The Utmost of Oswald Chambers

At a recent church board meeting, our head elder, Paul Dybdahl, opened with the shortest devotional ever. Picking up Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, he read the first line of the day’s entry: “Prayer does not fit us for the greater works; prayer is the greater work”[1] That’s all. That was enough to send me rummaging through my shelves to find my copy of the book. It appears on every list of spiritual classics for a reason. I knew I had it somewhere, but I had not given it more than a cursory glance. That must change.

Found it. I sat down with the book and highlighted the day’s reference and began thumbing through it. Very similar to the morning watch devotionals I grew up with, each entry features a title, a daily text, and two or three paragraphs of a devotional thought, dated from January 1 to December 31. No year is noted. The readings are timeless. This is a year’s reading that can be repeated again and again. And it has staying power, remaining in print since its publication in 1927 and translated into 39 languages.

Oswald Chambers, 1874-1917, was a Scottish Baptist preacher and teacher who never expected fame in his life. Converted as a teenager by Charles Spurgeon, he studied art, music, and architecture before taking on the ministry of expounding the Word, not to large crowds, but to small groups of students and then to soldiers on the front lines in WWI. He died unexpectedly in Egypt of appendicitis at the age of 43, his words buried in the hearts and notebooks of his students and the soldiers he served.

But the Chambers ministry team was a team of two. In 1910 he married Gertrude Hobbs, called Biddy, who was not only an administrator of the Bible Training College in London where he taught, but also a court stenographer, who took down his lectures in shorthand verbatim. Since his death, over 40 books have been published under his name, most of them introduced by one called only B.C. In her foreword to My Utmost for His Highest, she explains the setting: “A large proportion of the readings have been chosen from the talks given during the Devotional Hour at the College — an hour which for many of the students marked an epoch in their life with God.”

Practical and humorous, the readings point to the living of the gospel in every day life. The focus is always on Jesus, walking with him, as the disciples did, growing day by day in our experience with him. Rigorous in giving his utmost to God, he casts himself entirely on God’s grace. Life is to be lived in complete abandonment to God, trusting completely in him.

I have chosen twelve favorite quotes, one taken from each month of the year. It is a sampling. There’s much more where these came from. Enjoy.

Selected Quotes:

“If we have never had the experience of taking our commonplace religious shoes off our commonplace religious feet, and getting rid of all the undue familiarity with which we approach God, it is questionable whether we have ever stood in His Presence.”

–January 3; Clouds and Darkness, “Clouds and darkness are round about Him,” Psalm 97:2.

“Drudgery is one of the finest touchstones of character there is. Drudgery is work that is very far removed from anything to do with the ideal — the utterly mean grubby things; and when we come in contact with them we know instantly whether or not we are spiritually real.”

–February 19; The Initiative Against Drudgery, “Arise, shine,” Isaiah 60:1.

“Paul is like a musician who does not need the approval of the audience if he can catch the look of approval from his Master.”

–March 17; The Worker’s Ruling Passion, “Wherefore we labour, that…we may be accepted of Him,” 2 Corinthians 5:9.

“Say nothing until the Son of Man is risen in you — until the life of the risen Christ so dominates you that you understand what the historic Christ taught.”

–April 7; Why Are We Not Told Plainly? “He charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead,” Mark 9:9.

“Always keep your life measured by the standards of Jesus. Bow your neck to His yoke alone, and to no other yoke whatever; and be careful to see that you never bind a yoke on others that is not placed by Jesus Christ. It takes God a long time to get us out of the way of thinking that unless everyone sees as we do, they must be wrong.”

–May 6; Liberty on the Abyss of the Gospel, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,” Galatians 5:1.

“It is much easier to do something than to trust in God; we mistake panic for inspiration. That is why there are so few fellow workers with God and so many workers for Him. We would far rather work for God than believe in Him.”

–June 1; The Staggering Question, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel 37:3.

“We always have visions, before a thing is made real. When we realize that although the vision is real, it is not real in us, then is the time that Satan comes in with his temptations, and we are apt to say it is no use to go on…The vision is not a castle in the air, but a vision of what God wants you to be. Let Him put you on His wheel and whirl you as He likes, and as sure as God is God and you are you, you will turn out exactly in accordance with the vision. Don’t lose heart in the process. If you have ever had the vision of God, you may try as you like to be satisfied on a lower level, but God will never let you.

–July 6; Vision and Reality, “And the parched ground shall become a pool,” Isaiah 35:7.

“The bravery of God in trusting us! You say — ‘But He has been unwise to choose me, because there is nothing in me; I am not of any value.’ That is why He chose you. As long as you think there is something in you, He cannot choose you because you have ends of your own to serve, but if you have let Him bring you to the end of your self-sufficiency then He can choose you to go with Him to Jerusalem, and that will mean the fulfillment of purposes which He does not discuss with you…The main thing about Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain and the atmosphere produced by that relationship. That is all God asks us to look after, and it is the one thing that is being continually assailed.”

–August 4; Brave Comradeship of God, “Then He took unto Him the twelve,” Luke 18:31.

“The Sermon on the Mount is not an ideal, it is a statement of what will happen in me when Jesus Christ has altered my disposition and put in a disposition like His own. Jesus Christ is the only One who can fulfill the Sermon on the Mount.”

–September 25; The ‘Go’ of Relationship, “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain,” Matthew 5:41.

“‘Why could not we cast him out?’ The answer lies in a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. This kind can come forth by nothing but by concentration and redoubled concentration on Him. We can ever remain powerless, as were the disciples, by trying to do God’s work not in concentration on His power, but by ideas drawn from our own temperament. We slander God by our very eagerness to work for Him without knowing Him.”

–October 3; The Sphere of Ministration, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting,” Mark 9:29.

“Beware of making a fetish of consistency to your convictions instead of being devoted to God. I shall never do that — in all probability you will have to, if you are a saint. There never was a more inconsistent Being on this earth than Our Lord, but He was never inconsistent to His Father. The one consistency of the saint is not to a principle, but to the Divine life. It is the Divine life which continually makes more and more discoveries about the Divine mind. It is easier to be a fanatic than a faithful soul, because there is something amazingly humbling, particularly to our religious conceit, in being loyal to God.”

–November 14; Discovering Divine Designs, “I being in the way, the Lord led me…” Genesis 24:27.

“If you cannot express yourself on any subject, struggle until you can. If you do not, someone will be the poorer all the days of his life. Struggle to re-express some truth of God to yourself, and God will use that expression to someone else. Go through the winepress of God where the grapes are crushed. You must struggle to get expression experimentally, then there will come a time when that expression will become the very wine of strengthening to someone else; but if you say lazily — ‘I am not going to struggle to express this thing for myself, I will borrow what I say,’ the expression will not only be of no use to you, but of no use to anyone. Try to state to yourself what you feel implicitly to be God’s truth, and you give God a chance to pass it on to someone else through you.”

–December 15; Approved unto God, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15.

If you, too, might have a neglected copy of this book on your shelves, dust it off and start reading wherever it opens. Perhaps you can share a favorite quote of your own in the responses.

Beverly Beem has recently retired from the English department at Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington.

Notes & References:

[1]October 17, Greater Works, “And greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father,” John 14:12. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest: Selections for the Year (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Books, 1935, 1963).

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8044

There is a biography by David McCasland. It is Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God. The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 1993. Although I also was, as Beverly Beem writes in this fine article, aware of Chamber’s devotional writing and life. I didn’t expect to read that Chambers was a bona fide intellectual, and believed in the importance of art, music, philosophy and literature as ways of reaching others, and of improving himself. Chambers’ piano playing skills were extensive. He enjoyed playing the piano for others as a personal gift…Chambers was a thinker, and read philosophy. The biography closes with a number of poems by Chambers, on a number of subjects. .Reading this article rekindled my interest in the ministry of Oswald Chambers.

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It is a gift to express yourself against popular opinion . Christ in you is the Hope of Glory. God seeks to reveal Himself to others through us . It is the willingness of us that allows Him to express Himself. Than , There are times that He just moves us, because He is God . He needs a witness . I pray it’s you and me.

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One of our board members used that quote in a board meeting many years ago. Not surprisingly this person was the prayer ministries director. I disagree with the premise. Prayer is not an end in itself. Sister White says that those who do nothing but pray will soon cease to pray. Prayer puts us into a receptive frame of mind so that God can communicate better with us. Ellen White also says that prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. When we relate to and communicate with our friends, the conversation (like prayer) is not an end in itself; it’s a means to an end–a better relationship with our friends.

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“That is why He chose you. As long as you think there is something in you, He cannot choose you because you have ends of your own to serve…” Aug 4

Priceless. I read it last year but couldn’t find it again. I knew it was him but for some reason, couldn’t find it. Thank you!!!

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I, too, love this book; and I would place the first quote in this list as one that I think is one of the most crucial.

If we concentrate only on our favourite texts from our favourite Bible versions we will never grow in understanding. Even reading from a different version from the one we usually use and memorize can give a new perspective and an expanded understanding.

We respect people like Luther and the founders of the SDA church for having the courage to stand up in opposition of what they perceive to be wrong - or a mistaken belief - or a new concept grown out of tradition; but, when it comes to the church doctrine that has become dogma, we erect walls to prevent anything new from penetrating - out of fear of contamination of what we perceive to be a pure doctrine. This is directly in opposition to what the Christianity is about- the leading of the Holy Spirit - and is denying the Spirit from leading us “into all truth”. We are still “not able to handle the whole truth”; yet, we are waiting for our members to have grown into perfection so that we can “finish the work”. How can we finish the work, if we don’t have the freedom to follow the leading off the Spirit… It seems we just don’t trust in the leading of the Spirit, and think it’s safer to cling to tradition - and we ignore the Bible’s warning against tradition. Before someone counters with a series of texts upholding “traditions of the fathers”, we have to read everything in context. The bottom line is that Jesus battled “tradition” his whole life in order to establish the gospel. It takes the Holy Spirit to teach us what to keep and what needs changing. That takes courage.

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Beverly,
Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful human insights. It is difficult to pick a favorite quote but overall it seems to me that the ultimate exercise of the free will God gaves us and that are so ready to claim daily, is the total abandoment of it in favor of His plan for us.

Thanks for sharing with us good article. Indeed Oswald was a good man. His words full of power. I like his books too.

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