I’ve got another confession to make and tonight this confession turns into a testimony of God’s faithfulness and goodness in my life. My spirit has truly been lifted up!
At the beginning of March, after the REAL 2010 graduation ceremony, I plunged into what I’d call, “Ministry Depression” for a couple of weeks. I remember telling RY, LK and HY how disappointed I was with my beloved REAL 2010 alumni. No, it wasn’t because they weren’t outstanding because they are, but very humanly speaking, I was deeply sad that after two months of investing my life into theirs, I received nothing in return except for handshakes, verbal appreciations and SMS encouragements.
Now, I’m being extremely honest here and I choose to spill my heart because there’s a an important lesson behind it. To be frank, I was expecting more from them; I know I’m not supposed to expect anything – after all, that’s what I’ve been teaching them the last two months – but I am being really human here; I remember telling myself, “You mean, that’s it? This is all I’m getting from the 16 of you after I poured my life into you? Wow. Thanks a lot”. Then I reclused into my own melancholic orbit and I convinced myself to quickly move on from this disappointment. I even wanted to harden my heart to them so that I will not allow myself to be hurt like that again. I’ve always openly declared that I’m a secret melancholy and this perpetuated it. My REAL champs may not have realised it because (I think) I’ve camouflaged it well, but I remember responding to them in a curt and cold manner that was very uncharacteristic of me. Some of my youths think that I’m superhuman because that’s the facade that I project but truth be told, I’m really just an ordinary human being with normal affection and affirmation needs as well.
There was little I could do really, except to talk to God and to let Him deal with me. I retreated into my own prayer closet and I came clean with God. I told Him exactly how I felt about how REAL ended and I asked Him to help me to overcome this disappointment by His grace. (This was before I spoke to my mentor, best friend and girlfriend.) I was rebelliously stubborn and I mentally rejected the scriptures that the Holy Spirit brought to my mind. I didn’t want to hear any “holy-moley-sunday-school-ten-year-series” consolation. And I shut my emotions away. But the more I dissected my heart before God, the more painful it was. A pruning process isn’t pleasant indeed. At the end of my emotional and spiritual tussle, the Holy Spirit led me to two scriptures, in this order:
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” – Colossians 3:23
I am convinced that when the Lord ministers to you, you will be comforted. God is faithful and before He rebuked me, He gently let me know that it was all right to think like that and to feel that way, through Psalm 51:17. I just wanted to bare my heart before the Lord and I found great assurance in His divine embrace.
Once the Lord met my emotional needs, He began to address my thinking by pointing me to Colossians 3:23. I repented before the Lord for my poor attitude and mentality that were in the wrong places and I asked Him to give me new lenses to appreciate this situation. I determined it in my heart to continue to love my young people, regardless of whether affirmation was present or not, simply because God loves them and has compelled me to do likewise; I am doing this because I love them – nothing more, nothing less; I wasn’t going to allow a lack of encouragement to stop me from fulfilling my calling to be a youth pastor. This was a test that I had to overcome and by God’s grace I knew that I would overcome it. It was important that I did not lean on my own strength.
Of course, I would never share this unless I have emerged out of the miry clay; it wasn’t wise to air my struggles to the world before the Lord had finished dealing with me. (I did reveal a glimpse of my emotions but only very briefly.) Once I had this issue resolved within me, I shared my journey with RY and asked him how he dealt with this through his years of ministry; I shared it with LK to be accountable to him; I shared it with HY because I am completely vulnerable with her. Yes, I did take a couple of weeks to recover but I was so glad to have trudged through it.
What can I say? God is faithful and sovereign. I believe He has intentionally held back the affirmation of men until I was secure in Him. A week after my lipoma operation, I received the REAL cushion from my champs. I remember telling RY how delighted I was to receive a gift from them and he smiled and rejoiced with me – I was already satisfied and if the gift had stopped there, I would have been a happy man. But my God is a God who dotes on me and goes the extra mile just to tell me that He loves me. I remember GM telling me that this was just “part one of the gifts – part two will blow your mind”. Of course that filled my heart with even more joy, but I didn’t need anything anymore because I already had God’s affirmation. I decided to be phlegmatic about this part two – if it comes, good, if it doesn’t, that’s all right.
Then it came today. And it blew my mind. So I shall let the pictures do the talking.
What can I say? I’m moved beyond words (and the 11 champs I had lunch with today saw my expression) – this incredibly-thick two-volume masterpiece was painstakingly assembled over the course of 10 weeks. The amount of work that has been put into this is immense – and I can only try to imagine its production process – conceptualising it, selecting pictures, printing photographs, pasting photographs systematically, comprehensively adding secular quotes, scriptures, their own reflections, my own quotable quotes which they remembered, cutting all these captions, meticulously sticking it into the album, decorating and designing it, investing money to make it happen…
WOW I REALLY DO NOT DESERVE THIS.
All I have done in the two months with them was just to do what God has always compelled me to do; what I’ve always enjoyed doing regardless of whether I was full-time, part-time or half-time; what Grace Assembly of God hired me to do; and what gave me the greatest satisfaction in life – believing in young people through my speech and actions. To an extent, I was really just doing my job.
AND THEN THEY GAVE ME THIS TRIBUTE.
I couldn’t help but to thank God for His unmerited favour in my life. I am stunned speechless. How can I not love them, love God, love my job and love other young people even more? I’ve said it many times and so I will say it again – there’s a reason why the REAL 2010 alumni will always remain in a special place in my heart. They reinforced it today. I can only look back and thank God for every minute spent with them.
I love you all. Thank you for blessing me. You have no idea how much this means to me. You gave me a reward the world could never give. I really love my job. Thank you, Lord, for placing me in such a privileged position. I love You so much.
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.
I look ahead and anticipate the preparation of the next New Testament character. Watch this space!