A lesson on renunciation, Abraham’s wealth, and the joy of possessing nothing

“The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One. Many ordinary treasures may be denied him, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment of them will be so tempered that they will never be necessary to his happiness. Or if he must see them go, one after one, he will scarcely feel a sense of loss, for having the Source of all things he has in One all satisfaction, all pleasure, all delight. Whatever he may lose he has actually lost nothing, for he now has it all in One, and he has it purely, legitimately, forever.” A. W. Tozer – The Pursuit of God

I’m currently re-reading A.W Tozer’s The Pursuit of God, which I bought a few months ago. One of the chapters that struck me particularly was the second chapter, “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing.” He spells out the beautiful irony of having everything, and yet possessing nothing. He writes this to be “…the spiritual secret. There is the sweet theology of the heart which can be learned only in the school of renunciation. The books on systematic theology overlook this, but the wise will understand.”

He starts the chapter by going back to the Genesis account of the creation, citing that when God made man upon the earth, He already prepared everything “useful and pleasant for man’s sustenance and delight.” These “things” were made for man’s use but were “always meant to be external to the man and subservient to him. In the deep heart of the man was a shrine where none but God was worthy to come. Within him was God; without, a thousand gifts which God had showered upon him.” Beautifully explained, but oh how far we have drifted from this original context. Nowadays, things “possess” us, control us and have overtaken our hearts.

The chapter centered on the truth that anything apart from God will ever satisfy. He writes that “possessive clinging to things is one of the most harmful habits to life” and I think this is because we put so much of ourselves to things that are temporary and fleeting, which in the end, only come out worthless. Real wealth is inward and eternal, one that can never be lost, such as your relationship with Christ, and your eternal salvation. Everything else is up for flames.

Reading this chapter makes me cautious about the idols that I keep in my heart, the desires that have displaced God and have challenged his reign in my life. A.W Tozer’s example was yet again spot on. Consider Abraham. He had been given a promise that God will make a great nation of him through his son Isaac. And yet God asks the unthinkable –to sacrifice his one and only possession of this promise. I always wondered what went through the mind of Abraham because so little detail was given to us in the Bible. How he must have contemplated and resisted and pondered on this the whole night under the stars, and yet he still went “early in the morning” to obey God’s commands.

In the end, Abraham learned the lesson of renunciation, of sacrifice, and of putting God first. He learned what it meant to have everything and yet possess nothing on earth. In God, he has everything, and even his heart needed to understand this lesson. Tozer continues, “After that bitter and blessed experience, I think the words my and mine never again had the same meaning for Abraham. The sense of possession which they connote was gone from his heart. Things had been cast out forever. They had now become external to the man. His inner heart was free from them. The world said, “Abraham is rich,” but the aged patriarch only smiled. He could not explain it, but he knew that he owned nothing, that his real treasures were inward and eternal.”

What does it mean for me to renounce things, to abnegate earthly desires and consider all things as so incomparably lacking and destitute of any true value? I always ask myself, in matters of eternity, how do they compare? I recently had the opportunity to “reject” one such “valuable” commodity and when I did, I felt good inside. Mostly because of the way I processed my decision making and the way I thought about longevity and impact. In the eyes of the world, I was wasting an opportunity. To me, I was renouncing possessing more than I need. I don’t need to live a lavish lifestyle or to possess a lot of things to make me happy. Simply, I just need Jesus at the center of my life. That is my wealth.

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