By WALTER ALBRITTON
I held it in my hands and wondered why I have kept reading this little book for the past 60 years. It is not a classic like Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, or Augustine’s Confessions or The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. The first two of those were published in the 17th Century while the third was first published two centuries earlier.
My Utmost for His Highest is less than one hundred years old, first published in the United States in 1935. The book was not created by the author, Oswald Chambers, who died in 1917 at the age of 43. It is a collection of lectures and talks by Chambers compiled by his wife after his death. First published in 1927 in England, it has become the best-selling devotional book of all time.
I first began reading this book of 365 daily devotions when I was about 30. The original edition was not an easy read, but still helpful and inspiring. Over the years I continued reading the book in several revised editions. The edition I have been using for the past 25 years is a revision by James Reimann. Reimann had been blessed by reading the devotional book for several years but felt a revision would be helpful to readers because of language changes. He calls it an updated edition in today’s language.
Reimann’s pastor, Dr. Charles Stanley, had recommended My Utmost for His Highest to him. In the revision’s Foreword, Stanley echoed what I had been saying for 40 years, that with the exception of the Bible, “no book has had as profound an effect on my life as My Utmost for His Highest.” I agree wholeheartedly with Stanley that Chambers’ book is valuable because he underlines this essential truth for followers of Christ: “The most important aspect of the Christian life is our personal relationship with Christ.” I am certain that my walk with Christ has been immeasurably enhanced by my continuing exposure to this book. God has used the book to change the way I think about myself, about Christ, about others and about the mission in life to which God has called all people.
If pressed to explain what I mean, I would offer one or two inspiring examples from what I have been learning and relearning in January. Chambers observes that God does not speak to us through our ears, but in the language we know best — our circumstances. He writes, “Every time circumstances press in on you, say ‘Speak, Lord’ (as Samuel did), and make time to listen … As we listen, our ears become more sensitive, and like Jesus, we will hear God all the time.” And Chambers adds, if we get in the habit of saying ‘Speak, Lord,’ “our life will become a romance.”
Chambers constantly challenges his readers to make a “reckless abandon to God.” Until we abandon ourselves to God, “God cannot deliver me while my interest is merely in my own character. Paul was not conscious of himself. He was recklessly abandoned, totally surrendered and separated by God for one purpose — to proclaim the gospel of God.”
Two weeks after the death of my wife, Dean, I began reading My Utmost once again. The reading for Jan. 1, 2021, explains the book’s title. Referring to Paul’s bold expectation for his own life (Philippians 1:20), Chambers says, “It’s as if Paul were saying, ‘My determined purpose is to be my utmost for His highest — my best for His glory.’ To reach that level of determination is a matter of the will, not of debate or of reasoning. It is absolute and irrevocable surrender of the will at that point.” He goes on to say that God brings each of us to a crisis, a crossroads in our lives where we have to decide — for or against.
I was indeed embroiled in a crisis brought on by the death of my wife. It was a great crossroad in my life. And Chambers was speaking to me when he wrote, “If a crisis has come to you on any front, surrender your will to Jesus absolutely and irrevocably.” On that day God led me to write in the margin of the book, “Jesus, tonight I surrender my will to you absolutely and irrevocably. Please give me the grace to stay surrendered and to overcome my sorrow with your joy. Amen.”
It was that surrender that helped me make it through the past year, 2021. And on Jan. 1 of this year, I prayed that prayer again. I surrendered again. Absolutely and irrevocably? I pray so. That’s why I keep reading this book — daily asking God for the grace to yield my life as completely to Jesus as possible. I am not there yet but Chambers is helping me continue to move in that direction. He has inspired me to say, with him, “I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Jesus and Him alone.”