“But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matthew 6:3-4, N,.K.J.V.)
Recently, I listened to a Father’s Day sermon by a certain preacher whose televised programs I sometimes record. During one part of the sermon, this preacher used the ministry of A.W. Tozer as an illustration. I was especially interested in that illustration because Tozer, who died in 1963, is about as legendary as they come in terms of 20th century preachers.
Tozer pastored several churches during his more than forty years in the ministry, most notably serving for thirty years as the pastor of Southside Alliance Church in Chicago. He is, however, best known for his work as an author. In particular, his book The Pursuit of God is considered an all-time classic among Christians.
I was surprised, though, to hear the t.v. preacher use Tozer’s life as an illustration of how a good man can be a bad father. To make his point, the preacher explained that Tozer’s wife, Ada, remarried following Tozer’s death and wasn’t shy about saying that she was happier with her second husband than she had been with Tozer. Her second husband’s name was Leonard Odam, and she said of him, “Aiden (A.W) loved Jesus Christ but Leonard Odam loves me.”
Since I had never heard anyone throw an ounce of criticism Tozer’s way, I set myself to the task of online researching why Ada would say such a thing. What I learned was that she had good reason to say it. Tozer, for all of his godly qualities and gifting, was a far better preacher and author than he was a husband and father.
The Tozers had seven children together, and A.W. left the raising of them to Ada while he spent countless hours alone in prayer, meditation, sermon preparation, and writing. His travel schedule was also quite extensive. In the early days of his ministry, he would accept preaching engagements at a moment’s notice and hit the road, leaving Ada behind to catch up to him later. To make matters worse, A.W. exhibited a lifelong refusal to purchase an automobile, a conviction that oftentimes left Ada and the children to either walk or take buses or trains.
To say the Tozers lived frugally would be an understatement. Ada had to learn to do a lot with a little because she typically didn’t have an excess of money at her disposal. Why was the money in short supply when she was married to one of the most famous preachers in America? It was the result of A.W. caring little for wealth. He associated it with worldliness and therefore frequently returned half his salary to the church, refused pay increases, and donated much of the royalties from his book sales to charitable causes and people in need.
One writer summed up the Tozers marriage this way: “Most likely, A.W. Tozer was never purposely ill-intentioned toward his wife and family, but he was so singly focused on spiritual matters that his managing of practical matters bordered on insensitivity.” Another writer was more harsh, asking the question: “How did Tozer reconcile his passionate longing for communion with the Triune God with his failure to love passionately his wife and children?” One thing we can say for certain is that all the spiritual benefit that millions have derived from A.W. Tozer’s sermons and books came at the expense of Ada Tozer affording him the time, energy, and unencumbered solitude to prepare those sermons and write those books.
In the end, what A.W. Tozer’s shortcomings as a husband and a father show us is that no one, not even a devout Christian and outstanding minister such as Tozer, is perfect. But we don’t have to study the life of Tozer to learn that. We can learn it just as easily by studying the Bible’s numerous characters who were spiritual giants in some areas and spiritual babes in others. Samuel, for example, was a resounding success as a Judge and a prophet, but he was a failure as a father. Likewise, Solomon built the Temple and had more wisdom than any other man, but he foolishly took hundreds of women for himself and allowed them to lead him into idolatry. These are just a couple of scriptural examples from a long list of them.
The old saying says, “God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick.” How thankful we should be that this saying is true because there are, after all, no totally straight sticks. Let’s keep this in mind anytime we hear that Christians whom we have held in high regard aren’t all that we thought they were. Oh, and let’s also not forget that every Christian who faithfully serves “behind the scenes” without recognition or fanfare in this life will be openly and eternally rewarded in the next one. My guess is that Ada Tozer earned a lot of heavenly rewards while she served in the shadow of her famous husband, and she started enjoying those rewards the moment she died on July 8, 1987. The world may not have known much about all the “secret” service she rendered to allow A.W. the opportunity to do everything that he did in service to Jesus, but Jesus surely did.