The Sacrament of Living
"Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Consider the prism. A prism is a glass device used to reflect light (bounce it back), or to refract light (bend it), or to break light up (disperse it) into its constituent spectral colors (e.g., the colors of the rainbow). The traditional geometrical shape is that of the triangular prism, composed of a triangular base and rectangular sides.
Here's how it works. White light is composed of a mixture of many discreet colors, each with a different frequency and wavelength. When a beam of white light moves from one medium (e.g., air) into a denser medium (e.g., the glass of the prism), it is slowed down and as a result is bent (refracted) and split apart (dispersed). The angle of the beam determines whether it is refracted or not, and by how much.
Since each color has a specific frequency, each color gets bent slightly different from the others. For instance, as white light passes through a prism, blue light is slowed down more than red light and will therefore be bent more than red light. Therefore, we see blue and red dispersed at different places along the spectrum of color, giving us the beautiful rainbow display.
Isaac Newton was the first man to hypothesize that prisms split colors out of colorless light. He proved this theory by passing a separated color thorough a second prism, finding the color unchanged. He therefore concluded that prisms do in fact bend and separate the constituent colors within white light. Furthermore, he found that by using a lens and a second prism he could recompose the spectral rainbow of separated colors back into white light.
The Final Question
If God is light (1 John 1:5), then Tozer's book, The Pursuit of God, functions much like a prism. Throughout the ten chapters, the author separates out for us a wide spectrum of truth contained in the one single theme, captured by the title. In fact, while each chapter is sufficient unto itself, the attentive reader is probably aware that each chapter recycles the things written in previous ones. And that is because each chapter, while highlighting a specific dimension, is also a variation on one, simple imperative: we must continually pursue the God who is continually pursuing us.
If, in chapters one through nine, Tozer separates out and displays for us the whole kaleidoscope of how one ought to chase after God, then in chapter ten he gathers up and recombines those disassembled components into one, single white beam. This is the chapter that reviews, summarizes, restates, and emphasizes. This is the chapter that pulls everything together, not only in terms of the whole book, but also in terms of the whole of life. This is the chapter where Tozer tells us to quit trying to pursue God by doing nine different things (contained in chapters 1-9), and simply do one thing — one thing expressed from nine different perspectives.
Our final question serves to tie together all of the previous nine. In review, we've explored the following questions from each chapter: Chapter 1 — How hard are you following after God? Chapter 2 — How blessed are you in possessing nothing? Chapter 3 — How much of the veil have you removed? Chapter 4 — How much of God have you apprehended? Chapter 5 — How has the universal presence of God transformed your life? Chapter 6 — What have you heard from God's speaking voice lately? Chapter 7 — How much has the gaze of your soul improved? Chapter 8 — How is your Creator-creature alignment progressing? And Chapter 9 — How are you doing regarding your posture of meekness and your pose of rest?
In the tenth and final chapter of this timeless treasure, Tozer pulls everything together in a section titled: "The Sacrament of Living." The introductory verse sets the stage well: "Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). That is, what we do in life will vary widely, but why we do it should never vary. Each and every act, thought, intent, and reaction should function as a lens that focuses solely on the Lord's glory, magnifying it for all creation to behold.
This chapter is entitled "The Sacrament of Living." So, a good place to begin is by asking, "What is a sacrament?" Simply put, a sacrament is an outward, visible symbol of some inward, invisible reality. That is, the unseen truth is manifested in that which can be seen. For instance, we cannot see God, for he is Spirit (the truth is not that God has a Spirit, but that God is Spirit). Through the incarnation (the "enfleshment"), that which we could not see has now been made visible. God the Son took on the flesh of humanity and became one of us so that the children of men could become children of God. He came down to lift us up.
But those of us now living didn't get to see him while he was on earth. So, how do we connect with this visible incarnation of the God-man? The answer: by regularly participating in ordained sacraments, particularly those of baptism and the Eucharist. One symbolizes the spiritual reality of being buried and raised with Christ and the other one symbolizes the spiritual reality of Christ abiding in us to nourish and sustain. Therefore, since God created that which is seen and that which is unseen, both are equally sacred. And both serve a vital purpose in creation. The seen helps us grasp the infinite reality of the unseen and the unseen reminds us of the finite nature of the seen.
This truth restores to primacy a basic perspective: all of life ought to be thought of as, and lived out as, a sacrament. That is, everything we do in this life can and should point to God and his glory. Or, as Tozer writes, "One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas — the sacred and the secular." And from that common habit Tozer identifies a common problem, "Our trouble springs from the fact that we who follow Christ inhabit at once two worlds — the spiritual and the natural." We simultaneously have one foot in heaven and the other foot on earth. We are "amphibious" beings, beings that occupy two worlds.
What does it mean to be in two worlds? It means that we are required to endure a lifetime of hard toil and to devote much of our attention to the things of this world. And let's face it, life demands that we spend copious amounts of time on the seemingly trivial things. Yet even with temporal things, 1 Corinthians 10:31 reminds us, we find a myriad of opportunities to glorify God in what some have called "the glory of the grind."
The Sacred-Secular Dichotomy
Concerning the two worlds, Tozer warns that,
"This tends to divide our total life into two departments. We come unconsciously to recognize two sets of actions. The first are performed with a feeling of satisfaction and a firm assurance because they are pleasing to God. These are the sacred acts . . . ."
These are typically the things that nourish our spiritual life. They include the spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, Bible study, worship, and serving one another. Indeed these are the activities that elevate our minds and hearts.
"Over against these sacred acts are the secular ones. They include all of the ordinary activities of life which we share with sons and daughters of Adam: eating, sleeping, working, looking after the needs of the body and performing our dull and prosaic duties here on earth. These we often do reluctantly and with many misgivings, often apologizing to God for what we consider a waste of time and strength."
Many of us can hardly wait until the day we leave our earthly body and its burdens behind. Think about it. No more rising while still dark, fighting the traffic, laboring in a job that utilizes very little of our best abilities, earning a meager paycheck, shopping at the local grocery store, finding a place to store the food, preparing the food, eating the food, and then having to earn more money so that we can buy bigger clothes because of all the weight we gained by eating all the food we bought.
Or think of all that's involved in having lots of stuff. We begin by thinking that we "just can't live without" some thing or another, so we spend money to buy it. We then spend more money to store it, to insure it, to repair it, to maintain it, and to finally sell it in a garage sale at a loss, or if it doesn't sell, to build a bigger attic to store all the stuff we "just can't live without."
Or think about all the time and energy spent caring for our bodies. As the old saying goes, we spend the first half of life losing our health to gain wealth and the second half losing our wealth to gain back our health. We devote enormous resources in nourishing, clothing, warming/cooling, cleaning, exercising, resting, insuring, comforting, challenging, educating, employing, and retiring our bodies. And to what end? We are like the old couple in the cartoon, sitting at a soda fountain. The old guy says to his wife, "Look over there honey. See that elderly couple? In ten years we'll probably be look just like them." She replies, "Darling, that's a mirror."
Living in two worlds tempts Christians to fall for the old sacred-secular dichotomy. As Tozer says, "They cannot get a satisfactory adjustment between the claims of the two worlds. They try to walk a tightrope between two kingdoms and they find no peace in either. Their strength gets reduced, their outlook confused, and their joy taken from them." In fact, we find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma, but it is a false dilemma, one that doesn't exist. For the sacred-secular dichotomy has no basis in Scripture.
Jesus himself is the perfect model. He did not live a divided life. Everything he did, from the manager to the cross, was all done for the glory of God. He was able to live each moment in the presence of his Father, being poised and restful as he moved among men. As he tells us in John 8:29, "I do always those things that please him [his Father]." Whatever turmoil and pain he endured is only due to his mission as sin-bearer for the world, not from any "moral uncertainty or spiritual maladjustment."
My conviction is that we need to live out of the center of our lives, not the periphery. That center is the true wellspring out of which flows all the resources required to live a life that pleases God. This is why the spiritual life is always to be lived from the inside out and not from the outside in. Again we see how foundational is Paul's exhortation to "do all to the glory of God."
Recall with me the famous scene from the award-winning film Chariots of Fire. Eric Liddell feels the twin pulls of racing and missions. The head of the mission agency asks him, "How good are you, Eric?' His friend answers for him and says that he could be good enough for the Olympic Games. Then the head of the mission says, "Eric, you can praise the Lord by peeling a spud if you peel it to perfection. Don't compromise. Compromise is the language of the devil. Run in God's name and let the world stand back in wonder."
In Eric Liddell, as well as throughout biblical and church history, we observe the secular transformed into the sacred simply by means of honoring God. This opens up to us the every-moment possibility of making the mundane acts of our lives a cause for heavenly celebration. For example, I believe that you can do business to the glory of God. In fact, your business can actually be a mode of worship, with each task taking on the same value as prayer. Any activity needs only a heart turned toward God in order to be made sacred. By doing your work "as unto the Lord," rather than unto people, you reflect the glory and honor of Jesus Christ himself.
Now, says Tozer, "That monkish hatred of the body which figures so prominently in the works of certain early devotional writers is wholly without support in the Word of God." That is, they over-did it. Some believers are drawn toward the ascetic extreme. Or, we can go the opposite direction toward the extreme of indulgence. Christ's presence in human flesh gives the lie to the idea that the flesh itself is evil and must be destroyed. The body of a person is not evil. It is the sinful choices of the heart that are evil. For that the disciplines of the spirit are valuable exercises unto godliness.
"Let us think of a Christian believer in whose life the twin wonders of repentance and the new birth have been wrought. He is now living according to the will of God as he understands it from the written Word. Of such a one it may be said that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord's Supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; it is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament."
That is, live sacramentally. Live in such a way that what you are on the outside points to what is true on the inside.
"By one act of consecration of our total selves to God can make every subsequent act express that consecration . . . We must practice living to the glory of God, actually and determinedly. By meditation upon this truth, by talking it over with God often in our prayers, by recalling it to our minds frequently as we move about among men, a sense of its wondrous meaning will take hold of us. The old painful duality will go down before a restful unity of life."
I like his imagery. We become people who are being guided and empowered by our inner life. There is a unifying vision that captures our true energy, our true direction. We are on a trajectory that moves us toward a purpose, and every component in our lives can be pressed into service toward that purpose.
But he cautions us that,
"This is not quite all. Long-held habits do not die easily. . . . We must offer all of our acts to God and believe that He accepts them. Then hold firmly to that position and keep insisting that every act of every hour of the day and night be included in this transaction. Keep reminding God in our times of private prayer that we mean every act for His glory; then supplement those times by a thousand thought-prayers as we go about the job of living. Let us practice the fine art of making every work a priestly ministration. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there."
Holy People, Not Holy Places
Tozer walks us through the history of God's people — the people of the covenant. Israel spent 400 years in Egypt, immersed in the crassest idolatry. Moses was tapped to lead them forth into the land of promise. As it turned out, getting them out of slavery proved far easier than getting slavery out of them. The concept of holiness had been completely lost to them. So, God took them to school and began at the beginning. He manifested his presence through something they could see: a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
Eventually, God chose to tabernacle within the Holy of Holies, providing his children many object lessons about the difference between what is holy and unholy. Tozer recounts,
"There were holy days, holy vessels, holy garments. There were washings, sacrifices, offerings of many kinds. By these means, Israel learned that God is holy. It was this that He was teaching them. Not the holiness of things or places, but the holiness of Jehovah was the lesson they must learn."
Then came Jesus Christ and the Old Testament schooling is over. Now worship is no longer about place, but about heart. Its locus is no longer confined to one chosen nation, but to one chosen people, represented by all the nations of the earth. It is no longer mediated by priests, but by one Mediator, the man Christ Jesus. And it is no longer limited to a bounded land of promise, but to an unbounded life of abundance. In the end, the God who gave everything for you wants everything from you. His salvific program goes far beyond just giving you a better life or easing some of your pain. He bought all of you and now wants all of you for himself.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis recalls the time when, as a young boy, he had a toothache. He delayed going to his mother as long as he possibly could. But finally the pain got so bad that he gave in and asked for her help. He knew she would give something for the pain, but he also knew that she would do something else. She would take him to one of those dentists "who have a way of fiddling around with teeth that don't even hurt." They do treat the toothache, but then they start messing with other things as well. He concludes that God is like that dentist: you give him a little and he wants more; you give him more and he wants it all. He wants to give you the full treatment. But the full treatment is nothing short of being fully conformed to the image of his Son. So, if the full treatment requires the severe mercy of pain to get our attention, he will use it to drive us to himself.
However, in spite of all the initial glories of grace splashed across the pages of the New Testament, the Church began to fall into disrepair as the years went by. Soon the accretions of holy appearance began to cling to the Church like barnacles until it eventually became so encrusted you could no longer see the real thing. The human heart, not naturally given to embracing grace, drifted back toward the law. The law is simple and straightforward. You do the "Thou shalts" and you don't do the "Thou shalt nots." If you keep the rules, you appear spiritual to yourself and others. But unlike the law, grace cannot be so easily controlled, for grace is not natural to us. Our mind does not instinctively understand it, our heart does not instinctively treasure it, our hand does not instinctively express it.
So, rather than purifying and enlarging the habitat of our hearts that they may be fit temples for the Spirit that is holy, we prefer to put our time and energy into building impressive temples of wood and stone. Rather than linger before the throne of grace in prayer, permitting the Spirit to run his righteous finger over our lives, we prefer to linger over our spiritual checklists, reviewing the rules and regulations.
Tozer makes an important distinction,
"It does not mean, for instance, that everything we do is of equal importance with everything else we do or may do. One act of a good man's life may differ widely from another in importance. Paul's sewing of tents was not equal to his writing of an Epistle to the Romans, but both were accepted of God and both were true acts of worship. Certainly it is more important to lead a soul to Christ than to plant a garden, but the planting of the garden can be as holy an act as the winning of a soul."
Here we see the principle that even the most unimportant things can be acts of worship, acceptable to the Father. But we also see that not every person is equally as useful as another. Some have been given greater gifts and others lesser gifts, but both can serve in a way that pleases God.
The intent of the heart is everything. "Let a man,' Tozer says, "sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." The so-called secular becomes truly spiritual when the focus of your heart is the eternal. And it is equally true that when the focus of your heart is on the temporal, you can quickly downsize a sacred task into a secular act of selfishness.
Referring to the person who lives life as a sacred ministration, Tozer concludes his chapter and book with the following: "As he performs his never so simple task, he will hear the voice of the seraphim saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:3).
Ultimately, Tozer ends precisely where he began — at the throne of God. Along the way he has coaxed and coached us into growing our spiritual eyes, our spiritual ears, our spiritual nose, our spiritual taste buds, and our spiritual touch, that we may fully welcome the Presence that does not disappoint. He artfully avoids the easy road of simply listing ten things we ought to do in our pursuit of God. Rather, he calls us to lean in a little closer each day and then wait, expecting God to whisper his sacred secrets, the secrets that bring to life a sacramental life. No wonder this book never gets old.
Is your life a sacrament unto the Lord? Have you opened up all the doors and windows of your heart, inviting him to make himself at home? Do you want the pursuit of God to anoint every thought, every act, every motive of your life? Then use this prayer as a template from which you lay everything before the One who bought you with a price and will bring to completion what he has begun.
"Lord, I would trust Thee completely; I would be altogether Thine; I would exalt Thee above all. I desire that I may feel no sense of possessing anything outside of Thee. I want constantly to be aware of Thy overshadowing presence and to hear Thy speaking voice. I long to live in restful sincerity of heart. I want to live so fully in the Spirit that all my thoughts may be as sweet incense ascending to Thee and every act of my life may be an act of worship. Therefore I pray in the words of Thy great servant of old, 'I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise Thee.' And all this I confidently believe Thou wilt grant me through the merits of Jesus Christ Thy Son. Amen."
Related Topics: Spiritual Formation