Supernatural Devotion: Oswald Chambers on Self-Denial


Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)

Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest is perhaps the best devotional I’ve ever come across. Thus I am currently reading it for the second time (albeit off schedule).

This morning’s selection stuck out to me, particularly because it points to yesterday’s subject of self-denial and redirecting natural inclinations. The selection is titled “Why Can I Not Follow You Now?” and you can read it by clicking here.

Chambers is talking about how we often want to jump-start God’s will in our lives. Perhaps there is a vision or a calling that God has made clear to us, but we don’t feel like God has given us the final go-ahead to execute it.

As Chambers explains:

At first you may see clearly what God’s will is — the severance of a friendship, the breaking off of a business relationship, or something else you feel is distinctly God’s will for you to do. But never act on the impulse of that feeling. If you do, you will cause difficult situations to arise which will take years to untangle. Wait for God’s timing and He will do it without any heartache or disappointment. When it is a question of the providential will of God, wait for God to move.

When we think of Biblical self-denial, we tend to think of denying things that are “bad” (e.g. dishonesty, lust, selfishness, etc.). But although we must certainly deny our flesh when it comes to blatant sins, such self-denial may also be necessary when it comes to the actual things God has called us to.

This is where following the Holy Spirit is crucial. There will not always be a clear-cut Bible verse to tell you what your individual path looks like. Although we must align all of our pursuits to God’s Word, it is often the Holy Spirit that tells us which job to take, which person to marry, or which city to live in.

But even when we know God’s will (e.g. the job, the spouse, the city), our flesh still has the potential to distort the timing and the execution. For instance, Jesus’ death was the ultimate act of self-denial (as discussed yesterday), but for Him to fulfill all the preceding prophesies and lay the proper groundwork for Christianity, timing and execution were significant factors. There was an ultimate calling, but there was also much that needed to be prepared beforehand.

Chambers uses Peter as an example of someone who initially failed to see God’s timing:

Peter did not wait for God. He predicted in his own mind where the test would come, and it came where he did not expect it. “I will lay down my life for Your sake.” Peter’s statement was honest but ignorant. “Jesus answered him, ’ . . . the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times’ ” (John 13:38). This was said with a deeper knowledge of Peter than Peter had of himself. He could not follow Jesus because he did not know himself or his own capabilities well enough. Natural devotion may be enough to attract us to Jesus, to make us feel His irresistible charm, but it will never make us disciples. Natural devotion will deny Jesus, always falling short of what it means to truly follow Him.

Yesterday I explained how self-denial without value is vain, but today I would like to emphasize that self-denial with value but without the Holy Spirit’s timing and direction is likewise vain.

It is ultimately the same message: We must fight our natural devotion by allowing God to make it supernatural.

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