Category Archives: Picture Perfect
A picture unveils a thousand words and a photograph reveals emotion; life is digitalised by a kaleidoscope of pixels.
On 20 June 2017, just before 5pm, I received another incredible gift from God—my beloved son. Praise the Lord! We are thankful to Him for Huiyi’s relatively easy pregnancy and quick labour, but most of all we are grateful for another arrow added to our quiver. With him, I am well pleased, indeed.
Some of our friends might already know that my wife and I take selecting names for our children seriously; we are meticulous, intentional and prayerful about it. Click here to check out how we decided on our firstborn’s English and Chinese names. And in keeping with tradition, I will journal on how we came up with our son’s names.
For starters, we avoided names that were too common, and we also wanted a name that appears in the Bible. We preferred a name that was derived from a biblical location, just like Eden. Thus, we thought of “Israel”, a nation that is special to God, but it didn’t go well with “Tan” and we didn’t want him to explain that he’s a Singaporean, and not an Israeli, for his entire lifetime. Haha.
But because we had considered Israel, we inevitably considered “Judah” as well.
In the Bible, Judah (pronounced as “joo-duh”, not “joo-dah”) made his debut as Jacob’s fourth son (Ge 29:35). It is a Hebrew expression that means “the praised one” and “thanksgiving”, for Judah’s biblical parents shared that sentiment when he was born. Judah then became one of the 12 tribes of Israel (Ge 49)—and the only tribe that remained loyal to King David’s family line (1Ki 12:20). When the Davidic kingdom split, the Northern kingdom was called Israel, and the Southern kingdom, Judah. What’s special about the Southern kingdom was that Jesus eventually descended from it (He 7:14).
Of course, Judah is not to be mistaken with “Judas” (Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus). I’ll teach my son to lovingly educate anyone who mistakens his name with Judas with, “Perhaps it’s time you read the Bible…” Hehe.
Well, we like Judah because of his actions in the Bible. In Ge 37:26, Judah intervened for Joseph’s life to be spared; that demonstrated leadership initiative. By being responsible for the family despite not being the eldest (Ge 43:1-18), Judah prevailed above circumstances and beyond limitations. I also love how courageous Judah was especially in Ge 43:9 and 44:18, as he took charge of the situation by boldly speaking his mind. And throughout the rest of Judah’s biblical narrative, he influenced the proceedings in his household and played a principal role in leading his family to redemption.
And of course, anyone who’s described as a “Lion” (of Judah, Re 5:5) gives the impression of an imposing figure. All in all, Judah just seemed like a young man who would lead the battle from the front. I love that imagery, which is probably influenced by my training as a tank officer. #oncearmouralwaysarmour
But perhaps the most significant thing about Judah was that he was the first to receive full blessings (from his father), without any curses (like some of his brothers). In Ge 49:8-10 (NLT), it reads,
“Judah, your brothers will praise you.
You will grasp your enemies by the neck.
All your relatives will bow before you.
Judah, my son, is a young lion
that has finished eating its prey.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down;
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
the one whom all nations will honour.”
As for his Chinese name, it was slightly more difficult because of the criterions we had set. Firstly, we wanted it simple, so like his sister, Judah’s Chinese name would be a single character (单名). It had to be unchanged from traditional (繁体字) to simplified (简体字) Chinese, so that no meaning is lost. It had to be in the fourth sound (第四声), so that it would sound unyielding as well as pleasant with my surname (陈). But most of all, it had to carry the meaning of “faith”, or along the lines of it, like “persevering”, “enduring” or “steadfastness”. Finding a single character that encapsulated all that was a tall order because I’m an #ACS boy and my alma-mater is (in)famously #anglominuschineseschool.
So the first person we turned to was Charles, a friend who has a PhD (!) in Chinese history (!!). He is the same church friend who gave our firstborn her exceptional Chinese name (晏). His first recommendation was 信. We liked it because it fulfilled all our conditions, but we were also open to other options. (As an aside, it would have been pretty cool to call my son 阿信 too, considering how much I liked 五月天. Ha!)
But since we were considering alternatives, I decided to consult Ps Walter, my superbly bilingual colleague and interpreter extraordinaire, for more suggestions. And after looking through two to three of his choices, we found one that was (close to) perfect. This new suggestion received rave reviews from Charles too. It carried the meanings of “perseverance”, “insistence”, “resolute”, “decisive”, “staunch”, “strong”, “firm”, “brave”, “fearless”, “urgency”, “determination” and “fighting against evil”, which are just about all we would want in our son, as a man, and as a future leader. (Yes, I’ve clearly done my research on its etymology.)
So, Judah’s Chinese name is 陈毅 (pronounced as “Chén Yì”). It is also a clever wordplay on 诚意 (“sincerity”, “good faith” and “frankness”). Well, 毅 has a few more strokes than we would have preferred, but a future ACSian could do with a bit more practice in Chinese! Haha! Incidentally, the English and Chinese names have similar meanings.
For Huiyi and I, the English name we pick calls forth the child’s destiny and the Chinese name describes the pregnancy journey. The lesson that God had been teaching us (especially my wife) in the year leading up to his birth, is to have faith in Him. (We’ll leave the details for a private sharing…)
We’ve always wanted to name our offspring after the fruit of the Spirit. So now we’ve got love (חֵן, “Chen”, 陈), joy (Eden), peace (晏), and now goodness (Judah, well sorta…) and faithfulness (毅). So I guess there’s still space for more! Ha-HA!
In conclusion, and on a serious note, my prayer and aspiration for my son is taken from 2Ti 2:1-2 (NASB),
“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Hence, it becomes our prayer that our little lion will grow up to become a humble but bold individual who will lead others to praise God and give thanks to Him through his persevering character.
I have decided to take a mental break from preparing 14 messages (pray for me!) for this weekend’s Redeem Conference, next week’s youth camp at Elim Church and next weekend’s R-AGE Leaders Advance to record some fresh thoughts. Let’s see where this verbiage takes me…
A few times throughout the day, Huiyi will send me picture updates of Eden’s daily activities. She receives these pictures from her mother, who is Eden’s main caregiver from Tuesdays to Fridays.
And I have observed that more often than not, my typical replies to these lovely photos are, “I miss my family!” and “Love you so much!”, and not so much of responding to what Eden is actually doing in the photos.
Today, Eden’s 公公 and 嬷嬷 brought her to Jurong Bird Park. Eden looks so adorable in the photos and Huiyi commented that our baby girl “has such an awesome life”.
I wholeheartedly agreed with my wife. But there was a tinge of melancholy in my “Indeed!” reply.
As I thanked God for how blessed Eden is, a part of me yearns to be playing with her at the Bird Park instead of writing sermons in front of my laptop.
I found myself living vicariously through these daily photos.
I imagined myself taking those pictures and getting Eden to smile for the camera; I pictured myself pushing Eden in her stroller through the midday heat; I envisioned myself cradling Eden in my right arm, kissing her all over and littering her ears with, “Darling, Daddy loves you so much!”
Yes, I was truly experiencing life with Eden in my imagination through the actions of my in-laws.
And it got me thinking about the irony of parenting in Singapore; it is as if we bring our children into this world to have them being cared for by other people, and for them to spend time away from us.
When we are younger and more energetic, we have to work to earn money for our livelihood, and be away from our children. But when we are older and less spritely, we have enough money and all the time in the world, but our children have also all grown up! Surely there’s a way around this tension that I haven’t yet discovered?
My mother-in-law commented a few months ago that she is so much more active in Eden’s life than in her own children’s stage of infancy. She also said that that statement holds true for my father-in-law.
Both Huiyi and I were cared for by our grandmothers; I believe many of us in Singapore were taken care of by our grandparents and that (good) tradition seems to pass on from generation to generation.
As much as Huiyi and I are grateful for the tremendous support that we receive from our parents, we desire so much more to be Eden’s main caregivers instead. We are, after all, her parents — I mean, who wants to spend time with her more than us?
But the reality is, I have a day job (which I am most thankful for, because I enjoy what I do for a living) and by keeping it, I am fulfilling the other part of being a father by providing for my family.
On weekdays, Huiyi and I will only have about five hours with Eden — two in the morning and three in the evening. That is why, as working parents, we cherish weekends so much.
And that is why I treasure my off days that much more now because that’s the exclusive time I get to spend with my beloved princess and create memories for the both of us. On Mondays, I do not have to live vicariously through images on a mobile phone.
Every precious moment with my daughter is locked into my heart forever. I will never give up anything for time with her.
Oh man, I am getting emotional writing this…
On 18 March 2014 just after 5pm, I received the greatest gift in the world — my precious baby girl. I’ll chronicle the epic labour process in another entry but today, I want to record a memoir of how my princess’ English and Chinese names came about.
Names mean a lot to me. A name carries identity, prophecy and destiny. And sometimes, it does feel like if you pick a good name, you’ve got half the battle won. You see, I selected “Asher” as my baptism name because it means “blessed, joyful and happy”, as well as “the most favoured one”.
As for our children, we’ve already shortlisted a number of English and Chinese names. The plan was to pick one that described the pregnancy journey. We’ve decided in the second trimester that our firstborn would be named “Eden”, because like her name suggests, she has brought us and others around us so much joy and delight. In Hebrew, it means “paradise” (she’s our utopia after all). And practically speaking, Eden is a simple, two-syllable, and easy-to-remember name.
Some years ago, I discovered the meaning of my surname, Chen (陈). While its most obvious meaning represents the sun (阳) that rises from the east (东), it’s actually also pronounced like a Hebrew word (חֵן) that means “loveliness, grace, and favour with God and men”. Not too shabby for one of the most common surnames in the world!
We’ve always wanted to name our offsprings after the fruit of the Spirit and since we had “love” and “joy” already working in Eden’s favour, we wanted to select a Chinese name that either described love or joy, or another of the remaining seven parts of the fruit of the Spirit.
As a typical ACS boy, I knew I needed some help with picking the right Chinese name for my daughter. So I approached a church friend, Charles, who’s studying for his PhD in Chinese history, who had very kindly agreed to help Huiyi and I pick a Chinese name for Eden. We met for coffee one afternoon and went through a few possibilities. I mentioned to him that I wanted Eden to have a single character (单名) in her Chinese name. So instead of the typical three characters, all my children’s Chinese names will only have two.
It’s not easy find a name that fits with the dialect and English “Tan” as well as the hanyupinyin “Chen” so we decided that Eden’s given name on her birth certificate will simply show “Eden Tan”, without her Chinese hanyupinyin name. After all, when you do introduce yourself, you don’t say, “My name is Joey Tan Chong Yi” or “你好, 我是Joey陈崇仪 but simply, “My name is Joey Tan” or, “我是陈晏”.
After an hour of tossing up possibilities of his initial suggestions and the Chinese names that I preferred, Charles and I went off topic and shared about the respective journeys we’ve each gone through watching our wives get pregnant. Many of which are very private so I’ll leave it that way. But as with several seasons of my life, God has always been teaching me about what it means to surrender… And everyone knows surrendering (to God) isn’t always the most pleasant or easy thing to do. I told Charles that through this process of surrendering, God has really taught me about His peace that surpasses all understanding — that assuring knowledge that He is with me and His presence is all I need.
That little sharing seemed to have ignited something in Charles’ eyes. He began sharing with me a little of his own journey into parenthood and how he’s learnt to trust God for all outcomes. Then he paused, and it was as if he rummaged through the virtual annuls of thousands of Chinese characters in his mind, then keyed one in on his cellphone. With aplomb, he made a suggestion…
“How about this character — 晏?”
Unsurprisingly, I did not recognise that Chinese character at all. And I’m confident that unless I’ve explained it to you before, or if you’re also studying for your Chinese history doctorate, chances are that this is the first time you’re seeing this character and you, like the rest of the modern world, have no idea how to pronounce “晏”.
“It’s pronounced as ‘yàn'”, he explained, “and it means ‘peace'”, he continued.
Upon seeing “晏” and perceiving its meaning, it became one of those moments for me. You know, those moments where you kind of know, this is it. I think Charles must have saw it in my eyes too. Like “Eden”, “晏” had a nice ring to it and immediately resonated with my heart. There was a certain sense of conviction about it. I knew there and then (barring consultation with my wife) that “晏” would be Eden’s (only) Chinese name. “Eden Tan” and “陈晏” — what a perfect combination of love, joy and peace.
Charles went on to explain that 晏 in one character, carries the same meaning as 平安 (peace) in two characters. Not only that, but it’s “peace that comes with day” because it’s “日” (day) + “安” (peace). To help me understand this, he explained that we sing “Silent Night, Holy Night” because we are looking forward to the peace that comes in the morning, knowing that we have survived yet another unknown night; that’s why we chorus “All is calm, all is bright” in the following line. It was like a double Eureka moment for me — new understanding of that Christmas carol and new knowledge to appreciate the profound meaning of this Chinese character. Another way of looking at 晏 is that everyday (日) Eden will be filled with peace (安) — 每日平安.
Charles also explained that 晏 is one of those rare Chinese characters that has not simplified its strokes over the centuries; 晏 in written the same way in both traditional (繁体字) and simplified (简体字) Chinese. So that means that it’s meaning has not changed through time! In addition, what I also liked about this character is how feminine it looks — don’t you think it looks really pretty?
And finally, I also saw a pictograph in 晏 — it looks like the sun (日) is forming a protection (宀) over my little girl (女)! And if I may stretch it and “Christianise” its meaning, it kind of looks like the Son is watching over my daughter! In summary, looking at 晏 was like marvelling at Eden for the first time — love at first sight.
Through bringing our baby girl to full-term, God has indeed brought us joy and delight, allowed us to experience His grace and love, and taught us the precious lesson of knowing His peace that surpasses all understanding.
Eden Tan, Mummy and Papa love you very much — beyond what you can imagine. Thank you for teaching us love, joy and peace even before you’ve met us. You’re going to be an awesome, and very precious daughter. What a privilege it is for Huiyi and I to be your parents.
Instead of lamenting over the Singapore haze situation and pouring out my woes on social media (which adds zero value to this pseudo national crisis IMHO), I found ten ways to be thankful for the wind beneath my wings…
- The last time Singapore had such unhealthy PSI readings was in October 2006 (I think). Let’s be thankful that we’ve enjoyed clear skies for nearly seven years!
- In moments like these, you should be pleased that you’re not in Sumatra or any of the northern Indonesian islands – it could be been far worse!
- Isn’t it good that at least Singapore has a tropical climate where rain could come anytime to wash the haze away? Places in summer now (especially desert places) won’t even smell precipitation for weeks!
- Let’s rejoice that that Singapore’s transportation system is nearly 100% air-conditioned; when I was a teenager, buses were ventilated by natural wind! And if you’re a car owner, be contented for your own set of wheels and instead of contending with the smoke while commuting – imagine those who are cycling!
- It’s a good sign that lesser people (especially teenagers) are on the streets because they’d rather be indoors, whether at home, in the office or in malls – out of the streets, out of trouble!
- Let’s be relieved that at least everyone in Singapore is united by the same public enemy – instead of population, politics or (gender) preference issues!
- Believe it or not, I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness to us in the way that He led the Israelites through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud and fire – sounds like concentrated haze in a column to me!
- For all you photographers out there, let’s get trigger happy for this is the only time where you can capture pictures with a natural “smoke out” effect without using any filter!
- For those who aspire to be ninjas, this is your time to bring out your face masks and actually look socially acceptable – when else would you get away with it!?
- And finally, if this situations worsens, the government might start ordering people to stay indoors to avoid the haze – I can hear students and national servicemen cheering already!
I’ve said this many times – I have a dream job.
I still pinch myself every morning because God has given me the privilege of being the youth pastor of the youth group that turned my life around. And because of indebtedness towards this youth ministry, work never feels like work as it is something I’d have done anyway.
Huiyi and I wanted to start a tradition in R-AGE – a 开工餐 at the start of the year to kick-off the year of ministry. I gathered those who were working together with me as full-time staff (my ministry interns) as well as those in my Think Tank (key leaders in my strategic team). These folks are critical to the operations, leadership and growth of the youth ministry.
So after dinner last night, my wife and I went to Sheng Siong Supermarket and bought over 20 different ingredients for the steamboat dinner that we were hosting tonight. There was enough food to feed a small army. We told ourselves to go all out to bless the people who go all out to bless the young people. We wanted the eight of them to feel loved and like they deserved nothing but the best.
Together with my awesome mother-in-law (who kindly and generously offered me her time and energy), I spent most parts of today preparing the food. I think she put in the most work for this steamboat – she prepared the soup broth, marinated the meats and chopped the vegetables. As I ate lunch and did a little grocery shopping with her earlier today, I felt so incredibly blessed. It is God’s grace that I’ve found favour with my mum-in-law, and I am grateful.
And I realised that my wife and I are like Martha and Mary respectively – you need both types when hosting a gathering. She is amazing – she helped me clean up everything when we finished dinner – and this after a full day of work. I am blessed indeed! Darling, you’re a wonderful pastor’s wife – thank you for being a part of and embracing my ministry and calling as your ministry and calling. (:
The 10 of us ate to our hearts’ content and had a great evening together. It’s truly a blessing to serve the Lord alongside brothers and sisters whom you like and love. These young men and women are like my family. I cannot imagine leading the youth ministry without them by my side. I also cannot imagine R-AGE without them.
Ministry is all about relationships indeed. I thank God for being a part of these God-given relationships and the privilege to do life with them.
The final session with my leaders was the shortest one. There was no way they could have tanked (I’m learning youth lingo…) another trademark long sermon from me after being turned out at 4am to clean the entire church. I trust that the structured experience would be etched into their hearts for a long time. And if I can find the piece of paper that I scribbled down my debrief pointers (“Leadership lessons to be learnt”), I’d post in another entry.
At around 6:30am, we dismissed everyone. Most of them returned to their bunks and a handful became all-terrain sleepers; the GI Chapel morphed into a huge dormitory. At 10:30am, we assembled them in service for the last time, and I began my sharing by stating that we ought to be hungry for two things: God’s whereabouts (His presence) and God’s will (His plans and purposes).
However, what prevents us from getting hungry is when we are already being filled and have no more space in our lives.
I thought Kenneth Yeo brought out this lesson superbly at Minus One (an initiation of sorts involving the new leaders just before Leaders’ Retreat commenced). He split the leaders into a few groups, lined them up and got them to transfer water from a bottle at the start of the line into a bag at the end of the line by passing it from one person to another other via sponges. Then he introduced a twist by pouring a little Ribena syrup into each sponge, and challenged them to do the same thing without any trace of Ribena in the bag. The leaders instinctively used half the sponge to execute this task and ended up transferring less than half the original amount.
If you have too much of worldly things cluttering up our lives, how are you able to stay hungry for the things of God? Your appetite is directly proportionate to how full you are. Try eating an expensive dinner immediately after a cheap lunch – the thought of food would repulse you! If you want to be hungry for God, then you have to learn to de-clutter and de-accumulate. The scary but ironic thing is when ministry and church work clogs up your life and takes away your hunger – that would be a travesty.
In John 4:34, “Jesus said to them (his disciples), ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.'” I believe Jesus revealed to us the secret to being filled with the things of God. But to do the Father’s will, we must first know His will. Only then are we able to accomplish the Father’s work. That is why the Grace AG theme for 2013 resonates with my soul; paraphrasing what my senior pastor (Ps Calvin Lee) said, in order for us to effectively live life missionally, we must first be deeper in the Word.
Ezra understood that well. In Ezra 7:10, we learn that “Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the LORD and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.” Through this, I derived a four-step approach to God’s Word that I will share over the pulpit in greater detail in the last week of January. Grasping this, I believe with all my heart, has the potential to change the way we live as well as to change the world that we live in. If we are not changing the culture, we’re not changing anything. But if we, like Ezra, are determined to SORT out our approach to God’s Word, I’m sure we will constantly remain hungry for God’s presence and His will.
- Study: read, remember and reflect upon His Word.
- Obey: apply what we have learnt.
- Reap: the benefits of applying God’s Word.
- Teach: pass on these benefits to others.
In addition to that, I also shared Ps Edmund Chan’s “PDA Lifestyle“ with my leaders (which I will also teach in greater detail over the pulpit):
- Personal revival: experience revival everyday by getting deeper into God’s Word.
- Divine appointments: sense the Holy Spirit leading you into a divine appointment.
- Active obedience: learn to obey what the Spirit put upon your heart to do or say.
I believe that once you catch this method of evangelising, of loving people in the name of Jesus, you will never look at preaching the Gospel in the same way ever again. My desire for my (spiritual) household and I is to practise the PDA lifestyle and to leave the results to God. Sometimes, it doesn’t necessarily have to culminate in a dramatic conversion. Sometimes, all that’s needed at the moment is a simple spiritual conversation. All you need is to faithfully do your part, and learn to trust God for the outcome.
If you want to live from the inside-out, then your perspective must change; God didn’t call us to be a student, a teacher, a pastor, but to be a witness! Live your life in the Word and let the Gospel be seen in your life. We have to preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words. If anything at all, I think the X-factor of a believer is authenticity, and not perfection. I’d rather be real and flawed and to appear perfect. After all, if Jesus can love me even though I’m like that, then Jesus must really love me – that’s what the pre-believers should see in your life!
In summary, a hungry Christian is a growing Christian, and his appetite for learning and doing God’s will should never diminish regardless of his age or education level. If you call yourself a hungry and growing Christian, then I’d expect you to always seek the better way; choose the way of wisdom and apply it into your situations. The moment you stop learning is the moment you stop growing.
It is my prayer that I’d always display an appetite for growth and an active pursuit for opportunities to mature in Christ.
In my 12 years of learning to be a leader and leading leaders, I’ve found that there are two groups of people who are a joy to be with: those who are enthusiastic learners and those who are easier to teach. Both groups had this in common – a teachable spirit – and that is indeed one of the key considerations when I select potential leaders.
I’ve always believed that a good leader knows how to feed himself, be it through books, mentors, sermons, journalling or in times of solitude. Leaders must see that it is their personal responsibility to learn. My friend, Ps Chua Seng Lee, once told me not to depend on anyone in the organisation for my personal training and development. He said that if I didn’t take charge of my learning pilgrimage, nobody will. I agree with him. After all, one can only be spoon-fed and hand-held for so long.
One of the common “complaints” of a believer, regardless of which church or ministry he belongs to, is that the “sermon is not deep enough” for him. I’ve had peers tell me that when they want to switch to another church. I’ve also had youths tell me that when they want to leave the youth service. Granted, some assert that because they are genuinely seeking something more, but some conveniently say that because they do not realise that the onus of learning is on the student, not the teacher.
In Mark 4:1-20, Jesus made the exception of explaining a parable. He hardly did this so it must have been a lesson he did not want his disciples to miss. He went on to explain the different metaphors used in the parable:
- The seed represents God’s Word. (And I think the farmer represents anyone who’s teaching you the Word of God – it could be a teacher, pastor, preacher, mentor, leader or parent.)
- The footpath represents Christians who are deceived by the Devil and are quickly scattered.
- The shallow soil represents believers who are joyful and enthusiastic at the start but are not rooted in the Word. As a pastor in a pentecostal church, I believe this is especially true of pentecostal believers who seek the experience more than the truth. They say that they “can’t feel God anymore” and soon after begin backsliding.
- The thorns represent Christians who are easily distracted and tempted by the world.
- And the fertile soil (the only positive example) represents what I believe to be teachable Christians who hear God’s Word and accept it into their heart.
With that parable as a backdrop, what then, is your posture in learning from the preacher, your leaders, the cell kits and your daily devotions? Do you approach it with a “Let’s see what he has to say” or with a “Let’s see how I can learn from him” attitude? Choose the latter for it is better! If a person think he already knows, then he can’t be taught; a person who carries an attitude that they already know as much as the teacher won’t receive anything from him. In my short journey of meeting youth leaders around the Asia, I have met some who think they already know all they need to know about the Word or youth ministry – it’s difficult and almost repulsive to converse with these people. I know, because I’m like that sometimes. (:
Truth be told, in my last three years as a youth minister, with the exception of sitting at the feet of outstanding bible teachers and expositors like Ps Benny Ho or Ps Edmund Chan, most of the growth I’ve made were through preparing and listening to sermons, reading books, reflecting during times of solitude (though fewer than desired – sigh!) and walking with the Lord. I grew because I took on the responsibility to learn and then God caused the growth!
I’ve sat into many youth services and to be honest, youth ministry sermon content doesn’t differ too much due to the limitations of preaching to a teenage crowd. So instead of scrutinising theological content when I sit into a youth service (or any other kind of service), what I do is to try to catch the preacher’s heart. You see, you can’t teach a love for the Word, a passion for discipleship, an urgency for evangelism or a desire for mentoring the next generation; these things are more caught than taught. I always remind myself to catch the teacher’s heart more than the stuff in his head.
Here’s what I’ve learnt: if you can’t learn from teachers, you will struggle to learn from God. Some believers have the mentality that since they are able to download directly from God, they won’t require a man to teach them the Word. Of course, there is truth in this (that the Holy Spirit can illuminate truth from the Word), but that alone is inadequate. Think about it, if that was so, then why did God give teachers to the church? In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul writes that teachers were given to us “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (KJV).
Therefore, I believe that there is wisdom in having a teachable spirit. The way a leader receives instruction from teachers gives me a glimpse of his character. His posture as a student eventually determines his destiny as a learner. In sailing, the setting of the sail on a sailboat is also called the “attitude” of the sail. Wind is the irreplaceable yet uncontrollable component in sailing and the same wind visits both good and bad sailors. Depending on the attitude of the sail, wind would cause the sailboat to be steered into different directions. Two believers can receive the same teaching, but have completely different responses and takeaways. At the end of the day, it is the attitude of a teachable spirit that will enable us to travel in the right direction.
7 Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return. Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.
8 So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. But correct the wise, and they will love you.
9 Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.
10 Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.
11 Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life.
12 If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.
— Proverbs 9:7-12 (NLT)
And in Proverbs 15:10, “Whoever abandons the right path will be severely disciplined; whoever hates correction will die.” That’s pretty extreme! So if you want to be a wise man, have a teachable spirit. If not, the one who eventually loses out is you!
There are four good examples of teachable men in the Bible:
- Moses shows us that a teachable man is a meek man. He was also hungry to learn from and lean on the Lord’s guidance.
- David shows us that a teachable man seeks to to God’s will. He demonstrates in many Psalms that he wants to receive instruction from God because he wants to follow Him.
- Jesus shows us that a teachable man knows the Father is the ultimate teacher. Try accomplishing the immense mission Jesus was tasked to do – no wonder He stayed so close to His father and did only what He saw the Father doing.
- The disciples show us that teachable men are led by the Holy Spirit. They demonstrate how the Holy Spirit not only empowered, but also instructed them in the way they should go. May we be wise, for it is tempting to try doing God’s will in our own wisdom and strength.
In application, being teachable means to:
- Receive instruction from the Word and the Holy Spirit.
- Receive correction from parents, pastors, leaders and mentors.
- Humbly learn from others regardless of age or experience.
- Bring compliments, criticisms and crises before God and godly counsel.
- Review moral standards in: alcoholism, dressing, academia, relationships and worldly vices.
- Be open, honest and humble about your lack of knowledge, skills, and character.
- Desire challenges that will stretch you but help you reach your goals.
- Be willing to let go of your own way of dealing with things and your own ideas to learn and develop new convictions.
- (And this I picked up from my mentor, Ps Edmund Chan,) have the “Double L” plate hung on your front and back, so that those who follow you see a LEADER, and when you look at yourself in the mirror, you always see a LEARNER.
God could use the disciples to such great effect not just because they were faithful and available, but that they were also teachable. Think about it, this was an uneducated and underwhelming motley crew of unknowns who had to depend on the Jesus to teach them everything they needed to know about their newfound faith! If they can and needed to be taught, surely we too should follow suit.
The difference between modern-day and Jesus-day Christians is that the former has two things the latter doesn’t: the Holy Spirit (sent after Jesus ascended to heave) and the complete Bible (written years after the early church was formed). Therefore, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to guide us on how we should conduct ourselves, and how we should approach God’s Word with a willing heart and a teachable spirit. If there’s one thing we ought to determine ourselves to do, it is to remain teachable in all circumstances.
My mentor in Perth, Bro Au Chin Seng, once told me, “No matter how high you climb, there will always be areas you’ll need growth in.” I’ve learnt from him that the day might come when I may no longer have anyone above me in a hierarchical setting, except for God Himself. This is when the greatest test of humility and teachability takes place. He mentioned that the two most poisonous words of a confident, mature and experienced man is, “I Know”. That single-handedly puts people off in correcting me and giving me feedback. He reminded me to always adopt an attitude of learning regardless of how old, wise or mature I am, in any situation, for the moment I stop learning is the moment I stop living.
[Credits: teaching materials adapted from Arlo Moehlenpah and Pierre Eade.]