In the next few posts, I’ll share snippets of my vision casting sermons at the recently concluded R-AGE Leaders’ Retreat called, “FAT & Hungry”. In this three-day camp, I preached on four attributes that I’d like to see in my youth shepherds and leaders. The first is Faithfulness.
I started my walk with God by faith. But did I stop there? No, I continued to grow in my faith by being faithful. In Luke 17:3-10, the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith but perhaps Jesus was calling them to increase their faithfulness instead, since they already had a measure of faith. In this parable, we learn that our attitude towards doing God’s work is that of a servant to his master. Jesus provided the proper response in Luke 17:10, “In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.'”
The difference between faith and faithfulness is that faithfulness is our response to our faith. Let’s ask God to increase not our faith, but our faithfulness. Faithfulness is what we do with our faith. Faith grows only when we faithfully finish what God has called us to do. If we don’t finish what God has called us to do, our faith might not actually grow. On the contrary, it may shrink! Since I have put my faith in Jesus (to save me from hell and to take me to heaven), now I should be faithful to Him.
Faithfulness does not mean “not being unfaithful”. If I say I am faithful to Huiyi, it means nothing if my faithfulness is about not acting negatively towards her but not doing anything positive for her. Faithfulness is not the absence of the negative, but the presence of the positive. Faithfulness isn’t only what we keep ourselves from but what we choose to invest ourselves in. Faithfulness is to be reliable, trustworthy, consistent and dependable. And these are rare virtues today.
There are two ways to develop a culture of faith and faithfulness:
1. Start enthusiastically in faith.
The son who pleased the father wasn’t the second son said he’d do it but didn’t, but the first son who didn’t say he would do it but did it. Obedience not intention pleases the Father. Actions speak louder than words; many people have great intentions but no many follow through what they intended to do. No one gets rewarded for intention. Automobile pioneer Henry Ford once said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do”.
Action not intention gets the job done. Let’s develop a tendency for action. If you feel God is calling or prompting you to do something to advance His kingdom, stop hesitating and just act on it. A thriving youth ministry must develop a culture of enthusiastic obedience by faith. After all, the proof of passion is in the pursuit. If I say I am passionate about Huiyi, then it’s only natural that you see my pursuit in action.
But watch out for the perceived “what if” fears that stop us from taking action. We need to learn to pull these perceived fears into the light, for fear is a dark room where negatives are developed. Something that I’ve learnt from my mentor, Ps Benny Ho, is this principle called, “Ready, fire! Aim…” There are some who fire without getting ready – these do not hear from God properly. But there are some that just prefer to aim forever but never fire the first shot. This is similar to how you’d zero a rifle – you must fire the first shot to get a sensing before you calibrate your weapon.
Remember, faith is to believe what we do not see and the reward of faith is to see what we believe.
2. Stay earnestly in faithfulness.
I believe that faithfulness isn’t about doing something for a long time, but about doing something well at a particular season of life.
Proverbs 25:19 tells us that unreliable people are like a bad toothache or a walking with a sprained ankle – it hurts! If we depend on an unreliable person, we can never quite relax because we’re wondering at the back of ours mind if the job is really done, and we’ve got to chase that person again and again. Come on, if we say we’re gonna do it, then do it! Let’s remove unreliability from our system and make reliability our greatest ability.
Faithfulness is an attitude of the heart. We should faithful because God is faithful but also because God rewards faithfulness. The hardest part in both the marathons I’ve completed is in the middle part, when the going gets tough from around the 21st to the 32nd kilometre; the novelty of starting a marathon has worn off and the euphoria of the finishing line is beyond sight. That’s when tenacity gets us going.
A great example of tenacity is footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. He is youngest son of a cook and gardener in small town in Portugal called Madeira. When he joined Manchester United (the greatest football club in the world) in 2003, he said, “There is no harm in dreaming of becoming the world’s best player. It’s all about trying to be the best. I will keep working hard to achieve it, but it is within my capabilities.”
He put in years of hard work and was rewarded for it in 2008 when he received the ultimate individual accolade in football – the FIFA Ballon d’Or. He was now officially the world’s best player. In 2009, he became the most expensive player in the world when Real Madrid bought him from Manchester United for S$158,580,800. His annual salary in 2011 was S$47,070,692. Putting that into perspective, that means that Ronaldo earns S$128,961 everyday, S$5,373, every hour and S$90 every minute. After he finishes watching The Hobbit, he’d have been richer by S$16,120.
His manager, Sir Alex Ferguson (the greatest coach in the world) said this about him, “Although he had a natural talent, he in many ways manufactured himself. He practised and practised. You build up a mechanism and it becomes a habit. That was Cristiano’s habit, to do something after training… …There’s no fluke about it. I see Ronaldo practising all the time in training.”
Persistence and faithfulness will help us to start well and finish well. Let’s be like bulldogs – their noses are tilted upwards so that they can bite onto something and continue breathe without even letting go. That’s why they’re such ferocious canines!
So what exactly is faithfulness in ministry? These were the practical pointers I shared with my leaders and shepherds – I challenged them to be faithful:
- To Jesus Christ in their personal walk with God.
- To their respective teams (shepherds cells, leaders circles, youth and tertiary cells, service teams and event committees).
- To their responsibility (as cell leaders, service team or event committee members, in ministry and committee meetings and to see what they’re doing as spiritual leadership and not simply labourious work).
- To pray for the youth ministry (R-AGE) and the church (Grace AG) both in their prayer closets and in corporate prayer meetings.
- To see evangelism as a part of their life and not a church event.
The great missionary Hudson Taylor once said, “A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in little things is a great thing.” God can turn your faithfulness in a little thing that He has called you to into a big thing. The challenge for us is, are we able to do all the small little things that people won’t notice, and still be faithful in these things?
Acts 6-7 records the entire life of Stephen. He was faithful, full of the Spirit and he stumbled into the ministry as a solution to a leadership problem and a simple need – to feed and care for widows that were being neglected. It wasn’t anything glamourous or the kind of job that one would take to get ahead or receive recognition from. And it certainly had little returns. I can imagine working with widows to be like working with youths. Both can’t give much back to you.
But Stephen taught me that faithfulness is the little stuff you do that nobody sees and probably no one celebrates. He was faithfully doing his everyday duties until a group of people started to create trouble for him. And with it, he ended up preaching the sermon of his life. He preached the very best he could because once he’s done, he’d be with God. His life came to a tragic end in Acts 7:54-59, when he was tragically stoned to death.
In the Scriptures, we often read that Jesus sat on the right hand of God. It’s mentioned once in Luke, Acts and Romans, twice in Revelation, thrice in Matthew and Mark, and six times in Hebrews. But read Acts 7:55-56 again and you’ll see something amazing.
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”
In Stephen’s case (and probably the only mention in the whole Bible) after he preached, he saw the Son of Man STANDING! WOW! Can you see it!? In my sanctified imagination, I can’t help but to see a standing ovation from Jesus to welcome Stephen into heaven! What a way to end his life and ascend into glory and honour – I want that for the end of my life!
May we be a youth ministry that has a “finishing anointing” – to be youths who not only know how to start, but how to end. May all of us start well and end well. So that when we meet God face to face, it would be to hear him say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant!” and see Jesus giving us a standing ovation after that!
[Credits: teaching materials adapted from Benny Ho and Steve Andres.]
I think my face is finally showing signs of aging and I do not relish losing my youth. While it has been thoroughly satisfying so far, I must be honest and say that it has also fatiguing to preach the last three consecutive weeks (so I salute RY who has been doing that week-in, week-out for the last decade). Preparing a sermon excellently is indeed a labourious challenge; I spend 15-20 hours on average with each one. The bigger challenge however, is to wait upon the Lord as I allow the Word to saturate my heart and mind – I try not to write a sermon academically; the biggest challenge is to hear from the Lord the word in season for my congregation. I find it easy to deliver a generic sermon, so it is vastly gratifying when I preach a sermon that speaks specifically to my people. I always pray that the Holy Spirit will do His work of revelation in my youths’ hearts as they receive the Word.
I am thankful to God for the generous encouragement and plentiful affirmation that I’ve received over the last three weeks; I never take any for granted – these pats-on-my-back spur me on to preach even sharper and deeper sermons! As I conclude Part III of Facebook with the Newbies, I embark on the preparation of the final installation. I pray that this series won’t just end on a climax, but it’d end in a manner that the Spirit leads. In the meantime, do check out the slideshow below to refresh yourself on the two main themes that Stephen leaves with us – managing anger and overcoming unforgiveness.
Part One – Managing Anger
- The main difference between the angry Jewish leaders who couldn’t control themselves, and Stephen who clearly was in control of his emotions, was that the latter had the Holy Spirit while the former didn’t; in short, the Jewish leaders had the presence of anger and the absence of the Spirit.
- The greatest obstacle to forgiveness is anger – for anger kills. It gives birth to murderous intent, which is different from incidental or accidental manslaughter. The Jewish leaders didn’t kill Stephen unexpectedly – they had planned to do it.
- Hate is a choice and the judgment of hate is murder in your heart (1 John 3:15).
- The Jewish leaders’ answer to Stephen’s inspiring and riveting sermon in Acts 7 revealed a three-step progression of anger.
- The first stage of anger is when you realise it with your senses, through your eyes and ears – “When they heard this”. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to be your filter, to separate and sieve away the things that make you angry.
- The second stage of anger is when you respond to it with your emotions, in your mind and heart – “They were furious“. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to help us to choose the right response in any situation.
- The third stage of angeris when you react to it with your actions, by your hands and mouth – “And gnashed their teeth”. When this happens, ask the Holy Spirit to help you do the right thing that doesn’t cause you to sin.
- Ephesians 4:6 states that we should not sin when we are angry, but it doesn’t say that it is a sin to be angry; what we do when we are angry makes all the difference.
- Anger is an extreme emotion that can sometimes be damaging and destructive; it is always a decision made in our thoughts and feelings, and it never happens by chance. Remember that anger is an emotion, not an action.
- We cannot control what happens externally (situations and circumstances) but we can ask the Spirit to help us to control what happens internally (emotion and cognition).
- The biblical remedy to managing anger is to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us – that’s why Stephen was known to be a man full of the Holy Spirit.
Part Two – Overcoming Unforgiveness
- While Stephen’s answer to the Jewish leaders was completely different from the way they treated him, his reply to them in the face of being stoned was actually quite similar to the way Jesus Christ in the way that He was crucified.
- Stephen had an absence of anger and a presence of the Spirit; he demonstrated for us three possible approaches to overcoming apparent unforgiveness.
- The first approach is to be filled with the Holy Spirit (“But being full of the Holy Spirit”) by exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Actively deal with unforgiveness and not passively avoid it.
- The second approach is to look to God’s love intently (“He gazed intently into heaven”) and remember our God is One who is ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Nehemiah 9:17)!
- The third approach to know Jesus’ mission wholeheartedly (“Do not hold this sin against them”) for when we understand that the mission of Jesus is to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), we’ll understand how to honour and give Him glory in our most trying situations.
- The glory of God is evidently distinguished and displayed when we compare manmadestructures to GodmadeWonders (pun intended); hence we should fix our eyes on something bigger than ourselves, better than our situations and more glorious. We should put on heavenly spectacles.
- Those who are full of the Spirit are game for anything in life, be it good or bad – because they are willing to do His work and to suffer for Him.
- Forgiving others is a natural cause of action when we are being forgiven by God.
- When evil does its worst, God does His best; Stephen’s martyrdom indirectly resulted in Paul’s conversion. Paul became a legendary missionary and author of half of the New Testament.
- God desires for us to be reconciled to Him first, before we are reconciled to others (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). We experience freedom to relate to others when we are liberated in how we relate to God.
I sincerely hope that was helpful for you. With that, I conclude Stephen’s chapter and look forward to the last character in this series, as well as some much-needed rest at the start of the week.
I can’t help but be inspired by the life of Stephen, or the one who is often referred to as the first martyr in of the Christian faith. Stephen’s life spanned across three mere chapters in Acts but the legacy that he left behind for all believers – especially for me – is cemented in history. I imagined the scene unfolding in my mind’s eye as I read the Word of God; at its climax, as my heart pounded at the unveiling of scenes, I somehow felt Stephen’s passion and unwavering belief in the Lord even unto his own innocent death – now that took my breath away! I can’t wait to share my findings with my beloved youths over the weekend. See you at the youth services for the third installment of our Facebook with the Newbies sermon series. Oh Lord, Stephen’s example was riveting, so please help me preach lessons from his life in a manner that’s just as riveting!
The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily upward into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”
Then they put their hands over their ears, and drowning out his voice with their shouts, they rushed at him. They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. The official witnesses took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And as they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.
(Acts 7:54-60, New Living Translation)