Those who have followed this blog for a while know that I sometimes refer to Oswald Chamber’s writings – especially his classic daily devotional: My Utmost for His Highest.
Today’s reading (August 10) is perhaps the finest distillation of the quintessential Chambers. If you want a huge introduction to his life’s message, then read today’s essay. I will share several quotes today (from the updated version):
Choosing to suffer means that there must be something wrong with you, but choosing God’s will – even if it means you will suffer – is something very different. No normal, healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he simply chooses God’s will, just as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not. And no saint should ever dare to interfere with the lesson of suffering being taught in another saint’s life.
Chambers dealt in the strong realities of God’s big and eternal purposes. But this didn’t make him disconnected from life or impractical. Actually it made him powerfully relevant. Being conformed to Christ’s image was far more important to him than impressing people. Satisfying God’s heart was a huge passion for Chambers. God is bringing many sons and daughters to glory (His majestic image and nature). And most of us come kicking and screaming! We are so slow to learn and so quick to try to escape from God’s serious dealings with us. We are so ingrained in self-preservation and self-promotion that we often miss God’s purposes.
The people used [by God] to strengthen us are never those who sympathize with us; in fact, we are hindered by those who give us their sympathy, because sympathy only serves to weaken us…If we accept the sympathy of another saint, our spontaneous feeling is, “God is dealing too harshly with me and making my life too difficult.” That is why Jesus said that self-pity was of the devil (see Matthew 16:21-23)
Readers who are deeply concerned with social justice issues may read into Chamber’s a lack of compassion or engagement in mercy. But context is everything. Chambers was a Chaplain in WWI. He was there to help address the deep needs of those affected by the horrors of war. Readers with a heavy “faith” background may read into Chamber’s words what they see as unbelief. They may feel he draws up short of really believing God and standing on Christ’s finish work. But they are often guilty of attempting to be amateur providences (to borrow another Chambers phrase). They (and we) make very poor substitutes for the Almighty. Chambers learned these lessons the same we way we have to.
God is working out a much more serious and eternal plan than simply providing health, wealth, and pain-free living in the short run. Granted, there is a devil who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy, and sometimes our sufferings are the result of sinful choices and mindsets. And certainly we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. Pure religion involves serving the needy and helpless. But by “sympathy”, Chambers is not talking about showing real mercy and compassion. He is referring to taking sides with someone’s self-pity and becoming a substitute savior (amateur providence).
I will finish with a final quote from today’s reading in My Utmost:
God places His saints where they will bring the most glory to Him, and we are totally incapable of judging where that may be.
That last part is humbling isn’t it? Oh how we want to dictate what our circumstances will be. We want to choose the pace and place of our sanctification. And we also often come between God and those He is dealing with!
A host of biblical characters flood across my mind – and even more saints from recent history. But time and space will not allow me to give biographical sketches of Jacob, Joseph, Job, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Joni Eareckson Tada. (And these are just a few of the people whose names started with “J”!) All of these folks faced all sorts of challenges and sufferings. And God worked all these things together for their good and His glory. And the world is better not because they escaped suffering, but because they trusted God through all that they faced.
Yield now and be at peace with Him, thereby good will come to you and glory to Him.