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Who Wrote My Utmost for His Highest and How? Part I

My Utmost for His Highest; Oswald Chambers, Biddy Chambers, devotional, stenography, God, Baffled to Fight Better, David McCasland, www.michelleule.com

Oswald and Biddy (Wheaton College Special Collections library)

You probably think Oswald Chambers wrote the well-loved devotional My Utmost for His Highest.

You’re only half right.

The ideas, the concepts, the ear willing to listen to God‘s direction and the ability to communicate them, all came through Oswald Chambers’ teaching.

Putting it together into a coherent devotional, however, was the work of his widow, Biddy Chambers.

My Utmost for His Highest was a successful joint effort conceived of, created by, and directed in accordance with God’s direction.

The story, of course, began long before My Utmost for His Highest’s 1927 publication.

Spending Time in God’s Word

The key to life for Oswald Chambers was the Bible and studying God’s word and praying were central to that task. He rose early in the morning and believed spending time with God first, was important.

Longtime friend Dinsdale Young described Oswald Chambers this way:

“He had a richly endowed mind which he reinforced by ceaseless study and prayer. His utterances in public were charming in form, rich in suggestion and full of ‘power from on high.’ “

Raised in a pious Scots family, the son of a Baptist clergyman, Oswald gave his life to Christ as a teenager. After studying fine arts at Edinburgh University, he attended Dunoon Training College to focus on the Bible. One friend from that time described him as a “man of prayer.”

Another noted:

“he always put devotion first. Early to bed and early to rise was his rule, and the early hours were spent in devotional exercises and study. This was the reason he was so sure of God and His guidance.”

OC began preaching as a young man and ultimately preached all over the United Kingdom. He taught in the United States, Japan and ended in Egypt.

On the voyage to his YMCA post in Egypt in 1915, he spoke to all 1300 passenger on the SS Baltic about God.. His life focused on Jesus.

Stenographer Needed

My Utmost for His Highest; Oswald Chambers, Biddy Chambers, devotional, stenography, God, Baffled to Fight Better, David McCasland, www.michelleule.com

Notes drawn and written by OC in his Bible

At the turn of the twentieth century, the popular press often printed sermons in newspapers the day after they were preached. Tongues of Fire magazine often included the text of his teachings.

He liked the idea of using the printed word to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, according to biographer David McCasland in Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God.

Gertrude Hobbs, meanwhile, cherished a dream of becoming secretary to the British Prime Minister and as a sickly teenager perfected her stenography skills. She “took down” at 250 words per minute–or faster than most people speak.

OC had a sister named Gertrude, so he gave the young woman he came to love a nickname: B.D. for “beloved disciple,” which soon was shortened to Biddy.

Daughter Kathleen noted that Biddy took down in shorthand all of OC’s talks, “because she liked to do it and it helped her listen better.”

Baptized in 1905, Biddy shared OC’s enthusiasm for God and the work of the church.

As early as 1909, a year before they married, Oswald envisioned a future literary partnership:

“I want us to write and preach; if I could talk to you and you shorthand it down and then type it, what ground we could get over! I wonder if it kindles you as it does me!”

Take this Down

It was fortunate God provided OC with a wife who knew shorthand and believed in his mission. When the couple began the Bible Training College in 1911 London, Biddy sat in on every lesson and wrote down everything. It served for her own edification and for the literary work OC envisioned.

OC kept a diary and they both maintained an enormous correspondence. At one point, OC taught a correspondence course of 600 students.

In 1915, OC closed the Bible Training College and moved to a YMCA encampment just north of Cairo, Egypt. Biddy and Kathleen followed by the end of the year and began another round of ministry–this time in more challenging conditions.

My Utmost for His Highest; Oswald Chambers, Biddy Chambers, devotional, stenography, God, Baffled to Fight Better, David McCasland, www.michelleule.com

An example of Biddy’s shorthand

Biddy joined him each evening as he lectured or taught, taking everything down in her impeccable shorthand. He recognized her value to him and to God.

During 1917, OC taught on the book of Job to the soldiers preparing for France or the conquest of Palestine.

After three years of war, the men were tired, the job never ending and the suffering horrific. Many flocked to hear him teach.

He and Biddy prepared the talks into a book, the only book published by Oswald Chambers in his lifetime, called Baffled to Fight Better.

Oswald Chambers died unexpectedly in November 1917, a year before the end of the war.

Biddy remained in Egypt until June 1919 to complete the YMCA ministry. She and Kathleen returned to England in June 1919.

Unbeknownst to her, Biddy had a life’s work ahead of her–using her husband’s words.

Who Wrote My Utmost for His Highest and How? Part II, comes next time.

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2 Comments

  1. I always love reading something that touches me to the point I tear up. That just happened. Thank you once again.

    Reply
  2. Michelle Ule

     /  January 22, 2015

    Thank you, Kim. As always, for everything. xoxo

    Reply

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