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why should I pray?

Two days ago, I embarked on a five-parter with my GII shepherds on the topic of prayer, (loosely) based on JP’s chapter on Prayer in Desiring God. I’ll expand his excellent teaching in order to ensure that the lesson remains relevant and applicable to our context. This was a natural follow-up from my previous lesson on Philippians 4:4-7. Each time we meet for cell, I make us memorise scripture. Although these verses are familiar, I’m fairly confident they have taken a paradigm shift as they store these powerful, dynamic verses in their hearts.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (English Standard Version)

Anxiety does nothing for you. On top of adding zero benefits to your situation, it also distracts your concentration and injures your soul. Paul dispenses such practical advice – anxiety is so useless and negative that it doesn’t even change or improve your situation. No wonder he warns you against it.

The remedy to being anxious about nothing is to be prayerful about everything. When we pray, we acknowledge a few things: (1) We openly admit that without Christ, we cannot accomplish anything; (2) We deliberately turn away from ourselves because we have the confidence that God will provide the help that we need – I call this, “Anti-self-sufficiency”; (3) We actively humble ourselves as needy and exalt God as wealthy. No wonder Paul instructed us to turn to prayer!

Allow me to rephrase “prayer and supplication”. Basically, it is to present the request for the first time and continue to present the request earnestly (until something happens, or until the Spirit changes the way you pray). And you do this in an attitude of “thanksgiving” because you recall the many times that God has answered your prayers in the past. This should give you the confidence to ask boldly – for God is a faithful God who would answer prayers (according to His will)!  Remember also, that you are actually making known your requests and not telling God about it like He doesn’t know; this gives you the confidence that God already knows what’s in your heart; So your role then, is to verbalise your request(s), and to do it ardently, both audibly or inaudibly.

An easier way to understand “guard” is to imagine our hearts (or affections, passions and emotions) safely protected in a castle that has bricks made of God’s peace. The peace of God supersedes all human understanding, garrisons our hearts and protects it in Christ Jesus – what a powerful imagery! It’s not any other peace that will be in our hearts but that which is subjected to the rule and reign of Jesus. This peace is a result of the Holy Spirt that is at work within us.

We pray because we need God’s direction and support in our often misguided and heavy-laden lives. And the result is God’s peace – which is all that we really need. No wonder Paul exhorts us to rejoice in (verse 4)! Finally, the question then, in light of this knowledge, isn’t “Why should we pray?” but “Why shouldn’t we pray?”

my journey into full-time ministry.

Before I headed for Shanghai, I told my uncle that I was reconsidering his offer because I was actually first considering heading into full-time work with church. He thought I was crazy. “Why you want to become a monk so early in your life!?”, was his candid retort, and his limited understanding of what working in church was like – a monastery. Of course, my mother disapproved my desire to work as a youth minister then, so I reluctantly headed to Shanghai instead.

I didn’t enjoy it at first, but God is good. Within six months, I got the hang of it, overcame the dread of being there unwillingly, made a ton of friends, settled in a cell group and began to excel in my job. When I decided to end my 21-month Shanghai chapter last July, my former colleagues were shocked when they found out that I went to work in church. They thought it was a waste of my talent and that I was too young for a job like this; they basically thought I was crazy to abandon a comfortable lifestyle for something so radical.

Of course, they had no prior knowledge of my journey with the Lord. Not many people know of my promise to God – that I’d give Him the best years of my career (which I think is now). I don’t know how long, far or intense this full-time calling is, but I know it is NOW. And my only response is not to trust and obey but to obey then to trust. Hence, tonight, I felt led to publish my cover letter to Grace Assembly of God. May my journey into full-time ministry inspire and encourage you, as well as to give you a glimpse of my conviction and surrender to God regarding this part and period of my life. Enjoy the read.

And just for the record, my mum didn’t just agree to me heading into full-time work, she actually supported it! Praise the Lord for answering a three-year prayer. The story of how she came to this miraculous decision deserves to be mentioned on a separate entry.

“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.

leading by example – whose example?

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.

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

the heart of gratitude.

A couple of weeks ago, I was dealing with disappointment. In my  journeying with and surrender to God, I’ve learnt that to deal with disappointment, I need to approach it with an attitude of thanksgiving and a realignment of purpose. I’m a highly committed individual synonymous with being passionate; hence I often get disappointed when people do not meet my expectations because I always wear my heart on my sleeve. When I was younger, I used to create a commotion each time this happens. As I mellow with age, I’ve learnt to be wiser in handling disappointment – sharing with the right people and only after settling my emotions with the Lord. PC once shared with me that it’s always easier to see God’s faithfulness at the end of a season; so I’ve learnt to be patient and to trust God for His timing and method.

20th March 2010 marks a significant day for the shepherds in my immediate ministry:

  1. KY commissioned as a 2LT,
  2. MF & MW had a positive cohesion with their CMs,
  3. KJ & BL joined my team of shepherds,
  4. EL & YX recovered from their cough,
  5. CN & JC returned safely from Australia and China respectively and
  6. HY completed her FYP
  7. I’ve removed all 25 dressings

This time, there’s something slightly different about feeling their joy and celebrating their victories with them. I can’t quite put a finger to it, but I’d like to think that it’s because I’ve been praying for them; there’s a sense of satisfaction knowing that maybe I’ve played a minute part in the spiritual shift of things. It’s like what RB shares in Nooma 018 “Open” – tapping into the creative power of God.

20th March 2010 is also a momentous day for my Church – we voted in favour for the redevelopment of G1 (on the condition that the 1.4 plot ratio is approved) and if necessary, would take bank loans to finance this project. I’m confident that the Board and the leadership of the church understands that while it is the hardware that’s being rebuilt, significant time, energy and (financial) resources must be invested into its software. Failure to do so would result in an ultimate inability and incapacity to realise the vision. The last thing we want is to have a spectacular building without the right people trained and enabled to fill the spaces which we have catered expansion for.

I am learning to trust God more and more for His providence and I believe that, in the words of BH, “When there is total submission, there is total protection“. On one hand, I’m delighted that we can finally advance as a Church, on the other hand, I pray that we will understand the sobering responsibilities that now line our way. I believe that if we, as a Church, have missed this point of investing in our people, then there really is no point in physical redevelopment. The leadership must be committed to see through this vision.

Let our hope be in You, Lord, and may You show us Your way – I desire nothing more and nothing less.

coveting prayer.

Extracted from Wikipedia:

Adiposis dolorosa, also known as Dercum’s disease[1] (and which is different from Ander’s disease in which painful or painless fatty growths that do not resolve with weight loss), is a rare disease characterized by multiple painful lipomas[2] that arise in adult life… …It also occurs in men and women of all ages. The fatty tumors are most often located on the trunk and limbs with sparing of the face and hands. It was first formally described by Francis Xavier Dercum in 1888.

A disease accompanied by painful localized fatty swellings and by various nerve lesions… …Dercum’s disease is a rare disorder in which there are fatty deposits which apply pressure to the nerves, resulting in weakness and pain. Various areas of the body may swell for no apparent reason. The swelling may disappear without treatment, leaving hardened tissue or pendulous skin folds.

Read more here.

That’s the most current (and I think most accurate) diagnosis of my condition. I’ve already scheduled a surgery on 9th March to remove all the lumps (approximately 20+) on my body; it will be the first time that I’d be under general anesthetic. I could have gone for the operation before Chinese New Year but I didn’t want to fly to Sri Lanka risking infection with open wounds. If you are reading this blog, please pray that:

  1. Every lump to be identified and completely removed.
  2. No recurrence or regrowth.
  3. Root of the problem be eradicated.
  4. Insurance to cover 100% of medical and hospitalisation expenses (about S$3,000).
  5. No side or post-surgery effects.
  6. Surgeon to have skillful hands so that I won’t be left with unsightly scars.
  7. Peace of mind and trust in my Jehovah Rapha.

While you’re at it, do pray for the REAL team too. We are heading to Tanjung Pinang in Pulau Bintan (Indonesia) from 23-25 January. Our ministry includes preaching, sharing testimonies, conducting children’s church and youth programmes, giving English tuition, visiting homes as well as presenting a special item. RL and I will be leading a team of nine boys and six girls. Prayer pointers include:

  1. God’s anointing to accomplish His work for His glory alone.
  2. Good health and quick recovery for those who become unwell.
  3. Journey mercies in sea and road travels.
  4. Wisdom to do what’s right and appropriate.
  5. Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
  6. Flexibility when programmes change.
  7. Favour of the locals.

Thank you for praying. Have a good weekend.

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