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.
Singapore has world-class education system – that I do not deny. My scholastic abilities have been tuned by my learning environment (observe the careful choice of words) and I’d like to think a big part of my confidence and street-smartness (or some would say arrogance) comes from a decade spent in ACS. However, if I had a choice, I’d rather not raise my children in a local school and if I had the resources, I’d rather home-school my kids; I do not want to subject them to the unnecessary and poisonous culture of the education system here – where students somehow feel that they are never quite good enough.
Our academia has changed considerably – some would consider it progress, some see it as regress and for a few others, digress; I belong to the third group. I think that we’re missing the point of education, really. We should teach people how to think not what to think. Today’s students are subjected to a lot more pressure and stress – that doesn’t come from themselves but primarily from their parents and secondarily from their peers. The desire to improve themselves is shrouded by external motivations instead being influenced by internal drives.
I’ve always opined that pride is not about wanting to be the best – there’s nothing wrong with that – but pride is about wanting to be better than someone else. There’s an element of covetousness in pride, where the desire to better oneself sprouts from the obsession to outdo others. We’ve heard it time and again – a student could far outperform himself and score a 60% in a test (and achieve his all-time highest score) but this joy is somewhat short-lived; his initial delight soon plummets into despair when he begins to compare his results with a classmate that scored 70%. The process is transferred to the next dimension and (if you pardon the direct translation of the old Chinese adage) there always seems to be a higher mountain that is insurmountable. Where does it stop? Before you know it, these students return home to mourn about their oh-so-terrible score when they should instead rejoice over their progress made. There’s no end to this vicious cycle of self and societal inflicted torment. No wonder suicide cases related to academic pressures have risen sharply over the years.
Achievements and successes are all relative – hence it is imperative that we manage our expectations and chart our progress on a realistic rate. Today, you should ask yourself if you are competitive or comparitive. There’s nothing wrong with benchmarking yourself against the best to gauge and improve your own abilities and thresholds. But once you begin to compare and slide into the venomous glance-over-your-shoulder behaviour, you inevitably welcome self-destruction and a never-ending pursuit of nothingness. We are all different – get used to the idea. To those who have more, more is expected of them. Learn to be comfortable with yourself and realise that if you want to be someone else, who’s going to be you?
When I stroll down memory lane, I don’t seem to ever recall a time that I wanted to be better than someone else because I realised that I’m constantly waging war with my own insanely high standards (again, this is a relative statement). To an extent, I seem to allow no one to determine how good or how bad I can and will be. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m an ambitious person and I effort to bring out the best of my gifts and talents by being excellent in all that I undertake, but in the event that my desired outcomes do not materialise, I have learnt to trust God for the lessons learnt in temporal failure and postponed success. I realised that I’ve always secretly (but confidently) trusted God for the results, for God was the origin of my desires and ambitions. Either way it turns out, I already know that God, being efficacious, has a lesson in store for me to learn; I believe that He has pre-prepared different packages of lessons for every single different outcome.
I urge you to be wary of the poisonous standards of this world, where it tells you that being contented with your lot is apparently mediocrity. A subscription to these worldly values often results in worldly remorse and regret – that’s not biblical or victorious living at all! Know that with Jesus, we fight from victory and not for victory. Be comfortable with who God has created you to be for your strengths complements someone else’s weaknesses and vice-versa – that’s how the body of Christ works. Everyone plays a different role and is a different jigsaw in the puzzle of life – never let this world determine how you should live and what should make you happy. May your spirit be acutely tuned to the dangers that inescapable and obligatory academic excellence brings.
So what if you finally become the best and better than everyone else? What’s next? At the end of the day, it’s all meaningless. It doesn’t make you better than anyone else, really. The antidote then, to competition and comparison, is contentment.
As I lounged into my seat to observe AS’s piano recital at the Yong Siew Toh Music Conservatory yesterday, I realised that I grew frustrated at my inability to fully appreciate the beauty of the Chopin pieces that she was apparently playing so brilliantly. It was an accomplished performance, no doubt; her fingers moved so much faster than I could move my lips, musically it sounded like a formidably difficult piece to pull off with so many off-beats, odd synchronisations, and flats and sharps that seem to fit in perfectly when they normally would sound out of place. It was only the second time I saw Singapore’s child (now teenage) prodigy in action but there I was, reclined in my comfortably red seat, wishing that my musical knowledge was more inclined so that I could appreciate her performance at the level that it was meant to be appreciated at.
How do you enjoy a performance you can’t appreciate? I’m inclined to believe that talent is best appreciated by the talented, for our enjoyment is vastly limited and restrained to our personal capacities and standards – I could never fully comprehend the difficulty of AS’s piano pieces and the level of her accomplished techniques; my enjoyment was sadly limited to a mere sensory admiration, instead of a technical, emotional and intellectual appreciation. Football, music and even preaching are all art in various forms but our appreciation of even its respective equipment knowledge or showmanship styles has been greatly marginalised due to our ignorance of these art forms. We won’t even be able to comprehend the painstaking efforts and countless hours invested to perfect the art.
I found myself asking two questions:
- How should you apply the talent at your disposal?
- How should you appreciate the talent on display?
So as I fidgeted in my seat, I naturally recalled the parable of the talents, where it’s not about how much talent you have, but about what you do with it. Each of us would have our assigned lots in life. The whole idea is to utilise the lot in the best way you know how to; for the more you use it, the better you get at it and may possibly even acquire new skills along the way. I think this is applicable to any art form. Think about it – if I decide to practise scales in a bid to up my guitar playing ability, and I get good at it, I will open up the door to new genres of music for me to learn and appreciate. In football, if I put myself through dribbling drills, I will eventually get stronger on my weaker leg, and I will open up the option of eventually shooting or crossing with my weaker foot. Before I could polish my abilities as a lead singer, I had to ensure that my basic singing abilities were above average. Practice doesn’t just make perfect – it paves the path for new skills.
I remember a quote by John Keating from one of my all-time favourite movie, Dead Poets Society:
“… And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love…
These are what we stay alive for.”
I think that beauty is multi layered – where one standard of excellence is carefully smuggled beneath another. I juxtapose the foundations of three art forms – the left and right hand of a pianist, the skill and the fitness of a footballer, and the preparation and oration of a preacher. The pursuit of excellence and the discovery of new art forms will exponentially enhance and elevate our appreciation of life.
I just spent my entire evening putting together the Mary Magdalene sermon for tomorrow youth’s service. I am excited about delivering this one because of the sheer amount of lessons that Miss Magdalene could teach us with her life. While I have work on my mind, I also know that I have been writing daily and I have every intention to keep up the habit. So I shall blog while I take a break from writing the transcript and designing the slides (and I know that doesn’t sound like a break to most of you).
I think that it is especially relevant that I share my thoughts on the commonly debated definitions of importance and urgency. A man needs to realise which jigsaw he is and when he’ll be fitted into God’s masterpiece. If a man understands his role in his God-given life (be it a son, brother, boyfriend, buddy, officer, marketing manager, pastor or whatever), he will be able to derive his sense of vision – and this vision should steer him forward by way of goals and pursuits. Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) cannot be more true, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…”
It is from this vision that a man would be able to assign different levels of importance to his countless pursuits. Now, I think that there are many, too many, important quests in our lives, but once we neglect the important things, they becomes urgent. It stands true for aspirations like daily devotions, conversations with loved ones, consistent studying time, regular exercising, and even saving money; if you abandon any of these items for a long enough time, they automatically become urgent – spiritual dryness, detached relationships, academic straggling, poor fitness and health, and a pathetic bank account, respectively.
Let me give you a classic and relevant example. Fact – I’m a Sanguine and I procrastinate. (Now, I blame it on a lack of inspiration but the purists would rather attribute it to inconsistency.) I’ve known all along that I own this new testament characters sermon series since the beginning of the year and I keep telling myself that there’s REAL, there’s G2, there’s my surgery, etc. to clear before I attack this beast. Well, to put it honestly, I’ve deserted this important task for three months and only commenced work on it last week. So now this has become an urgent assignment (like it’s not obvious enough). There’s still a lot of quality and excellence put into it, don’t be mistaken; I spend on average 20 hours to prepare each sermon. And HY has already warned me against this consecutive burnings of midnight oil, yet it has still transpired. (Negative demonstration here – so learn!)
Now, from roles, we get visions, and from visions, we get goals, and from goals, we get priorities – the key to juggling importance and urgency. Remember, priority is not how much space or how many times it appears in your calendar, but the sequence by which it enters your calendar. If spending time with God is high on your priority list then it should enter your calendar first, and your other activities should be planned around it; the same principle applies to time spent with family and loved ones. So here’s the lesson – prioritise well if you want to perspire lesser.