I know that 1 Timothy 3:1 says that ‘Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.‘, so what I am about to say, may seem controversial and to contradict scripture (which is not my intention).
Nonetheless, my advice to anyone whose personal ambition is to be a Christian leader, is to forget it unless you are sure that it is God’s will and that God has called you.
I lead a home fellowship in my church, and when I interact with my peers (i.e. fellow home fellowship leaders), I get the feeling that they may be burnt out.
Perhaps the reason for their burn-out is that they have very difficult members in their fellowship to manage, however, I also do get the impression that they may not be cut out to be leaders in the first place.
And why did they agree to become leaders in the first place, you might ask? Perhaps due to vainglory and self-ambition in their hearts? Perhaps after being introduced to charismatic leaders of mega-churches like Joel Osteen and Joseph Prince, they aspire to be like them, and hope that someday, they would also lead a great, big church, and have thousands of followers on Facebook, clinging on to their every word?
You might then ask me. Well, doesn’t 1 Timothy 3:1 suggest that we should ALL aspire for leadership positions?
No, not really. Here, I think Paul was commending individuals who would be appointed to this office, and not advocating that all individuals apply for the position.
You see, in today’s bookstores, there are countless of books to teach individuals how to shamelessly self-promote themselves for coveted jobs and positions. However, in the early church, there was no such thing.
Indeed, leadership positions in the early church were not filled up through people sending in their resumes and attending panel interviews, or even through networking (and relationships and ‘guanxi’). Rather, individuals were appointed under the discretion and direction of the Holy Spirit. We see this principle in Acts 13:2 (NIV):
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Consequently, if someone were to share with me that his/her personal ambition was to be a Christian leader, I would ask, “Has God called you? If God has called you, then you need to do absolutely nothing in addition to what He is now already asking You to do, and which I trust you have been obedient in doing.”
In other words, if God is calling you to a specific leadership position, it should be God and not you, who makes it all happen.
Here is my personal (albeit rather lengthy) true-life experience of how I ended up in leadership.
It first started when I was 17, in junior college, and when I tried to play a prank on a classmate by getting people to vote for him to become the class representative. The prank backfired, and I ended up being voted instead to be the class representative.
At university, I attended the orientation session of my biochemistry freshman class, and I did this only because the organisers promised to give past year examination papers to those who attended the meeting. I was minding my own business at the meeting, when the chairman of the meeting pointed at me and a couple of others, and said, “Please step forward to the stage. We need a class representative for this freshman class, and we would like you to be considered this position.”
All those who were made to step forward (including myself) were asked to give a short speech as to why they might make a good class representative.
Everyone who stepped forward complied with the request, and hastily tried to put together some of their good qualities, so as to support their nomination as class representative. Everyone, of course, except me.
When it came to my turn to speak, I took the microphone, and while standing in front of everybody, said, “Look, I’m really not interested in this, and think I would make a terrible class representative. So, please, I beg of you, do not vote me as your class representative. Thank you for your non-consideration.”
I then unceremonious took my seat amidst a chorus of ‘boos’.
The chairman wasn’t amused (I thought my last sentence was witty), but nevertheless, carried on with the proceedings and requested all nominees (including myself) to leave the auditorium so that a secret vote could be taken.
When all nominees returned to the auditorium, I was told that I had won the vote, almost unanimously!
After the meeting had closed, the committee (comprising of seniors) spoke to me in private, during which I told them that it was ridiculous that I was voted into office, and I flatly refused to take up the job. However, the committee were adamant that I should at least try it out for a period of time. Eventually, I gave in.
I thought that I’d last for only a couple of months; instead, I ended up being class representative to my more than a hundred-member Biochemistry class until the day I graduated (and even enjoying the experience).
Close to the same timing of this event, the seniors from the Microbiology faculty, who were Christians, went around looking for the Christians among the freshman, and invited them for a welcome tea session.
Again, I attended the welcome tea session with an ulterior motive, and that was to make friends with the seniors, so that I could seek their help, if I ever needed it.
The seniors, however, had an agenda for the welcome tea, and that was to set up a Christian fellowship among the freshman, and thus to continue an existing tradition within the faculty (of having a Christian fellowship among the freshman).
During the welcome tea, a number of Christian freshman agreed to be members to this fellowship, and eventually, I was asked if I could lead it (the seniors had heard that I had been appointed as the class representative for the biochemistry class).
I said ‘yes’, not because I really wanted the job, but because no one else wanted it, and I figured that if there was no leader, there would be no fellowship. And if there was no fellowship, I reasoned that perhaps God might hold me accountable.
On saying ‘yes’, the seniors gathered around me to lay hands on me and bless and ‘anoint’ me. I was the leader of this fellowship for two years, until the time I graduated.
Now, by the time I had graduated from university, I could see a pattern in my life, of time and time again being roped into leadership position, and oftentimes, when I wasn’t even seeking for it.
To date, I’ve been in my present church for three years, and I don’t mean to boast, but by my second year of being here, I was asked to attend a training to be a home fellowship leader. Indeed, being invited to the training wasn’t something I gloated over, instead, I just saw as a pattern in my life repeating itself all over again.
After completing the training, there were no home fellowships under my zonal pastor’s charge that required a leader (that is, all of the home fellowships had existing leaders). So, I left things as they were — my zonal pastor’s only request to me was that I attended the training, which I had hereby fulfilled, and since there were no home fellowships that needed my acare, as far as I was concerned, that was the end of the whole matter.
At the same time, I took an interest in joining a particular ministry within church, and I started seeking God as to whether it was His will for me to join that ministry.
Eventually, I felt led to ask God for a ‘fleece’. It was the beginning of the month, and I told God that while I continued to seek His face, if there was no opening to become a home fellowship by the end of the month, I would take it that I had His permission to join the other ministry that I was interested in joining.
Two weeks later, on a Sunday morning and before the church service, I was walking towards church when I ran into one of the pastors in the church, who recognised me because I had attended the leaders training. We made small conversation and he asked me whether I was serving in any ministry in church. I told him that I was not, but was contemplating joining a particular ministry. On hearing my interest, he wanted to guide me how to sign up for the ministry, and so led me to the church counter to fill up a ministry enrolment form. Amazingly, when we reached the counter, no ministry enrolment form was available, although it was early on Sunday morning, before any of the services had been held. The pastor looked puzzled by the lack of forms, but not to be deterred, he told me to return to the counter after the service, and to request the workers at the counter for a form. I did not follow through with this pastor’s suggestion, though, because I found it very unusual that all the ministry enrolment forms seemed to have run out, especially so early during the day, and sensed that perhaps the Lord may be behind the missing forms.
Another two weeks passed, and it was now the last day of the month (the exact deadline that I had given the Lord). Amazingly, at noon, my zonal pastor called me to tell me that there was a cell nearby where I lived that needed a leader because the current one was stepping down, and whether I would be interested in becoming the leader. Typically, I would hesitate on such a request, but I needed no further prodding here and said “yes” immediately. Because of the extraordinary sequence of events, there was no doubt in my mind that there was the Lord’s will.
I have now been the leader of this home fellowship for almost a year — and to God be all glory — the fellowship has been running smoothly since the time I joined.
Perhaps there might be some lessons to glean from my experience:
Firstly, I am not ambitious by nature, and it has not been my design or desire to lead. I lead because the events in my life have shaped up in such a way, that there is little doubt in mind that God has called me to be a leader. Indeed, I believe that He has appointed me to be a leader even before I was born (mediate on Jeremiah 1:5 [NIV] — “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.“)
I trust that if He has appointed me, surely He will train me and give me the resources needed to carry out my duties well. Above all, He will surely open the doors for me, someplace, someday, to serve as a leader. Consequently, I cannot accept it when I hear of Christian workers jockeying or fighting for power and positions, as a non-believer working for a worldly corporation would do.
In the second last paragraph of Galatians 5, we see a list of acts of the sinful nature, and “selfish ambition” and “envy” are two items that are included in the list. The same paragraph warns that people (and this includes believers) “who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (verse 21).
I do sometimes wonder if this is the reason why the Lord has called me into leadership; that is, although I have many other shortcomings in my life, I am not tempted by selfish ambition or envy for titles and power.
Consequently, to those who harbour the ambition of being a Christian leader, I would say this to them, “Are you able to distinguish whether it is your own selfish ambition that you wish to fulfil, or are you able to recognise, through little clues in your life that pop up every now, that the Lord has called you?”
I would then add that unless the Lord has called one into leadership, forget it, and focus on serving the Lord in other ministries.
In a previous blog, I shared my personal experience of how God allowed a major setback in my life to break and mold me.
For those of you who have not read my previous post, here’s a quick summary — it had been my greatest desire, even before joining the university, to be selected for the Honours programme after graduation from the Bachelor’s programme. This dream did not materialise, and the dashing of this dream was especially painful for me, because I had assumed (perhaps wrongly) that as long as I had been faithful in serving Him, I could get what my heart longed for.
But God is Faithful! Although I did not get what I longed for, I got what I needed, and that is, a job upon graduation. Indeed, among my peers who had graduated, I was the fastest to receive a job offer!
Above all, I had correctly discerned God’s promise to me. Through a time of prayer, I discerned God telling me that I would not get into the Honour programme, but that He would take care of my employment needs — and both of these have been fulfilled. I rejoice whenever I am able to correctly discern His intentions and plans for my life, because it assures me that I am His, for He (the Lord Jesus Christ) has Himself declared: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27; KJV)?
It has been some 20 years since I graduated from the university. You know what? I have never over the past 20 years ever lacked a job. Sure, I have changed job, but whenever I changed jobs, it was never without securing a position elsewhere first. I was also once retrenched, but as destiny would have it, an ex-boss, who had earlier left my former company to join another company, would offer some of my colleagues and I a similar position in the new company he was at. Consequently, over the past 20 years, I don’t ever recall being out of work for more than a week. Praise the Lord! He is Faithful.
What has been even more inconceivable and wonderful to me is that the present role I am holding is typically filled by people with academic qualifications much higher than me (PhD or MD).
I remember feeling really humbled the first time I stepped into this role. However, over time, I have grown in the job and am able to perform as competently as my colleagues (of course, along the way, I have upgraded my academic qualifications and taken various courses and training to supplement my knowledge and competency).
But 20 years ago, if anyone had asked me whether I would see myself in this job, I would have honestly said, “Impossible — I barely scrapped through my Bachelor’s degree.”
But God chuckles when man declares, “Impossible!”
The Lord Jesus Christ himself said it: “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27; NIV)
Dear Friend, have you had a major disappointment or setback?
Be strong and take courage! Set your hope fully on the Lord.
He can more than adequately and abundantly make up for your loss. He is able to do what you can never imagine or conceive; He can make a way:
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19, NIV)
In a previous blog, I shared my personal experience of learning to hear God’s voice.
Soon after attending the two evening lectures by Brother Paul Hawkins from YWAM (Youth With a Mission) on “Hearing God’s Voice“, I decided to put what I had learnt into practice, and would regularly set aside time to pray. Because I would get distracted at home, I would walk to a nearby playground (which was typically free of children after sunset) during the evening to pray for about an hour. I would not have any specific prayer request other than to ask the Lord to speak to my heart and to reveal Himself to a greater measure to me (“Speak, for your servant is listening.”; 1 Samuel 3:10).
It soon came time to take my final university examinations. Throughout my undergraduate years, I had been consistently praying for God to bless me in my studies, and my greatest hope was to do well enough to be selected for an Honours degree programme, after I graduated from my Bachelors degree programme.
Although I was busy with my studies, I was also involved in various Christian activities. In church, I was a Sunday school teacher. The church that I attended held a bible study class before the main service, and I regularly attended that class, and was also rostered to lead a short session of worship before class started.
In the university, I was the class representative for my Biochemistry class. In addition, I was also studying Microbiology, and the ‘seniors’ in the faculty passed on to me the mantle of being the leader for the faculty’s undergraduate Christian fellowship.
I took on all these extracurricular responsibility with stride, ‘trusting’ that as “I served the Lord, the Lord will grant the desires of my heart” (Have you ever heard this cliche spoken to you by people who want to “motivate” you to serve in a ministry?)
So, I took my final university examinations, and everything seemed well (or so I thought).
Days before the results were announced, I would pray every evening at the playground; I would remind the Lord of my desire to be selected for the Honour programme, as well as to remind Him that I had been faithful in serving Him, in spite of my busy university schedule.
However, as the days got nearer to the date, my heart grew increasingly heavy. I increasingly perceived that something was not going to go according to plan (my plan, that is), and although I was uneasy about that feeling, I continued to “trust” God and to “reason” within myself (“Don’t worry, I’m sure that I will make it to the Honours programme; after all, I am a Christian, and most of my other peers, who are also aiming for the programme, are not.”).
Despite my attempts to “reason” with myself, I could not shake away the growing perception that something was wrong, and finally, on the very day before the results were announced, I said to the Lord while at the playground, “Ok, Lord, please give it to me straight. Am I, or am I not, going to be selected for the Honour programme?”
“You will NOT be selected,”came the immediate and unambigious reply within my heart.
I was stunned, but knew it was the Lord.
“What, it can’t be! I have served You…” I protested and started to cry.
“Trust Me,” came the reply.
Trust You? How do I trust You? This had been my deepest dream even before joining university, and now You have crushed it.
“Trust Me. I will provide for you a job,” I sensed the Lord say to me assuringly, and even while I was sobbing uncontrollably in the semi-darkness, I felt a new peace entering my heart to assure me that everything would be ok.
I am by nature punctual, but the next day, I deliberately reached the university about half an hour later than the scheduled time that the results would be announced.
As I was walking towards my faculty, I could see one of my classmates, who was clearly elated that she had been selected into the Honours programme, but as I approached her, her expression changed and she became more sombre.
“The results are out at the noticeboard,” she said. “Eh… I think you might want to have a look at it.”
‘I don’t have to,’ I thought to myself. ‘God has already told me.‘ But her attempt to avoid being the bearer of bad news, just confirmed to me that my name was not included on the Honour’s list.
Indeed, although I had passed the examination, and thus effectively graduated from the university, my results were bad; not only did I not make it on the Honours list, I did not even graduate with the title of ‘Merit’.
That evening, when I went back to the playground to pray, it felt like I had experienced a passing storm, and was emotionally too tired to do or say anything, except to try to console myself that the Lord had promised that He would take care of my employment needs.
I pause my story to address this important question: “Why does God allows disappointments and setbacks in the lives of Christian?”
I believe it is to break them. In his book ‘The Blessings of Brokenness: Why God Allows Us to Go Through Hard Times‘, Charles Stanley explained it perfectly with his analogy of a wild horse:
I love to go out West and roam around in the wilderness. I like to sleep in a tent when it’s cold and to photograph nature or hunt. I enjoy the solitude and beauty of the mountain wilderness areas of our nation. On most of my wilderness trips, I contact an outfitter who assigns me a horse for the trek. Sometimes I’ve had very gentle horses who, with the slightest movement of the reigns, have known exactly what to do. Such a horse obeys instandly. Sometimes merely a spoken word will do.
I’ve ridden other very independent horses! I could pull on the reins, jerk the reins, kick with my stirups, speak sharply, and nothing happened that I wanted to have happen! These horses supposedly had been broken, but as far as I was concerned they were not broken very well. At times, these independent horses have put me into dangerous positions — lunging forward down a hill, balking through narrow passageways. Believe me, I’d much rather have a gentle, well-broken horse anytime, in any situation.
What happens in the breaking of a horse? Contrary to what many people believe, the horse’s spirit isn’t broken. A well-broken horse remains strong, eager, quick-witted, and aware, and he loves to gallop when given free rein. Rather, it is thoe horse’s independence that is broken. The breaking of a horse results in the horse giving instant obedience to its rider.
When a child of God is broken, God does not destroy his or her spirit. We don’t lose our zest for living when we come to Christ. We don’t lose the force of our personality. Rather, we lose our independence. Our will is brought into submission to the will of the Father so that we can give instant obedience to the one whom we call Saviour and Lord.
Now, we can’t insist on having our way. God doesn’t strip us of our free will either before or after our accepting Jesus as Saviour. We can “do our own thing” no matter what God says to us or how he may direct us. But when we act independently, like an unbroken or partially broken horse, we put ourselves into danger. His desire is that we not experience the consequence of our own willful wandering into sin and the dangers of evil.
Brokeness is the condition whereby our will is brought into full submission to his will so that when he speaks, we put up no argument, make no rationalization, offer no excuses, and register no blame, but instead, instantly obey the leading of the Holy Spirit as he guides us. The end result is one of blessing — it is for our good both now and forever.
I started my job hunt a day or two after the examination results were released, and very shortly after, was called for interviews, and was offered a job at a Japanese manufacturing company. Among my peers who had graduated, I was the fastest to receive a job offer. Praise the Lord! He is Faithful and had kept His promise to me.
In most mainstream churches, new converts are taught that if they want to know God’s will for their life, they should study the bible.
Indeed, there is some truth in this perspective, as Psalm 119:105 (NIV) says: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
However, it does not represent the full counsel of God.
I put it to you that it is possible for a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ to hear His voice and to discern His specific will for their lives.
If this were impossible (as some preachers might claim), please explain how is it that the Lord Jesus Christ had Himself said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27; KJV)?
Indeed, the scripture (Isaiah 30:21; NLT) also says:
Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.
I perceive and fear that many new converts may have dropped out of the faith prematurely, because they found that their faith in Jesus Christ was just a formality (“I sit through a 1-2 hour church service every Sunday, and that’s my only interaction with God for the entire week“), and lacked the substance of reality.
I am thus indebted to Brother Paul Hawkins from YWAM (Youth With a Mission), who while in Singapore in 1992, gave two evening lectures on “Hearing God’s Voice“, at the former St. Andrew’s Junior College premises in Malam Road (near Pasir Panjang).
I was studying in the university that year, and I remember walking out of those lectures with a new level of faith (albeit, with still some scepticism), as Brother Hawkins shared from his own personal experience, of how God would direct him time and time again in various areas, and as he obeyed what he perceived to be God’s will, the outcome would oftentime be beyond all imagination.
Fresh from Brother Hawkins’ lectures, I was eager to practice what I had learnt (incidentally, the principles of how to hear the voice of God are outlined in Loren Cunningham’s [YWAM’s founder] book, ‘Is That Really You, God?: Hearing the Voice of God‘).
I was studying Biochemistry at the National University of Singapore, and the class representative of my class.
Back in those days, the lecturers taught using transparencies and OHPs (overhead projectors) (and no, there were no laptops or video projectors back then). Students used to copy the information that their lecturers flashed on screen, by hand, onto their note pads (and no, there were also no smartphone cameras then, and the digital camera had not even been commericialised either).
Some lecturers were kind and did not want their students to be busy copying notes while they lectured, so they would give me a set of the handouts (I was the class representative), and I would then make copies of it for my classmates.
However, I had one lecturer who was rather mean. During his lectures, his transparencies contained many figures and flow charts, and I could tell that he had photocopied them from a book. So, I went to his office one day, to ask him for the title of the book that he had photocopied his figures and flow charts from. He refused, and was rather irritated with my request (the way I saw it, he was lazy, and wanted us copying down things during his lectures most of the time, so that he wouldn’t have to talk as much).
I was sitting in the Medical Library, peeving over my lecturer’s refusal of my request. But what could I do? Suddenly, the idea flashed my mind: “I will ask God to show me the book!”.
Now, before I could even prayed over this, this thought came to mind: “Do not put the LORD your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16, NIV).
I then examined my heart, “I have recently learnt that it is possible to hear God’s voice and that God desires to instruct us in very specific areas of our lives. Would I then be putting the Lord to the test if I asked him to show me the book? I confess that, in my heart, I was slightly sceptical over Brother Hawkin’s sharing, but my heart was filled with new faith and hope by what he had shared, and my sprit seemed to bear witness with what he said.”
After examining my heart for a while, I felt that the answer was ‘no, that I was not putting God to test with this requested, because there was a genuine need here. Some of the figures and flow charts that my lecturer had showed were complex and difficult to copy by hand.
So, I prayed.
And the response came almost immediately.
“Stand up and move out of your chair. Turn left, and walk straight down the aisle,” I sensed the Spirit to be saying.
I then perceived the Spirit to be leading me to a specific shelf of books and stood in front of it.
“Look up. It is on the second highest row,” I sensed the Spirit saying.
I pointed at a book with a blue cover on that row, and not wanting other’s to hear me, and think that I was talking to myself, I quietly asked, “Is it this one, Lord?”
“The one with the black cover?” I asked again.
“No, it’s the green one just next to it.”
I snatched the book off the shelf, and when I flipped it open, immediately saw one of the diagrams that my lecturer had flashed on the screen previously.
I had struck gold.
There are thousands of books in the medical library, and God had showed me the exact location of the one I had asked Him about. If I had used my own human strength and wisdom, it would have taken days for me to find the book; besides, there was no guarantee that the book was even among the library’s collection.
Not wanting to offend my lecturer, I didn’t tell him that I had found the book he had refused to tell me the title; I just made copies of the relevant chapters available to my classmates.
You know, it has now been more than 20 year since this incident, and since then, God has continued to lead me in very specific ways, which I look forward to sharing with you over time.