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.
Today, I mourn and grieve with one of my youth leaders, whose mother passed away suddenly due to an unexpected stroke in her neck. People of God, if you don’t know him but are reading this, pray for him and his father. And if you do, walk the extra mile and be available to help at the wake in any way possible if he requires you to. Contact me if you want the details to the wake. Let’s cover him with our love and support through his dark valleys and have faith in God to trust that He is sovereign. It is never easy to deal with departures.
comfort for the mourning
by joey asher tan
bleakness stares in your face
lost hopes, shattered dreams
echoing the rain, the pain and a reflectionless mirror
displaying a grief-stricken daze
the agony of tears
where it hurts most
lies the greatest comfort
too young, too soon
pray all’s fine when you wake next morn
but everything’s naught and everything’s torn
this couldn’t, it shouldn’t
i’m shaken with grief
the process is
but part of the plan
disbelief trails your shadow
a black market of unquenchable grief
of unfathomable timing and tragedy
never thought, not ever wished
alas, you’ve already seen her last
this is My plan
now you may not understand
stay strong now
you are in need and needed
by one who is broken to his feet
trickling down your cheeks
with misery, forfeit and a tinge of courage
cast your cares to Me
for I am here with you
by lies you may not comprehend
may angels surround
may God protect
your mind, your emotions
your all as you suffer the wreck
for you I weep
like a soul without sleep
no answers, no replies
facts and figures form your sigh
don’t lose your way
don’t go astray
head for a fresh start
trust in Him and find His direction in your heart
yes, that is true
may it be, for you
a sinner you and I, and I grieve for her soul
you don’t know
but I just realised my deepest of concerns for you
my arms embrace your being, my dearest brother
but I do know that’s when
divine comfort flows
Today, I commemorate my first year in Singapore since I returned from Shanghai for good. I fondly remember how I made my “comeback“ at the No One Else album launch concert. I will never forget the microphone stand, the spotlight, the explosive Roller Coaster introduction, and those 10 memorable steps (wished it was 100!) I took to superstardom the centre of the stage. It was my moment of conceited indulgence (so bear with me) and it’s not very often I get to feel like a rock star. Yes, it’s a terribly vain thing to say, but I’ve never denied my appetite for the limelight. (Fronting a band gives me a completely different rush from leading worship or preaching and I’ve really missed that! RL, CK, JT… It’s time to revive…)
Anyway, I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve read the above-mentioned expression. “Keep the main thing, the main thing” is synonymous with “Do not major on the minor” or “Know the difference between urgent and important”. Over the past nine months, something that I’ve honestly struggled with is to discern between my dreams and God’s dreams (for I certainly don’t want to mess this up!), as well as to think about how all these dreams are translated into ministry execution. I honestly find the marriage of the two dreams extremely challenging at times.
When I felt the call to enter full-time ministry, there were only three ministries that God deposited into my heart – Lead, Preach and Mentor – and these governed the way I operated; you could say that these are the three pillars of my personal calling. I’ve tried to center all my decisions around these pillars. Of course, I’ve made a couple of wrong decisions along the way, like getting involved in the Grace 60th Anniversary and being involved with the original YAYP transition team; I try never to live in regret, but to learn from retrospect for it is pointless if to lament about spilled milk.
As my portfolio increases and as my tent enlarges, so will my influence and competencies too. I’ve learnt that I must learn not to get involved with everything even though I want to and may foolishly deem myself suitable for it, and especially when it is logical to do so. (Sigh, logic – Man’s feeble attempt at second-guessing God’s sovereign will…) That’s the reason why I believe that a personal vision statement is important. If you have a motto to preside over the way you function, you more or less know what to say yes to and what to turn down; it helps you to live a principled life. What’s yours? Mine is:
“I am a bible-believing Christian who desires to know God
by working excellently, learning earnestly while having a balanced lifestyle,
for the glory of God.”
At our mid-year appraisal this morning, RY told me that “marrying your dreams into God’s will is a constant struggle”, and I concur. That’s why I think it’s always a step of faith to act on what God has impressed upon my heart. With RY, I always learn something new or am reminded of previously-learnt lesson – that’s why he’s my mentor and that’s why I look up to him so much. And in true hero-fashion, he balanced the above-mentioned statement with this: “But remember, it is God who planted these dreams into you”. That took a huge load off my shoulders; I couldn’t believe that I missed something as obvious as that!
I have been wired to lead with my heart on my sleeves and somehow this quality has become my signature. Perhaps it explains why Passion is one of the three flagships of my personality, besides Authenticity and Believing in Young People. These are the core values I think my life represents most dominantly and consistently. Again I quote my boss, “Passion is like a tap; once you turn it on, water gushes out” – I’d like to believe that my passion for youth ministry doesn’t just trickle out, but that it surges out.
However, I know that one day my passion will run out. RY encouraged me today and told me that I have tenacity; it was the first time this word was used to describe me. He deliberately chose tenacity over perseverance for (I think) the latter represents an indefatigability to endure present situations while the former indicates a determination to push oneself through to overcome challenges. I liked that distinction and I believe that tenacity should rightly be the best friend of passion for they are perfect complements.
So anyway, back to keeping the main thing, the main thing, I think it’s a good opportunity for me to take a step back and reflect, and to ask God to give me grace so that I can differentiate what I want to do from what I need to do, as well as to determine what He wants me to do. (God doesn’t need me to do anything. He doesn’t need anybody to do anything for Him. In fact, according to Psalm 50:12, if He was hungry He wouldn’t even tell you or me.) In our lifetime, we’d go through seasons after seasons and so it remains a wise thing to focus, always on the main thing. If I were to strip everything down to its core, the main tasks in life (in fact, the only two tasks), is to love God more and to love His people more everyday (Mark 12:30-31).
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”!