Thursday, January 20, 2011

Oswald Chambers – This Time Around

Vickie and I are reading My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. It’s been a while since we’ve done this daily devotional book together and I thought it might be nice for us to stroll down Chambers Street hand-in-hand one more time.

My first encounter with Chambers was when I was sixteen years old; George Will introduced me to Chambers, as he did to Andrew Murray, A.W. Tozer, and Watchman Nee. We’re using the updated edition; somewhere around here I have the original version – I wonder if I can find it?

The original version I have (or hope I still have) was given to me by Mildred Norbeck of Intercession City, FL around 1976. Sister Norbeck was a retired Wesleyan missionary; there were quite a few retired missionaries living in Intercession City and I “happened” to meet her during a visit to that little hamlet. She asked me, “Do you have a copy of Chambers?” Since I didn’t have a copy at the time she gave me one; it had an inscription from 1952 in it as I recall – I will have to try to find that book.

Of course when she asked me if I had a copy of “Chambers” I knew she meant My Utmost for His Highest, even though there are a good many books with Oswald Chambers as the author. The thing is, Chambers only actually wrote one book and it wasn’t My Utmost for His Highest, but since I can’t recall the title right now I won’t guess which book it was. All of the other books indicating Chambers as the author were compiled by his wife from notes she took in shorthand from his lectures and messages.

Chambers, this time around, is a bit different for both Vickie and me. On January 10th, commenting on Acts 26:17-18, Chambers begins with, “This is the greatest example of the true essence of the message of a disciple of Jesus Christ in all of the New Testament.”

As I read those words aloud to Vickie I cringed. “Greatest example…in all of the New Testament”? Early into our journey with Chambers I was already struck by his hyperbole, and this put an exclamation mark on it. In addition, in looking at my notes from prior readings I could see margins lined with question marks, indicating my disagreement with a statement or an approach. I pondered why this time around with Chambers was less than satisfying. (To be sure many other margins are lined with exclamation points – indicating agreement).

Then a day or two later it dawned on me, Chambers died when he was 43 years old of complications from an appendectomy; complications that might have been avoided had he seen a physician sooner. (I once remarked to a lady that Chambers didn’t take care of himself, a lesson for us all who might think there is merit in not caring for the vessel God gave us. She was highly offended that I suggested Chambers might have made a mistake in his life – “certainly it was God who decided to take Chambers when he was only 43”. Well, I guess you can look at that a number of ways). 

A young man is more prone to hyperbole than an older man (hopefully). Grandiose statements are more often the currency of the young rather than the old. I’m reading the passion and certainty of a young man, also of a man fairly locked into a certain way of thinking and approach to discipleship and perhaps without much cross-pollination in the Kingdom of God. This helps me approach Chambers this time around.

Now please don’t mistake the above for a criticism of Chambers, it isn’t; I still recommend him. In fact, I’ve a mind to go back to his works elsewhere on suffering and sonship and reread them – for they are insightful – and in fact I’d rank them higher than My Utmost, but then they are a different genre – they are sustained and penetrating.

Hyperbolic or not, the passion of discipleship that Chambers exhibits is sorely lacking in the Western church today, the desire to give “my utmost for His highest” has been turned into “what can God do today so I can have my best life now?”

Mr. Chambers, what would you say to us today?

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