What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you will be boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.
James 4:15-16 (New Living Translation)
If life is uncertain and death is certain then how in the world are we supposed to negotiate our journey in this lifetime? What on earth are we doing for heaven’s sake? James proposed his resolution in verse 15, which calls for us to tweak our alignment.
It’s not about the planning but about the perspective, not the pursuit but the priority. If life is truly punctuated by question-marks and death completed by full-stops, then I’m grateful that God is my space – the punctuation most-often used in every sentence; every word is preceded and followed by a space. I thank God that His grace is laced in space!
James instructed us to renew our mind. We naturally speak with presumptuousness so he wants us to think differently and speak with renewed positioning. He’s blatant enough to say, “What you ought to say is”, which signifies a deliberate change in speech; speaking like that won’t come naturally, that is precisely why we have to intentionally train ourselves.
So how exactly does James want us to change in our speech? First and foremost, we must acknowledge God’s will in our lives. Everything counts for nothing if God is not in it. That explains why he began his sentence with, “If the Lord wills”. Then he says, “We will live”, meaning that we should check if we are even alive, for it is pointless talking about plans if we are not alive to carry it out. Finally, James says this last, “And do this or that”. Once we have committed our plans to God (and asked Him for His purposes in our lives), and ascertained that we are alive to carry it out, we can consider implementing our plans.
Of course, James knows we’re hardly so obedient; he correctly diagnosed the problem by identifying the opposite of seeking God’s will, that is, to boast about our own plans. This evil boasting is rooted in human pride, where we think we are in control. In Greek, “evil” is an active verb, which means that if we boast of our own plans, we are continuously doing evil.
I didn’t plan to return to Singapore last July. I thought I’d be in Shanghai for a few more years. But everything changed within a week. In a nutshell, I was caught in the middle of a senior management dispute and had to make a decision. I sought the Lord and I made the decision to return home. I had His peace reigning in my heart. Everyone around me was shocked – my mother, sister, colleagues, business associates and even Huiyi’s family – because I was doing well in Shanghai. In fact, I left in the same month of a promotion and significant pay increment.
But a still small voice in my heart assured me that it was all right to come home. I knew that the Lord was going to take care of me, so I obeyed. That was simply it. I had no idea that it would lead to what I am doing now with R-AGE; I didn’t expect myself to be a full-time youth minister so quickly but God knows His timing and I trust Him for it – that’s the beauty of life.
When we understand that this life doesn’t belong to us but to God, we will realise that all we need to do is to obey. Obedience is the highest expression of stewardship; the best way to see the mark of obedience to God in your life is to observe how you have stewarded your life according to what God has revealed in your heart. I do not look forward to the day when God puts His arm around my shoulders to commend me on all the good things I have done for Him only to sound a tad bit disappointed because I missed out on the only thing He wanted me to do; it is important for us to be faithful to our calling.
People say that change is the only constant but I beg to differ for God is the only constant. And if God is the only constant, then wouldn’t it be wise for us to bank on Him to see us through this uncertain life leading up to a certain death? We must remember that life does not revolve around what we want but what God wills. Our lives ought to be a declaration of the true sovereignty of God and never about the imagined control of Man.
If I am an investor and someone told me about a stock that would eventually be good for me, I would buy it in a heartbeat. The stock will fluctuate, but because I know that it will eventually be good for me, I will hang on to it no matter what. The Bible tells us in Romans 8:28 that we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. Our job becomes really simple then; all we need to do is to love God and live out His purposes in our lives.
Look here, you people who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”
James 4:13 (New Living Translation)
Fact – you are not in control of your life; you can control your effort but you cannot determine your outcome. Life is uncertain and is a gigantic question-mark. The sure thing about our life is that we are completely unsure about it. It is impossible for anyone to tell me that they can guarantee that they will be able to do what they have planned. James gave us a glimpse of a presumptuous conversation in verse 13 – it was as if these people were sure of their plans coming to fruition.
- Who – “You who say… We are going”
- What – “Do business there”
- When – “Today or tomorrow”
- Where – “A certain town”
- Why – “Make a profit”
- How – “Stay there a year”
Sometimes we tend to think that it is us who determines what happens next, and not God. Be careful when you start to think like that. We are brought up in a meritocratic society and may tend to function like this – “So long as I attain this grade, I’ll be able to get into this school, and end up working in this job afterwards”; if you think like that, you’re not very different from the presumptuous businessmen that James was addressing.
Anything can happen in life. God used the incident of my failed MacBook Pro to teach me about the uncertainty of life and my helplessness towards it. Rain falls on both the good and the evil. I’ve learnt that life is uncertain but I’ve also learnt that there’s certainly nothing I can do about it. I can plan and work in advance to the best of my ability, but if my laptop decides without warning that it would crash on me, I have no choice but to restart my work.
Whenever you remember that you are not in control of your life, you must also remember that your life doesn’t belong to you. You do not own this life; you are only meant to steward it. The problem with us is that we think we own this life. And when that happens, we get into deep trouble because we don’t usually like to let go or give away what we own.
Remember that your life has been purchased by the precious blood of Jesus Christ and because it has been bought, it no longer belongs to you, or the devil, but to God. So never think that you own your life. Instead, submit your life to God and let Him have full control of it. We can propose but God can oppose; we can project but God can reject; we can rule but God can overrule. Let’s learn to accept His will and ask Him for wisdom and peace to deal with the unravelling of life.
Singaporean students easily get caught up in the relentless paper chase. Remember this – Jesus is greater than your grades. Do you really think that God’s plan cannot unfold in your life if you score badly or end up in the wrong school? No, God is so much bigger than that. Don’t be discouraged if you’ve made academic mistakes for there are no mistakes with God; nothing is ever wasted in His economy.
Proverbs 16:9 tells us that we can plan our course, but it is God who determines our steps. So let’s learn to commit our plans to God, for when we work, we work, but when we pray, God works! The sooner you realise you are not in control of this life, the easier it will be for you to accept that life is truly uncertain and always a question mark for you to discover and be surprised by its unknowns. It’s a good thing that life is out of your hands, but in God’s hands.
This convoluted post is a result of my thoughts flying everywhere tonight.
My heart leaped with joy when I saw the prayer request of one of my leaders. I truly believe that an absolute surrender to the will of God is more liberating than you think it is; for when there is total surrender, there is total protection! I am reaching a point in my life where I see nothing better than to do His will, although I must declare that it’s still early days for me to declare something as presumptuous as that. But that is indeed my heart’s cry!
God established His covenant with us, and it was a covenant that was meant to last forever. He kept His Word and sent Jesus Christ to seal the deal. We on the other hand, can’t even keep to our side of the agreement. So I really thank God for Jesus Christ! The grace of God is shown repeatedly in the Bible and each time I read about it, I can’t help but to think of how undeserving I am of His awesome favour upon me as an unworthy person.
Time is the true litmus test of faithfulness and is best seen at the end of a journey, not at the beginning. I desire to be a righteous man who has faith to believe in God’s promises for my life. My greatest fear and possible hindrance? I fear most for myself of myself, for in my natural state, I am capable of exceeding wickedness and ungodliness – so may the Lord shield me from me for the sake of me!
Let’s not read the Word for information but let’s read the Word for transformation! Now, that’s when the Word will come alive in our lives.
Eternal God of the everlasting covenant, may You alone sustain me in my quest to know You more daily and please You more through active obedience. I need Your grace more than ever to do Your will. Help me. I desire to honour You by being Christlike, for Your glory alone.
Today, I commemorate my first year in Singapore since I returned from Shanghai for good. I fondly remember how I made my “comeback“ at the No One Else album launch concert. I will never forget the microphone stand, the spotlight, the explosive Roller Coaster introduction, and those 10 memorable steps (wished it was 100!) I took to superstardom the centre of the stage. It was my moment of conceited indulgence (so bear with me) and it’s not very often I get to feel like a rock star. Yes, it’s a terribly vain thing to say, but I’ve never denied my appetite for the limelight. (Fronting a band gives me a completely different rush from leading worship or preaching and I’ve really missed that! RL, CK, JT… It’s time to revive…)
Anyway, I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve read the above-mentioned expression. “Keep the main thing, the main thing” is synonymous with “Do not major on the minor” or “Know the difference between urgent and important”. Over the past nine months, something that I’ve honestly struggled with is to discern between my dreams and God’s dreams (for I certainly don’t want to mess this up!), as well as to think about how all these dreams are translated into ministry execution. I honestly find the marriage of the two dreams extremely challenging at times.
When I felt the call to enter full-time ministry, there were only three ministries that God deposited into my heart – Lead, Preach and Mentor – and these governed the way I operated; you could say that these are the three pillars of my personal calling. I’ve tried to center all my decisions around these pillars. Of course, I’ve made a couple of wrong decisions along the way, like getting involved in the Grace 60th Anniversary and being involved with the original YAYP transition team; I try never to live in regret, but to learn from retrospect for it is pointless if to lament about spilled milk.
As my portfolio increases and as my tent enlarges, so will my influence and competencies too. I’ve learnt that I must learn not to get involved with everything even though I want to and may foolishly deem myself suitable for it, and especially when it is logical to do so. (Sigh, logic – Man’s feeble attempt at second-guessing God’s sovereign will…) That’s the reason why I believe that a personal vision statement is important. If you have a motto to preside over the way you function, you more or less know what to say yes to and what to turn down; it helps you to live a principled life. What’s yours? Mine is:
“I am a bible-believing Christian who desires to know God
by working excellently, learning earnestly while having a balanced lifestyle,
for the glory of God.”
At our mid-year appraisal this morning, RY told me that “marrying your dreams into God’s will is a constant struggle”, and I concur. That’s why I think it’s always a step of faith to act on what God has impressed upon my heart. With RY, I always learn something new or am reminded of previously-learnt lesson – that’s why he’s my mentor and that’s why I look up to him so much. And in true hero-fashion, he balanced the above-mentioned statement with this: “But remember, it is God who planted these dreams into you”. That took a huge load off my shoulders; I couldn’t believe that I missed something as obvious as that!
I have been wired to lead with my heart on my sleeves and somehow this quality has become my signature. Perhaps it explains why Passion is one of the three flagships of my personality, besides Authenticity and Believing in Young People. These are the core values I think my life represents most dominantly and consistently. Again I quote my boss, “Passion is like a tap; once you turn it on, water gushes out” – I’d like to believe that my passion for youth ministry doesn’t just trickle out, but that it surges out.
However, I know that one day my passion will run out. RY encouraged me today and told me that I have tenacity; it was the first time this word was used to describe me. He deliberately chose tenacity over perseverance for (I think) the latter represents an indefatigability to endure present situations while the former indicates a determination to push oneself through to overcome challenges. I liked that distinction and I believe that tenacity should rightly be the best friend of passion for they are perfect complements.
So anyway, back to keeping the main thing, the main thing, I think it’s a good opportunity for me to take a step back and reflect, and to ask God to give me grace so that I can differentiate what I want to do from what I need to do, as well as to determine what He wants me to do. (God doesn’t need me to do anything. He doesn’t need anybody to do anything for Him. In fact, according to Psalm 50:12, if He was hungry He wouldn’t even tell you or me.) In our lifetime, we’d go through seasons after seasons and so it remains a wise thing to focus, always on the main thing. If I were to strip everything down to its core, the main tasks in life (in fact, the only two tasks), is to love God more and to love His people more everyday (Mark 12:30-31).
I think it’s fair to say that I’m not just a passionate individual but also a person with many passions. And something that I’m exceptionately passionate about is the Word of God. This keenness was originally infused into my spiritual bloodstream by JH, when I was much younger; I saw the fire in his eyes whenever we discussed about the Word of God or when we pursued truth. I also have to thank Him for introducing me to JP, who is undoubtedly one of my greatest influences in this area, even though I’ve not met him yet. It was JH’s gift – Pierced by the Word – that got me into JP’s solid teaching.
And it’s not surprising, a decade on, that I discuss the Word of God with the same fire in my eyes. One of the most satisfying things in life has to be reading familiar scripture and to have the Holy Spirit breathing into you new perspectives. I revel in those kinda revelations – don’t you? And so I find myself asking myself, “What then have I done to impart this passion through my lifestyle and how can I continue to perpetuate that?” I scrutinised my actions and I am inclined to believe that I have done my part.
- I am a keen student and an even keener teacher of the Word. I enjoy preparing lessons and thrive in teaching them – it rejuvenates me when I exercise my gift.
- I prepare sermons with excellence and will never preach something I do not understand fully; the last thing I want to do is to undermine or shortchange the pulpit.
- I memorise scripture in my own time and I encourage everyone within my sphere of influence to do likewise.
- I attempt to give scripture-based advice whenever I have the opportunity to dispense counsel, instead of just depending on my wisdom and experience.
- I base my ministry objectives and vision on the Word of God; the daily themes of PIERCE were lifted from Hebrews 4:12 and the three primary roles of my GII Shepherds were derived from John 21:15-17.
- I invest money into purchasing knowledge and fill my mind with the right things, instead of overspending on things that have little eternal value.
- I make time to attend additional teaching seminars and conferences instead of just depending on the Sunday pulpit for my Word input and whenever possible, I will encourage my leaders to sign up and go together with me.
- I have progressively added audio sermons into my iPod and listen to sound preaching (pun intended) more than I listen to music. In fact, I’ve done this so much there’s nothing but sermons and teachings in my 8GB MP3 player.
- I subscribe to snail-mailers and online feeds and whenever there is new material, I’ll feast my mind on them so that I am able to generate new thoughts.
- I am actually more enthusiastic to shop in bookshops (or online book stores) than in shopping centres or departmental stores.
- I attempt to pray scripturally so that my prayers are theologically accurate and always be aligned to/with God’s divine will.
- Lastly, I try to spend some time each day to meditate on at least one portion of scripture (but I could really do with some improvement here!).
But why do I tell you all this? To boast? (Oh heaven forbid me from that!) I am deliberately detailed in proving my passion for the Word because it has been a journey for me and I wish to encourage you to ask God to expand your capacity to love His Word. You see, I was never so into it right from the beginning. I certainly did not expect myself to end up at this point and I most certainly do not expect myself to stagnate here too – it’s one reason why I am massively looking forward to my theological education in 2012. I concur with what EC said at last year’s IDMC, that while theological credentials are beneficial, theological competence is essential.
But this is the hardest of them all for it is a daily death of self-denial and an utter dependence on the Spirit to enable me to do so – while I make a sincere and genuine attempt to put into practice what I have learnt, more often than not, I fail at achieving this and for that I am the chief of sinners despite all the “accomplishments” listed above. They’re really just merely accomplishments and nothing else. I will never be able to attain godliness (and holiness) by my own doing; I’m constantly a long-shot away from being Christlike and how I long to fare better in this arena. The Word of God repeatedly reveals my carnal nature and humbles me greatly for it exposes my sin and shortcomings. I don’t know about you (actually I do, I’m just writing rhetorically), but no matter how much I profess to love the Word, the most crucial thing is that I live (and do) the Word. In fact, the more I love the Word, the more I discover my sinful desires and the more I realise my need for the grace of God, the counsel of the Spirit and the redemption of Jesus Christ to see me through each moment.
how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
All right, I have no idea how I ended up there but I guess what I really want to say is that, if I could only choose one passion to impart to the next generation, it would be the passion to pursue the Word of God. I pray that it becomes your primary passion too, especially if you are an influential leader in youth ministry.
In the end, one must finally come to see that if there is a God in heaven, there is no such thing as mere coincidence, not even in the smallest affairs of life: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). Not one sparrow “will fall to the ground without your Father’s will” (Matthew 10:29, RSV).
– John Piper (Desiring God, p.37).
I’m neither a scholar nor a theologian and I’m still trying to make sense of the above-mentioned. However, the more I think about it, the more illogical it is not. I believe that in light of God fulfilling His own intended will and purposes, “there is no such thing as mere coincidence”, really. I am of the notion that nothing will stop God from achieving what He had planned, from the beginning to the end; not even sin or the evil acts of men will prevent or stop it. I am of the opinion that God is truly in control of His own sovereignty. For if “coincidence” really did exist, then it is an audacious conclusion that there is something (far) greater than God (oh, the thought!) who is able to control what God is doing and will do. That, my friend, is sacrilege.
These are the fresh thoughts in my head as I re-read JP’s Desiring God for the third time; If there was any book that one should read after the Bible, this book would receive my hearty endorsement a hundred times over. But I digress.
Interestingly enough (at the time of posting it on my FB status), MW commented, “I was just thinking about it Joey, if there’s such a thing as ‘coincidence’ or if it is just God’s hand working in His perfect timing”. And coincidentally, LK’s first post on his blog after a five-month hiatus, was about how God is in control. He wrote, “Today God reminded me that He is sovereign and that His priority is not what He can do through me, yet, but what He is doing in me”.
I think this is a topic worth discoursing over and hence I’m inviting you to share your opinions by leaving a comment. I’m calling out to theologians, pseudo-theologians, atheists, scholars, cynics, zealous Christians, back-sliding believers, Muslims, Taoists, politicians, mothers, youths, and of course, you – the invisible reader of my humble blog. In other words, all are welcome to offer their two-cents’ worth.
What is coincidence? How does it tie in with the will of God? What is the will of God? Is there evil and blemish in the good and perfect will of God? What does it even have to do with you? I’m not attempting to prove any point or convince anyone of any opinion. I sincerely just want to hear what you have to say, so please, share your thoughts on this!
As I attempted to clean up and archive the notes in my computer today, I found pearls of wisdom from CS. These were the things I remembered from his sharing with me over an afternoon coffee session in Clementi Central, way back in March. Re-reading it, I realised that wisdom and righteousness are timeless and evergreen – such advice never gets mouldy or irrelevant, regardless of which stage of life you’re at or in.
“When people are against your ideas or what you share, involve them in prayer and ask them to bring it to the Lord in prayer too.”
This exhibits “Show your enemy the other cheek” in a different perspective. When you operate this way, it becomes unmistakable when God speaks to both parties. When we pray, He confirms and works, and even the most opposing opinions can work together, compromised and accepted, for the sake of working towards achieving His will. At the end of the day, all the glory will have go to Him for He enabled what was humanly impossible to be possible.
“There’s no winner in an argument. Someone will lose.”
CS’ sentiments on arguments confirm what I’ve always subscribed to – that I’d rather lose the argument than lose the relationship. (In the last six months, I realise that I have actually been practising this principle. And while it’s not easy deliberately losing – I’m being honest, I am a competitive and outspoken person and I have a man’s pride! – I’m actually at peace with it because I don’t find it a need to prove myself to anyone or to convince others of my ideas.) Conversely speaking, when you do prioritise people over problems, you may actually win both. Win them over and naturally they’ll be more inclined to listen to you and be opened to your ideas; they may even sway towards your argument and stand with you. Over the years, I’ve learnt that people are more willing to listen to you when they know that you have their best interests at heart. Ironically, they need to be first convinced of your affections for them before they are convinced of your argument.
“No matter how high you climb, there will always be areas you’ll need growth in.”
The day will come when you no longer have any man (or woman) above you in a hierarchal setting, but the Lord Himself. This is the greatest test of humility and teachability. The two most poisonous words in a confident, mature and experienced person is, “I know”. This arrogant phrase single-handedly puts people off in correcting you and giving you feedback. Always adopt an attitude of learning regardless of how old, wise, experienced or mature you are in a particular situation. The moment you stop learning is the (tragic) moment you stop living.