Watching young people turn over a new leaf never gets old – it’s always a joy to see youths rededicate their lives to Jesus or give their hearts to Jesus for the first time. If we on earth rejoice greatly at a conversion, imagine the ruckus in the heavenlies! Hence I’ve always considered it an immense honour and privilege for me to gain access into a young person’s life, when he or she honestly share his or her problems with me in vulnerability, in hopes that I’d be able to dispense an ounce of godly counsel. It’s actually exciting when I come to think about it, because I know that a transformation is at hand! I could practically hold their faces in my hands, look them in the eye and tell them, from the bottom of my heart, to hang on for they are this close to a breakthrough and a change.
In my observations, I reckon that two conditions must be in place before a person can change (for the better). I speak, of course, in the context of a Christian.
First and foremost, and most crucially, they must have a genuine encounter with the Lord; this is where my life verse, John 15:5, comes alive:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Christians must realise that they cannot make it on their own – they must have the grace of God for it empowers us to do what the truth demands. I’ve said this time and again – a lot of Christians try to sort themselves out first, in a bid to clean themselves up, before going to Jesus; don’t put on this unbiblical mindset! On the contrary, we actually need Christ to sort us out first – He is the only one who can make us pure, blameless and presentable before God. The sooner we realise we cannot do it on our own, the sooner we’ll stop depending on ourselves to make it. Therefore, unless a person is rooted and connected in Christ, no inspirational leader or wise mentor would be able to change him for good. This person will at best make temporary changes – out of fear or respect for the person who’s guiding him – but will struggle to keep the change because he’s not fully submitted to the Lordship of Christ. After all, if He’s not Lord of all, He’s not Lord at all.
Secondly, they must be surrounded by a group of people who love and want the best for them. There’s lots of scripture that stress its importance – here are two:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness… (Galatians 6:1a)
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25)
Christians must realise that they cannot make it by themselves. These are the people who will not hesitate to tell you the truth that hurts, rather than the lie that kills; these are your Christian brothers and sisters – those who are in your cell group and ministries – who, I hope, will go out of their way to point out your blind spots; these bona-fide friends aren’t afraid to become unpopular with you or afraid they might, out of their own insecurity, lose their friendship with you; these are the friends – the best-in-your-face-til-the-end-friends – whom you must keep, for they are God-sent people.
At the end of the day, you must not, for even one second, think that you can make it on your own or make it by yourself – get the distinction? You need someone far greater (than you are) working inside you to initiate the change, and you need to surround yourself with loving people who are working around you to insist (or maintain) the change. And yes, it works both ways. In this manner, you will realise that when change does takes place, you will receive none of the credit – which then keeps you humble, for you know that it was purely by the grace of God that saw you through. And you know what? God will then get all the glory for He truly deserves it. (And you and I will get none. YEAH!)
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
For the world is Mine, and all it contains.
– Psalm 50:12 (New American Standard Version)
This is one verse in the Bible that severely humbles me every time I read it; it keeps me on my toes because I’d never want to patronise God and offer Him mere lip service. Do I really think that the omniscient and omnipresent God doesn’t know what’s truly in my heart, beneath every word and deed? Who am I kidding? There’s no hiding from Him my insides. Each time I revisit this verse, I force myself to examine my private worship – for that determines the authenticity and power of my public worship. I’ve always believed that spiritual authority comes from time spent with God.
How can we even offer God something that He already has? What exactly is God hungry for? I’d like to believe that He is hungry for your praise and worship, devotion and thanksgiving, and your prayer and supplication. This sound extremely far-fetched but the truth is, God is after His own glory. And when you give Him the glory that is rightfully due to Him – I borrow JP’s thoughts – you are completely satisfied; it’s a place of gratification that nothing on earth can take, to know that you’re in the will of God.
Praise magnifies God’s being. Magnification isn’t making the subject bigger, but enlarging the subject in your perspective. Faith magnifies God’s doing. When God plays a bigger role in your life, the enemy and yourself plays a smaller role. That is why when you are in trouble, you ought to worship God, so that your faith can be built and that your perspective can be straightened out through God. And like the song we are so acquainted with, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of this earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
Our response then, in the light of this verse, is to be a worshipper – one who directs and diverts the glory to God. And I believe, as absurd as this next expression may sound, that this is how we should feed God. Then maybe, God might speak to us; perhaps this is why we conventionally have a time of praise and worship before we hear God’s Word through a sermon. Worship is like ploughing the ground and the Word is like the seed being planted.
Hence, don’t be a casual worshipper if you want God to speak to you. Remember, God doesn’t need you to worship Him, so do not offer half-hearted worship – it has to be wholehearted, nothing less! If He was hungry, He wouldn’t even tell you. After all, the whole world (including you and I) already belongs to Him.
“Speak to me / And tell me all the things I need to know / I want to hear You now / (Can You) speak to me / I’ve opened up Your Word to free me / I want to hear You now” – Audio Adrenaline
The past 48 hours have been extremely tiring and I covet your prayers for one more sermon. I’m determined to rest by midnight but I still want to maintain the momentum of writing daily.
For the last month or so, I’ve been thinking about what it means to lead “by example”. The question is, whose example? If it’s by our example, we are surely doomed for failure considering our wretched nature; if it’s by Christ’s example, then we might never attain it (or spend the rest of our lives trying to); I mean, how could we measure traits like “loving”, “gentle”, “merciful” and similar adjectives when they have no quantifiable end point? We could only be more [insert adjective] but never the most [insert adjective]. So, how then can we find an achievable standard that we could realistically use as a yardstick to track and evaluate our progress as leaders?
I found the answer in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and it’s a massive calling. I’m not a big fan of The Message Bible, but I think this time, its description of a church leader is relevant and easy to understand. I’ve taken the liberty to numerically list the 15 conditions.
Leadership in the Church
If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good! But there are preconditions: A leader must be 1) well-thought-of, 2) committed to his wife, 3) cool and collected, 4) accessible, and 5) hospitable. He must 6) know what he’s talking about, 7) not be overfond of wine, 8) not pushy but gentle, 9) not thin-skinned, 10) not money-hungry. He must 11) handle his own affairs well, 12) attentive to his own children and 13) having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God’s church? He must 14) not be a new believer, lest the position go to his head and the Devil trip him up. 15) Outsiders must think well of him, or else the Devil will figure out a way to lure him into his trap.
There aren’t many but these are high standards to meet. I don’t even dare to declare how many conditions I’ve met; surely, this list keeps me humble. However, the way I look at it, these are practical habits and values that any leader should subscribe to if they desire to “provide leadership” for the church (come to think of it, the desire to become a leader indicates another leadership attribute – initiative).
Thus, the gauntlet is firmly laid down for all of us – existing and potential leaders. May this be our periodical checklist for godly church leadership. May we depend on the Spirit to become Spirit-filled, Christ-like and godly leaders like Barnabas.