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a personal appeal to adults on behalf of young people.

Previously, I wrote an article on the dangers of meritocracy – especially in the Singaporean upbringing and way of life. While we are all aware that we live in a society where our best is unfairly and unnecessarily juxtaposed against someone else’s good, we need to realise that there will come a point where we’ll just have to say “No” to the sickening and extremely poisonous repercussions of comparisons. I mean, seriously, if a young person is already giving his or her best, what else do you expect? One day, you will either drive him up the wall or out of the house. Is that it?

To combat low self-esteem and the unhealthy habits of pegging ourselves against others, I’d recommend that we employ the power of encouragement in our daily ins and outs. Indeed, a pat on the back pushes out the chest! I’ve said it time and again, that encouragement is to put in courage, where there is none. Never underestimate and neglect the necessity of encouragement – you can really empower someone with simple words of affirmation – eloquence is not required.

I believe that young people, when they come to a certain age, are actually smart and self-aware enough to make their own decisions and be responsible for it. Like it or not, one day we will have to stop treating them like they are still children. This is for their own good as well as for ours. The least (and most) that we ought to do as adults is to give them the benefit of doubt because I believe that youths do know their personal limits and they are doing. Yes, as mature adults, we probably would have experienced more than they have; and so our job is to warn them of the consequences of their decisions and to encourage them to be responsible for it. Look, we must know that we cannot protect them for life and shield them away from making big decisions. This is harsh, but we’ll be crippling them, really. Nothing is more powerful than telling a young person that you believe in him or her and actually following up your words with actions.

(On a side note, it is unfortunate that Singaporean guys pick up negative habits like acting ignorant, avoiding responsibilities and not taking ownership of themselves during their national service days. If a guy decides to adopt that attitude while in uniform, he wouldn’t just throw away two years but may actually cause more damage to himself as he unlearns the good habits honed during his teenage years prior enlistment. No wonder the girls are so outstanding nowadays. I genuinely hope that our boys would stand up and be counted like real men. But I digress…)

We should give our youths the opportunity to learn from their own decisions – both good and bad ones; when they knock into walls, they will be convinced of their folly and will make their own comebacks. Trust me on this – they will regret their decisions more than we ever think they will. I remember saying this before, that while we cannot stop someone from falling, we certainly can stop them from crashing.

I’m unapologetic for my repetition, but all we really should do as older individuals, is to believe in and encourage the younger ones. Already our society is telling them what they cannot do instead of what they can do – what an oppressing environment to dwell and develop in! Don’t add on to their existing pressure! Don’t do to them what everyone else is doing to them. If we love them, then we ought to tell them that they can and will make it, not how they cannot and would never get there – what good do these damaging words do, really? We need to learn to trust that they can make decisions and take ownership of their choices; there is greater value there than curtailing their liberty.

I’m not being a renegade or encouraging any young person to rebel – I’m merely sharing my honest opinion of why I think that our young people are more stifled these days than they ever are. We ought to help them to become complete and mature individuals, not hack them into pieces with our destructive words. Don’t be surprised at how outstanding our young people can become. I think they only need two ingredients – 1) time, and 2) someone to believe in them. Would we dispense these freely?

So from the bottom of my heart – hear me, please – let our young people live their lives, not relive yours. Let them chart their paths, not walk yours. Let’s guide them, not dictate them. The best form of encouragement is when it’s loud and repeated. May your face appear in their heads whenever they think about someone who believes in them and may your voice resonate in their hearts as the one who says, “I believe in you”. That, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the greatest gift you’d ever give to them.

you plant seeds, not pluck fruits.

Over the last 15 years as a young person, I’ve learnt many things, both as a youth and as a youth leader. One of the things that PC taught me is that with people, you need to be patient, for one day they will surprise you with their goodness. I think this is particularly relevant for anyone dealing with a teenager, and especially for parents whose children are in their (painful and excruciating) juvenile years.

Mothers and fathers need to bear in mind that they may see very little (and often disheartening) results that may not be worth celebrating over especially in the younger years of their kids’ teenagehood. This also applies to all youth leaders. I encourage you to manage your expectations when working with adolescent (and often rebellious) youths. They will always think that they are right and they will always want to prove you wrong. This sounds cruel, but really, let them be, let them fall and let them learn. Don’t expect them to make good decisions at 14 years old and change the world at 16 years old when you only started to mature and wise up at 17 years old. I reiterate this to almost every young person under my leadership – that one of things I expect from them (pardon the lack of a better way to phrase it), is to screw up. And this immediately sets them at ease.

As a parent, mentor or youth leader, you must always remember that being with young people is often a thankless and behind-the-scenes job. Of course, there will be pockets of them who know how to appreciate you. Oh, I am so grateful for these because their appreciation of your investment in them is often so genuine and heartfelt. But I do not live or thrive on these boosts. Their encouragement is a bonus, not a necessity; I’d love to receive it, but I do not need it to do what I am called to do. A mature youth leader needs to sort this out in his head and heart. For if a leader is motivated by recognition and appreciation, he is sure to be left disappointed and disillusioned at some point.

To be frank, sometimes it can be tough (and tiring) working with youths, especially those who do not listen; I was one of them, so I know. You put in the hard work, sweat and toil with them, but when they succeed, they get all the credit and you simply get forgotten. When they are in trouble, you offer advice and genuinely want to help them, but when they mess it up, you sometimes get the blame and even need to pick them up. So today, I encourage you to look further and beyond all these seemingly disparaging signs.

Always remember that you are here to plant seeds, and most times you will not be the one to reap what you have sown – not immediately at least. JH was amongst the first to plant seeds in my life, and as I develop fruits, I can honestly tell you that he did not benefit from it directly – but it doesn’t stop him from planting it anyway. So I’m here to remind us all, that whenever we work with young people, that it is our job is to plant seeds, not pluck fruits. Let’s be committed to do our jobs well and to trust God to nurture and eventually complete what we have started. After all, we do the planting, He does the growing.

For those who are much younger and not in a leadership position yet, I’d urge you to encourage, appreciate and honour those who have planted and are still planting seeds in your life. Let them know, in whatever way you know how to, that you are thankful for their investment of time, emotions and resources in you. You’ll make their day.

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Do remember that the bible-giveaway competition is still ongoing. Please make my job as the jury a little harder! Come on!? :P At the same time, I’d encourage you to consider subscribing to my blog (fill in your email at the top right of the page) so that you’d receive and read my daily posts in the convenience of your mailbox at the time of publication. Also, just want to mention that the readership response for the last entry on my journey into full-time ministry was extremely encouraging – I hope you were blessed by my sharing. Blogging daily has become a think-time that I look forward to. (:

sermon recall: barnabas the epic encourager.

It was a whirlwind weekend for me – preparing the Barnabas sermon was more challenging than the Mary Magdalene one. Nonetheless, it’s over and I thank God for all of it. Honestly, I thought my delivery at the G2 youth service was not up to scratch.. Sometimes I don’t know what disappoints me more – a lack of congregational response or failing to meet my high personal standards. But God is good; while I felt that the preaching at G2 was one of my poorest to date, I was surprised by the response at the altar call and received rather positive feedback in both quantity and quality from people I didn’t expect. For that, I’m encouraged and thankful, for God worked through my weaknesses (2 Cor 12:9) and still brought Himself glory despite my shortcomings. Form may be temporary and class may be permanent, but the Holy Spirit is forever – I’ll choose the Spirit’s help over form or class, anytime.

After a post-sermon debrief with RY, some melancholy moments and an evening of personal reflection and self-critique, I refreshed the sermon contents and preached a significantly different sermon at G1 – new illustrations, analogies, activities, focus points as well as more internalising and tightening up of contents. (I’m actually slightly saddened by this phenomenon because G1 would almost always receive the more polished sermon while G2 would receive the raw one; my optimism, however, rephrases raw as original. Oh, euphemisms…) And this was the first instance I’ve reviewed my contents so many times; so I reviewed it again this afternoon and here are the key points in my sermon as well as my own lessons learnt, in no particular order of importance:

  • Let us become the “Encouragement Safety Net” and the “Pedestal Platform” for each other.
  • What does it take to be a “good man, full of the Spirit and of faith”? Answer: Encouragement! (It works both ways, get it?)
  • If we want to be like the Spirit, then we must do what the Spirit does – to encourage!
  • Barnabas was called the “Son of Encouragement”; if your friends were to rename you today, what would your new name be? What would you be a son or a daughter of?
  • What the Holy Spirit does for us on the inside, we should do for others on the outside.
  • The key to creating a culture of encouragement is hoping and praying to be encouraged by others (passive), while making every effort to encourage others (active).
  • Encouragement is beneficial for both the encourager and the encouraged.
  • Not everyone can be a Paul but everyone can be a Barnabas; not everyone can be a leader but everyone can be a supporter.
  • Encouraging others is not about you or how well or badly you do it, but about what the Spirit can do through you.
  • Our common ground is how broken and wretched we are – hence we certainly can emphathise with everyone regardless of age or life experiences.
  • Everyone needs a person to believe in him, a “no-matter-what” person – through valleys, mountains, victories and defeats.
  • The ministry of encouragement has a long-term effect in the lives of young people; so we should be patient with one another as God is patient with us, for if we wait long enough, they might surprise us with something good one day.
  • Encouragement influences us in whether we finish pathetically or emphatically – it is the extra strength that we can give to and find from other people.
  • You can encourage people you don’t know by affirming them on what they did and not who they are.
  • You cannot stop someone from falling – that is inevitable – but you can stop them from crashing.

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I look ahead and anticipate the preparation of the next New Testament character. Watch this space!

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