A 100 year-old compilation of the sermons and writings of Oswald Chambers has been assembled under the title “My Utmost for His Highest” (you may have heard of it). It takes the form of a daily devotional, with one little gold mine of a page to be read per day. And Chambers doesn’t exactly waste any time getting to the convicting stuff. Here’s January 1 from one of the most famous devotionals of all time. Let it pierce you.
“My eager desire and hope being that I may never feel ashamed, but that now as ever I may do honour to Christ in my own person by fearless courage” (Phil 1:20, Moffat). We shall all feel very much ashamed if we do not yield to Jesus on the point He has asked us to yield to Him. Paul says – “My determination is to be my utmost for His Highest.” To get there is a question of will, not of debate nor of reasoning, but a surrender of will, an absolute and irrevocable surrender on that point. An over-weaning consideration for ourselves is the thing that keeps us from that decision, though we put it that we are considering others. When we consider what it will cost others if we obey the call of Jesus, we tell God He does not know what our obedience will mean. Keep to the point; He does know. Shut out every other consideration and keep yourself before God for this one thing only – My Utmost for His Highest. I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone. “Whether that means life or death, no matter!” (Phil 1:21). Paul is determined that nothing shall deter him from doing exactly what God wants. God’s order has to work up to a crisis in our lives because we will not heed the gentler way. He brings us to the place where He asks us to be our utmost for Him, and we begin to debate; then He produces a providential crisis where we have to decide – for or against, and from that point the “Great Divide” begins. If the crisis has come to you on any line, surrender your will to Him absolutely and irrevocably.
I keep hearing this little voice…Your kingdom come, Your will be done.
Lord, in 2013, not as I will, but as you will.
I’ve been a pretty big fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for a while now. But, strangely, my entire familiarity with the man’s life was based on the writings of other people about him, or by fragmented quotations of his own writings. Reading Eric Metaxas’ biography on Bonhoeffer (book review here) was a great way to get acquainted with the man who epitomized what it looks like to live out one’s faith in Christ – even to the point of death.
So, needless to say, it was high time to quit beating around the bush and actually read one of Bonhoeffer’s books. I borrowed “Life Together” from my roommate’s collection. Here are my thoughts.
“Life Together” by Bonhoeffer is a brief, 120-page essay on Christian community – what it is, and what it is not. Every Christian needs a working knowledge of these things, since community is such a buzzword in current evangelicalism. Bonhoeffer wrote about community when community wasn’t cool.
Of particular interest to me were the passages in which the author talks about the balance and interaction between solitude and community. He explains that one must not seek community simply because he is running from himself, and one must not seek solitude simply because he is running from others. Bonhoeffer wrote with keen observation concerning both the Scriptures and his own personal experience, and there are many great things to be understood from this book.
“Life Together” is beautifully written, and I believe that any Christian would profit from reading it. There are parts that are more sophisticated than others, and Bonhoeffer, being a German through and through, loves to quote Martin Luther and even Martin Buber’s philosophical work “I and Thou”. (If you don’t have a clue about Buber, then great, neither do I. “I and Thou” was required reading in a philosophy class my freshman year of college and I retained zilch. So no worries when it comes to “Life Together”.)
My first hands-on exposure to Bonhoeffer was a positive one, and I am looking forward to reading his famous “Cost of Discipleship” down the road. I’ll leave you with an excerpt from “Life Together”:
“Brotherly care is distinguished from preaching by the fact that, added to the task of speaking the Word, there is the obligation of listening. There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for the chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects…Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by him who is himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”
Sometimes you just know God is talking right to ya. Here’s an excerpt from Chuck Swindoll’s famous title, “The Grace Awakening“:
This chapter is dedicated to all who are in ministry…I want to ask crucial questions. Is what you’re doing the work of your own flesh energized by your own strength? Are you relying on your charisma to pull it off? Do you often have a hidden agenda? How about your motive? Is the enhancement of your image of major importance to you, or can you honestly say that your work is directed and empowered by the Spirit of God? Is yours a grace-awakening ministry?…
‘This is the word of the Lord saying, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts.’ (Zechariah 4:6)
“Might” and “power” intrigue me. They are words that describe human effort, another way of saying the energy of the flesh. They ring a familiar bell in the minds of all ministers, for every one of us has been guilty of doing the work of God in the energy of the flesh. Yet human wisdom and fleshly energy alone will fail. God’s best work is not going to be done by human might or by fleshly power…The work of the flesh will amount to zilch in light of eternity. The glory will belong to the person who made it happen, and the rewards stop there too…
A ministry built by the energy of the flesh looks just like a ministry built by the energy of the Spirit. Externally, I warn you, it looks the same. But internally, spiritually, down deep in the level of motive, you know in your heart God didn’t do it; you did it!
Let me put it to you straight. Restrain yourself from might and power if you are a minister. Deliberately give the Spirit time and room. Consciously hold yourself back from clever ingenuity and reliance on your own charisma. If you don’t, you will live to regret it…
My warning stands: Anything that does not result in God’s getting the glory ought to be enough to restrain our own might and power so his Spirit can do the job…
What a great word from a great man. Useful council for a person convinced that success in ministry is reached by any other means than the outpouring of God’s grace.
This was my first exposure to the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary – Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer. This book, entitled He That Is Spiritual, was published in 1918, so its prose is a bit dense at times. And pieces of Dr. Chafer’s theology seem a bit off. But this is a short, sweet read, one that has great insight on Christian spirituality. Here’s the good and the bad (my opinions only).
The good: Nobody can say Chafer doesn’t write clearly. As long as you don’t speed, you will know exactly what Chafer meant by what he said. The book is chiefly concerned with the spiritual interaction between the Christian and God. Nowadays we’d call it our “daily walk” I suppose. The book, therefore, deals chiefly with the interaction of the believer with the Holy Spirit in day-to-day life. It’s interesting stuff, and richly written. There are some gems to be found if you dig a little bit. Here’s one:
“There is such a thing as ‘ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.’ Truth must become real to us. We may know by faith that we are forgiven and justified forever: it is quite another thing to have a heart experience wherein all is as real as it is true. We may believe in our security and coming glory: it is different to feel its power in the heart.”
There are many more great words like this to be found in the book. You’ll need to be careful not to read a paragraph like this one and commit the very foul that it condemns – acknowledging the words as logical and clever but not contemplating what they mean for your life. Slow down and feel what you read.
So let’s face it, reading Christian biography isn’t always the most thrilling experience. To really get anything out of it, you have to throw yourself headlong into the world of the subject (sometimes experiencing culture shock) and really labor to grasp the significance of how they interacted with their environment. Depending on your author, this can sometimes require background knowledge, and worst of all…time. In short, benefitting spiritually from Christian biography is work. Well, I have loving news for you, Americans: sometimes it takes a little effort on your part to learn and grow spiritually.
That being said, Roland Bainton’s biography of Martin Luther is surprisingly easy to read (for a decades-old Reformer bio written by a British guy). Anyway, I’m moderately fond of this book. Here’s the good and bad.
The good: Bainton isn’t overly concerned with the obscure details of Luther’s birth and upbringing; rather, he picks up the story as the 21-year old Luther is knocked to the ground by a peal of thunder and gives his life to God on the spot. (If you’re looking for a more comprehensive look at Luther’s life, you might consider Read the rest of this entry »