The wonder and beauty of a bookshelf is that it houses such a great number of mysterious portals to worlds unknown and times not lived. This past weekend, while pacing the basement hall of the mission home in order to pacify Simeon, I glimpsed a title tucked away on a corner shelf – My Utmost for His Highest. This book has, for many years, awakened my spiritual senses, and challenged me to consider the state of my relationship with God and the way in which I carry out Kingdom service here on earth. As such, I was involuntarily drawn to pick the book from the shelf and give it a quick once over. Upon opening the cover, I was greeted with the signature of Paul Lindell – a missionary child from China who’s vision led him into service as a forefather of the World Mission Prayer League. I took a few photos of the book and determined to revisit a story recounted by Mildred Tengbong in The Spirit of God Was Moving. The year was 1939.
A turning point came at the end of his second year. … Paul was considering two possible courses of action. The one would be conventional: Complete seminary, be ordained and go to China as a missionary. The other would be highly unconventional: He had been asking himself why a mission society like the China Inland Mission could not come to birth in the Lutheran church. This would mean not only that new areas could be occupied, but also that more lay people could go. If this were to come to pass, and if he were to be a part of it, would it not be better for him to remain unordained and retain the status of a lay person? he reasoned. But what would his mother say about this? And the pastor father of his sweetheart from childhood, Margaret Sovik? And the mission board which had cared for their family so well all through the years?
All these questions Paul was asking himself as he struggled to understand God’s will for his life. He went to the dean of the seminary and unburdened his heart. The dean suggested he pray. So Paul took his Bible and a copy of Oswald Chambers’ book, My Utmost for His Highest, and shut himself in a small room on the top floor of the dormitory. In his own words Paul describes what took place:
For two days and nights it was a fight, a fight to the finish. I saw that I had to die, die to my ambitions, my fond hopes, my reputation, the kind opinions of my friends, my closest human ties, my possessions, my cherished traditions, my own willfulness. But it was a losing fight from the start. At last a simple line from Oswald Chambers brought the final word: “If you debate for a second when God has spoken, it is all up. Never begin to say, “Well, I wonder if He did speak?’ Be reckless immediately, fling it all out on Him. You do not know when his voice will come, but whenever the realization of God comes in the faintest way imaginable, recklessly abandon. It is only by abandon that you will recognize Him. You will only realize his voice more clearly by recklessness.”
I plunged, abandoned all to Him and took the path which He had indicated. In place of bondage and dissatisfaction I have found liberty and deepest rest. In losing my life I found it again, now greatly enriched with “unutterable and exalted joy.”
Two convictions came to Paul as the outcome of those decisive days: He was assured God was calling him to work with a mission society, and he felt he should not seek ordination, but instead identify himself with the laity.
Seventy-five years ago, Paul Lindell took his Bible and what may well have been this very book and wrestled with the call of God upon his life. As I hold this book, I am awestruck at the courage wielded by the men and women who forged a way forward for the mission of God among the lay people of the Lutheran church. I am grateful for the rich history that has been written among the Prayer League fellowship as a result those who have recklessly and obediently abandoned themselves to the call of God. And I am honored that we might be called fellow workers with God in His kingdom.
Over the coming months, I will be sharing the various passages highlighted by Paul Lindell. Posts will be tagged #LindellsUtmost. May you experience the wonder of God’s persistent work among His people and return Him thanks.