The Discipline of Relationship

© : Rafal Olkis 123RF.com

© : Rafal Olkis 123RF.com

Oswald Chambers spent a good bit of his time in My Utmost for His Highest teaching and reflecting on the believer’s relationship with God. He said a personal relationship with Christ, not public usefulness, was the central element of concern in his teaching. The “whole strength” of his Bible Training College was that “here you are put into soak before God” (October 19th). So I’d like to look at some of the advice he had for maintaining and developing our relationship with God.

The first thing to recognize is how sin itself is a fundamental relationship. The Christian religion, Chambers said, bases everything on understanding sin as wrong being, not wrong doing. It is “deliberate and emphatic independence of God.” Other religions deal with sins; the Bible alone deals with sin. He noted that the first thing Christ faced in the individual was the heredity of sin. “And it is because we have ignored this in our presentation of the Gospel that the message of the gospel has lost its sting and its blasting power” (October 7th).

The lure of independence from God is as old as the Garden of Eden. Then it was desire to be “like God” in knowing good and evil. It was the gleam of this “fruit” from the tree in the midst of the garden that caught their eye and led Adam and Eve to disobey God. They saw and coveted the potential to be independent judges of the world around them. So they took and ate. The first thing they “knew” was that they were naked and afraid.

This knowledge, not their physical nakedness, was the reason for their fear. Before eating the fruit, they were “both naked and not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). They realized that eating of the fruit independent of the command of God had altered both their very being and their relationship with God. Independence from God meant the loss of relationship with God. Created in the image of God, Adam and Eve could not but feel that kinship in the presence of God. But their rebellion changed them and altered their ability to experience that kinship. So now in the presence of God they were ashamed because they knew they were different and the former relationship with Him was gone.

The lost relationship was the reason God sent his Son. The death and resurrection of Christ “tore the veil” of separation with God. Chambers commented that the cross of Christ was a “superb triumph,” shaking the very foundations of hell. “There is nothing more certain in Time or Eternity than what Jesus Christ did on the Cross: He switched the whole of the human race back into a right relationship with God” (April 6th). The cross is the gateway into His life. “His Resurrection means that He has power now to convey His life to me. When I am born again from above, I receive from the risen Lord His very life.”

Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers

When Our Lord rose from the dead, He rose to an absolutely new life, to a life He did not live before He was incarnate. He rose to a life that had never been before; and His resurrection means for us that we are raised to His risen life, not to our old life. One day we shall have a body like unto His glorious body, but we can know now the efficacy of His resurrection and walk in newness of life. “I would know Him in the power of His resurrection.” (April 8th)

In Christ, relationship is restored. Intimacy with God is again possible. The imagery in Psalm 131:2 uses a mother and child to describe this closeness: “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Chambers said that a child’s consciousness is so “mother-haunted,” that even though the child is not thinking about its mother, when a calamity arises, the relationship it wants is with its mother. “So we are to live and move and have our being in God, to look at everything in relation to God, because the abiding consciousness of God pushes itself to the front all the time” (June 2nd).

So we must guard against allowing anything to injure our restored relationship with God. And if something does injure it, we have to take the time to make it right. “The main thing about Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain.” This is all that God asks us to look after (August 4th). Because of what Christ did on the cross, “Nothing is easier than getting into a right relationship with God except when it is not God Whom you want but only what He gives” (April 27th).

The golden rule for our lives is to keep it open towards God. “The rush of other things always tends to obscure this concentration on God.” The outstanding characteristic of our life as a Christian should be an unveiled frankness before God, so that our life becomes a mirror for the life of others. Chambers cautioned to be aware of anything that could befoul that mirror. He said it would almost always be a good thing that wasn’t the best. We should never be hurried out of the relationship of abiding in Him. “The severest discipline of a Christian’s life is to learn how to keep ‘beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord’” (January 23rd).


Surprised by My Utmost

Copyright : Kasal | 123RF.com

Copyright : Kasal | 123RF.com

Joe was an enthusiastic kind of guy. When he found something he liked, he wanted his friends to like it or try it. He’s the guy who convinced me to try rock climbing (Don’t Ever Give Up). So when he started talking about how great a devotional My Utmost for His Highest was, I took his endorsement with a grain of salt … at first. When other people who tried it started saying how much they liked it, I tried it. Oswald Chambers has been a regular part of my devotional life since then.

I still have my original copy. The binding split years ago, so I taped it with blue electric tape. It is full of notes, underlined and starred passages and a few coffee-stains. Inside is a crisp $2 bill from the Bank of Jamaica—a souvenir from a short-term missions trip to Jamaica—that I used for a bookmark. These days I’ve gone digital, with “OC” coming up daily when I open my Logos Bible software program as I drink my morning coffee. I’ve been posting selections from three different devotionals on my facebook page for a number of years now, but My Utmost always seems to be the one most quoted.

There is a short comment in my hardbound copy for the January 18th devotion, “began.” On that day I made a note summarizing what stood out to me, “be devoted to the Lord, not to service.” I had underlined the following paragraph:

Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him. It is easier to serve than to be drunk to the dregs. The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him. We are not sent to battle for God, but to be used by God in His battlings. Are we being more devoted to service than to Jesus Christ?

I can’t say I have always been more devoted to Christ than to service, but at least once each year Oswald asks me if I am. Actually, he does this repeatedly throughout the year. March 29th is one of those times. My page note said: “Be ready for the coming of our Lord more than to do service.”  Within the devotional for that day, Chambers had said: “It is not service that matters, but intense spiritual reality, expecting Jesus Christ at every turn.”

August 30th didn’t have a page note, but I had starred and underlined this passage:

When once you are rightly related to God by salvation and sanctification, remember that wherever you are, you are put there by God; and by the reaction of your life on the circumstances around you, you will fulfill God’s purpose, as long as you keep in the light as God is in the light.

There’s more, but I’ll stop with the quotes here. Get a personal copy and see if what Joe told me so many years ago is true for you: “It’s as if day after day, Chambers is hitting me right between the eyes with something I needed to hear.”

Oswald Chambers was born in Aberdeen Scotland on July 24th, 1874 and he died on November 15th, 1917 at the age of 43. While at the University of Edinburgh, he felt called to the ministry and went to Dunoon College, a small theological training school near Glasgow. He traveled for a couple of years in 1906 and 1907, teaching for a semester in Cincinnati and working in Japan with Charles Cowan, a co-founder of the Oriental Missionary Society. While in America he met Gertrude Hobbs, who he married in May of 1910. “Biddy,” as Chambers called his wife, could take shorthand at 250 words per minute. It was this skill that eventually contributed to her transcribing and typing his sermons and lessons into written form after his death.

In 1911, Chambers founded the Bible Training College in London, where he taught until 1915, one year after the outbreak of World War I. He suspended the operation of the school and went to Zeitoun Egypt, where he was a YMCA chaplain to Australian and New Zealand troops. But the relatively short time at his school had a big impact. “Between 1911 and 1915, 106 resident students attended the Bible Training College, and by July 1915, forty were serving as missionaries.”

In Egypt, he decided to stop the usual concerts and movies provided by the YMCA for the troops as a social alternative to the brothels of Cairo. He gave Bible classes instead. Skeptics predicted an “exodus” of soldiers from the facilities, but his wooden-framed “hut” became packed with soldiers listening to messages like “What is the Good of Prayer?” When confronted by a soldier who said he couldn’t stand religious people, Chambers replied, “Neither can I.”

He was stricken with appendicitis on October 17th, 1917, but resisted going to a hospital. He was reluctant to take a bed that was needed for the troops being massed for a long-expected battle. His delayed treatment led to needing an emergency appendectomy on October 29th. He died on November 15th from a hemorrhage in his lungs. He was buried in Cairo with full military honors.

For the remainder of her life, Biddy Chambers transcribed and published books and articles from the notes she took during their time at the Bible College and while with the YMCA in Zeitoun. My Utmost for His Highest was first published in 1927. In the foreword, she wrote:

It is because it is felt that the author is one to whose teaching men will return, that this book has been prepared, and it is sent out with the prayer that day by day the messages may continue to bring the quickening life and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

For me, and many others her prayer was answered.

Parallel to the discipling I received from Oswald Chambers over the years has been my counseling with people struggling with drug and alcohol problems. To my surprise, when I began doing research for my dissertation on the spiritual and religious distinction in Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps, I discovered that early A.A. used My Utmost for His Highest. According to Dick B., a Christian and A.A. historian, My Utmost was used by early A.A. members—a custom they borrowed from the Oxford Group. Actually, I guess I shouldn’t have been that surprised. This also was an answer to Biddy’s prayer.


On the Road to True Repentance

Repentance always brings a man to this point: ‘I have sinned.’ The surest sign that God is at work is when a man says that and means it. Anything less than this is remorse for having made blunders, the reflex action of disgust at himself. (My Utmost for His Highest, December 7th)

This short quote from Oswald Chambers has been a personal favorite of mine for a number of years. Mostly, because I need to be reminded of it’s truth. But also because it captures the reality that true repentance demands more than a simple verbal response. To use a well-known recovery saying, you have to walk your talk. Getting a clear sense of what true repentance looks like and feels like is foundational for personal spiritual growth; and it is crucial when discipling and counseling others.

I’ve looked at Thomas Watson’s sense of “Counterfeit Repentance” in his work, The Doctrine of Repentance.  Now I want to reflect on what he says about true repentance. According to Watson, “Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.”  He proposed a recipe with six special ingredients for true repentance: 1. Sight of sin; 2. Sorrow for sin; 3. Confession of sin; 4. Shame for sin; 5. Hatred for sin; and 6. Turning from sin. “If any one of these is left out, repentance loses its virtue.” For now, we’ll look at the first two ingredients.

The Sight of Sin

Watson said the person must first recognize and consider what her sin is, and know the plague of her heart, before she can be duly humbled by it. Just as the first thing that God created was light, the first thing in a penitent is illumination. She must see her sin. “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light” (Ephesians 5:8).

“Where there is no sight of sin, there can be no repentance.” People are blinded by ignorance and self-love. Therefore they do not see what deformed souls they have. They see faults in others, but none in themselves. They don’t know their own heart, and don’t realize what a hell they carry around with them. “They do not see any evil in [their] sin.”

The Sorrow for Sin

There is a multi-facetted sense to sorrow for sin in true repentance. Watson suggests five aspects to true, repentant sorrow.

  1. This sorrow is not superficial. It is a holy agony whose purpose is to make Christ precious; to drive out sin; and to make way for solid comfort. Remember that not all sorrow is evidence of true repentance. “There is as much difference between true and false sorrow as between water in the spring, which is sweet, and water in the sea, which is briny.”
  2. Godly sorrow is inward. It goes deep, like a vein that bleeds inwardly. Its grief is for heart-sins that never blossom into action. “A wicked man may be troubled by scandalous sins; a real convert laments heart-sins.”
  3. Godly sorrow is sincere—it sorrows for the offense rather than the punishment. Here lies the heart of counterfeit repentance. “Hypocrites grieve only for the bitter consequence of sin.”
  4. Godly sorrow is intermixed with faith. “Just as our sin is ever before us, so God’s promise must ever be before us.” Sorrow apart from faith is the sorrow of despair, not the sorrow of repentance.
  5. Godly sorrow is sometimes joined with restitution. If you are able, you should recompense the person with whom you had fraudulent dealings. If you are not able to repay what you have taken, promise full satisfaction to the wronged party if the Lord makes you able.

So it is necessary to recognize and be sorrowful for sin in true repentance. Repentance requires that we die to self. We must see that we are not just a bit off track, but that we are utterly lost. The first step is to recognize and correct this misdirection, according to C.S. Lewis. “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.”

Lewis also noted that we are not just imperfect creatures in need of improvement—we are rebels who must surrender our arms. This laying down of arms, this surrender—saying we are sorry and admitting that we were heading in the wrong direction—is repentance.

Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

After making an about-turn and beginning to walk back to the right road, the repentant person will need to stay alert for the return of their self-conceit and self-will. And when they see it—work to avoid it at all costs. When you see this process at work, you know you’re on the road to true repentance.




Abandon Yourself to God

© Bonciutoma | Dreamstime.com - Walk To The Cross Photo

© Bonciutoma | Dreamstime.com – Walk To The Cross Photo

I remember hearing a sermon once on Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The minister, George Stockhowe, said the problem with living sacrifices was that they are always trying to crawl off of the altar.

Several commentators have noted that the phrase, “the mercies of God,” in verse 12:1 is a succinct summary of what Paul has said up to this point in the epistle to the Romans. C. K. Barrett said that the proper response“is not to speculate upon the eternal decrees, or one’s own place in the scheme of salvation, but to be obedient.”  And the sacrifice is to be a living one. F. F. Bruce commented that the sacrifices of the New Testament did not consist of taking the life of others, “but in giving one’s own.”

The phrase “spiritual worship” can get scholars going because the Greek word used here for spiritual, logikos, only appears one other time in the New Testament (1 Pet. 2:2). Sifting through the various perspectives, I’d suggest we see Paul as saying that our living sacrifice is “your [true] spiritual worship.” So while there can be a variety of things that we do as “spiritual worship,” being a living sacrifice is real, true spiritual worship.

Oswald Chambers regularly addressed the topic of surrender and being a living sacrifice in his devotional classic, My Utmost for His Highest. Here are a few selections:

“It is of no value to God to give Him your life for death. He wants you to be a ‘living sacrifice,’ to let Him have all your powers that have been saved and sanctified through Jesus. This is the thing that is acceptable to God. . . . In sanctification, the regenerated soul deliberately gives up his right to himself to Jesus Christ. . . . If we do not sacrifice the natural to the spiritual, the natural life will mock at the life of the Son of God in us and produce a continual swither. . . . The only way we can offer a spiritual sacrifice to God is by presenting our bodies a living sacrifice. . . . This is always the result of an undisciplined spiritual nature. We go wrong because we stubbornly refuse to discipline ourselves, physically, morally or mentally.  .  . . Surrender is not the surrender of the external life, but of the Will; when that is done, all is done. There are very few crises in life; the great crisis is the surrender of the will. God never crushes a man’s will into surrender, He never beseeches him, He waits until the man yields up his will to Him. That battle never needs to be re-fought. . . . After surrender—what? The whole of life after surrender is an aspiration for unbroken communion with God. ” (My Utmost for His Highest, January 8, January 10; December 10; September 13)

There is a clear parallel here to the surrender thinking in recovery, as in these slogans: “I can’t, God can, I think I’ll let Him;” or: “I can’t handle this one God; please take over.” It’s also present in the Third Step: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

Although you won’t see this mentioned in A.A. literature, early AAs and its founders read My Utmost for His Highest in the early pre-Big Book years. Dick B., an historian on A.A., reported that early Akron A.A. meetings opened with prayer and a reading from the Bible or a devotional such as My Utmost for His Highest. Dr. Bob, his wife Anne, Bill W. and his wife Lois used the devotional. Dr. Bob and Anne used it on a daily basis. Lois mentioned in a notebook she kept between December 1934 and August 1937 that she really saw herself in the reading for July 22nd.

In his July 22nd reflection on Sanctification, Oswald Chambers commented there was a battle royal before sanctification; there was always something that resented the demands of Jesus Christ. Quoting Luke 14:26 on the cost of discipleship, Chambers noted that the struggle began as soon as the Spirit of God began to show us what sanctification meant–to hand our “simple naked self over to God”:

Am I willing to reduce myself simply to ‘me,’ determinedly to strip myself of all my friends think of me, of all I think of myself, and to hand that simple naked self over to God? Immediately I am, He will sanctify me wholly, and my life will be free from earnestness in connection with everything but God. (My Utmost for His Highest, July 22nd)

Finally, in the closing exhortation of the chapter, “A Vision for You,” from the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. said: “Abandon yourself to God as You understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us.” And remember: living sacrifices will try to crawl off of the altar.