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|“The LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep SILENCE before him.”|
The Life of Christ class had many things to teach me, and I was conscious of the example of the Lord Jesus as being full of instruction for me. From the beginning of the semester I had the same thought as the Greeks who “came up to worship at the feast,” who went to Philip and said, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” I hoped and prayed not just to learn more about Jesus, but to see Him – to really grow in my relationship with Him, and to become more like Him.
I am brought to consider my “life” in FEBC – three and a half years, comparable to the time span of the public ministry of the Lord Jesus. How have I spent these three and a half years? Have I been faithful, as He was faithful? Have I been hard-working and diligent, as He was diligent?
Here are some of the ways I believe I have drawn nearer to the Lord.
Jesus’ Example of Hard Work
As I look back on my time in FEBC, I can honestly say that each semester has been more difficult than the previous ones. As the duties increased and there were more speaking engagements as well, it became more and more difficult to manage my time and to handle the work-load. This was all the more so as I had to look after my family as well, and spend time with my wife and daughter. Especially this final semester, with the greater requirements of the language classes, and the requirement to complete a thesis, and many more speaking engagements, I felt a great pressure and burden.
In this I was reminded of the Lord Jesus’ sheer hard work – His life was very full, and a glance through the gospels will show how He was constantly on the move, constantly dealing with people who were coming to Him and asking for help, or accusing and questioning Him. Indeed He was never idle; so much so that the apostle John could say, “there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.”
I am aware that the pressure will only increase, and the work will only get tougher. It is therefore in the first place a comfort to remember that the Lord Jesus knows exactly the pressure of constant toil and is able to understand all that I am going through currently, and all I will ever have to go through; secondly, it is a rebuke to me in the times when I am tempted to idleness, to remember that my Saviour was never idle in accomplishing my salvation.
If He worked so hard for me, who am nothing, how can I not work hard for Him, who is everything? I am reminded of one of the verses the Lord used to call me, “He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame” – the fields are white already to harvest, as the Lord Jesus said, and now is not the time for rest.
Jesus’ Example of Prayer
How was Jesus able to sustain such a level of toil and effort for so long? He was God, but also man – He had a physical human body, subject to all the frailty and weakness (except for sin) that we are. He was hungry at times. His body was tired, as at the time when He was asleep in the ship in the midst of the storm.
Yet He had a great source of strength that sustained Him: prayer. It was through prayer that Jesus found strength both physical and spiritual. He spent whole nights in prayer, particularly at important points in the ministry, such as when He was about to choose the twelve apostles. It was prayer that strengthened Him in His greatest spiritual struggles, as in Gethsemane, where He prayed so earnestly that His sweat was as it were great drops of blood. Prayer was an integral part of Jesus’ life, and necessary even for Him.
Yet prayer is still something of a mystery for me. Although I certainly do pray, I feel I have only scratched the surface of true prayer. There have been times of real sweetness in prayer, and much joy and comfort, and a sense of truly communing with God, a sense of having been lifted up to heaven, and of having done as it seemed real work at the throne of grace; yet it is also so easy to be distracted, for other thoughts to come in the middle of a prayer. There have been times when there seemed to be a barrier between me and God, which I could not understand; and times when just the thought of prayer seemed off-putting – “there is so much else I need to do!”
On this basis I find there is also a sense in which I begin to think of prayer as a battle, not only against myself but also against the enemy. As Jesus said to the disciples that night He was betrayed in Gethsemane, “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation,” and as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, describing the “armour of God” and ending with “praying always...” – so prayer is an integral part of spiritual warfare; and for that reason it often requires a battle even to begin to pray.
For this reason I have been much encouraged this semester to consider, as I look back, that every time I have won that battle by the grace of God, and have begun to pray, there has always been a blessing in it. It is almost as though the sweetest prayers are the ones that I never wanted to say, at first.
The apostle James writes that prayer (“the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man”) is something that “availeth much.” Indeed so: and I have found almost without fail that when I was faced with an obstacle, a lack of understanding of a particular passage or issue, a struggle to complete a particular assignment, a moment of discouragement at the number of things remaining to be done – prayer has indeed availed much for me. It was only because I prayed that I was able to finish my thesis at all, for example; otherwise it would have been impossible for me.
Therefore if there is one thing I have learned from the study of the Life of Christ, it is that the time I spend on my knees is by no means wasted – on the contrary, it is just about the best possible use of my time.
Jesus’ Example of Humility
We are told in Philippians chapter 2 that we must have the same mind as the Lord Jesus, specifically in that aspect of humility – He made Himself of no reputation, in taking on the form of a man (and not a king or a prince, at that: born in a paltry stable, rather than a stately palace); He humbled Himself to wash the disciples’ feet (including Judas’ feet!), which was a task usually assigned to a slave of the house.
Yet for me the key thing I have learned – and something I must continue to learn – is the kind of humility that Jesus had. It was not the kind of false and weak-willed “humility” that we are sometimes prone to: it was not the kind of “humility” that says, “everyone else is always right, I am always wrong.” It was not the kind of “humility” that shies away from doing anything, because “I’m no good at anything, and I’m afraid of making a mistake and messing things up.” It was not the kind of humility that hesitates to stand up for what is true and right, and to speak out against error and wrong.
Jesus was empty of self and full of humility; yet He also spoke and taught with authority, and roundly rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. His was the kind of humility that could say to the Jews, “ye are of your father the devil,” but sit and eat with publicans and sinners. His was the kind of humility that could throw the salesmen and money-changers out of the temple, twice, but endure without so much as a whimper the cruel scourging and mocking of the soldiers.
Jesus’ humility was not passive, nor false. I am reminded of the need for this right kind of humility, especially for a leader – because a leader must lead; he cannot use humility as an excuse not to lead, yet at the same time he must really be humble. A Christian leader must be a servant, as the Lord Jesus said: but he must still lead! He must recognize that he is nothing, fallible, weak: but he must still make decisions and give instructions. As a husband and father, I am required to be a leader, but this concept of humble Christian leadership is a difficult one to fully comprehend. In this respect studying the Life of Christ has been helpful and beneficial. I believe I am learning more of what it means to be this kind of leader in my home: to be guided by love and humility, and not beguiled into inactivity and ineffectiveness by a false application of those same two ideals.
To Be More Like Jesus
In addition to learning specifically from Jesus’ example – learning how to be more like Him in my day-to-day life – there are also lessons I have learned from this study of the Life of Christ, that have not come so directly in the form of something to emulate from Jesus’ life and practice.
This semester has been especially full of illness for me and my family. In particular, my father suffered a fall and was hospitalized for some time, having to go through an operation as well. I also fell quite badly ill, just before I had to travel overseas; it was a time for me to learn to rely on the Lord, and to learn to pray. I learned the truth of Paul’s statement, “when I am weak, then am I strong.”
I was also brought to consider the healing miracles of the Lord Jesus. I am sure there was an element of compassion in these: He healed the people because He had compassion on them, because having such power, He would use it for the good of the people. He healed also because He was manifested to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), who kept many of the people under bondage (for example, the “daughter of Abraham” who had been bound for 18 years, bowed over so that she could in no wise lift up herself).
But I think He also healed in order to teach – to show graphically and vividly that He could also heal the greater and more important spiritual sickness, sin. In a sense perhaps this is similar to His feeding miracles, feeding the 5,000 and the 4,000 miraculously: and then telling the people that He was the bread of life. The people did not realize this, however; they were focused only on their physical profit and neglected their spiritual need. In the same way multitudes came to him to be physically healed, but precious few came to be healed of their sin.
Thus I have learned in my times of sickness, not to care only for my body but for my soul; and to thank God that while my body is weak and sickly, my soul is saved because of the Lord Jesus – and my body, too, will one day be free of all disease and infirmity. Amen. [Samuel Joseph’s testimony above was submitted as part of the requirements for the Life of Christ course at FEBC last semester. On 6 May 2018, Sam graduated from FEBC with an MDiv and his wife Leanne an MRE.]
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