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.
I apologise for the blogging irregularity. These days, I’ve written many drafts but struggled to finish them. August looks demanding – I preach three out of four weeks and facilitate two iJourney sessions. My DYLM cell also coincides with my preaching weekends which leads to a double preparation of teaching materials. It’s also the vision-casting, planning and budgeting month. R-AGE @ GII is also growing with some steady momentum… Basically, everything is coming together all at once – I had better spend more time seeking God.
I do delight in developing my gifts though. I’m keeping my fingers crossed (and my hands clasped in prayer) on a potential ministry opportunity; if that takes off, 2011 looks set to be the most defining year of my (ministry) life thus far. I await with bated breath. Oh God, baptise me in wisdom!
You know, it’s easy to lead when everything’s smooth-sailing. I remember being inspired by DZ’s testimony when I (visited Sydney for the first time and) attended Hillsong Conference 2007. She shared about how she continued leading worship despite her miscarriage; it must have been a tough time for her and the church to experience the loss of a life – that’s transparent leadership for you.
Needless to say, I believe that all regular leaders and mentors (around me) had to lead through tough times too. I often wondered how much inspiration and perspiration they needed to draw from and produce respectively to pull through a rough patch. Here are the ten things I’d recommend for a leader to do when he doesn’t feel like leading, or adequate enough to be a leader, or simply when the chips are down.
1. Share only what’s necessary. You don’t need to give the details of your drought(s) and disaster(s) if you don’t have to. Employ discernment and choose with care whom you share life with. My recommendation – your family, partner, leaders/mentors, cell group, closest friends.
2. Remember that troubles are tempory. Bad times will pass – they usually do not last forever. Often, you end up doubling the pain because you choose to inflict blame on yourself for things beyond your control. Remember, God uses trials and tests to bring out the best in you.
3. Re-create your self-confidence. This is personal because I thrive on confidence. Surround yourself not just with people who love you but also those who desire God’s best for you – they usually have the right words. Let them put the pat on your back that pushes out your chest.
4. Do not dramatise. When you go through a terrible season, you don’t need to convince yourself that it’s worse than what it already is. Healthy pessimism can be helpful, but an overdose could leave you in the trail of destruction. When you are, learn to leave the bad news in the middle.
5. Avoid all loose talk. The last thing you want is to get embroiled in someone else’s misfortunes or to gloat about others to make yourself feel good. Don’t justify your situation and don’t discuss it. Cut off all gossip and secret conversations for they won’t improve your situation anyway.
6. Always remain loyal. As a leader, the biggest mistake you can make is to sell out your team of subordinates, peers and superiors. Teams are accepting of a leader who acknowledges his faults and makes a genuine attempt to atone himself. In your failures, they are still your team.
7. Continue to teach high standards. When the going gets tough, don’t compromise all that you’ve held on to and advocated. Conversely speaking, you should persist and insist high moral standards for those around you. Know that they are observing for your integrity in action.
8. Expect people’s manipulation. Look, it’s a dog-eat-dog world and there will be people who will want to capitalise on your weaknesses to gain an unfair advantage for themselves. Be innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents; don’t allow others to use you like a tool.
9. Be mindful of your speech. Know that everything you say can be quoted; the higher your public profile, the more you will be quoted. In times like these you must exercise restraint. Most leaders have an opinion about everything but it doesn’t mean they need to share every thought.
10. Raise your own bar. In this recovery period, as you consolidate, ask yourself this question – “Would you be fulfilled if you were to keep following someone like you?” Don’t ever shortchange yourself. Your appetite to improve skills and develop character should remain insatiable.
Hope that was helpful for you. For me, I’ll try to pick up my blogging momentum.
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”!