Written by Joel Tan
I had just finished my third-year examinations in university and was preparing for the long holidays. Knowing that having nothing to do was tantamount to running the risk of drifting away from the Lord, I prayed that the Lord would give me something to keep myself fruitfully occupied during the term break while staying close to Him and His Word. Indeed, for some time, I was already in a state of deep spiritual “fault”, and I needed “urgent repairs” more than ever. Hence, I praise God for His timely provision of counsel and warning through two camps that He led me to attend in the recent two weeks – Gethsemane (GBPC) Church Camp and the Combined Youth Conference. The sermons preached in both hit me hard, as they exposed some shortcomings that I had.
The first lesson I learnt is that real joy is not to be derived from things of this earth, for they are only able to give us an emotional high for a time, and not in perpetuity. After gaining a lot of material things, one would look back and see that they do not edify the spirit: it is all “vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun” (Eccl 2:11). In agreement with this, I observe that it is also impossible to take these earthly things with us when we are called home, for we leave all earthly things behind when we pass on. Instead, what we should be looking for is real spiritual joy, a joy the world cannot explain and a joy that is unbreakable and unshakeable in the face of the very tough trials of life. This joy is connected to the fact that God has guaranteed that He is omnipresent and that He will be with us even in the most trying of times. Applying this to my life, I see that I have been blessed with many material things, including a comfortable home and the opportunity to receive a secular education many think is ‘world-class’. However, these and any other earthly blessing the Lord might be pleased to give me in future, are not the be-all and end-all of my life. As my chief end is to glorify God, so too must my aims be similarly aligned. May God help me to find that trust and joy in Him that would enable me to remain joyful and not be demoralised in the face of great poverty, deprivation, as well as the adversities, disruptions and trials of this life, and even in the face of repeated wrongs perpetrated against me and fellow saints!
The second thing I learnt is that real joy is commanded by the Lord, and when we are sanctified, there will be a joy that the world cannot explain. There are various passages in the Bible which exhort the saints to be joyful and constantly sing praises to God, wherever we are (even on the bed). This I can affirm in my life, whereby I have been dealt many adversities in life, such as being born without hearing, born with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and having been put on a severely restricted diet as my body cannot take many kinds of food. Nevertheless, I am contented and thankful for what I have, and I constantly praise God for sustaining me even when I have difficulties.
In one of Pastor Koshy’s messages, it was highlighted that prayer does not change things (which are so determined and permitted by God); it changes us and our view of the issue we are praying about. Reflecting on this, I have heard people saying, “Prayer changes things”, or “Prayer has the power to change things”. I now learn that this is only partially correct (correct in one sense of the word - not the ‘usual’ sense of it). We, believers, submit to and change ourselves in accordance with the will of God. The act of submitting a petition to God in prayer simply indicates trust that His perfect plan is sufficient to dispose of the subject of the petition. In other words, prayer has no power to change all the plans God since they were drawn up from before the foundation of the earth; but prayer is a statement that we look to our Saviour and that changes our perspective on the issue at hand.
This leads on to the practical application of real spiritual joy in our daily lives. Without it, we would fail very often at keeping our obligations to one another and to God. In Christian family life, trouble is still often encountered because all involved have had different upbringings and therefore may have different views on certain issues. Being in a family is never a panacea to everything - in fact, it is often the start of quarrels and troubles, and only with godly joy, wisdom and kindness can these be negotiated. As a student still under the authority of his parents, I pray that I will not be “a foolish son” nor “the calamity” of my parents (cf. Proverbs 19:13a). I have committed many follies on previous occasions. May God give me wisdom and discernment, that I will be a good witness for Him towards my family members.
All these, when taken together, eventually lead to inner joy in the soul - the realisation of celestial joy (as well as a remedy to a melancholic spirit) that lasts through the ages, for an eternity. I pray that when my time comes to leave the world, and go to be with Christ, I can truly say that the Lord had given me joy in a world which was full of trials / tribulations, and where an unbeliever would easily have said, ‘I give up’.
I am also thankful for the exhortations and reports by GBPC’s missionaries, sharing how God has provided for them and their needs, and how He has helped them overcome challenges too. I am, together with Sis Cecile, grateful to be able to witness the ordination of Rev. Donald dela Cruz, particularly seeing how Sis Cecile has prayed for the mission station and that more from her hometown would come to know God. We pray that God will give him more wisdom to tackle the increased challenges ahead.
I also praise God for the opportunity to attend the Combined Youth Conference. While (broadly speaking) it was a reminder that the Christian life is not meant to be an easy one and not to be lived in isolation from other fellow saints, there were some finer points that were imparted to me in the sessions.
The first was that sin is always near us, and just because we are Christians does not mean we are free from sin. Hence, it is important that we acknowledge it, and help each other to be restored and healed from sin, seeing it as a continuing struggle till we are called home and receive glorified bodies fully redeemed by Christ. This leads us to the fact that bearing burdens is an inalienable part of this life, that is imperfect and full of trials. Wherever we are, we can help other Christians by bearing their burdens and caring for them, for example, through prayer. We should not think of ourselves as better than others, lest we fall into the same (or a worse) trap, and suffer chastisement from God. I praise God for all these precious reminders as they can be very easy to forget at times.
Secondly, Pr Samuel Joseph admonished us on the correct way to help other Christians, and bear their burdens. He warned against the embracing of ecumenism and unity for unity’s sake. Amongst the ecumenical movement, taken at its highest, it represents a dangerous degradation and renunciation of biblical standards, and taken at its lowest, it represents a false cover that attempts to use deception to mask the differences between various denominations. I thank God for the timely warning in an age when the devil is trying to unite everyone behind his ‘one-world’ church and ‘one-world’ order, so as to, if it were possible, “deceive the very elect”.
I am grateful to God for the advice given on evangelising others. We may know what the Gospel message is, and we may have accepted it with all our heart, but the evangelism message also gave useful advice on how we can minister to unbelievers and spread the Gospel. May God use us to minister to those who are currently unbelievers, that more souls may be added to His kingdom in time to come.
I also praise God for the opportunity to get to know fellow believers from other churches and to fellowship among them, many of whom are at a similar phase of life as me now and are thus facing similar struggles.
In conclusion, the two camps have been very much of a blessing to me, both in terms of the sermons preached (with the wisdom of God poured on the preachers), as well as the opportunity to fellowship with like-minded saints. For that, I am extremely grateful and full of praise for our Lord. My prayer is that the Lord will give us more opportunities to hear sound preaching, learn valuable lessons, and fellowship with like-minded saints in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christians and the old, well-worn paths. All glory and honour be to our God and Saviour! Amen.