Oswald Chambers would say this about prayer. Prayer is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time. I love the way he wrote this or said this. The life of faith is not so much one of mounting up with wings as eagles, as it is a life of walking. Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves the one who is leading. Many years ago, Oswald Chambers wrote and taught with both clarity and wisdom. God used him to alleviate so much of the mystery of God's will. Chambers offered us a simple proposition for life.
Just trust God and do the next thing. As we continue through our series entitled Legacies of Light, we come to the life of Oswald Chambers in today's broadcast. Stephen's been looking at the biographies of 16 significant individuals from church history. This lesson continues that series, and I'm glad you've tuned in. Now, settle in as Stephen opens up to you the life and teaching of Oswald Chambers.
Let's get started. In 1890, a 15-year-old young man and his father were walking home from a meeting where they had listened to Charles Haddon Spurgeon preach. The young man said to his father as they walked along that he would gladly have given himself to the Lord had the opportunity been given.
If you know much about Spurgeon, you had to make an appointment on Tuesday to meet with him to make an inquiry. Well, at any rate, this young man didn't want to wait, and so the boy's father actually responded, Well, my boy, you can do that right now. So there on that path, they stopped and prayed together.
This young 15-year-old was a young man named Oswald Chambers. He would later join a Baptist church in London and eventually enter art school. His love was drawing, poetry, and music, and he was determined to be an artist. And so he began to prepare. Three years after that, he sensed that God might want something different for his life and ministry, and so he abandoned his art studies and enrolled at the Dunoon Training College in Scotland. He did so well academically.
He was invited to stay on after he graduated to become one of the faculty tutors. It was during this time, however, that he entered into what he would later call the dark night of his soul. It was a time of great doubting and discouragement. He tried in vain to reach some state of self-satisfaction, a state that his Pentecostal friends referred to as the mountaintop of victory. He would write a poem about that particular period in his life as a young man that included these lyrics, O Lord Jesus, hear my crying for a consecrated life, for I bite the dust in trying for release from this dark strife.
That dark period ended with a personal commitment and surrender to God's Spirit. In fact, something that Oswald referred to as a baptism of the Holy Spirit. He was simply borrowing the vocabulary of his association with the holiness movement there in England and Scotland.
It's interesting, and I won't take you down this path, but while he didn't speak in tongues, in fact, he decried any attempt to prove that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was in any way related to tongues. He was no doubt influenced in these early years by these movements. In fact, for a brief time, he left the school and represented the prayer league, which was a holiness movement.
Warren Wiersbe, writing biographically of this particular experience in Oswald's life, kind of sifting through what happened to him in more biblical terminology, believes that Oswald more than likely was genuinely converted to Christ. He eventually enrolled at the University of Edinburgh to prepare for ministry. And while there, he was being mentored and trained by a great preacher by the name of Alexander White, a deep preacher cut of Puritan stock, much like Charles Hadley Spurgeon. So, if I put this together by way of a quick summary, he was influenced early in his life by the gospel preaching of Charles Spurgeon, alerted to the need of total surrender to the Holy Spirit, which is a good thing by his Pentecostal friends, and then tutored from the pulpit by Alexander White.
And that wasn't all. He would later be influenced by D.L. Moody's life and ministry through an organization that he would join as a chaplain. He would effectively become, eventually, a foreign missionary serving with the YMCA. For some time, however, before joining the YMCA, Oswald actually toured the world, or some of it, as an itinerant evangelist.
His tour would take him primarily to America and even to Japan, where he would preach for nearly ten years. He's in his mid-fifties by this time, and he's on one particular passage to America, and he's asked by Christian friends to keep an eye on a young lady her friends had nicknamed Biddy, because she was traveling alone to America in search of work, and he was only happy to oblige his concerned friends. And he did keep an eye on her. In fact, he married her 24 months later, so he could permanently keep an eye on her. They were married, and their union in 1910 would ultimately create a ministry that neither one of them would have imagined. Biddy happened to be a trained, skillful stenographer.
She could record words at the rate of 240 a minute. She began recording everything Oswald preached and taught. A few years later, Chambers became convinced that a Bible college was needed in England, so he settled down with his family. His daughter by this time was born, and he wanted a college that would emphasize both personal experience and spirituality with academic excellence. The school began, and it operated on a principle of faith.
By this time, he was already becoming known as a man of prayer, and he understood the interceding work of Christ and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit in a fresh, wonderful way. But the school operated then on faith. In fact, the Bible college was never more than a month away from defaulting. Just to show you how committed Oswald was to praying and receiving whatever the Lord wanted to provide, on one occasion, a wealthy friend offered to completely and entirely endow the Bible college, to which he responded, No, thank you.
You see, if you do that, the school might go on longer than God wants. It's a little wonder that Oswald Chambers failed to fit with the religious conventions of the day. In fact, he was nicknamed the apostle of the haphazard. His ministry path was erratic.
Plans weren't smoothed out. He was very, very spontaneous. And you can see how God gave him a wife that recorded everything. Opposites attracted.
There as well. He loved the adventure of faith without as much of a worry. In 1915, when World War I broke out, he wrestled with staying in England. He wanted to serve on the fields. He wanted to get close to the action. But he wasn't so impetuous that he didn't stop and pray. In fact, he recorded in his journal, his prayer.
Here it is. Lord, I praise you for this place I am in, but the wonder has begun to stir in me. Is this your place for me?
It may be only restlessness. So hold me steady doing your will. Calm me that I sin not against your will.
Good prayer. One year later, he became convinced after praying that God wanted him overseas. And so he took Biddy and their little girl with him as they set up camp as the YMCA chaplain to the troops, stationed at a military base just outside of Cairo, Egypt. Oswald Chambers suspended the Bible college indefinitely and left, settling in Egypt. Now when he arrived to join the other missionaries, everything immediately changed.
Some weren't too happy about it. Among other changes, he informed the other YMCA workers that they would immediately abandon weekly movies and concerts for Bible classes. He was going to begin teaching the soldiers the Bible.
All the other workers predicted the soldiers would leave in this mass exodus because of it. In his lengthy biography, which I read a couple of years ago, Chambers found this whole situation rather intriguing. In fact, he wrote that Cairo assaulted his physical senses with enticing aromas from street side cafes and the eerie Muslim calls to prayer from countless minarets. He wrote that spiritually the challenge of taking the gospel to several thousand men in a busy military camp seemed almost staggering, but here he came and he cut out all the fun immediately and said, no, we're going to dive in and begin to study the Bible. And instead of a mass exodus, there was an awakening. It wasn't long before several hundred soldiers packed into that YMCA hut to listen to this man's thought-provoking, humor-punctuated biblical messages. In fact, he also began a weekly prayer meeting. Only two showed up, but soon the men filled the hut.
So many of these men knew they'd never return home alive. The gospel became the water of living hope and life to them, and prayer became a unique source of strength. It wasn't long before Oswald Chambers' key ministry verse became known to the entire camp. In fact, he had a banner created with this verse on it, and I want you to turn to it. It's in Luke's gospel in chapter 11. The banner stretched from one side of the platform to the other, and everyone in his ministry was confronted by this text. Luke 11, verse 13, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?
Let me look with you for a few minutes at this wonderful context. And again, you can only imagine how much these soldiers wanted to know if God heard their prayers and if God cared in the carnage of World War I, challenging days. What kind of prayer made it through to God would be their question. Well, if you go back to verse 1, the disciples were wondering effectively the same thing.
In fact, look there. And it came about that while he was praying in a certain place, after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us how to pray. By the way, the disciples never asked Jesus to teach them how to walk on water, how to silence a storm, how to divide up a few pieces of bread to feed thousands of people.
Teach me how to do that. No, the only thing they ever asked, recorded in Scripture, for Jesus to teach them was teach us how to pray. And the Lord responds, and this is analogous to the text in Matthew that's a little more expanded on what we call the Lord's Prayer. It's actually the disciples' prayer. And he instructs them with it.
We won't take time. You're familiar with it. But following the instruction, the Lord anticipates the very next question on their heart. And it's going to be this question. Does God really hear us praying, even if we pray like this? And so Jesus, anticipating that question, creates a wonderful story that he tells them to prove his point.
And I want you to get the point. Look at verse 5. He said to them, Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him at midnight and says to him, Friend, lend me three loves.
That's three pieces of flat bread. For a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing whatsoever to set before him. Now, make sure you don't miss the point here in this text that this friend has arrived at midnight. Not exactly the most convenient time to have a knock on your door if you're the neighbor. In this culture, it wasn't unusual for people to travel at night, especially because of the heat.
And without warning, Jesus creates a story where this visitor arrives at midnight. Now, in this culture, hospitality was considered a social duty. You never turned anyone away. It was also considered, particularly in Israel, a wonderful opportunity to show loyalty and love.
And so now, if you're that man, you've got a dilemma on your hands. Somebody's arrived at your home, it's midnight, and you have nothing whatsoever to feed them. Nothing to feed your guests. I remember learning something about hospitality. Growing up in a missionary home, it seemed like someone was always visiting in our home. And many a night, I gave up my bedroom to some traveling missionary or preacher or guest.
And it was just assumed, and we never complained. And my mother always seemed to have meals ready. They just seemed to miraculously appear, and there was always food. I had no idea that she kept meals waiting in the freezer for the next surprise guest that my father might bring home.
So Marcia and I were married for just a couple of months, a few weeks actually. I was just beginning my seminary training. And one Sunday night, who would show up at church but a missionary couple that I knew from my past. So after church, I asked them where they were eating supper, and they said they didn't have any plans. So I said, well, why don't you come over to our apartment for dinner? And they were thrilled.
They followed us home in their car. And on the way, Marcia was looking straight ahead because they were behind us, but she was saying, honey, we don't have anything to feed them. We don't have any food. I mean, the pantry is empty.
I was going to get groceries tomorrow after work and after school, and I don't have anything. That wasn't all she said, but that's all you need to know. She's in Myrtle Beach right now, but I'm afraid she's listening online. She then said, you know what, I got a head of lettuce, and we do have some cheese. So she whipped up this Caesar salad, fit for royalty. Well, after dinner, I made the mistake of asking them where they were spending the night.
I'm a slow learner. And they said, we don't have anywhere to stay. I said, well, why don't you stay with us? My wife actually came up with the idea.
She initiated it and said, well, you stay here. So we gave them our one bedroom, and we made a pallet on the floor in the living room. I was going to be sleeping out there anyway on my own.
I considered this an improvement. The lesson I learned was don't invite anybody over for dinner until you've checked with your wife. Make sure you've got something to eat. Well, the lesson here in this story is you're stuck with an overnight guest, and you don't have anything to eat.
There's not a head of lettuce and cheese. But your neighbor, you know, come to think of it, was baking bread that afternoon, and you remember that, and you know they have some. Your only hope is to go over there and wake that man up. So here's the dilemma. You can either be a bad host and send your guest to bed hungry, or you can be a bad neighbor and go wake up your friend at midnight.
And in this story, that's the choice that was made. Look at verse 7. From inside he, that's your neighbor, answers and says, Do not bother me, the door has already been shut, and my children and I, that is effectively our family, is already in bed. Now bed for them was a mat on the floor where the family would sleep. And further in the villages of Christ's day, it was customary to bring into their little hut at night their chickens and their goats so they wouldn't be stolen in the night. So for somebody to get up at midnight would not only awaken the family, but a bunch of animals too, and they're not going to go back to sleep. So no wonder he says here, Go away.
We're already down for the night. Jesus effectively says in verse 8 that the neighbor does finally get up and give you some bread, not because he's your friend, but because you're going to wake up everybody anyway until you get help. Now unfortunately, and this is why I wanted to deal with this particular part of the passage, the average Christian thinks this story proves the point, that you've got to keep on knocking on heaven's door to finally wake God up into doing something for you.
That's not the point. Now obviously there's something to be said about persistence in prayer. In fact, Paul said that the Thessalonians were to pray without ceasing. But that is not the point Jesus is making in this prayer.
Look at verse 9. I say to you, ask and it will be given to you. Just ask.
Seek and you will find. Knock, and guess what? God's door will be opened to you at any time, guaranteed, that is he will always hear you. Now the point of this story is not one of comparison between God and this sleepy, irritated neighbor. This isn't a story of comparison.
It's a story of contrast. God is not like that sleepy neighbor. See, that's what Jesus reinforces.
Look down at verse 11. Suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish. He will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?
Implied answer, of course not. Or if he asks for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, I think this word evil is rooted in the Old Testament culture where it's translated flesh and blood, and I think that's a better point. If fathers who are flesh and blood, that is mortal creatures, treat their children better than that, imagine how your immortal father God will treat his children.
Now here's the point. If you know how to give good gifts to your children, listen, when you're praying, you can be confident. How much more will your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit? And by the way, what he is doing is introducing to us the best gift of all, the ultimate answer to those who ask him. Again, this doesn't absolve us from intensity and discipline and prayer, but it does mean this. You are not wringing from God the Father's unwilling hands that which you really need.
And if you just keep at it, maybe you can pry his fingers loose. No, you're going to your heavenly father, and he knows what you need, and the greatest need happens to be himself. And he's ready to give you a measure, as it were, of the Spirit's discernment and wisdom when you ask it. It may not be the answer you wanted or expected, but whatever arrives comes from the open, ever-ready hands of your father who gives us the Holy Spirit's wisdom so that we can handle whatever the answer ends up being.
I love the way one author summarized this lesson. You ask for a gift, and God the Father gives you the giver. You ask for a product, and he gives you the source. You ask for comfort, and he gives you the comforter. You come seeking power, and he gives you the source of power.
You need help, and he gives you the helper. You're seeking answers, and he gives you the indwelling spirit of truth. Oswald Chambers would say this about prayer. Prayer is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.
I love the way he wrote this or said this. The life of faith is not so much one of mounting up with wings as eagles as it is a life of walking. Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves the one who is leading. Now, unlike his spiritual mentors, which included Charles Spurgeon and D.O. Moody and Alexander White, Oswald Chambers would remain virtually unheard of, entirely obscured during his lifetime. In fact, he once said to a friend of his when he was younger, I feel I shall be buried for a time, hidden away in obscurity, and then suddenly I shall flame out, do my work, and be gone.
Which is exactly what happened. After less than 24 months in Egypt, Chambers developed appendicitis. He resisted going to the hospital because on the grounds that the beds were needed by men wounded in battle. Eventually his condition grew critical. On October 29th, a surgeon performed an emergency appendectomy. For a few weeks his life hung in the balance. He then revived, only to suffer from hemorrhaging in his lungs. On November 15th, 1917, less than two years after arriving in Egypt as a missionary, and this ministry that was already being so wonderfully blessed by God's Spirit, to the utter shock of his wife and his friends and his ministry and his supporters, Oswald Chambers died. He was only 43 years of age.
An obscure missionary outpost near Cairo, Egypt, teaching a hut full of soldiers, that was pretty much it. But his life would impact millions of Christians over the next several generations, and it really isn't over yet. It came from the hard work of his wife's note-taking. See, after his death, Biddy and their daughter returned home and then sensing the Lord's will in the matter, Biddy took out all her notes from his sermons and his lessons at the college in Egypt as he traveled and preached, notes that she had taken word for word in this shorthand as he preached and taught, and from what she was able to take down, edit, and publish, the world would hear of the ministry of Oswald Chambers. He would encourage his students with his wonderful advice, never make a principle out of your own experience. Let God be as original with other people as he is with you.
That's good advice, isn't it? He would write in his journal, Lord, keep me radiantly and joyously thine. One more subject, a fourth worth commenting on, was Oswald Chambers' counsel regarding decision-making.
He would say it simply this way. Trust God and do the next thing. With that kind of counsel, by the way, Chambers takes away so much of the mystery of God's will. Just trust God and then with confidence and joy do the next thing. I hope this lesson was a blessing and encouragement to you.
This is Wisdom for the Heart. Our Bible teacher, Stephen Davey, pastors the Shepherd's Church in Cary, North Carolina. We'd love to hear from you and learn how God's using the teaching you hear to strengthen your walk with Christ. You can send Stephen a note if you address your email to info at wisdomonline.org. Thanks again for joining us. We hope you'll be with us next time as Stephen brings you more wisdom for the heart. .
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