A.W. Tozer and “The Sacrament of Living”

A few weeks ago we took a look at a fantastic little tool: the book of liturgical prayers called Every Moment Holy, by Doug McKelvey. The premise of his book, as far as I know, is the belief that it’s not just the big, religious events in life that warrant a spiritual response; rather, every mundane, prosaic moment can be consecrated as holy to God if we set our hearts in that direction.

Recently I was reading the final chapter of A.W. Tozer’s gem of a book, The Pursuit of God. It was so related to that previous post that I couldn’t resist writing about it here. Today I hope to talk about the often-overlooked truth that every aspect of our lives—from Sunday morning’s worship service to Thursday night’s bedtime routine—can be an equally-pleasing gift to God. In Tozer’s down-to-earth style, he helps clarify why and how this can be. Let’s check it out together!

A False Antithesis

Tozer begins the final chapter of his book with this statement: “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” (117). And isn’t this the truth? Many of us were probably raised with this assumption either explicitly or implicitly undergirding our lives. It seemed that some activities were holier and more sacred than others. Going to church is sacred. Going to school is secular. Praying is holy. Playing is worldly. Serving in a soup kitchen is spiritual. Serving dinner to our families is a necessary evil.

This belief can lead to tension. “We go about our common tasks with a feeling of deep frustration, telling ourselves pensively that there’s a better day coming when we shall slough off this earthly shell and be bothered no more with the affairs of this world” (118-119). The older and more responsible I get, the more I wrestle with this feeling of frustration he mentions. Why, I lament, is so much of my precious time filled with such non-spiritual, non-important tasks? If I’m an eternal soul supposed to make an eternal difference, then why is 90% of my day consumed by menial tasks like buying groceries, caring for an infant, washing laundry, caring for an infant, making food, and caring for an infant? (I’m sure you see a common theme here.) Is this really what God intended for me? Surely not!

But Tozer protests, saying that “the sacred-secular antithesis has no foundation in the New Testament….The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is our perfect example, and He knew no divided life….God accepted the offering of His total life, and made no distinction between act and act” (119). Yes, I argue, but surely Jesus used His time better than I did. I mean, when’s the last time I performed a miracle (excluding the decent lunch I conjured out of random leftovers, which I believe really was akin to the loaves and fish)?

The Sacred Reality

But God leaves us not only the example of Christ—which really does count, despite His divinity—but He also gives us a direct command to honor Him in every single thing that we do. “Paul’s exhortation to ‘do all to the glory of God’ is more than pious idealism….Lest we should be too timid to include everything, Paul mentions specifically eating and drinking….If these lowly animal acts can be so performed as to honor God, then it becomes difficult to conceive of one that cannot” (120).  

So God really does intend for our entire lives to be sacred. What a relief, and what a challenge! It’s a relief to know that He didn’t intend for us to live like monks or ascetics, hiding away in solitary prayer lest we accidentally think a non-eternal thought. He intended for us to live normal lives with eternity in mind. Of course, some will make greater use of their time and talents, but all believers can do all to the glory of God if they let the Spirit enable them. But therein lies the challenge.

Yes, But How?

Assuming we accept as possible this command to live all of life as a sacrament, our next question should be, “How on earth do I do that?” Tozer answers that knowing the truth is not enough. Rather, we apply it “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” (122). It is a constant realignment of our minds and hearts.

But our old thought patterns will continually resurface, and Satan will do his best to distract us from this sacred mindset. We can continue to live in this reality “only by the exercise of an aggressive faith. We must offer all 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 the transaction” (123). Will it be easy or instant? Definitely not. But is it possible? Without a doubt. Let me share with you the example of a man I know.

Full-Time Ministry in a Factory

In certain circles, it’s normal to refer to a pastor or missionary as being in “full-time ministry,” while a factory job is considered “secular.” I understand what they’re getting at, but I think this terminology is part of our problem. As Tozer reminds us, “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it” (127).

For example, I know a man whose factory job was his full-time ministry. He started his day by spending time reading the Bible, writing down a verse or two on a little index card to carry in his pocket during the day so he wouldn’t forget. He used his commute to pray for people and to meditate on the verses he read that morning. He used many of his interactions at work to encourage and pray for people. He spent some of his lunch breaks having Bible studies with a handful of interested guys. He was asked to come to co-workers houses in order to pray for their sick family members. When he came to retirement age, he told me, “I know I could be done here already, but I’m having too much fun!”

In Conclusion

He may sound like an unapproachable, pious person, but he’s not at all! He’s just a regular guy who takes seriously God’s command to do all for His glory. I didn’t mention his name so that I don’t embarrass him (he wouldn’t want the attention anyway), but I’ll bet you know people who fit this description as well.

However, if you’re anything like me, that example may seem a little daunting. After all, I feel pretty accomplished when I remember to pray over my lunch or to be thankful for a small blessing that God gives me during the day. How in the world am I supposed to get to a point where my whole day is lived for God’s glory? With repentance when I fail and rededication when I remember. After all, “Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act….For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary” (127). It’s a high and lofty goal, but with God’s help, it’s worth pursuing.

Source: Tozer, A.W. The Pursuit of God. Mansfield Centre: Martino Publishing, 2009.

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