Oswald Chambers—author of the beloved daily devotional My Utmost for His Highest—once stated “The great word of Jesus to his disciples is abandon. When God has brought us into the relationship of disciples, we have to venture on his word; trust entirely to him and watch that when he brings us to the venture, we take it.”
That insight was the result of a life—albeit one cut tragically short—dedicated to such abandon.
As we’ll see, however, the enduring legacy of his lessons is largely due to someone who often receives far less recognition.
Who was Oswald Chambers?
Oswald Chambers was born in 1874 in Aberdeen, Scotland. His father was a Baptist preacher, but it was the teachings of Charles Spurgeon that led the boy to Christ at the age of fifteen.
Chambers then began sharing the gospel outside of London with his church shortly thereafter. When he sensed the call to full-time ministry, he attended Dunoon College—a relatively small, interdenominational theological school.
He described his time there as “four years of hell on earth.”
However, his great distress across that span of time had less to do with the college than with the growing sense of his own depravity and powerlessness in the face of sin. Yet when he reached the point that he was forced into the kind of utter abandon to the power of the Lord that he described in the quote above, he said of the experience: “The last aching abyss of the human heart is filled to overflowing with the love of God.”
From that moment of “spiritual emancipation,” the Lord blessed and expanded Chambers’ ministry, leading him to preach across the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan before settling into a more academic role. In 1911, he joined with the League of Prayer to open the Bible Training College, where he served as principal for its first several years.
He remained at the College until 1915, when God pointed his desire to shape hearts and minds in a different direction at the outset of World War I. He enlisted as a chaplain and left for Egypt with his wife and young daughter to minister to the soldiers stationed there.
They would serve there together until he died from a ruptured appendix and complications from the ensuing surgery on this day, November 15, 1917.
He was only forty-three years old.
New life after death
Despite the tragic and sudden nature of Chambers’ death, his wife Gertrude—or Biddy, as she was often known—was unwilling to let his ministry end.
It had long been her aspiration to one day become secretary to England’s prime minister so, across Oswald’s years of ministry, she had used his sermons and lectures as opportunities to practice her shorthand notation. As such, she had a wealth of “verbatim shorthand notes of his talks,” and she used them to put together the first versions of what would one day become My Utmost for His Highest.
What began as pamphlets for the soldiers and students left behind following his death eventually expanded to the daily devotional that has been printed more than 13 million times in the ninety-five years since its first publication.
The wisdom and insights that had blessed many over the course of Chambers’ ministry were given new life after his death because his wife was just as faithful to the Lord’s calling as he was.
And therein lies our lesson for today.
Stewarding God’s calling
Did you know that Oswald Chambers did not actually write the devotional for which he’s famous?
In a sense, he did since the daily entries were taken from his sermons and notes. But when I first picked up a copy, I assumed that he was also the one who compiled each of the entries, organized its structure, and was essentially responsible for the product I was reading.
Yet, in learning more about the lives of Oswald and Gertrude Chambers, it quickly becomes clear that they were both far more committed to God’s glory than their own.
Both Gertrude and, once she grew older, their daughter Kathleen saw the publication of the devotionals and other resources as the responsibility to steward well the insights that the Lord had given through Oswald.
And while their names are not displayed prominently next to his on most of those publications, their faithfulness reminds us that people don’t have to know our name for God to accomplish extraordinary things with our lives.
Like John the Baptist, if we can get to the point that we find genuine joy in the knowledge that Jesus is glorified through our faithful stewardship of his calling on our lives, not only will we be of more use to the kingdom, but we will also know greater contentment and peace in the course of the work (John 3:25–30).
The lives of Oswald, Gertrude, and Kathleen Chambers give testimony to that fact.