As we start this year with Oswald, I think it’s important to admit a few things up front. First of all, Oswald Chambers is deep and there a lot of times where I simply don’t get what he’s saying. Just what is the “retired sphere of the leasts” anyway?
I find myself having to read and re-read entries at times. Really focusing on the words and the meaning behind the words in order to grasp the message Chambers wants to convey. I’ve always thought that was due to the British-turn-of-the-century tone the book is written in. After all, the devotions found in this book were first spoken messages preached back in 1911-1915 at the Bible Training College in Clapham, England and then from 1915-1917 at the Y.M.C.A. outpost in Zeitoun, Egypt. But the large, challenging words and concepts Chamber’s uses may have more purpose behind them than simply being a manner of speech.
In the introduction to The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, we’re told that Oswald encouraged his students to read and study with a dictionary at hand. “Never intend to look up a word,” he said. “Do it now.” The publisher writes, “in the spirit of Chambers and his philosophy of education, we have not robbed the reader of the opportunity to learn by personal effort.”
Well, to be honest, such personal effort can be exhausting in this instant-I-want-it-now world in which we live. It is often easier to give up and move to “lighter” reading, which I’ve done myself. But God seems to keep bringing me back to Oswald and other Christian writers like him because He wants to expand my spiritual vocabulary – to challenge me in my thinking so that I can better articulate my faith. For as I learn to think biblically, I will begin to live biblically – daily walking out my faith in a way that more accurately reflects my Savior rather than the pale imitation we Christians so often settle for.
Please know, however, that doesn’t mean that your devotions should be a daily struggle. Instead of trying to understand every word and every nuance, ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you as He wishes. Most days (for me) it isn’t an entire devotion that speaks to me but simply a phrase. A sentence or a paragraph that lifts off the page and imprints itself on my soul. Or a new twist on an old truth that challenges me to stop and think about something in a way I’ve never considered before.
Bottom line, I’ve learned not to worry about what I don’t understand (or what doesn’t particularly “speak” to me) and focus on what does. As I prayerfully take that portion to the Lord, He’s used Oswald’s devotions to take me to a deeper level in Him. And that’s what it’s really about.
Which brings me to the second thing I want to emphasize – Oswald Chambers, as wise and spiritually influential as he was, is only a man. He never intended that we focus on his words but on the message of Christ he proclaimed. So as you read the daily entries, tune your heart to the voice of the Spirit. For as you do, the Lord will speak the truth you need to hear, in words you can understand.
Even if it requires a little work on your part and mine.