Hallelujah, Praise the Lord! Our God is a God of humour. 2015 was supposed to be my defining year. After 30 years of working in the secular world, our Lord gave me the chance to take a break. It was an opportunity to reassess whether I should continue working, or take an early retirement to enjoy the fruits of my work for the last 30 years. It was a chance to redefine my life and my world. However, the first book in my devotion for the year was Ecclesiastes. It involves the profound teaching of “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”. What a start! Is my life really so meaningless?
Yet, our God is great. His hands are all over our lives. Once we cede control, we will see His work in our lives, as it is promised in the Scripture, ‘ “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)
The Lord had been prompting me for years to take a break and specifically to go to TLBS to seek more of Him. However, I was stubborn. I had a nice job, earned a decent salary, enjoyed good recognition and endorsement from friends and colleagues, gave unto the works of the Lord, and attended bible study classes. I always thought I was doing well. However, as sister Helen shared in her devotion, do we “listen and obey” the Lord’s promptings or “rationalize it away”? The noise of the world often muzzles out the voice of our Lord. Very often, we try to rationalize it away.
Nevertheless, our gracious God has His ways. He cleared the path and led me to TLBS. He did this by giving me a chance to take an early retirement package so that I could come here. This is the first break that I have had after a long and rewarding 25 years’ service with a single company. With anticipation but not without hesitation, I joined the School of Ministry in TLBS.
Once in TLBS, I began to fully understand the Lord’s plan for me to be here. The presence of the Lord is so thick in our midst. I have never felt such closeness with Him during worship before. It is just so beautiful to bask in His presence. As my brother Cheng Hwa explained, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20). So, if God is present when there are two or three of us, how can we expect anything less if there are more than 80 of us together, and not just for the sake of the number, but 80 fervently God-seeking individuals gathered in one room worshiping and praising the Lord? Hallelujah!
Once we are in the presence of the Lord, His voice comes fast and clear. My first prophecy on my life was from Pastor James Singh. His word for me was early retirement and doing the work of the Lord. However, I still thought to myself, “Yes, but my gifting is in the work of the secular world”. God’s first prompting was not enough for me. God sent another message though our brother Philip Ng. His sharing from the book In the Name of Jesus by Henri J. M. Nouwen caused me to check my attitude. The key message was that “…Christian leadership had been affected by the desire to be relevant, the desire to be popular, and the desire for power. Are these the ingredients of an effective ministry? Truth is that these are not vocations but temptations.” On reflection, it is very true that these should be “means to the end” and not the “ends in itself”. Yet, I had been so sucked into the world that I took these to be the end itself. It is difficult to shed the identity that is tied to our job. It gives us perception of relevance, popularity and power. However, when soaking in God’s presence, we quickly know the joy of being “in love with Jesus”.
In another reading, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, the author says, “Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment.” On meditation, I draw more parallels. I feel that pursuit of worldly recognition, be it assets, titles or recognitions are all to fill the void in our inner emptiness. However, it is like a black hole that can never be filled, never satisfied. It is only in God’s Word that we can find true inner fulfillment.
In TLBS, besides all the anointed teachers and speakers, the Lord also puts brothers and sisters around us to build and encourage us as we grow as a family. Receiving daily personal, not auto-dialed encouragements like, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:13) from brother Gerald or “Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) from brother Fu Sheng helps us to start our day right. The bonding and joint accountability of the class causes us to look out for each other.
What about the message from Ecclesiastes then? When we are still and in the presence of God, the Scripture will come alive. We receive new revelations from the same Scripture. “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3). I have read this many times, but the focus now has changed from the meaningless pursuit of worldly achievements and pleasure to the phase “under the sun”. “Under the sun” refers to the world we see. Life can be so meaningless in the world we see, but this will definitely not be the same for the eternal life that God promises.
To sum up with the words of Elaine Storkey in the Encounter with the Lord devotion, “We are on this earth for a short time, but God’s plan is cosmic and His times are eternal. When we see our time and lives in the light of Christ’s eternity, we realise our ultimate value.”
That is the life that all of us should be seeking. Be still and listen, then obey.