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.
Recently I had an opportunity to catch up with an old friend and he shared with me how he rejoiced with his wife when his son finally uttered, “Mama”. I rejoiced with him for it was a breakthrough for their family and when he shared it with me, he communicated a gratitude to God that nothing in the world could manufacture.
I juxtaposed it with parents who constantly berate their child for not doing better than their cousins, classmates, neighbours and whoever they could conveniently use to destroy their kid’s self-confidence and beliefs system. I remember telling HY that we’ve gotten it all wrong and have become complacent for the things that we ought to be thankful for. The more I hear it, the more I find “better than” a repulsive phrase.
That one-worded “Mama” was a gift from God to his child; as he shared his delight with me, I couldn’t help but to thank God for giving us speech – and I told HY that all these seemingly basic functions are truly gifts from God. I told her that in the future when we do have children of our own, we should be thankful for everything that the child has – speech, sight, hearing, limb movement, cognition, health and even something as taken-for-granted as daily breath! And not wish that our child is a pianist prodigy, artistic phenom, mathematics maestro or a kid with elephant memory (or not). Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to think that that’s being gifted, but we have forgotten that everyone is gifted – your ability to inhale and exhale is the gift of life from the Giver of life. Let’s not fight the wrong battles.
It wrenches my heart when I find out how my youths struggle with their (“inadequate”) academic achievements, because most times they’ve gotten it all wrong – they seek the result instead of the process; they seek a resume instead of academic returns; they seek worldly covetousness (wanting to be better than someone else) instead of godly contentment (wanting to be the best that God has designed them to be). I believe that our mentality is messed up because of the way we have been brought up (and this is no fault of ours). However, we should be careful not to pay it forward to the next generation.
At the end of the day, these pursuits amount to nothing all that significant. I so wished that I could hold their faces in my hands, look at them in the eye and tell them, “Come on, do you REALLY think that a C grade or a ‘regular’ CV could stop God from fulfilling His purpose in your life?” Oh, we of little faith; we ought to be dismissed for thinking that our destiny is determined by our downfalls. When will we finally learn that the sovereignty of God far exceeds earthly meritocracy?
Let us all take a step back to recalibrate our compasses, unless of course you have already decided to raise your child in the exact same manner that you have been raised. Let us remember that life in itself is the greatest gift and that we ought to be thankful for it. Let us not go overboard in seeking additional gifts instead of the Giver Himself. Don’t get caught in the world’s definition of “gifted”!
The last and only time I ran a full marathon was way back in 2006, together with AT. I remember how we encouraged one another to keep the limbs moving, slapped Deep Heat on our legs, consumed those horribly-tasting power fluids, drowned ourselves with 100plus, grunted like a man at every restart and more memorably, how we told each other that we would start and end the marathon together. At the final kilometre, as we caught sight of the end point, we miraculously found strength from I-don’t-know-where and sprinted to the finish line. When we crossed it, our legs never felt that jelly before. It was a defining moment, for sure. Marathons are brotherhood-inducing activities.
Fast-foward four years, I signed myself up for the Standard Chartered Marathon that will take place on 5th Dec 2010. Registration opened today and I took advantage of the early bird price. (Thanks VY, for posting the link on Facebook – can’t wait to train together!) Yes, another gruelling 42.195km worth of sweat and pain. I look forward to the actual run as much as I look forward to the months of progressively intensive training; I remember how AT and I met at Bishan on a weekday at 7pm, ran to Sembawang and back and covered 27km, did our cool-down at 1130pm, looked at each other and wondered how we we were going to make it to work the next day. It was pure insanity, but it was good.
I was so proud of my achievement I kept my finisher’s medal and certificate, as well as my front and back runner’s tag. I also found a picture of myself online running the marathon!
I stayed over at AT’s place the night before and I remember designing the back tag. Adidas ran a campaign on your Reason for Running that year and I took a long time to ponder my message before I wrote that on my tag. Honestly, I didn’t know who or what else to run for except for the glory of God. If I was going to have six hours with thousands of other runners, then I might as well do something with it – so I told myself that I was going to run for Jesus, my King. This gesture to please God turned out to be an interesting experience for me. I had Christians of all ages and gender coming up to me to encourage and to affirm me. It was really quite an experience! I’d encourage everyone to consider taking part in a marathon at least once in their lives; I always tell myself it’d be a tale I’d be able to regale to my grandchildren.
It’s not about how well we start, or how well we run, but about us finishing it as well. Some people say life is short – but how short is it, really, if it’s all we have as mortal beings? Life on earth is actually pretty long – just about the longest duration of any event that we’ll ever experience! To me, life is a marathon – and I am determined to end it well to receive my medal, certificate, memory as well as a good pat on the back and a voice that will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” This year, as with every subsequent year from this point forth, I’m going to run for Jesus again. What about you?
Yet another classic quote by the legendary RW that drew resounding laughter from the congregation. I love it when this man speaks – be it over the pulpit, vis-a-vis or in a meeting – he talks with aplomb, littered with audacity, authority and authenticity.
For those who attended the combined service at GII today, you’d have downloaded an excellent sermon preached by RW on the topic of faith. HY and I responded to the altar call and it was my first response at the altar as a full-time staff. What I thank God for was that this message did not make me think, “Yes, I can do it!” or even, “Yes, God can do it!” but it forced me to step back and ask, “Do I trust God about it?” For if I do, then I should also trust Him for the process and outcome.
Like many others who attempt to pursue God seriously, I too have countless questions regarding faith. RW gave a good reminder that true faith is based on the word of God – that when it’s beyond my ability to accomplish it, I still believe in my heart that it will be done. We ought not to place our faith in the things of God but in God and His attributes; that signals the activation of your faith.
I remember a cognitively spiritual (or spiritually cognitive) battle at the turn of the year when I asked for a second opinion regarding treatment for the Dercum’s Disease in my body. (Read these two two recaps if you want the context.) From when I discovered the first lump at 14 years old, to the day that I scheduled a surgery to remove all 25 in my body, I’ve asked people to pray that God would miraculously remove every lump; I prayed that myself too. But as soon as the operation date was confirmed, I realised that people started to change the way they prayed for me.
Now, why doesn’t the original prayer retain its contents after people found out that I’d be heading for an operation? Where is the faith that existed before surgeries and operations were medically possible? This got me thinking about whether we trusted more in modern science that medicates or in Jehovah Rapha who heals. Is faith then determined by what we already know and are sure of (the surgery that would remove all lumps) or by what we do not know and are unsure of? How am I supposed to apply the Hebrews 11:1 definition of faith into this given context? Have we pigeonholed our faith and allowed our eyes (i.e. walking by sight) to determine how and what we pray for? How can we rise to another level of faith? I still haven’t found satisfactory answers to this series of questions so I will continue to mull over it.
That aside, faith does not presume – I’ve learnt that presumption could lead to hurt you and your faith or both. RW casted such a timely reminder that “good” (in the context of Romans 8:28) may not be God’s best for me. In reality, it is in the difficult times that the heroes of faith are born. Regardless of how small or little our faith is, we should exercise it, act upon it and learn to embrace the challenges that come with it!
When we juxtapose Hebrews 11:33-35 with 36-38, we must remember that those who suffer for the faith are very much in the will of God as those who experience miracles and answered prayers. In light of irresponsible and suicidal “Name It, Claim It” prosperity teaching, there may be pockets of Christians who only see positivity as part of God’s will for their lives and reject the other side of the coin. Those who are undergoing a tough time may struggle to see or understand God’s purpose in that moment – so they need to exercise even more faith than those who are going through a good time and enjoying fruitful outcomes. God is indeed still and always in control.
At the altar, HY and I prayed together and we asked God to give us the grace to submit fully to His will for our lives. And we’ll present our needs to God only after we’ve submitted to Him. We asked God to help us to wait expectantly (and be inspired by those who have gone before us in history and in the scriptures). Everyone has a different journey of faith – so we must learn to not give up or give in so easily but instead persevere by taking up the challenge to rise to occasion that faith demands us to. Today, HY and I asked God to help us to live a proper Christian life and to be joyous in our every in and out.
I like what RW stood for – that if you truly aspire to shine for Jesus, you must “find trouble” – and solve it by the grace of God. For when that happens, people stand up and take notice of what God is doing through you. God, who enables the problem to be solved and the trouble to be shot, will take the full glory alone. I believe that you can’t go wrong if you keep doing something right.
HY and I had this hilarious little conversation (which made me think about perspective) as we strolled to her place last evening:
HY: How come you look so short today?
JA: Maybe it’s because of the shoes I wore?
HY: Can you please not wear these sneakers next time?
JA: Huh… Do you know how many shoes I cannot wear when I go out with you?
HY: DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY HEELS I CANNOT WEAR WHEN I GO OUT WITH YOU???
JA: (flabbergasted and shrunk) Okay, good comeback.
I’m inclined to believe that our quality of life is largely determined by our perspective. Everyone goes through similar seasons of life. While it is granted that everyone experiences different degrees of joy and pain, victories and struggles, we should also accept that our journey isn’t as uncommon as we think it is. Yes, what I am indicating is, regardless of how special you think you are, or how many horrible things you’ve endured, you’re really just another one of us.
So the one thing that sets a common man apart from another one, is his approach towards life and all its ups and downs. Hence, I shall audaciously believe that my life is that much more interesting than anyone else’s – not because I actually live an interesting life – but because I live my life interestingly. I believe that our lives are essentially mundane, therefore we must choose to live it extraordinarily. (Maybe now you understand why I’ve deliberately titled one of my categories, “Extraordinary Mundane“.)
Pardon the cliche analogy, but if you offer me a glass of water, and ask me if it’s half-filled or half-empty, I’d simply ask for a cup of teh peng instead. Life is truly about perspective – for perspective influences and determines experience.
Dinner tonight was an event 17 years in the making. Catching up with DL over a simple dinner was delightful and nostalgic to say the least. How does anyone actually get up to speed on nearly two decades of life? The last time we were close was when we were together in Primary 4 in Anglo-Chinese Junior School. These were the same two kids who, being equally short, partnered each other at the front of the class queue; the two 8-year-old kids who sneaked into Sentosa alone after school and accomplished it with cunning and enterprise beyond their age; and the same two kids who, from such vastly different family backgrounds, shared such pleasant childhood memories.
So, how do you catch up on all those years? Simple – by testifying God’s goodness over the years and by spurring each other on in ministry. You blend in common history to project a linked future. I think it’s no coincidence that these same two kids now share a passion for young people and worship; it is almost divinely appointed that these two boys now do their bit to introduce change, make a difference and leave a legacy in their church; it was affirming that these two boys, now men, subscribe to the same leadership concept and in them both resides a strong desire to impart to a younger generation.
Unlike other “old friends” whom I’ve caught up with over the years, I felt that with DL and I, there was no need to prove to each other how far we’ve come – there was no worldly comparison of one another’s achievements and experiences. I told myself, before the dinner, that if we were to spend the next couple of hours reminiscing old times, the friendship would remain in the nineties. I never expected to feel so comfortable with DL – I’d like to think that there was little or no pretense in our interaction; it was like finding a brother that I’ve always had, but lost contact with through the years. My testimony and spiritual journey was the antithesis of DL’s – a dramatic turnaround juxtaposed against traditional obedience; yet both end up 27 years later, serving the same God with similar fervour.
Instantly, I knew that this meet-up set the tone and manner for all future meet-ups with old friends, at least that is what I’d desire. There was an exchange of ministry, of knowledge, of experiences, of struggles and victories. It was more honest and candid than I had expected it to be. Our 2.5-hour dinner tonight made 17 years feel short. At the end of the day, I took home one thing – that God is indeed good and faithful and would use us for His glory wherever we are and have been. I rejoice with DL’s young marriage and the impending birth of the child in his wife’s belly this October.
I encourage you then, when you meet up with old friends in time to come, not to share about how good you’ve become or the great things you’ve accomplished, but to share with each other what God has done in your lives and how good He is indeed. And watch how God connects the people who love Him. You could never go wrong with that approach. I already look forward to the next time God brings DL and I together.