It has been four years since I started this “chapter” of my life. The first post I made for this blog will give the context as to where my life was back then. And four years later today, I can now make a comparison and review how far I’ve in that time. Things are somewhat drastically different comparing where I am now and where I was four years ago. God has brought me much farther than I could have imagined all those years ago; and it only makes sense that I reflect and recognise what God has done in my life – that you the readers may be encouraged by my life, and also that I may work out how I should be moving forward.
There are many things that I need to be grateful for, and many things that I would never have imagined I would be doing today. And there are of course struggles that I still face. These are all to show that living and growing as a Christian includes reflecting on the past and also thinking hard about the future. Let’s start with the most broad heading and then I’ll proceed to smaller matters.
If there’s anything that has dramatically changed in the last four years of my life, it is relationships. Like any other lonely high school student, my desire for relationships was augmented by my daily prayers to God. It was something I earnestly desired, and something I continued to trust that God would provide. Towards the end of high school I was half satisfied but also have longing for more. At the time, I was still discovering what “friendship” actually meant. Was it just settling for whatever came my way, or was there something more? And after four years of university life, I found that there was so much more about relationships than I had imagined – what the purpose was, how they should be conducted, and in what ways they can be nurtured and grown. Each and every set of relationships has been very important in my life, all distinct in its own ways, each with its own ups and downs.
In a nutshell, university was the place where I was able to build a strong Christian network with the people at CBS. Being involved with CBS helped me stay proactive in being intentional about glorifying God in everything I did in my life. Although university is a place where lots of new ideas and perspectives are introduced by people from many different backgrounds, CBS helped teach me how to stand firm in my faith amidst a secular world of infinite worldviews, values, and desires. It was here I was able to being to understand what building a Christian community was about, and what it meant to receive and pass on the gospel. I learnt how to read the Bible better, and how to take on what it says to change the way I live. I will always be grateful for the teaching that the “elders” (I suppose that’s a good enough word to use) gave to us week by week. Being taught to read and think hard about the Bible has given shape to the way I’ve grown as a Christian and how I need to continue growing.
The family of brothers and sisters I met in my year have been a really precious set of friendships in my years at uni, and even now. Having the opportunity to share life and grow side by side in the maturity of our faith has really modelled just how deep and amazing relationships can be. As a group we’ve had discussions over many important topics in living as Christians, and struggled through many of life’s issues that aren’t easy to deal with. I guess these are the experiences that really draw people closely together, and these are the experiences that really change and shape the way we live. Ultimately, it was our unity in the gospel that helped teach us how to learn to love people and how to care for one another. There are things we would disagree with each other here and there; but these are the differences we learnt that would never separate us from being brothers and sisters in Christ with each other.
Ministry in CBS has shown me how dire the need to pass on the gospel is. Hearing about other universities in Australia and even in the world makes me think about how we can still keeping reaching out to students with the gospel – but I suppose even that is still a large matter that requires much more thinking. On a smaller scale, being able to get to know other Christians, and being able to teach and lead younger Christians, has given me a better picture of how the demographic of Christians in our city is looking. Perhaps it’s just being Asian, but I suppose I understand more about how Asian Christian circles are going, and where more attention needs to be directed. I’d like to reserve my opinions on the matter for another time, but having this insight hopefully will help me be more intentional in the way I do ministry for the Asian community. I don’t intend to be “racist” in any sense, but my reason for reaching out more to Asians is purely for strategic reasons – it’s easier getting to know Asians and communicating with them.
As for the actual university education (you probably found it weird I was talking more about ministry than academic education), class was something I learned to not care about, in comparison with what is important in life. I did what I could to honour my commitments to my university studies, and given how I was going with uni, I saw it fit that should spend more time in serving God at uni and at church, without neglecting my studies. All in all I still learnt things which are relevant for my job, but I still stand adamant that it was more worth it doing ministry than to spend more hours getting that extra 5-10% in marks for my uni subjects.
The last four years of my life have allowed me to transition from being a “consumer” at church to being a “provider”. I had the chance to lead youth group, and partake in a young adults group. All of this ignited a passion for me to teach the Bible to the younger generation, particularly high school youth (they don’t like being called “kids”, even though that is what they are). Youth group was very important in training me to be a leader; again it was something that needed to play into my whole life. It was quite hard at first, juggling around with what was expected of us as leaders and working out what is best for the people under our care. One thing I eventually learnt about leading (which probably took longer than it should) was the need to build relationships with the people under my care. It wasn’t such a foreign concept to me, but with the all these new wonderful relationships that God was opening to me through university life, it was difficult for me to fit everyone in. In hindsight, I wish I had gotten to know my youth better during the time they were “officially” under my care; but today that just means I should be more intentional about getting to know them and being an example to them.
I’m glad to have had the chance to preach at church a few times; those experiences really taught me to humble myself before the Word of God and to teach it for what God wants to say, not what I would have wanted it to say. It wasn’t easy connecting the passage with all the different people at church; and now I’ve come to the realization that teaching the Bible isn’t about pleasing the audience either, but about teaching it for what it actually says. I suppose I worry about how people at my church perceive me for being given a responsibility as heavy as preaching (without having any actual formal qualifications), and whether people would respect me for that. But then again, the goal of preaching the word of God isn’t to become popular, though it may be a consequence (and should be so that your audience is letting you know that you’re not teaching heresy instead).
Church has changed a lot in the last few years, with all these new people coming in. Realising now that there can be different backgrounds for Christians, it made me wonder about how to work out where people were at in their faith, and how I should go about helping them grow. Sometimes this was quite difficult, simply because it was hard to break into the culture of groups of people that I wasn’t comfortable with. This continues to challenge me today, but because the purpose of church is to build up a body and family or believers, there is a need to be united in Christ and to learn to love each other outside of our comfort and culture zones.
I know in the past I’ve made my family situation appear rather dismal. And I suppose today it is still somewhat dismal – but in the sense that we will always have arguments within the household, this is actually quite important to have. What I have learnt over the years is how to argue in as loving a way as possible. Most of the time it is hard, but negotiating how I want my life to be with my parents, and how they want me to live, let’s us work out an agreement and understanding. Once our expectations coincide, there shouldn’t be as much of a fear for letting my parents down. They still do things that annoy me, a lot; and these are things I have to learn to deal with – when you can’t reason with your parents to stop, for whatever reason (usually because Asian parents are arrogant), the best you can do is just learn to live around it. They have been quite supportive of my life in last four years, whether it be driving me to the train station for uni, preparing meals for me, and taking care of other domestic tasks. My patience, and even my faith, have been heavily tested many times and a lot of the times I do walk out of fights feeling quite frustrated, usually at the worst times such as before youth group.
But regardless, family is family. Though they might not be necessarily the same as a “Christian” family (by that I mean a body of believers), God has laid down, in the Bible, the ways in which we are to commit and honour the relationships in our family. I’ve learnt that honouring isn’t necessarily obeying, although there’s still much more for me to learn about to which scenarios this applies to. But overall, these four years have been a good experience in learning how to honour God and my parents at the same time.
I know I don’t mention my younger brother a lot (or at all). If asked to give an account or answer about it, I would probably struggle to find the words. But I guess becoming more mature has allowed me to see how I should be trying to act as a role model for my brother. And at the same time it’s let me see the mistakes I’ve made in my relationship with him over the years (way in the distant past). But for him, my highest priority is to ensure he remains a Christian, and I think he’s going about that fairly well at the moment. I’d like to offer him the freedom to make his own choices and decisions (what my parents usually restrict both of us from having), but how much choice and freedom is still something I have to think about.
I know time and time again it’s quite demeaning to use this term to collectively group the remaining people in one’s life. I’ve seen it done so many times for 21sts, even mine. I don’t think I can justify it in a way that the people who fall into this category with accept, and I do apologise for that. The people who fall outside of the above categories have played an important part of my life; and often times it’s how for me to show my gratitude to them because I simply haven’t chosen to use my time to hang out with them. In having God “restructure” my life by answering my prayers and sending all sorts of people into my life, I have in some sense been made popular, but not for the purpose that the word would normally allude to. The recurring theme in the above bunch of paragraphs (and pretty much the quick summary of what I’ve been doing with my life in the last four years) is serving people and helping them grow as Christians.
I know I haven’t been spending much time with people in this “category”, compared to people in the other categories, primarily because it isn’t as much in line with what I want to do with my life. I want my relationships to be intentional, and I’ve learnt that good relationships need to be fundamentally built on Christ. In terms of being intentional, I’m talking about people that I can actually be of help and benefit in their lives. And for some of the people in this category, they might be someone who is already being looked after; or due to issues such as living far apart, there’s not much I can do for you if our lives simply don’t cross paths regularly. And as for relationships being built on Christ, yes this does somewhat imply that I feel to be of less use to some of my non-Christian friends. Jesus is ultimately the centre and core of my life, and if I don’t really share that foundation with someone, it feels hard for me to make an impact on someone’s life and vice versa. That’s not to say I would avoid non-Christians altogether, that would be wrong and against what God wants. If someone was interested in learning about God and the Bible, then I would realise I could be of use to that person, in which case I would reshuffle my life to accommodate for that person. That might sound selfish in itself (I did already say that I might not have an answer that would be deemed justifiable), but that is what I believe about relationships being rooted in Christ.
The other perspective I want to raise is that there are people in the above categories who do want to learn more about God, who do want to grow as Christians and earnestly want help in learning about the Bible. What type of friend would I be if I would always turn those people down if they wanted to meet up with me, just so that I could free up time to meet up with people who might not care as much about our relationship (mine and the person who doesn’t necessarily want to meet up with me)?
This is all something I have done in the last four years, and it’s something I still continue to think about today; but my current convictions still swing me in this direction and there are clearly pros and cons to it. I suppose I shrug off those cons in saying that the world is full of sin and inefficiencies (I know I haven’t qualified what sin has to do with anything – just take my word for it and I might explain it another time); but these are relationships I still need to keep evaluating right now.
New heading now. I’m not going to list my ministries one by one and talk about them. Some of them have already been mentioned above and many others are interweaved in the posts in this blog. Ministry is something I’m convicted that all Christians are called to do, and despite saying that my full time occupation was “student”, in my heart my real full time job was to bring the gospel of Jesus into people’s lives. And I would say that I’ve done that to what I consider to be a fair amount of my ability in life; and it’s something I definitely need to keep doing as I transition into full time work. In the past I was so fixated with the structures of ministry because that’s generally how I was introduced to them. Structures were the things that helped me work out what to do in ministry; how to be effective in caring for a group of people, how to do all the admin stuff like preparing Bible Studies, games and socials, and how to work as a team with other leaders. And steadily as I gained more experience in how to effective reach people with the gospel of Christ (and also when I had to back out of leadership positions due to commitment issues), I learned that the purpose of structures wasn’t to limit what a Christian ministry should look like, but rather to help facilitate it to grow and be engaging to its audience. An illustration I could use for this is to imagine the structure of a greenhouse: it helps plants grow and what not but eventually once the plant has all grown up and all the space inside the greenhouse has gone, it has nowhere to grow (you could move it into a bigger greenhouse but then same thing would happen again). To me, structures in ministry are more like the wooden structures that helps plants and trees grow upwards. The plants will latch onto the wooden structure as they grow, but once they’ve reached the top of the wooden structure, they’ll be able to keep growing above and beyond it because they’ve got a good foundation.
I think that analogy was quite limited (spur of the moment thought); but I suppose the plants represent the people I want to help grow, and so the way I conduct my ministry now is a way in which once God starts getting people growing, they’ll learn how to keep growing themselves without the need for structures to be in place. And generally the way I’ve been doing that is creating my own temporary structures; something routine that suits the person I’m caring for. But the structure is subject to frequent change to suit what the younger person needs at the time. So for example, I often tend to meet up with people and read with them from the Bible something completely outside of what we’re doing at church, that they want to look at. And we sort of just explore that topic until they want to change topics. We might also change the time we meet up in a week or fortnight depending on when things are most efficient. In this way, most of my ministry towards the end of uni and even right now is structured as one to ones. I find it to be a much more relational way of teaching the Bible, which I think it needs to be.
And as such, doing my own thing nowadays outside of church and uni has seemed quite rewarding. Those of you whom I talk to or meet up with (not that you’d be reading this I suppose) would hopefully have benefitted from our relationship and from our time talking over Biblical issues and learning from God’s Word. Doing ministry this way has sort of enticed me to not go back into the formal structures offered by church (which is effectively the only ministry field I have right now). And in terms of church leadership that sort of helps church. There are younger leaders who need experience and who would like the opportunity to lead and serve Bible Study groups; it’s probably better for me to not get in their way and let them try, learn and grow in it. At the same time, I know I still have the responsibility to watch over these younger Christians and help them grow where needed. But in light of all this, the people I have already committed to and are helping have a higher priority, simply because I have already agreed to disciple them.
I still regard myself as very blessed by God that I’m even sitting here four years after uni with a job. It’s not something I had struggled too hard over in my uni years, but it certainly isn’t something I feel like I deserve. It’s a fair paying job as well, and somehow I feel like God has sheltered me from the worries that would’ve come with finding a job, and getting through applications and interviews. What I’ve learnt is that the reality of the situation is that God is in control. And I have this job now because God is in control. It doesn’t mean I didn’t try hard to get my position; but I wouldn’t say that I stressed over it, it sort of just came by with a fair amount of effort. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty from hearing about others who are struggling to find a job, and whilst I can’t entirely empathize with them, I know that I shouldn’t be feeling guilty. The reason for that is because if all things are from God and for God, then it means God has placed me in this job for a reason; and that reason involves glorifying Him, and making good use of what I have. This may mean being a larger financial supporter for church and people at church. This may mean giving younger people more insight about what full time work is about. It may even be reaching out to completely new people in the workplace that I haven’t met before. No matter what I’m doing in my job, I need to remind myself that it isn’t about me, it’s about God.
Of course, I’ll work hard, and do my best to please my superiors, as is right. But it will also mean standing firm in my faith, and making a stand if work tells me to do something that goes against what God wants. Right now, there are no plans for me to either stay in or continue full time work indefinitely. I’ll have to think and decide at the end of two years.
Minor Tid-Bits and Summary
With the other smaller things that I haven’t mentioned yet, I am quite happy with where my life is getting to these days; it somewhat feels like my quality of life has been much better since my high schools. Minor things such as having the ability to drive and having the freedom to go out and use the car nearly whenever I want is a huge blessing for me. And they add to the things that make me feel a little more confident about life. I know ultimately it does come down to knowing and having Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, and so these minor forms of tangible comfort in this world should never be regarded as more than they are. It’s not too hard for me to let go because at one time in the past I did feel like I had next to nothing. I guess I continually pray that my new found income won’t lead me to idolizing materialistic things – that’s probably not too hard at the moment because I can’t really anything worth spending my money on, and yet I still recognise the need to store up money later for emergencies and for important things like maybe a car and a house (again that’s a thought for something really long term, things can always change between now and then).
My life feels like it has much more purpose now than it did four years ago. When I felt weak with my social skills, God taught me how to love (and also how to speak for preaching). When I felt like I couldn’t be of practical use for my friends, God gave me the ability to drive, the time to be able to listen to them, and in some cases the money to be generous towards them with. The oddness of my entire situation was that though I had wanted things for myself (having a better life, and even having friends could appear to be selfish), they all came through actively seeking to love and serve others. Instead of working towards getting things for myself, working to help others turned out in me also getting things for myself (there was something in it for the other person and for me). In seeking to be a friend to someone, I had in turn also made a friend. In being generous to people, people would graciously return the favour here and there. And suddenly all these things that used to weigh me down are replaced with things that give me strength. God has revealed his grace to me time and time again; and if you’ve met me before or have gotten to know me, the things I have are all displays of God’s grace.
Have I made a “counter” to all the things that plagued me four years ago? Indeed I have. I might not have addressed all the issues, and new issues keep surfacing here and there; but it’s now just knowing that God will help me fight through the difficult things in life. All I have to do is just try my best with His knowledge and wisdom, and let Him do the rest. So thus I bid a close to the title of “The Counter Break”, this blog has indeed documented how God has shaped and changed my life in four years. Looking ahead, there may be more things for me to share; how personal the content should be is something I’ll keep thinking about. It makes little sense for me to start a new blog. But perhaps in the meantime, the personal things in my life will be shared personally (blogs are not that relational after all); and so instead I’ll probably just post my Christian thoughts here instead. Thank you for reading.