New Year, Daily Devotionals, and My Utmost For His Highest

8 Jan
Cover of "My Utmost for His Highest"

Cover of My Utmost for His Highest

Happy New Year!  I hope you had your fill of Christmas celebrations, picked over veggie trays, and white elephant parties.

In all seriousness, our family had a really great Christmas/ New Year’s break.  I hope yours was just as enjoyable.

New Years Resolutions….Daily Devotions

At my current workplace, conversations of new diets and more exercise could be overheard at every turn.  Hearing folks discuss their resolutions reminded me of the frenzy of daily devotionals that would fly off the shelf after New Years, at our local Christian book store.

There was an amazing array of devotional books designed to jump-start this spiritual discipline.  For the light-weights and newbies, there were devotionals like “My First Thirty Quiet Times” and the ever popular booklets “The One-Minute Devotional” series.  If the original “One Minute Devotional” didn’t suit you, than you could always purchase the One Minute Devotional for Men, Women, Children  Grandparents  Business people  etc….forever and ever Amen.

For the more experienced devotional reader, Charles Spurgeon’s “Morning & Evening” proved popular.  Popular authors such as Charles Swindol and Charles Stanley also penned popular devotionals.  (What is it about being named Charles and writing devotionals?).

Lastly, for the expert devotional reader who had exhausted Spurgeon and the like, there was the One Year Bible.  It was a Bible formatted into daily readings from the Old Testament, Psalms/Proverbs, and the New Testament.  My guess is, that the editors knew that anyone attempting to read straight through the Bible in a daily format would lose interest once they hit Numbers and Leviticus.  Hence the reason for splicing it into daily doses from both Testaments and the wisdom books.

The Mother Of all Devotionals-My Utmost For His Highest

In my opinion, the book that started it all was Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost For His Highest”.  My Utmost was published after Chambers death, serving as a YMCA chaplain to British troops in World War I.

As a book, it was a one page per day devotional, that usually derived its teaching from a small phrase of Scripture.  And this is one of the reasons why I dreaded this book.

First off, often times the simple phrase chosen by Chambers would be ripped out of its Scriptural context to make its point.  Even if what the devotional taught was consistent with other parts of the Bible, why tear another phrase out of its context to make your point?  I simply hated this approach to the Bible.  It seemed like cherry picking at its worst.

The other thing I disliked about Chambers style, was a subtle tone of legalism.  I can’t exactly place why I felt this way, but I can honestly say that I never could get through the thing without feeling worse about myself.  A more appropriate title may have been “My Lamest for His Overbearingness”, or something along those lines.

The Oddity Of It All

In hindsight, I now view daily devotionals as odd.  They promise to help bring the Christian closer to God and help them in their obedience and love to God.  But if God is ever-present, then why would you need a human compilation of writings to usher you into his presence.

Secondly, if the Bible is truly God’s word and is sufficient to lead into all knowledge and wisdom, than why would you even need or want another book to read?  It’s like saying you need a supplement to help your diet of the Bible to be digested properly.  How come the Holy Spirit can’t help you understand all that is needed to be known?  It just seems silly to me now.  How could a human author supplement the infallible word of God?

What I think now, is that the Bible is hard to read and hard to understand.  Devotionals actually replace Bible reading because reading the Bible usually leads to questions, frustrations, and contradictions that are not easily reconciled.

Recommended Link:

The Powerlessness of Prayer

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16 Responses to “New Year, Daily Devotionals, and My Utmost For His Highest”

  1. unklee January 8, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    Hi, I tend to share your bemusement about some of these books. But I want to comment on your conclusions.

    “if God is ever-present, then why would you need a human compilation of writings to usher you into his presence”

    I disagree here. Oxygen is ever present but how often are you aware of it? Would you criticise a scientist for using a meter to become more aware of it? I don’t the argument is valid. Studies in neuroscience show that our normal sensory experiences swamp other subtle things happening in our brains, and we need deliberate processes to become aware of them. I can’t see why it wouldn’t be the same with God, unless he chose to overwhelm us.

    ” if the Bible is truly God’s word and is sufficient to lead into all knowledge and wisdom, than why would you even need or want another book to read?”

    I think there is truth in what you say here, but your argument suggests to me that the premise is an overstatement. It isn’t made by the Bible itself, and it is manifestly clear the the Bible doesn’t teach everything we need (it doesn’t teach how to change a tyre on a car), not even everything we need spiritually (Jesus said the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth, not the Bible, as you say). So why not get extra help when we feel we need it, just like we might go to a personal trainer to enhance our normal exercise regime?

    Any in-group of enthusiasts (say Trekkies or chess players or bird watchers) will have their own in-group language and culture, their own peculiarities and exaggerations, and christians are no different. Drawing attention to these peculiarities is like shooting fish in a barrel. It is sometimes helpful, but often just reinforces the peculiarities in one’s own in-group. The challenge is to deepen the analysis to discuss truth and error, which you do at the end, but only briefly. I’d like to see you follow the thought a bit further and more rigorously, and see if it takes where you think it will.

    Best wishes.

    • christianagnostic January 9, 2013 at 1:26 am #

      Fair enough, I won’t claim dissertation status on my little inklings on devotionals and why I find them odd.

      you said

      “I disagree here. Oxygen is ever present but how often are you aware of it? Would you criticise a scientist for using a meter to become more aware of it?”

      Well there’s a big difference between scientists, who do not claim to be all knowing and ever present and the claims of the Bible, which describe God to be so. The Bible also claims that He is self evident to all creation and that the Bible is all sufficient for knowledge of this God.

      Hence my pondering of why devotionals are so popular.

      • unklee January 9, 2013 at 7:32 am #

        Yeah, I wouldn’t want to expect your post to have dissertation status! : ) But I think the issues you raise at the end are important, which is why I commented.

        I think too many christians claim the Bible speaks with one voice, when many of the issues it discusses are too complex to be resolved in one line. So yes, God is manifest in creation, and I find the Cosmological argument very compelling, but others see the same universe but don’t find the argument compelling at all. And if God was as clear as you suggest, he wouldn’t need a book to reveal himself.

        So I feel the question is more complex, and a simple conclusion such as you tentatively offer doesn’t reflect that complexity. But I still agree that devotionals are a sometimes strange breed of cat. Best wishes.

      • christianagnostic January 9, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

        Again, totally fair to say I’ve given a simple conclusion to a question that may be a little more complex.

        Most of what I wrote could have been written by me ten years ago when I was leading worship for a Vineyard Church. I wrote the last part as an additional addendum to my long history of not being able understand the appeal of devotionals.

        Maybe in the future I could did a little deeper on the subject. But for now, it was just a random thought jogged from all the talk of New Year diets and the such.

  2. ... Zoe ~ January 9, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    I like what you say here about devotionals. I see them as making the complicated (the Bible) – simpler, more palatable. I also read My Utmost For His Highest . . . my last devotional before my journey out.

    • christianagnostic January 9, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

      I also read My Utmost For His Highest . . . my last devotional before my journey out.

      Interesting….not to pry, but did you like it?

      I ask, because so many around me simply swore by it (My Utmost). Even as a Young Life leader, so many other leaders loved it and I just couldn’t get into it.

      • ... Zoe ~ January 16, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

        No. I did not like it and in some ways it helped me to leave. I got very very tired of the constant wretchedness that was sprinkled on us on a daily basis. What ever happened to being clothed in the righteousness of Christ?

  3. christianagnostic January 9, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    Almost forgot about this one…..

    http://www.amazon.com/Utmost-Devotional-Bible-James-Version/dp/0785203877

  4. Mike aka MonolithTMA January 10, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

    “The other thing I disliked about Chambers style, was a subtle tone of legalism. I can’t exactly place why I felt this way, but I can honestly say that I never could get through the thing without feeling worse about myself. A more appropriate title may have been “My Lamest for His Overbearingness”, or something along those lines.”

    That paragraph pretty much nailed it for me, and that was one reason why I used to love it so much, I really identified with Paul as being the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), and sought ways to remind myself daily of how worthless I was without Christ.

    • christianagnostic January 11, 2013 at 12:39 am #

      Hmm…that’s interesting. I guess feeling worthless was a feeling I already was familiar with and wasn’t looking to stoke it any further.

      • Mike aka MonolithTMA January 11, 2013 at 1:13 am #

        Was wanting to be totally devoted to and dependent on Christ. Ironically I ended up not believing in him at all.

      • christianagnostic January 11, 2013 at 3:05 am #

        Very ironic…but I totally understand the desire to be totally sold out for Christ.

        I’d be curious to hear more about your own journey out of the Christian faith. Only if you’re up for it…totally fine if it’s not on your agenda 🙂

      • Mike aka MonolithTMA January 11, 2013 at 3:11 am #

        I’ll write something soon. I’d point you to my old blog, but it’s kind of dusty. 😉

      • christianagnostic January 11, 2013 at 3:26 am #

        Thanks Mike…let me know when you do!

  5. Mike aka MonolithTMA July 20, 2013 at 3:05 am #

    So, 7 months later, I’m replying. Yikes! I’m a slacker! I have all my blog comments go into a folder in Gmail and I just went searching for an old unread comment and it was yours.

    I was raised Presbyterian USA and went through confirmation as a young teenager. It wasn’t until I was 19 or so that I came to take my faith seriously and leaned more towards conservative evangelicalism.

    I read the Bible voraciously and participated in several Bible studies for years. I also studied ministry in college. Living my faith was very important to me and I was always seeking a closer relationship with God.

    Eventually it was seeking this deeper, more tangible relationship that led to my de-conversion. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the most powerful force in the universe, the foundation of all, was the least tangible of all of creation. I prayed, studied, begged, and wept at the foot of the cross for something that would make God seem even more real to me. In the end I felt like Dorothy pulling back the curtain, but instead of a wizard, I found nothing.

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