and applies how we can “remain faithful” in troubling and tearful seasons of service. With too many departing the ministry and far too many disqualifying themselves through compromise, I found this to be a call to rededicate myself to the high privilege of serving Jesus and His church faithfully. Pastor Dever eloquently summarizes as follows:
“What are we to do in ministry when we encounter setbacks? John MacArthur presents nine reasons that the apostle Paul did not lose heart. This concise treatise is marked by gospel clarity and filled with timely observations. Accurate and honest, direct and encouraging, clear and plain, MacArthur has produced a portrait in words. As Paul reflects Christ, so should the faithful minister…” ―Mark Dever, Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC
In conclusion, these three books (along with several others, including J. Oswald Sanders’ timeless volumes Spiritual Leadership and Spiritual Discipleship) were steady guides in these uncharted waters of pandemic ministry and physical recovery.