Tommy Tenney: Still Chasing After God
Craig von Buseck
CBN.com Contributing Writer
Craig von Buseck: What do you think is the reason for the success of the whole God Chasers phenomenon?
Tommy Tenney: The sovereignty of God encounters the hunger of man. As I grow, study and learn, what I try to do is to distill thoughts into phrases that say a lot in a few words. I guess my best one line phrase that would explain that is in the book that Bethany published called Finding Favor with The King. There was obviously a lot of favor on the concept of God Chasers. But favor is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. That's in the book, Finding Favor.
Without my knowing it, God had been preparing me. I'd been preaching for 30-plus years. Somehow God had been preparing me just for that moment. If it was about 'how smart is Tommy Tenney', I would have done it a lot sooner.
I really didn't invent God Chasers. All I did was label something that had already existed. We're drinking bottled water right here. If you would have told my grandparents that bottled water would be a multi-billion dollar industry, they would have said, 'that's crazy -- just go get water out of the tap.' But because we want pure water, and because of labeling and talking about the source of the water, people want it.
So somehow God dropped the phrase 'God Chaser' in my heart. It came from Psalm 63:8, 'My soul follows hard after Thee.' A few years ago, I found in one of my old Bibles the first time I had written the phrase down on a small scrap of paper. We framed it and it's hanging in my office. All that did was label what already existed in people's hearts and let them say, 'yeah, I'm a God chaser.' I'm following after Him.
von Buseck: What is the difference between a believer who is willing to be a God chaser, and a Christian who is not willing to follow hard after the Lord?
Tenney: What would be the difference? Probably the fear factor. Another difference is hunger. How far will you go for a good restaurant? How far will people travel for an adventure? On the back of the book it says, a God chaser is someone whose hunger exceeds their grasp. They're reaching for something that they haven't gotten to yet. Some people are totally satisfied with however much they have of God. And there are different thirst levels at different points in our life. When you get in trouble, you want God more. God takes advantage of that created hunger. If you've been exercising, you want more bottled water.
In life there are times when you go through an unquenchable thirst for God. Then there are other times when you may not be as hungry and thirsty. In the sovereignty of God, He's able to act and react to all that and understand it.
I've got two little granddaughters now, and I'm having to learn all over again that I want to rock them often more than they want to be rocked. They are at two and four-years-old and they are practicing their independence. My capacity to receive their love always exceeds their capacity to give it. I always want a few more hugs than what they're ready to give. But my maturity says that's o.k. They're learning how to practice their independence.
The sovereignty of God allows us to go through periods where we intensely want Him and then through other periods where we want to try things on our own. He says, 'It's o.k., you'll need me again.' His capacity to receive our worship always exceeds our capacity to give.
von Buseck: I was reading a little bit on the Web, and one of your critics said of the God Chaser concept, "It's just another way for Charismatic leaders offering an illusion of 'breakthroughs and miracles' just around the corner…"
Tenney: I never have addressed this because I've pretty much ignored it. I never address my critics -- I don't feel a need to. But it's interesting that they pigeonhole me as a Charismatic with that first statement. I speak in all kinds of venues, from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, to Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist -- the last time I checked we were Christians. All these labels tend to be divisive.
Having said that, I challenge people to find one overtly charismatic thing in any of my books. It's not there. There's no mention of speaking in tongues. There is a mention of having a hunger and a passion after God. If you're not hungry, it doesn't matter how good the food smells. So my book doesn't necessarily attract everybody. But there are those who are hungry that want more -- those who have less. That's what my book's about -- it's about the presence of God.
I had an interesting conversation with a Baptist pastor some time back. The pastor said to me, 'Our theology department started studying your books to try to refute them, and now they use them as text books.'
So if I'm wrong on anything, please tell me. I would love to correct it. I write very provocatively. It provokes people on both sides. And I'm totally comfortable with that.
As far as the issue of breakthrough and miracle that this person stated, you could say that about the Bible. It is encouraging us to press on, run after, keep going. I would view myself as a coach for people in pursuit of God. Not to denigrate what they have of God, but to tell them that however much they've experienced of God, there's more -- and that's pretty simple.
So if it is the carrot and the stick approach, the carrot is God. The last time I checked it was a good idea for us as ministers to encourage people to pursue God.
I understand people who are frustrated with my heritage or my history because I come from a classical Pentecostal background. One of their frustrations is that I've never spoken ill of my background. But my motto is, 'Don't trust anyone who talks bad about their mother.' If they talk bad about their mother, they'll talk bad about you. Now, having said that, I don't still live in mother's house. I have moved on in my theology and hope to continue to move.
But I still embrace anyone who calls Him Father -- the least I can do is call them brother.
von Buseck: What do you say to a Christian who is chasing after God and really desires that relationship, and yet has had a series of difficulties. Maybe there is something from their past that has caught up with them…
Tenney: You don't have enough tape or notes, because I'm in the process of writing a book that addresses that. I've had my share of setbacks, from health issues to family issues. I've got three daughters, and trying to raise kids in this society is always a challenge, from the mundane to the incredibly difficult problems. Recently I preached a message where I said 'circumstance should not dictate to you your level of worship.' I took that from the book Finding Favor that Bethany published.
Esther had a banquet with the King. Common sense would have said, 'get the King off by Himself, you need to ask for a favor because your people are at stake.' But she invited Hamon to the banquet and I think that was her way of saying to Hamon, 'your presence in the palace does not affect my relationship with the King.' And she was letting him know, 'I may have problem, but I still have a King.' And she hosted the king and created the moment that saved her people.
My whole goal in writing is to point people to the King -- to point people to worship. And it doesn't matter what is going on. If Paul and Silas can worship in a jail cell, with their backs beaten, then my circumstances do not dictate to me my level of worship. And you can have some of the greatest encounters with God in the midst of your greatest pain.
von Buseck: It has been several years since the first 'God Chasers' book came out. What have you learned since then? What has been the message to you?
Tenney: Everything I do, or say, or preach about, I can start on subject 'A', but I'll always end up talking about the presence of God and worship. The older I get, and hopefully the more mature I become, the more I realize it's all about worship. Because it's all about Him.
Sometimes we argue over the typesetting and the font in the instruction manual for worship. And I hear God saying, 'Just put down the manual and do it.' It's basically all about worship.
I've learned how to worship Him in difficult situations. I can worship Him in 'stained glass' or liturgical settings. Typically every Easter I go to Europe -- American churches have things going at Easter, whereas European churches tend to not do that. I'm more effective in Europe around Easter time than in the U.S. It's a strange thing. If you try to do a conference in the U.S. during Easter everyone is focused on their local event. In Europe it's just the opposite. Last year I preached in an Anglican church at Easter with the liturgy -- and I loved it.
I can worship God in a multitude of ways -- from the beauty of nature and solitude, to a service like last night at West Angeles, a massive church, African-American with hopping music. Because my worship is not dictated by my circumstances or my religious preferences, but my devotion to Him.
von Buseck: You talk about the presence of God being the key place. Was that the connection that moved you to write the fiction novel about being in the presence of the King?
Tenney: Yeah. What started that whole process was a meeting one night in Pasadena, California, where I was preaching about the presence of God. I attempted to describe to people how just being in God's presence can change your future. And as preachers do, I sort of went into the catalog of biblical illustrations and Esther popped to mind. I made mention of the fact that she spent an incredible amount of time preparing -- twelve months actually, preparing for one night -- that one night with the King changes everything. When I made that statement, it was some sort of prophetic edge that came, and boom, that was it -- it was birthed.
There's a conception, there's a pregnancy, and there's a birth, and we are now more than three years into this process now. I wrote the fiction book and the non-fiction book simultaneously. It was birthed in my spirit.
von Buseck: So you saw the two-fold approach.
Tenney: Actually, I saw the fiction book first. God challenged me and said, 'There are a lot of people that would love to be in my presence, but they don't know how. They don't do the church thing.' And He challenged me to reach them. And it's been successful. I talked to a man in Ft. Meyers, Florida, who was on a cruise ship and the book, Hadassah, One Night with the King, was in the library of this ship. He picked it up and had an encounter with God at sea. I hear stories like that all the time.
I can't say I invented that -- others like Bethany Publishers, Tim LaHaye, and all the fiction writers are doing that. But I think I may have struck a chord because I rediscovered an ancient principle. Whenever Jesus wanted to reveal a truth, He would always conceal that truth in a story. We call them the parables. The disciples didn't quite get that. Read Matthew 13 in the Message Bible. I love the way that the author writes it in the Message. The disciples said, 'Jesus, why do you tell stories. You talk to us differently than you do the crowd. You come down on our head like the hammer on a nail. But when you talk to those guys, all you do is tell them stories and feed them fish.' That would be like us saying today, 'What's up with this?' And He says in the Message Bible, 'I tell stories because you have insight, but they don't. So I tell stories to nudge them to receptive insight.'
We want to go for the jugular. You and I go to church on Sunday morning and we love the confrontational aspect of preaching. The harder somebody preaches, the more we say, 'Yeah, tell it,' because we know the value -- we understand that it changes our life. To the unchurched, to the pagan, to the unbeliever, they actually run from confrontational preaching. So Jesus ministry method was to tell them stories and conceal the kernel of truth. As I learned this, I found out that this was huge and I came up with a definition for me. It's cultural evangelism.
There are people who will not read a Christian teaching book like Finding Favor with the King. When you read Hadassah: One Night with the King, the fiction book, every teaching point that was in the book Finding Favor, is all in Hadassah, but I dare you to find it. (Read an excerpt of Hadassah)
And here's another thing. Our grandparents would not have conceived that you and I and our children are having to deal with issues like same-sex marriage. How did that happen? It's very easy. Cultural evangelists for the dark side preached their gospel so well until they had a revival. And the cultural markers got moved. The Church sort of abandoned the culture. Today, ninety percent of our preaching is to one another. When Jesus wanted to reach other people he did it different. He told his disciples, 'I'll preach to you guys like this -- I'll say, let the dead bury the dead. But to them, I'll tell them a story.' And Hollywood got that method down, you hear me? They don't have an altar call, but they've had a revival.
I've never yet seen at the end of a movie that Hollywood vomits out where they say, 'O.K., everyone bow your head now. Who's going to commit adultery this week, raise your hand. That doesn't happen. But people get the concepts of changing values and questioning things, and then they go and do stuff. As Christians, we've lost that principle.
Read an excerpt from Hadassah: One Night with the King
Learn more about Tommy Tenney's movie project One Night with the King
Watch a preview of One Night with the King
Order Tommy Tenney's books on Shop CBN
The God Chasers Gift Set: The God Chasers/God's Favorite House/The Daily Chase
Hadassah: One Night With the King
Finding Favor with the King: Preparing for Your Moment in His Presence
The God Chasers: My Soul Follows Hard After Thee (cassette)
God Chasers: Interactive Study Guide
Tommy Tenney's Web site: God Chasers Network
More from Bethany House Publishers
More from Tommy Tenney on CBN.com
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