Imagine a small, second floor church study in the middle of a bustling city. To get to the pastor's study you follow a staircase to the second floor. Opening the door to the study and stepping inside you find it appreciably small; the walls lined from top to bottom with a variety of books both theological and otherwise. A small desk with a homemade bookcase on top holding the various books Dr. Tozer used frequently is located in the center of the room. To one side of the desk a large, unabridged dictionary lays open.
James L. Snyder
The man sitting behind the desk wears an old sweater with the elbows out and a newspaper editor-style visor, to shield his sensitive eyes from the glare of the lights. With a goose neck light for illumination, you find him bent over a portable Hermes typewriter.
Throughout his life Tozer gained the reputation of being a modern day prophet. His preaching and writing gave continual evidence of that title. Dr. Tozer once confessed that, although he did not give much time to visitation, people always seemed to seek him out. It was true. People from all walks of life sought counsel from this man whom many respected as a man of God. Students from nearby Wheaton College and others sought advice from Tozer.
His reputation intimidated many, but those who did seek him out found him to be quite courteous and cordial, anxious to be of assistance and patient.
A student might come to the study and ask, "Dr. Tozer, to what do you attribute the success of your ministry?"
Reflecting for a moment Dr. Tozer responds, "Years ago I prayed that God would sharpen my mind and enable me to receive everything He wanted to say to me. I then prayed that God would anoint my head with the oil of the prophet so I could say it back to the people. That one prayer has cost me plenty since, I can tell you that."
Then, with a far?off look in his eyes and nostrils flaring slightly, Tozer cautioned. "Don't ever pray such a prayer if you don't mean it, and, if you want to be happy, don't pray it either."
"Dr. Tozer," a student might inquire, "how is it that you seem to accomplish so much in your ministry?"
Tozer would lean back in his chair and thoughtfully rub his chin. "Many times I come here to my study as uninspired as a burnt shingle. I have editorials due, the preaching ministry here, plus outside preaching engagements. Often when I come here I kneel by that old sofa over there with my Bible and a hymn book. I'll read some scripture, softly sing a few hymns and in a short time my heart is worshiping God. God begins to manifest Himself to me and pour matter into my soul. Before long I take up my pencil and begin jotting down sketches and outlines for editorials and sermons."
Then, in a reflective mood Tozer confides to his listener. "Often, especially when I first came to Chicago, I would take a bus and go out to the lake early in the morning with only my Bible. There I spent many hours alone with God."
Eventually the conversation gets around to sermons. Dr. Tozer's reputation as a preacher made him a regular on many Bible conference platforms around the country. It was a subject, like many, in which Dr. Tozer had strong opinions.
"How do you prepare your sermons?" a student might ask.
"Well, preaching is the most important thing a preacher does. It has always been preaching that has drawn the multitudes. So it is extremely important. Always remember that all preaching begins in prayer. Any sermon that does not is not a message from God no matter how learned the preacher is. It does no good to make up sermons to preach. Preaching must be the present voice of God to a particular people."
As he warms to his subject, Tozer continues. "I like to compare the preacher to an artist. An artist works in water, oil, sand, stone, gold, glass. On the other hand, the preacher works in the stuff called mankind. The artist has an idea of abstract beauty and he seeks to reproduce it in visible, concrete things. The preacher has Christ and tries to make Him visible in human lives. The artist has genius while the preacher has the Holy Spirit. The artist draws his inspiration from other artists while the preacher draws his inspiration in prayer alone with God."
There is a pause in the conversation and both silently reflect on the subject at hand. The student nervously shuffles his feet and Dr. Tozer stares off into space collecting his thoughts. After a while, Tozer breaks the silence.
"The tools of the artist," Tozer continues, "are brushes, chisels, paint. But the tools of the preacher are words. Ninety?nine per cent of your public service will be using words. A preacher, like the artist, must master his tools. He must toil and labor and strive for mastery in this area. At first he will make awkward attempts but if he keeps at it, he will become an expert.”
"How can I develop the necessary skill in all of this?"
"I can't emphasize it strongly enough, but you must develop the habit of discrimination in reading. Never read a good book, for example."
A look of surprise comes across the young student's face and he interrupts Dr. Tozer.
"That sounds contradictory to me. `Never read a good book.' What do you mean?"
With a smile playing across his face Dr. Tozer chuckles and said, "Let me explain what I mean. They are publishing many good books every year. The problem with most of these books is they are merely rehashing what someone else has written. In your reading don't become enamored with the latest release. Go back to the classics and learn from them. Read some of the great Puritan authors and some of the mystics. Read and memorize good poetry. Observe how these writers express themselves. Become word conscious. Pay attention to words and the effect they have. Get and use a dictionary."
As he speaks, Dr. Tozer leafs through the opened dictionary next to his desk. "Whenever I come across a word I'm not familiar with I look it up immediately and study it. This way I'm building my vocabulary all the time. There is nothing to take the place of using the right word. Flaubert use to say there are no synonyms. Find the right word and use it."
Then the student might ask a difficult question such as, "Dr. Tozer, many people regard you as a prophet. How do you feel about that?"
With that Tozer nervously looks away and is silent for a while. It is obvious the question embarrasses him a little.
"Let me put it this way," he might say. "There are in the church today many good men of spotless life, splendid, Spirit?filled teachers in gratifying numbers. I'm profoundly grateful for these men and have benefited from their ministry. I believe, however, the times call for a few men who will be specially anointed and endued with gifts peculiarly suited to the needs of this hour. These men will know the mind of God for their day and will speak with calm assurance. They will be in one sense prophets to their generation.
"At certain intervals of the church God has raised up these prophets. These are the spiritual Originals, the God?intoxicated few, who, in every age, have spoken God's clear message into the duller ears of the multitudes. They have usually been unconventional, fearless, careless of the methods and traditions of the past. They have believed in God and in their own call with a faith that has confounded the opposition. They have commanded and led the moral forces of their day by the sheer power of spiritual ascendancy. They have asked no leave to speak, unafraid to give offense, did not attempt to ingratiate themselves with any school of religious thought, but have spoken straight out of hearts too certain to require the support of any but God alone. Their sublime conviction quickly imparted itself to their hearers."
When asked about his evaluation of the times and what the needs were, Tozer would reply, "I can say without any hesitation that the greatest need of the hour is for prophetic men, `men of oil,' who can discern the signs of the times, sense the Lord's message to their day, and fearlessly declare it."
"If you major on knowing God and cultivate a sense of His presence in your daily life, and do what Brother Lawrence advises, ‘Practice the presence of God’ and seek to know the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, you will go a long way in serving your generation for God. No man has any right to die until he has served his generation."
With that the interview is over and Tozer prays for the young man and the ministry that is before him -- a prayer that will linger in the heart and mind of that young man for the rest of his life.