(This week we continue with Dr Kenny Tan’s reflection paper for the course “Vocation, Work and Ministry” )
“The reverence of service” – It took a while navigating through the first three stages, and occasionally I still detour momentarily into those side alleys, before steering my way back. It took this course, as well as the gracious pursuit by God, to bring me where I currently am now.
I remember one night in late December 2007, right after a particularly trying period of time where I felt misunderstood, under-appreciated and persecuted. I had just attended Wednesday chapel at BGST that week, where I was particularly struck by the speaker who spoke on Jesus’ question “what would you like me to do for you?” It was an eureka moment for me as up until then I had not thought about that question. Most of my life had been “Lord, what can I do for you?”
It was a turning point when I told the Lord what I wanted Him to do for me in 2008. I remember telling Him with all my heart that I wanted to see the world, the greater work that He was doing, rather than remain in my own little courtyard. I wanted to meet people who would inspire me.
I had no idea that He was really going to take me at my word…
A long cherished dream of meeting the Bishop materialized one day when I was chatting with a medical colleague, when out of the blue he offered to arrange a session for me to talk to him.
It was a surreal experience sitting in this elder church statesman’s office, asking him what it was like to give up his medical practice to pursue an ecclesiastical calling, and if he ever felt like it was a waste. “Nothing is a waste, but God is able to use what skills you had through your previous training in your current vocation” was a summary of what he said. “For all you know, the Lord might bring you back one full circle at the end of the day” was the comment he made as I shared about the different opportunities that were showing up.
Beyond the advice that this saintly man gave to me, I caught something much more significant – it was a sense of tranquility and contemplation in the man. How did one who had so many responsibilities for a major denomination remain sane and focused in his service? I concluded it must be an inner life of deep contemplation, from which exudes an assurance of knowing one’s station in life.
The Anglican Priest
The Anglican priest was a paradox of sorts, challenging and over-turning many of my preconceived notions of a full-time minister. To begin with, he stayed in a million-dollar condominium shared with his businesswoman wife and two daughters. Next, he exhibited an ability to appreciate the finer things in life – showing me the different plants that he painstakingly cared for and pruned every Monday (his Sabbath day), inviting me and the other guests to partake of the drink before the simple evening meal of pizza. With my mind reeling (not from the drink), I asked myself if I had mistakenly equated full-time ministry with poverty, or more accurately, if I had equated spirituality with an ascetic lifestyle. I realized I had almost equated service to God with a renouncement of who I was. It was as if in seeking to serve God, I would say as Barth did,
“There is no suggestion that any sense of self-fulfillment or self-realization can legitimately enter into the discussion.” Was this why I was feeling a sense of tension?
“The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work that you most need to do and the world most needs to have done … Thus, the place God calls you is the place your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” – Frederick
Buechner, Wishful Thinking, p. 398.
The place of your deep gladness – this must certainly be where I sense I am fully using my gifts and talents for the kingdom. Should I not agree more with Balthazar, than with Barth, who said “what most fully awakens a sense of the self as a person before God is participation in the mission of Christ, which has its goal in the realization of the kingdom of God.”
The Priest mentioned four callings or vocations which one could take. While I am sure they were not exhaustive, I felt they were quite representative: The academic vocation, the missionary vocation, the pastoral vocation and the marketplace vocation. His short musing brought to mind what the Bishop said – would I indeed be able to put my talents, education and passion into good use; all
combined into a special concoction like none other? Would I be able to move from one vocation to another in different seasons of life, or would I be able to exist in a gift-mix or a ‘voca-mix’ like an academic-pastoral vocation, missionary-pastoral vocation, academic-marketplace vocation? Certainly the creativity of God allows for that! I became greatly humbled and chastised by what Eugene Peterson wrote,
“The Christian life consists in what God does for us, not what we do for God; the Christian life consists in what God says to us, not what we say about God. We also, of course, do things and say things, but if we do not return to Square One each time we act, each time we speak, beginning from God and God’s Word, we will soon be found to be practicing a spirituality that has little or nothing to do with God.”
I realized that my starting point was off the mark. Rather than being romanced by service, I ought to have been romanced by the One whom I sought to serve; rather than being shocked by the reality of service, I ought to have been captured by the Reality of the One who first loved me; rather than being repulsed by service, I ought to have been repulsed by the thought of not being able to serve Him. The reverence of service can only come about through a deep reverence for the One whom I sought to serve.
And so I end this brief reflection of my journey thus far. I cannot tell where the road will lead in the near future, but I can be sure who leads the way. And while I am on this road, I echo the prayer of Jim Elliot, who said,
"Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road: make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me." Amen.
Our Council Members
- as reported last week,
here is our Acting Chairman ...
MR ANDREW CHUA worships at Zion Gospel Mission at 32 Jalan
Lokam, Singapore, with his wife, Jean and 3 children, Esther, Joel and
Currently he is serving in his church’s Spiritual Advisory Council. He is a practicing lawyer in Singapore. Andrew is Chairman of the Audit committee in BGST.
With the tightened rules for charities in Singapore due to the NKF and other scandals, the Audit Committee is a committee which all charities are required to have. Such a
committee works to ensure BGST’s compliance with the laws, especially the Charities Act and the Code of Governance.
Andrew is also the Council member tasked to explore different delivery channels for BGST to deliver its services to its stakeholders, including the possible commercialization of some of the non-core services.