“i don’t know your mother but i know you have a mother.”
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.
retrospection: painting on a white canvas.
In the blink of an eye, I approach the sixth month of my full-time work with R-AGE. I will not deny that it has been a dream job so far for I don’t even feel that I’ve worked a day – even when I’ve clocked way more hours than what I am required to clock per week. My “clients” are my beloved youths, my “managers” are my G2 Shepherds, my “boss” is my mentor, my “colleagues” are my friends, my “work documents” are the pages of the Bible, my “company” is the place that I worship, my “business meetings” are mentoring sessions with youths and my “products” are leading, mentoring and preaching – I cannot ask for a better combination of work elements. God is good!
At the start of this year when I took over the G2 youth community, I had set out several tasks to complete as well as to lay down certain ground rules for my leaders and myself. Looking back, I rejoice at what the Lord has allowed me to accomplish thus far. As I prepare the Barnabas sermon for this weekend, I feel a tremendous sense of job satisfaction that not many people can claim to have – I thank God and give Him all the glory for this. Indeed, the enjoyment of work is a gift of God to man (Ecclesiastes 3:13).
At the workplan retreat at the turn of the year, I remember sharing with my G2 leaders my basic expectations of them. I think I must have caught them by surprise when I said, “I expect you to mess up”. I’m not looking for perfect leaders or for exceptionally talented ones – there’ll be no sense of accomplishment, challenge or rejoicing if I’m working with finished articles. I believe the journey is more important than the destination, but if we do not know where we are headed for, we will be lost. I told them that I also expected them to be 1) committed to their kids and to be 2) accountable to their leaders (especially in the area of existing and potential BGRs), as well as to 3) pray regularly, 4) display initiative, 5) lead by example, 6) be responsible and 7) demonstrate excellence in all that they undertake – just seven golden requirements. I firmly believe that good leaders raise better ones and bad leaders produce worser ones.
I also requested for time and patience so that I can figure out their needs and wait upon God to give me a fresh vision and direction for the ministry, which I can roll out in phases in the coming months. I also identified the thin manpower, especially evident in the lack of male leaders. I understood their common initial sentiments of feeling inadequate, lacking readiness and struggling to connect with their kids. As a number of them up their ante in their pursuit of God, and as I see them step out and take their place as junior shepherds of the ministry, my heart beams with pride – for I see God’s strength in their weakness, Christ’s victory in their defeats and an inevitable reliance on the Spirit to see them through their leadership roles.
As I shared with NC over lunch today, I believe that we need God to be more godly, Christ to be more Christ-like and the Holy Spirit to be more Spirit-filled; we will never be able to approach a theocentric God in an anthropocentric manner. And I firmly believe in my heart that we are on the threshold of revival – first in our being, then in our ministry. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in G1, G2, Grace or another church, we are not going to accomplish anything if we depend on our own strength. We must continually seek the Lord for guidance and believe that the power of the Spirit will enable and empower us to accomplish the will of God for our lives and in our ministry.
It’s only been six months, and already there’s a lot to thank God for. Brothers and sisters – apart from Jesus, we can do nothing; we are absolutely nothing without Christ. The canvas is white – let’s paint it well.
what does it mean to say “grace”?
Often we say “Grace” before partaking in meals as a formality without fully understanding its significance. I believe that “Grace” and grace is a gift from God as well as unmerited favour; we need to consciously remember that the food on our tables, though acquired by with our own resources, is still an indication of God’s providence in our lives. I say Grace because I want to give God the credit and the glory for the meal before me and so I engage my sentiments; I do not say Grace lightly.
I believe that saying Grace properly, seriously and appropriately has five main benefits which I’ve assembled in an alliteration. It gives you:
1. Perspective – If I may reiterate, I believe that all meals, big or small, cheap or expensive, are evidence of God’s goodness, faithfulness and providence in your lives. Most of the time, the meal is paid for with your money (someone else’s if you’re receiving a treat). Depending on your age, your money comes from either your parents or your job. Remember that it’s God who gave you your parents and your job. Surely, that reminds you of where your meal came from.
2. Purpose – When our hearts and minds are tuned into the right perspective, it helps us to answer the why of our communion. Besides eating for sustenance and survival, we should remember once again, that we should eat for God’s glory (note that the italics are not on the verb eat but on the presupposition for). Now, read carefully and get this – anything that is not done for God’s glory is naturally not for God’s glory; leaving God out of it would equate would equate to sin and that happens when we do not eat for God’s glory. More on that here.
3. (God’s) Presence – I find that praying together with fellow believers before meals is especially helpful in reminding us of the lingering presence of Christ, whom I believe is seated with us in every meal. In other words, saying Grace is the act of inviting God’s presence into the fellowship. There’s a holy repercussion in this acknowledgement – that our words and actions would carry intentionality and serve to build one another up, divert attention back to God and also be littered with grace.
4. Proof – I learnt this when I was working in Shanghai, away from an environment that is used to witnessing Christians suddenly bow their heads and close their eyes in public arenas to whisper a word of prayer before meals. Don’t underestimate how this mere act of coming before God to give thanks heightens other people’s awareness of your faith and whose you belong to. I’d like to think that saying Grace could prove “to be a wonderful witness for Christ to all the people” (John Piper).
5. Praise – I state the obvious; Grace is an expression of our genuine gratitude to God for the food – which is why we say, “Thank You”. I opine the inaccuracy of asking for the food to be “blessed”, simply because it already is a blessing that we are eating it! (Besides, to ask for the food to be blessed when it is already blessed reeks semblance to my former pagan practice – what‘s the point?) This analogy is exaggerated, but imagine the thankfulness we’d render in the light of famine or starvation.
I really enjoy JP’s writing and preaching. (I’m an ambitious dreamer, and I believe that one day, I will meet him in person.) There was a period of time that I recited his three well thought-out and excellently-written meal time prayers at all my meals; he wrote it for his own family’s use and at every meal they recite it together, from memory. I had actually wanted to revive this habit, but I was inspired to write, memorise and recite my own version, for my own family’s use.
So here it is, making its official debut, Joey Asher’s all-day “Grace”:
For All Meals, Anytime, Anywhere
Our gracious Father, we recall
Your true providence, both great and small.
The food ahead proclaims Your grace;
Let’s be still, Your presence we embrace.
We’re thankful, Lord, for nourishment;
Renew our strength, this good communion.
Our words, our deeds, they make You known;
We’ll proceed, for Your glory alone
I don’t really write about events because I’ve set out this blog to capture more thoughts and reflections than moments, but I think I should remember my thoughts and feelings about this particular piece of memory in my operation recovery.
Many of you would know that on Tuesday I underwent surgery to deal with Dercum’s Disease; the team of surgeons removed all 25 lumps (L arm-2, R arm-5, L leg-2, R leg-2, F torso-9, B torso-5) which I had identified on my body. There are many things which I am thankful for throughout the entire process:
- The excellent SGH team – be it nurses, assistants, anesthetists or administrators. There’s a lot that could be learnt from their care-giving; I left that evening with better idea of what it meant to show hospitality, from none other than a hospital team.
- Normal bodily motion and function – with 25 dressings all over my body, my movement is restricted, uncomfortable and painful. I believe I would never take normality for granted again; the temporal inability of doing things normally heighten my appreciation.
- Sudden and unexpected team of prayer warriors – be it from my DoYouLoveMe? cell, Shanghai MannaM@X cell, REAL2010, colleagues, family members and random friends. I must have had at least 25 people praying with and for me. God does His math properly – one for every lipoma.
- Non-reaction to General Anesthetic – I’ve had neither allergic nor nauseating reactions to GA. Seems like everyone whom I’ve spoken to (who has undergone GA) either puked or felt really giddy. My doctor said I may also get sore throats and coughs. But praise God – I’ve had zero reactions. (By the way, I managed to stay awake for all of four seconds.)
- Mummy’s unfailing storge (natural love and affection from parents) – 10th March marks her birthday and yet she spent the entire day making sure I was all right. The closest agape an unmarried man would experience would undoubtedly be from his mother. I could never be more thankful for the last 27 years of care-giving, self-sacrificing and out-loving from this remarkable woman.
I’m also especially thankful for HY. Three years ago, immediately after I left the SAF, I went for a minor operation to remove three lipomas on both arms. HY was there with me; back then, I was still courting her. Three years on, HY was also there with me, this time as my girlfriend and what a difference three years have made:
- The comfort and assurance I felt when I was pushed back to my ward to recover, and to find a familiar face of love who had been waiting there for the last two hours. That is something I should never take for granted because she doesn’t owe it to me; she didn’t need to do it, she wanted to.
- HY had a fear and natural dislike for hospitals and yet she overcame that to care for me. Of course there were boo-boo moments (for us to know, for others never to find out), but it made it all the more memorable.
- She demonstrated patience for my impatience and a cool head for my hot head. This last statement actually does sum up how HY makes me a holier person by allowing me to overcome my weaknesses by learning from her strengths.
- HY came to my place today to also celebrate Mummy’s birthday. She bought and brought along with her my recovery pack – two boxes of Post cereal and Magnolia milk for my breakfasts over the next week, Bee Cheng Hiang pork floss for my congee lunches and (my two favourite snacks of) Famous Amos cookies and Jollybean peanut pancakes in case I go hungry at night. It doesn’t get more thoughtful than that! HY never fails to demonstrate to me that love is indeed a verb.
- Her presence during my absence from work this week have made and will continue to make a world of difference. She was there on Tuesday, Wednesday and she has offered to accompany me for Thursday. Every Naruto needs a Sakura in their lives for speedy healing, uh? (:
All right, I’ll be missing in action until next Monday (when I visit my doctor for the follow-up medical appointment). I doubt I’ll be mobile enough to make it to church services this weekend. I’m gonna try to work on the Newbies sermon series during this period of absence but I highly doubt my productivity. There’s little packing that I can do at home due to the awkwardness in moving around too. So… I think I’ll just be reading, playing FM (hehe), watching free movies on MioTV and couch-potato-ing a lot during the next few days. I welcome company.
There’s so much to praise God and to give Him glory for. He is good, in control and will bring it to pass. I serve a God who heals and a God who provides. And so I continue to covet your prayers. Please pray that:
- The root of the disease has been removed;
- There won’t be a recurrence – new lumps won’t grow, old lumps won’t return;
- Insurance will cover the bulk of the surgery cost – it wasn’t a cheap operation by any measure, and as it stands, I’m footing the entire bill;
- My body will heal well;
- Scars will be minimal;
- Wounds won’t be painful when I move around, sit or sleep, and
- There will be no infections or complications
And now I shall head off to watch Man Utd beat the living daylights out of AC Milan. (It’s 1-0 now but I may come back to edit this last sentence depending on the final score 90 minutes later…) [Edit: I’m a prophet. The final score: Man Utd 4 AC Milan 0.]
the nothingness of prayer.
I believe with all my heart that should revival come to R-AGE, it would arrive by the prayer of its people, not by the pursuit of its programmes. We’ll pray and seek the face of God and (it is a relief that) that’s all we need to do. I aspire to depend on prayer alone to bring revival to this generation that I serve. Only then will God get all the glory because no one will be able to claim the credit for the work done in the hearts of the young people that He will redeem.
When we are truly engaged with God, we will naturally do the things of God – which includes preaching the Gospel, bringing friends to church, discipling younger believers, praising and worshipping with abandon, helping those in need, encouraging our friends, giving generously to the poor, getting involved with missions and praying some more.
There is nothing more powerful and satisfying than being in the presence of God. While I can only vaguely comprehend why the Psalmist proclaimed, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”, I do opine that it’s only when we pray without agenda and come to God without a prayer list, that we truly can liberate ourselves to discover what and how He wants us to pray. Perhaps that’s what it means to pray in His will.
Prayer lists and set agendas in prayer meetings have its purposes of course, but there’s something very anointed and supernatural when we are truly in tune with the Spirit of God. I know I am repeating myself but I cannot help but stress this in reiteration. Again and again.
WY blessed me with a George Mueller book, my first classic, that really addresses and reverberates the journey of prayer that I am taking and will continue to take in greater intensity. In the opening line of Answers to Prayer, Mueller writes,
“I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter.”
What a gripping statement of truth! May I eventually learn to pray like that. Hence, I am inclined to think that this is the dichotomy of the situation – we either trust God completely or we don’t; any in-betweens compromise the spiritual reality of praying in the will of God.
Can’t wait to get through the gems contained in the book. Can’t wait to engage God with fresh perspectives.
fight today’s battles today.
I am grateful for the welcome that I have received from my colleagues. Everyone has been kind and helpful. It feels like working from home; after all, this is a place I’ve called home for over a decade. Premature to say, but I feel good about being here. Let’s see where that takes me tomorrow.
Attended a prayer meeting in the afternoon together and somehow it feels really good to pray during office hours and not feel like you’re taking time away from your work! I never felt this way before when I prayed for extended periods of time in my previous jobs during office hours.
Thought of the day – there’s no difference between relational praying and religious chanting if we’re just doing it for the sake of doing it without engaging God with our heart, mind and spirit. Whenever we pray we shouldn’t just vomit words but we should really seek God and ask Him what we ought to be praying about and for today. It’s all about praying the will of God.
HY and I experienced a breakthrough in our journey of faith today. She’s been such a courageous girl, bless her heart – I have a girlfriend who inspires me. God has shown Himself to be faithful and He granted us favour tonight. We are beginning to make sense of Romans 8:28 and have that verse personalise our faith in God. God is good, He is in control and He will bring it to pass.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Can’t wait to wake up to pursue His purpose in a few hours.