The Deeper Life

The human heart has remarkable capacity for depth and beauty. You know the feeling.

Sometimes something is so exquisite that a lump swells in your throat and the tears start falling. Sometimes the joy of accomplishment overwhelms you and all seems right with the world. People go for long walks in the woods (or the shopping mall, depending on your personality!) to set their souls at peace. Athletes receiving gold medals sob with joy as their nation’s flag is raised and their anthem sung. Mothers glow with peace and contentment as they cuddle a newborn nestled in their arms.

Humans have a shared sense of longing, a desire for those things that are sweet and powerful and lovely. They will fight and die for concepts like love, honor, nobility, joy, or even sorrow.

In all these things, our hearts express powerful feelings in reaction to various circumstances or sensory experiences. Why did God create us this way? What are we to do with it?

I read an article by A.W. Tozer recently that I think captures precisely what I am getting at. He struggles with what it means to develop Christian maturity, and it talks about the very things I’ve been meditating on. I’ll use his general framework as a jumping-off point to share some thoughts.

First, the ground rules: Tozer points out that what he calls The Deeper Life must continue to be constrained by Scripture. As we explore the limits of emotional experience and intellectual maturity, we must be cautious not to let these things become ends unto themselves, nor should we pursue them for their own sake. Our understanding of The Deeper Life must square with the Bible.

By implication, we must pursue The Deeper Life as Christians. It will not do to call ourselves Christians, yet spend our time expanding and exploring emotional experience apart from the One who created it.

So then, here is our guiding definition:

The Deeper Life is the cultivation and expansion of our human ability to know, love, and honor God. Its purpose is to enhance our intimacy with God and expand our ability to glorify Him in our lives and in the world.

Hopefully this definition creates a picture in your mind of a person whose loves God, but wisely knows their love could be far greater. They use a variety of means (which we will discuss) to love and honor God more.

Tozer denotes five categories in which we develop intimacy with God. When we recognize these areas, we can then work to expand and deepen them in our lives to better know and honor him.

1. Our first union with God is judicial. By this, we mean that the most important relational tie between you and God is his Fatherhood over you, which is present because he has saved you by his grace. As we see in Ephesians 1:4, God, “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” In other words, if you are a Christian, God has chosen you as his child, and you are clean in his sight through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.

The beginning of The Deeper Life, then, is to continually nurture our appreciation for the Gospel. It is our only hope of salvation; the only truly good news man has had since The Fall. We use it as our hermeneutic for the Bible and our hermeneutic for life. We cry out to God in gratitude for it. We remember it by the practice of communion, and we remind ourselves of our indebtedness throughout life. Above all, we must in gratitude preach and teach it to the ends of the earth. Christians are nothing without God’s judicial relationship to us.

Christian, ask yourself- do you love the Gospel? Are you constantly reminding yourself of it? Does it guide your thought process, your Bible study, your decision making? Does your life reflect profound gratefulness for God’s saving grace?

Suggested activities: Study Scripture continually and carefully. Read books on various aspects of the gospel. Listen carefully to stories and biographies of those whose lives have been changed by the gospel. Meditate on it, both by yourself and together with your church in communion. Learn to consider various topics, “in light of” the gospel.

2. Our second union with God is vital. By this, we literally mean that God’s blessing is the source of life and peace. In John 15:4-5, Christ says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

For the Christian, this means recognizing that all our blessings, even our very lives, are dependent on the grace of God. We accept our lot with contentment, knowing that it is from God and that it is good. We honor him within our current context, rather than always wanting something more to be happy (the grass is greener on the other side, etc.) or even wanting more blessings before serving God. We praise him for the good things in our lives, and praise him also for hardships and discipline.

Christian, ask yourself- are you grateful and content with the blessings of God in your life? Do you recognize him as the source of all that happens to you for good or ill, and have you learned to appreciate both? Can people recognize that your health and vitality of spirit flow from the True Vine?

Suggested activities: Read The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs. Find small ways of reminding yourself that all you have is from God. Practice giving him the credit when good things happen, and practice praising him for his wisdom when bad things happen. Spend some time meditating on your life, seeing how God has used various circumstances to bring you to himself and prepare you for whatever lies ahead. Challenge yourself every time you want, “more,” to fulfill a personal rather than a godly desire.

3. Our third union with God is volitional.
This means that we are unified with him in our will. God has specific desires for our lives and for mankind. As his bondservants and as his children, we must seek to have that same will. We should want what he wants, fight for what he fights for. In short, the pursuits and goals of our lives should clearly reflect God’s own heart for the world.

Christians seem to have this idea that SOME people are pastors, and SOME people are missionaries to Africa or China, and everyone else is just supposed to carve out the most pleasant niche they can from the world in which they live. Frankly, that is wrong.

Every Christian should cultivate their will in such a way that when an outsider looks at their life, it clearly shows the same desires and priorities God has in Scripture. We should seek the proclamation of the gospel (in whatever area of life we inhabit), the expansion of the kingdom, and the glory of God. We need to honor God by our choice of career path, by the administration of our families, by our submission to Scriptural commands, and by the use of our gifts. The man who has talent in designing websites or leading camping trips has just as much responsibility to use what God has given him as does a pastor or missionary.

So then, we must saturate ourselves with the Word of God, so that we can know how to make discerning choices with our time and priorities. We must learn to want what God wants, and to orient ourselves to help accomplish those things in our local context. We must want to see the spiritual and numerical growth of the Church (both local and universal), desire to see God’s name lifted up, and long for souls to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Christian, ask yourself- do you know what God wants you to do tomorrow? Do you know what he wants to see happen in your church? Have you thought about how you can use the gifts he has given you to serve HIS priorities? Can you say with all honesty that you want what God wants?

Suggested activities: Write down a particular area of your life, be it free time, work and career, or family. Ask yourself… based on my understanding of Scripture, what does God want for that area? Do my desires match his? Do my activities show that I want what God wants? Read Charles Sheldon’s book, In His Steps. Study the lives of famous missionaries, especially how they gave up normal lives because of their desire to follow the will of God.

4. Our fourth union with God is intellectual.
God has given us minds that are capable of amazing things. We are fascinated by advances in science and industry, mathematics and innovation. Buildings grow taller, products last longer, coffee heats up faster. We process more information now reading the New York Times than most of the people in history could have learned in an entire lifetime.

As Christians, though, we must use our minds to expand our knowledge of God. This does not prevent involvement with science or art; in fact, it promotes it. When we use our minds, we are committed to developing and fleshing out our understanding of God through examination of various aspects of his character and creation. What is important here is that we use it for his glory. The Christian who makes their intellectual development God-centered will be blessed indeed, for they capture a small piece of what mankind could have been, and what heaven may very well be. They experience a world that is wise and orderly, beautiful and wondrous.

The Christian should expand their mind, growing in knowledge and discernment as they seek to be faithful with everything God has given. If you are a parent, you should learn as much as you can from other godly parents. If you are a nuclear physicist, you should do it with all the brilliance and competence God has given. Whatever your calling, the disciplined expansion of your ability to carry out the function God has blessed you with is an important part of binding yourself to God and affirming his lordship over your life.

Christian, ask yourself- have you been faithful with the abilities God has given you? Are you seeking knowledge, so that you can better honor him with it? Do you study, learn, read, discuss, and meditate to know him more fully? Can non-Christians look at your life and see that Christians are just as competent and intelligent as anyone else, but that they use it for a higher purpose?

Suggested activities: Learn the discipline of reading. Study Scripture, study your job, study books that give Christian guidance in regards to family and wisdom and life. Attend lectures to better understand the world around you. Keep up to date with the news without obsessing over it. Ask questions of the many intelligent Christians around you. Learn about Christian activities in the past and present. Don’t be afraid to use your mind for God’s purposes!

5. Our fifth union with God is emotional. This is an area I have alluded to before. Every person has a powerful emotional life, an area of the heart where joy and sorrow and anger and beauty slosh back and forth like waves in a storm. Our logical minds work to control them (with varying degrees of success), but it would be silly to deny them or ignore them completely. Why did God give us emotion, anyway?

The thing is, God himself is a deeply emotional being. He consistently displays joy and sorrow, anger and satisfaction. Could we truly love and honor him if we could not identify with this component of his nature? I doubt it. As weak and grainy reflections of God, we should embrace emotion. However, we need to work at simultaneously deepening it and guiding it.

On the one hand, emotion should be deepened. We must admit that our petty emotions will never compare to the power of God’s emotions, but we can seek to grow closer to his day by day. We should develop our ability to love, and cultivate our understanding of sorrow. We should be angered by sin, and should cry for the pain in the world.

In The Chosen (by Chaim Potok), Danny’s father cries out to God regarding his brilliant but arrogant son.

“A mind like this I need for a son? A heart I need for a son, a soul I need for a son, compassion I want from my son, righteousness, mercy, strength to suffer and carry pain, that I want from my son, not a mind without a soul!”

As Christians, we learn to embrace the powerful feelings that God has for this world. However, they must be guided by a correct understanding of God. Emotions set free can be chaotic, but when we focus our emotions on the character of God, we see him more clearly. Beauty, rather than pleasing self, points to the beauty of the Creator. Sorrow reminds us of the depth of our weakness and our desperate need for grace. Anger, no longer a weapon of personal vengeance, is a correct response to the ugliness of sin and exploitation. Happiness is no longer getting what you want, but is instead being thrilled with contentment at all that God has given.

The Christian who develops and deepens their emotion with this God-centered focus will find themselves a more able servant for him to use. They will be better able to identify with the suffering, and show greater compassion to those who hurt. They will be more thoughtful in leadership, more accessible in preaching and teaching. Their children will be given a more complete picture of God by their parents, and non-Christians will see the separateness and otherness of our faith. The Christian with a powerful and well-directed emotional life can be a beautiful tool in the hands of the Father.

Christian, ask yourself- are you learning to deepen your emotional experience? Do you allow yourself to feel things powerfully, and seek to feel them the way God feels them? Do you look to God for emotional guidance in the Bible, and learn to identify with his prophets? Are you seeking to understand the heart of God in the way that the Psalms, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and the Prophets do? Like Christ, can you view the world with joy and sorrow, anger and patience, disappointment and love?

Suggested activities: Read through the Psalms and the Prophets, spending time meditating on the emotions that they were experiencing. Read good poetry with an eye toward identifying with the human emotional experience. Leave the remote control lying on the coffee table when a Save the Children commercial comes on. Rent a documentary on conditions in third-world countries. Enjoy sports, and art, and human achievements, being careful to recognize how they display the wonder and beauty of God more than anything else. Cry with your friends when they hurt.

The Deeper Life and Union with God

A relationship begins when something forms a connection between two entities, like a string tied between two trees. It does not mean much, and it can be easily broken. But as the relationship develops, more and more strings are tied. A conversation here, a walk in the park there. A shared experience. Matching perspectives or opinions. A hug.

Eventually, the two are tied together by so many bonds at so many levels and in so many ways that it would be nearly impossible to break them. They are inextricably linked, sharing a closeness that no outsider can challenge. They have created intimacy, and the bonds cannot be broken by anything short of betrayal or a more intimate bond somewhere else.

Christian, as one who has been redeemed by the grace of God, it is your duty to pursue that type of intimacy with him. It is your responsibility to develop every aspect of your relationship with him and your understanding of him. It is your calling to honor him by knowing and reflecting him as clearly as possible. It must be your joy to try to be like him in every aspect.

In his chapter on maturity, Tozer says that the result of building this intimacy with God is freedom from loves and freedom from fears. In other words, by cultivating the bonds of intimacy with God above all others, we are freed from the idolatry of love for the things of this world. In addition, we are removed from the fear of anything that the world can throw at us. We become increasingly independent, functioning not as fearful pleasers of self, but as joyful servants of God.

Do you desire that type of life? Would it be your joy to honor God by being more like him, acting more like him, and displaying his beauty to the world? Christian, pursue maturity and intimacy.

Be united with God judicially in his Gospel. Repent of your sin, receive his gift of redemption by faith, and set him as Lord and Master of your life. Study and understand and explain and share and proclaim his glorious gift.

Be united with God vitally as the source of your life and being. Recognize that he is the source of all that is good, your only hope for existence. Pray to him for strength and guidance. Look to his Word for knowledge and understanding and direction.

Be united with God volitionally as you serve him and honor his desires. Learn the will of God from Scripture. Make the expansion of his kingdom your priority, and organize your life to reflect that priority.

Be united with God intellectually by using the gifts he has given. Study thoroughly to excel in your vocation and life situation. Ask questions to know more about God and his world and his desires. Do not be afraid of hard questions, but ask them and pursue them knowing that God is able to answer.

Be united with God emotionally as you seek to know his heart. Experience the power of beauty and emotion, and learn how to connect your heart to that of the Father. Love God deeply, and cultivate disciplines in your life that will help you love him even more deeply. Utilize your emotions to reflect God as clearly as you are able to all who come into contact with you.

Remember our definition of The Deeper Life?

The Deeper Life is the cultivation and expansion of our human ability to know, love, and honor God. Its purpose is to enhance our intimacy with God and expand our ability to glorify Him in our lives and in the world.

Be united to God. Be free from love of the world. Be free from fear of the world. Experience The Deeper Life, glorify your Father in heaven, and prepare for the joy that awaits you.

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