31 Days of Missionary Stories: Isobel Kuhn Learns to Put God First

isobelkuhnIsobel Kuhn was a missionary to China in the early to mid- 1900s, alongside her husband, John. She has written a number of books about the Lord’s working in their lives and ministry, all very readable and enjoyable. She has a very readable style and is quite honest and open about her faults and foibles, but her books are also laced with humor. By Searching was subtitled My Journey Through Doubt Into Faith and describes just that. She had grown up in a Christian family yet wasn’t truly saved. When a professor at college condescendingly told her she only believed because that was what her parents told her, she realized he was right, and thoroughly let herself go into the “worldly” activities she hadn’t been allowed to pursue. This book traces her journey to true faith in Christ and her first steps in her walk with Him. In the Arena is not exactly a sequel, but it highlights many decisions, experiences, and trials in which God manifested Himself. I reviewed both books together here.

One incident that had lasting effects occurred during Isobel’s training at Bible college. Many students did not have a quiet time or devotional time with the Lord, because they spent so much time studying the Bible. “But,” Isobel wrote in In The Arena, “reading the Scriptures for a technical grasp of the general argument in a book, and reading it as in the Lord’s presence, asking Him to speak a word on which to lean that day — those were two very different things. One was no substitute for the other. Yet I knew also that some students were trying to let classwork reading do for personal quiet time. Deadness of souls was inevitable.”

As she prayed about it, she felt led to form a habit of spending one hour a day, sometimes in two half-hour segments twice a day, “in the Lord’s presence, in prayer or reading the Word. The purpose was to form the habit of putting God in the centre of our day and fitting the work of life around Him rather than letting the day’s business occupy the central place and trying to fix a quiet time with the Lord somewhere shoved into the odd corner or leisure moment.”

She and nine others covenanted to do this for about a year and meet together monthly to worship together, confess failure, and encourage each other. She wrote, “It was never my thought that this covenant should become law. My thought was merely deliberately to form a habit which would allow the Lord to speak personally to us all the days of our lives….somehow news of [this covenant] spread, and others began to join. Then—it seems as if some human beings always have to go to extremes—some signed a covenant binding them to this hour a day for life. I did not sign it. What about days of illness or emergency, when it might be impossible to keep an hour quietly? There was no need to vow; there was only need to form a habit of putting God first.”

The following is from In the Arena and tells of how this decision was tested.

This is the background of my platform of secret choices. It was the evening of the Junior-Senior party. I was a junior and had been asked to lead the devotional with which all such parties closed. I was also on the programme as Grandma in a Dutch scene, off and on all through the banquet. The week before had been so full of work and study that I had not had one moment to sit down and prepare a devotional.  Work…had delayed me, and I arrived at the supper half-hour, hungry,  exhausted, and without any devotion prepared. Besides this, I still had half an hour due on my quiet time! After the party we juniors had to clean up and I would not get to my room til midnight — the day would be gone.

Here was my platform of secret choices. That supper half-hour. (1) Should I go down and eat my supper? (2) Should I skip supper and try to prepare the devotional message? (3) Should I put God first and give that half-hour to him? The supper bell rang, and my roommate left for the dining room. I stood for a moment irresolute; then, throwing myself on my knees by my bedside I sobbed out in a whisper, “Oh, Lord, I choose you!” As I just lay in His presence too weary to form words, the sense of His presence filled the room. The weariness and faintness all left me. I felt relaxed, refreshed, bathed in His love. And as I half knelt, half lay there, saying nothing, but just loving Him, drinking in His tenderness, He spoke to me. Quietly, but point by point, He outlined for me the devotional  message I needed to close that evening’s programme. It was an unforgettable experience and an unforgettable lesson. Putting Him first always pays.

In the exhilaration of that wonder I ran down to the banquet hall, slipped into my costume, and went through the programme. At the end, when the devotional message was needed, I gave very simply what He had told me during the supper hour. Such a quiet hush came over that festive scene, I knew He had spoken, and I was content.

More than twenty years passed. I was home on furlough and visiting the Institute. It was the day of the Junior-Senior party and a group of us were reminiscing. “One Junior-Senior party a always stands out in my memory,” said one. “I forget who led it but it was a Dutch scene and the devotional blessed my soul. I’ve never forgotten it.” She had indicated the date, so I knew. I was thrilled through and through. Of course I did not spoil it by telling  her who led that devotional. In God’s perfect workings, the instrument is [often] forgotten. It is the blessing of Himself that is remembered.

 (You can see other posts in the 31 Days of Missionary Stories here.)

7 thoughts on “31 Days of Missionary Stories: Isobel Kuhn Learns to Put God First

  1. Pingback: 31 Days of Missionary Stories | Stray Thoughts

  2. Pingback: 31 Days of Missionary Stories: Whom God Has Joined | Stray Thoughts

  3. Wow! That *is* a neat story. I’ve never heard of Isobel Kuhn, but I think I’d like to read more about her. Thanks for introducing me to someone new.

  4. I read several of Isobel Kuhn’s books when I was young, studying nursing in England. They were challenging. I know that, even though I can’t remember so many details, her stories gave me a good foundation to stand on when I faced choices and challenges in my own life.

  5. I used to have In the Arena but, sadly, loaned it out and never got it back. Today I was preparing a lesson for some teenagers and thought of this incident in Isobel’s life that would fit in with the theme. I didn’t think there was a chance I’d find it online, but I googled Isobel Kuhn on spending time with God, and it was the first thing that popped up! Thank you for sharing. What a blessing Isobel’s life and writings were. I look forward to meeting her one day.

    • I’m so glad God led you to this post, and led me to share it years ago! I enjoy her books so much, too, and look forward to meeting her as well. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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