How Oswald Chambers unwittingly became one of the most popular devotional writers of all time.

When My Utmost for His Highest first appeared in the United States, in 1935, few could have predicted that the little book of daily readings would become a defining text of American evangelicalism. Its author was an obscure Scottish preacher who had died young—nearly 20 years earlier (this year marks the 100th anniversary of his death)—and who was mostly unknown and unpublished on American soil.

Yet Utmost swiftly won a following among American evangelicals—and not just any following. Among the book’s earliest readers were Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and Henrietta Mears. Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, started early group meetings by reading from the book. The association with prominent Evangelical figures would continue through the decades: Jerry Falwell is remembered as a devotee, and George W. Bush has spoken often of his love of the book.

But it isn’t just the famous names that account for Utmost’s lasting popularity. That honor belongs primarily to the millions of readers who have incorporated the book into their daily time of devotion. Giving copies to their family members and friends, they have passed Utmost down through the generations, establishing it as a trusted spiritual guide.

Growing Up with Utmost

Like many Evangelical children, I was raised to trust Utmost, and to read it as part of my daily “quiet time” with God. In the house in Dallas, Texas, where I spent my childhood, there were always copies of it lying around. This was thanks to my grandmother, who, upon seeing a five-for-two special one Sunday at the church bookstore, had taken the lot. When I was 15, she gave one of these copies to me.

My first impression of Utmost was that …

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