It’s rare that I recommend a book essentially because I am a poor reader but if I were ever asked to go on the radio show ‘Desert Island Discs’ and name my one luxury item to take with me other than my record choices, the Bible and the complete works of William Shakespeare, it would be this book.
I can’t remember which friend it was of mine who first introduced me to it when I found faith. It’s written by British author with the unlikely name of Oswald Chambers in 1924 after his death in 1917. Chambers came to faith via the early Pentecostal movement in the UK and My Utmost for His Highest was written as a summary of his teachings to students of his Bible College and soldiers on the battlefields of the Middle East. MUFHH became one of the most popular religious books of all time in the UK. Sadly I don’t hear much reference to it nowadays. The writings were turned into daily devotionals spanning each day of the year and then repeat. For me, after the great CS Lewis, Oswald Chambers is my favourite modern Christian author (if 1924 can still be classed as modern).
What comes through his writing that touches me every time is his clear living relationship with the God he writes about. He knows Him as friend, father, teacher, Lord, comforter, encourager, chastiser and so much more. It is impossible to read any one of his daily devotions and not be caused to ponder in a good way deep inside. Often the thoughts provoked will remain with you all day and beyond, which is why it is best not to be tempted to read more than one devotion a day.
There are no rules to reading the book. Though each reading is set over each day of the year it is entirely valid to not move on to the next because you are still taking in the last even if that means you are out of kilter for the rest of the year. Likewise it is entirely valid to dive in at any random point you choose. The readings are not timed to coincide with seasons or the church calendar. In short, bite-sized written thoughts oozing to overflowing with more than your 5-a-day in spiritual goodness I would recommend every Believing household has access to this book.
I’m going away shortly on part 1 of a two-part spiritual retreat to three cities in foreign places I’ve never been to before. I’m going on my own yet taking two friends with me. Mr Chambers will be one. The other will, by His own unique magic, be both travelling with me and awaiting me on the other side. I need to get away. The need for some clear head space since last year has been crying out to me for a while. Yet so much of the working out of my faith is under question. The person of God and his reality to me is not under the microscope. The day that He became for me something beyond the stained glass windows and ceremony to being a living person who wanted to interact with me and have relationship with me is still too real in my memory. Yet Christianity I see in the UK today does seem to be in a quandary as to what it believes and I’m caught up in that too.
It is because I am secure in my still living personal relationship with God that I am in no sense of crisis and am open and honest enough to make my feelings public. I don’t expect to come back from my two retreats having had a life and perspective changing experience. Of course that is what I’m wanting but my faith is not based on feelings and holiday memories. What I do know I will get is the reconnect with the God I chose to follow that I have allowed life to rob from me. I’ve done huge amounts of prep on the 3 cities I will visit but doing and seeing all those things are 2nd priority to the main goal: to come away with Him. For the record, none of the cities being visited has any religious significance. They are just 3 cities I’ve never visited.
My relationship with church and church leaders has never been the easiest, though I still do strongly believe in both. But it seems to me that the Church and Christians at large are in a quandary as to what they believe and I am caught up in that quandary too. I need time out to seriously realise what I, Ian-Luke, believe and where I stand with God. More so than that, I need to get away for a while from the politics and debate of all around me – not easy to do when you work in a major Christian multi-media hub – and enquire of Him what He asks of me in these times. In the many periods I have had out, though, the writings of Oswald Chambers has been my friend reminding me of the goodness and dynamism of a God who still wants to be in relationship with me even though I shut Him out so much of the time. And so I end this post writing to anyone reading who is in a similar place or who is taking time out of church, reading the Bible or possibly out of faith completely. This book is for you. It won’t preach at you (though I’m talking to Christians here). It won’t chastise you in a way you won’t be up for. You won’t find hypocrisy or thoughts too difficult to grasp. Oswald puts some hot stuff into his mugs of thought. The good news is that he always leaves you with a handle on it to pick it up and not scald yourself. You’ll find honesty and an intermediary between you and the Friend you think you have fallen out with.
My Utmost for His Highest is available in book form at any good online retailer or Christian bookshop. It is also available as an App or you can read and sample for free here.