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Embracing Suffering in Service

An unedited version of an article subsequently published in Christianity Today.

 

Ajith Fernando

 

I am writing this shortly after returning from a week of teaching pastors in the deep south of Sri Lanka. The experience of these pastors shows that when people pioneer in unreached areas, it often takes ten to fifteen years before they see significant fruit and reduced hostility. In the early years they are assaulted, and accused falsely; stones are thrown to their roofs; their children have a hard time in school; and there are few genuine conversions. Many pioneers give up after a few years. But those who persevere bear much eternal fruit. I am humbled and ashamed of the way I complain when I have problems which are so minute in comparison to theirs.

When I return from ministry in the West my feelings are very different. I have been able to “use my gifts” and spend most of my time doing things I like to do. I am hit by frustration when I return to being a leader in our less efficient culture. The transition from being a speaker in the West to being a leader in Sri Lanka is a difficult one.

As a leader I am the bond-slave (doulos) of the people I lead (2 Cor. 4:5). This means that my schedule is influenced more by their needs than mine. This brings to light the huge difference between vocational fulfillment in society and in the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). If we are doing God’s will we are happy and fulfilled. But for Jesus, and for us, doing God’s will include a cross. The cross must be an essential element in our definition of vocational fulfillment.

Young Christian workers who come back to Sri Lanka after studying in the West struggle with this. They are highly qualified, but our poor nation cannot afford to give them the recognition that they think their qualifications deserve. They cannot use their gifts to the fullest because we cannot afford pure specialists. They struggle with frustration. Some end up leaving the country after a few years. Some start their own organizations so that they can fulfill their “vision.” Others become consultants, giving expert training and advice in their specialized field. Others pay the price of identifying with our people and ultimately have a deep impact on the nation.

I try to tell them that their frustration could be the means of developing penetrative insight. I try to explain that people like John Calvin and Martin Luther had to do a dizzying variety of things, so that the only way they could use their gifts was through tiredness. Yet the fruit of their labors as leaders and writers is still blessing the church.

 

Frustration

Paul’s theology gave an important place for the need to endure frustration patiently as we live in a fallen world while awaiting the redemption of creation. Paul said that we groan because of this frustration (Rom. 8:18-25). I believe we are not including this frustration in our understanding of vocation fulfillment today. A church which has a wrong understanding of fulfillment for its workers will certainly become a sick church. This may be one reason why there is so much shallowness in the church today. We have measured success from the standards of the world and failed to challenge the world with the radically new biblical way to fulfillment.

The contemporary emphasis on efficiency and measurable results makes frustration even harder to endure. In the past four centuries industrial and technological development in the West resulted in rapid advancement and in efficiency and productivity becoming high values. With rapid development, things that were once considered luxuries became not only necessities but also rights in the minds even of Christians. In this environment the Christians idea of commitment has taken a heavy battering. We call our churches and Christian organizations families, but families are very inefficient organizations because, in a healthy family, everything stops when family members have big needs. We are often not willing to extend this idea of commitment to Christian body life.

 

Commitment

The biblical model of community life is Jesus’ command to love one another as he loved us—that is, for members to die for other members (John 15:12-13). The model of Christian leadership is that of the Good Shepherd dying for the sheep without abandoning them when the situation gets dangerous (John 10:11-15). When God calls us to serve him, he calls us to come and die for the people we serve. We don’t discard people when they have problems and cannot do their job properly. We serve them and help them to come out of their problems. We don’t tell people to find another place of service when they rebel against us. We labor with them until we come to agreement either to agree or to disagree.

When people leave a church because they did not fit into the program, we communicate a deadly message: that our commitment is to the work one does and not to the person; that our unity is primarily in the work and not in Christ and the gospel. The sad result of this is that Christians do not have the security of belonging to a community that will stay by them no matter what happens to them. They become shallow individuals never having deep fellowship and moving from group to group, looking to get things from the group that have been determined by unbiblical values. Churches can fulfill programs and grow numerically in this way, but they don’t nurture biblical Christians who understand the implications of belonging to the body of Christ.

Sticking with people is frustrating because it is inefficient. Taking hours to listen to an angry or hurt person seems to be a very inefficient thing. Why should we waste time on things like that when there are professionals who can do that? So people have counselors to do what friends should be doing. Ideally the counselor helps to diagnose and treat difficult cases, and friends give the time that is needed to bring healing to hurting individuals through acceptance, comfort, and friendship. Hurt people usually hurt those who try to help them. Hurt and angry people whom we are committed to, will hurt us too. Others who are hurt by them could get angry with us because we are committed to them. But we endure that pain because Christ called us to die for our friends.

Several people have told me that it must be hard and frustrating to serve in a country wracked by war, and hostile to evangelism. Indeed we have suffered because of this. A few months ago one of our staff workers was brutally assaulted to death. But I think the biggest pain that I’ve experienced is the pain I have received from Youth for Christ, the organization for which I have worked 34 years. However, I can also say that next to Jesus and my family, Youth for Christ has also been the greatest source of joy in my life. Whether you live in the East or the West you will suffer pain if you are committed to people. But this is suffering that could be avoided. We can avoid pain by stopping the relationship or moving to something more “fulfilling.”

Some years ago I was preparing a message on commitment while I was traveling in the West. Within the space of a few days three people told me how they or someone close to them had left a group or a person because of problems they were having. One had left an unhappy marriage, another a church and another an organization. Each of these leavings was described as a merciful release from suffering. But I could not help asking myself whether, in each of these cases, the Christian thing to do was to stay and suffer.

 

Drivenness or Servanthood

I have a large group of people to whom I write asking for prayer when I have a need. Sometimes my need is overcoming tiredness. When I write about this need, many write back saying they are praying that God would strengthen me and guide me in my scheduling. However, there are differences in the way friends from the East and some from the West respond. I get the strong feeling that many in the West think if when one struggles with tiredness from overwork that is evidence of disobedience to God. My contention is that it is wrong for one gets sick from overwork through drivenness and insecurity. But we may have to pay the price of tiredness when we, like Paul, are servants of people.

The New Testament is clear that those who work for Christ would suffer because of their work. Tiredness, stress and strain may be the cross that God calls us to. Paul often spoke about the physical hardships his ministry brought him. This included emotional strain (Gal. 4:19; 2 Cor. 11:28), anger (2 Cor. 11:29), sleepless nights, hunger (2 Cor. 6:5), affliction, perplexity (2 Cor. 4:8) and toiling—working to the point of weariness (Col. 1:29). In statements radically counter-cultural in today’s “body culture” society, he said: “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16); and “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:11-12). I fear that many Christians approach these texts with an academic interest without seriously asking how they should apply in their lives today.

Let me give four ways to avoid the pitfalls of tiredness and stress owing to insecurity and drivenness.

  • First, Paul Epistles imply that he spent a lot of time in prayer. Lingering in the presence and in the security of God, through prayer and reading the Word, can refresh the spirit and act as an antidote to the insecurity which causes burnout.
  • Second, Paul also had enforced times of rest while journeying and in prison. In our busy world we will need to schedule in such rest. We have to find ways to get relief from the culture that demands instant responses through e-mail and other means of instant communication. As a biblical Christian Paul would also have taken a regular Sabbath rest.
  • Third, we must ensure that we can always testify, as Paul often does, that we are happy with life and content in our work. Suffering comes and goes, but God’s servants “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil.4:4). Discontent and the lack of joy are sure signs that something is seriously wrong with our lives.
  • Fourth, though we are busy serving others, our family members must know that they are the most important people in our lives. This is, surely, an implication of Paul’s teaching about family relationships, where, for example, the husband lays down his life for his wife.

The West, having struggled with the tyrannical rule of time as a result of rapid advancement and the push for efficiency, has a lot to teach the East about the need for rest. The East perhaps has something to teach the West about embracing physical problems that come because of commitment to people. If you think that it is wrong to suffer physically because of the ministry, then you suffer more from the problem than those who believe that suffering is an inevitable step along the path to fruitfulness and fulfillment. As the cross is a basic aspect of discipleship, the Church must train Christian leaders to expect pain and hardship. When this perspective enters our minds, then pain will not touch our joy and contentment in Christ. I found eighteen different places in the New Testament where suffering and joy appear together. In fact, often suffering is a cause for joy (Rom. 5:3-5; Col. 1:24; Jas. 1:2-3).

 

The Glory of the Gospel

In a world where the quest for physical health, appearance, and convenience has gained almost idolatrous prominence, God may be calling Christians to demonstrate the glory of the gospel by being joyful and contented while enduring pain and hardship. People who are unfulfilled after pursuing things that do not satisfy, may be astonished when they see Christians, who are joyful and content after depriving themselves of these things for the sake of the gospel. This may be a new way to demonstrate the glory of the gospel to this hedonistic culture.

I have a great fear for the Church. The West is fast becoming an unreached region. The Bible and history show that suffering is an essential ingredient in reaching unreached people. Will the loss of a theology of suffering result in the church in the West being ineffective in its evangelism? The church in the East is growing, and because of that God’s servants are suffering. Significant funding and education come to the East from the West. With funding and education comes influence. Could Westerners influence Eastern Christians to abandon the cross by sending a message that they must be doing something wrong if they suffer in this way? Christians in both the East and the West need to have a firm theology of suffering if they are to be healthy and fruit-bearing.

 

 

Ajith Fernando has been National Director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka since 1976. With his wife Nelun, he also serves in a church in Colombo consisting mainly of poor, urban first generation Christians. They have two grown children who work for Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. He is the author of The Call to Joy and Pain (Crossway).

Servanthood Springs From Grace

Written in 2006

By Ajith Fernando

 

One of the most horrible things one could see is the sight of Christians who sit contented with life after receiving God’s grace but do nothing to alleviate the suffering in the world. As we follow our Servant Lord, we too must become servants of the people we live among. However, our work towards the alleviation of suffering must comes as an overflow of grace. In an autobiographical passage describing his ministry Paul said, “…the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). The word translated “controls” has the idea of applying pressure (which is how this word is used in Luke 8:42b). God’s love comes in and then pushes us out into sacrificial service in this needy world.

 

Because everything Christian springs from grace, always grace has the priority in our approach to life. This is very important in Christian service because service can be done through self-effort so that grace is overshadowed. Though it looks like Christians are doing something for the world, actually it is Christ who is doing it through us. This is why there is so much about grace in the Epistles. We should take this proportionate emphasis on grace very seriously because the Epistles were the basic teaching documents sent to the young church. If in the process of inspiring the Bible into being the Holy Spirit decided that the primary focus should be on grace, then grace should be the primary focus in Christian teaching also.

 

Indeed some people focus on grace in an imbalanced way so that grace does not express itself in gracious service in this needy world. This is an insult to grace.

 

Let’s see how grace prompts service. When we focus on grace we are filled with Christ’s love and with the joy that comes with it. That joy will give us the strength (Neh. 8:10) to go out and serve humanity. In this scenario there won’t be a need to have a major stress on service in our teaching. Graced people will catch the message of service when it is given to them, and they would go out to serve. I think this is why the Epistles have more space explaining grace that pushing people into service. This is why esteemed servants of humanity like St. Francis of Assissi, William Wilberforce and Mother Theresa spoke so much about grace and placed so much emphasis on lingering in the presence of God through which strength is found to live a life of service.

 

There are many reason why we need to have all Christian servanthood to spring from grace.

 

  1. Grace Reminds us of the Importance of Evangelism. It is possible for Christians to spend all their energy serving human needs, that they can neglect the greatest need of a human being: the need to end their enmity with God—which destines them to hell—and be reconciled to God. This would be like only feeding the prodigal son while he is still in the far country. Indeed we may need to feed him there, but our great desire would be to get him to go home to his father.

 

I know that Francis of Assissi and William Wilberforce were both very strong on verbal witness in addition to witness through deeds. We often quote words attributed to Francis that go something like this: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary” Often that is quoted to downplay the value of words in Christian witness. Indeed it is clear from his ministry that he believed that preaching by deeds is a very important means of witness. But I found out that Francis did use words a lot in his witness, and that he aggressively sought to win the lost to Christ. During one of the infamous Crusades, he even crossed over to the (Muslim) Saracens side and attempted to convert the Sultan.

 

Similarly William Wilberforce who, as a British politician did much to eradicate social evil was also known for his emphasis on personal verbal witness. His biographer says, “Very early in his own pilgrimage Wilberforce set out to bring his friends to Christ. He would agonize about them in his diary and in his prayers, he would thing out phrases or subjects (“launchers”) he would call them which might turn the talk to religion.”

 

Don’t get me wrong. I believe we must be involved in meeting physical human need—in social action. We must be involved in trying to bring kingdom values to the structures of society—in social justice. Christians need to be thinking about topics like hunger, poverty, inequality, materialism, the hyper-sexualising of society, corruption, workers rights, and the environment. Involvement in such causes is clearly part of God’s call to us to be his agents and his call to us to be stewards looking after this world (Gen. 1:28). We know that one day God will redeem this world and consummate his kingdom work of establishing his rule in the universe. So we do not give up on this world. We are kingdom people who realise that the coming consummation of the kingdom will result in the redemption and not destruction of much of what we know to constitute this world.

 

But when we consider the supreme value of the human individual’s soul, we see the urgency of ensuring that individuals become inheritors of the kingdom. According to Jesus, one needs to be born again in order to inherit the kingdom (John 3:3-8). So in a discourse of personal discipleship Jesus said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Matt. 16:26). This verse underscores the supreme value of the human soul or life. This is why evangelism is such an urgent task today.

 

By taking the gospel to those who are outside the Christian community we open the door to their salvation from sin and hell and their adoption into God’s family. But this is a very challenging task involving much spiritual conflict and attracting much persecution. Therefore we can be tempted to downplay this and share the gospel only with inquirers who come to us without going to those outside of contact with Christians. I fear that many Evangelicals are guilty of this.

 

I think it is because we could take it easy and not proactively go after the lost that Jesus kept repeating his commission to evangelisation before leaving this world. It would be so easy to neglect this task that he needed to drill it into the minds of the disciples. The repetition just before his departure suggests urgency and priority. This is why I still prefer to use the words “the Great Commission” to describe the call to evangelise and disciple the people of the world, even though many are uneasy with this expression these days.

 

My point in this section is that we can get so engrossed in meeting physical human need that we can neglect the gospel of grace which brings eternal salvation to people. An emphasis on grace can help us overcome this error.

 

  1. Grace Helps us Avoid Bitterness. Christian servanthood is difficult work. It may cause in a highly qualified and brilliant intellectual to devote his or her life to serve the poor as a teacher in a village school. It may cause a young man, who is skilled in business and showing great potential for success in this field, to give up all those prospects of prosperity in order to be a primary school teacher because many young children today are lacking in good models of fatherhood. It may cause a successful businesswoman to resign her job in order to care for her sick mother or a successful businessman to retire early to care for his sick wife.

 

Servanthood involves the frustration of having to change our plans in order to meet the needs of those who serve. One who saved money over several months to buy a new TV set may end up giving that to pay the entrance fee needed for a poor friend’s daughter to get into a good school. It also involves us having to change our schedules. Often our desperate plans for rest or sleep are buckled because of having to help a needy person right at the time we were planning to sleep or rest.

 

Sometimes the hardest aspects of servanthood have to do with the reactions of people. The parents of many of the great missionaries in history were not happy about their children going to the mission field, and when so many of them died young, they felt that their reservations were proved to be correct. Often because of the warped sense of values in our world, people who do service-oriented things which do not send them up in the social ladder are viewed as failures in life. Sometimes that is the hardest thing—to have people despising you for the sacrifices you make when you thought they should be admiring you.

 

Then there is the sad fact that those we help sacrificially may turn against us and end up blaming us for their problems. Leaders too can disappoint us by not appreciating what we do and by criticising our actions.

 

All this can make us very bitter or depressed or disillusioned with the life of servanthood. I have had people say to me angrily (as they reject a lifestyle of servanthood) that they have served others for too long and that now it is time for them to look after themselves. The sad fact is that many people known for their humble servanthood are actually very bitter people. When the bitterness comes out under some provocation we are shocked to see how unhappy these servants really are.

 

The ultimate good done by bitter servants is highly limited. They lack the anointing of the Spirit of love, and so though they may be able show some impressive statistics of what they achieved, in the end they have achieved very little from God’s eternal perspective.

 

Besides, we may end up hurting people by our angry outbursts that often take place when we are bitter. We hurt our colleagues, we hurt those we seek to serve and a lot of the good we have done is negated by the negative impact of our temper tantrums.

 

Sometimes we spend so much time and effort trying to show that we are right and those who opposed us are wrong. The battle may be disguised as a fight for justice. But actually it is a battle to boost our ego that has been offended. I feel such battles are a waste of time. We spent so much time and energy on a battle that will produce minimal net effect. It would be so much wiser to let God vindicate us and concentrate on serving God in this needy world.

 

Grace is the best antidote to bitterness and disillusionment. When we are overwhelmed by the fact that God loves us in spite of our sins, the force of the wrong actions of others is negated. While we are sad by what they have done, we reason that we too have done so much which is wrong but that still God in his grace is using us. So we become patient with the sins of others. Besides the doctrine of grace braces us with the fact that though sin may abound grace will abound even more (Rom. 5:20). We know therefore that the evil affects of sin will be overcome.

 

With such a perspective we have no reason to be bitter. To remain bitter is to affirm that people’s sin against us is greater than the grace of God. That is heresy. Besides people don’t deserve such a high status—the status of being able to claim that they have caused decisive harm to God’s children. No sin is greater than God’s grace. Therefore the net effect of God’s grace always leaves us better off even after people have sinned against us (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28). “all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). We don’t just neutralise the enemy. Grace ensures that we are better off because the enemy attacked us. He’s done us a favour. How can we be bitter with such a perspective?

 

Then there is the reality that most important thing in our lives is not touched by the nasty behaviour of people. The most important thing in our lives is not the service we render to humanity, it is the fact that God loves us. This is what causes us to be filled with joy. Because God’s love is greater than the wickedness of people, however bad people have been, we still have that thing which fills our hearts with joy. This joy, of course, becomes a key to our effectiveness as servants.

 

  1. Grace Takes Away our Insecurity. When we do not emphasise grace we do not feed our sense of identity in Christ. This makes us insecure and results in us doing fleshly things to restore our sense of self importance. We become judgmental and start criticising others who do not work like us. We major on exposing the ills, the ugliness and the hypocrisy in society. In the process we neglect to emphasise beautiful grace of God which helps us overcome those ills.

 

The Bible says “…in humility count others [in the body of Christ] more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). But we do just the opposite. In our insecurity we begin to focus on how good we are and on how we not hypocrites like others. This gives rise to pride, and the Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). We become vulnerable to Satan’s attacks, and we fall into sin.

 

This could be one reason for a sad phenomenon that is all too common in the church: many who are serious about social holiness are guilty of glaring lapses in personal holiness. As they find satisfaction in the work they do, their insecurity causes them to get proud. Then they become careless about the great battle that is needed to guard their personal lives. Once they fall into sin they try to silence the voice of conscience by finding fault with others who they think are doing much worse things than them. So they become obsessed with the hypocrisy and social sin in church and society. Though they may diagnose the problem accurately, they do not present the solution to it which is the grace of God.

 

Biblical Christians are equally committed to personal and social morality and battle for both of them. But they also know that if they fail in personal morality that disqualifies them from battling for social morality. This knowledge pushes them to get the personal area of their lives cleared up. They know that only then can they can have the spiritual freedom that is needed to battle in the social realm. And, thank God, his grace is always there to forgive us when we sin and to help us along the path to full-restoration.

 

Servants must be secure people if their service is going to be wholesome and constructive. Only grace can give us such security.

 

  1. Grace Gives us the Strength for Servanthood. Servanthood is very draining. In my youth I read a quote from the British Baptist preacher Francis W. Dixon who said, “The hardest work to do is the work of God on your own strength.” If we try to serve people on our own strength, we will become prime candidates for burn-out. We will begin to find our fulfilment from work. We will work long and hard without taking a daily break for being with God and a weekly Sabbath to relax and let God work for us. If our focus was on grace, we would realise that because God is the one who does the work the most important thing is for us to be in tune with God.

 

But as we linger in the presence of God, reading his Bible, meditating and praying, we find that our batteries charged and our strength renewed. Isaiah 40:31 says, “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. I tell our Youth for Christ staff that our calling is to go into the world to serve. When we do that we will get bashed. But we come back to God and renew our strength. Then we go into the world again only to get bashed again. But again we come back and renew our strength. Using this pattern we can go on and on without getting burned out.

 

If people who work very hard do not depend on grace they end up getting very insecure. Devoid of the thrilling identity of being a child of God they find their identity in their work. Sometimes they succumb to an extra-marital affair to boost their flagging egos. Spending so much time in office, they neglect their spouses and become candidates for an affair with someone at work. In their insecurity they become driven people. They work without stopping to look into themselves to see how we are doing. They continue to work and work until the body and the mind revolt and refuse to subjected to this slavery. They lose our energy and drive: they end up burned out.

 

Many people who have served sacrificially for a long time end up burned out when they come to their middle age. Burnout has become an epidemic among people who are involved in people-helping activities. It could have been avoided if they had been nourished by the rejuvenating grace of God.

 

My friend, Susan Pearlman of Jews for Jesus used to say, “Burn out takes place when the wick and not the oil is burning.” God’s grace is an inexhaustible resource. Those who are constantly energised by grace can go on serving for decades without losing their fire. Until the day they die they will be energised and thrilled by the marvels of grace. They will remain excited about the ministry—not because of the success they meet but because of the glory of the grace of God which calls them and equips them to serve.

 

Let me close this article by issuing a call to Christians to commit themselves afresh to a life of service. But, when doing so, make sure that this service springs primarily from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and not from a sense of duty that results in purely human efforts at doing good.

Sensible Behaviour

Published in Sri Lanka in Sinhala, Tamil and English by Youth for Christ, in India in English by GLS, in Latin America in Spanish and Portuguese by RBC Ministries. Originally written in 2006.

 

HOW TO AVOID INDISCREET RELATIONSHIPS

Ajith Fernando

 

The city of Corinth was so degraded in terms of sexual sin in the first century that the phrase, “to Corinthianise” became popular in that society to describe flagrant sexual sin. Often the sins common in the society around us find expression in the church too. This was the case with the church in Corinth during Paul’s time. The most serious sexual sin that appears in the New Testament came from the church in Corinth.

 

We are living in an era where what was once known as sexual sin is now considered normal and nothing to be too alarmed about. Sex could be considered the obsession of today’s world. It should not surprise us therefore that various forms of sexual sin are seen even in the church today. One of the commonest forms is Christians getting trapped into extra-marital affairs and indiscreet relationships.

 

Though this is a common problem in both the church and in society today, we must not downplay the seriousness of the situation. Paul’s response to the sexual sin in the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 5 included a strong rebuke to the church for not acting more decisively in response to the sin, and a prescription for disciplining the person caught up in the sin.

 


ONE

 

An Area to be Careful about.

 

Rarely would a Christian would go into an affair or an indiscreet relationship planning ahead of time to do so. Usually they slide into it almost without realising it because they have been careless about commonsense rules that they should have followed. They talked too much about intimate things; they spent too much time alone; they gave help which someone else should have given; or they had the person in their home for too long when their spouse was not at home. There are times when we should be careful to simply flee from situations which could cause us to sin. This is what Joseph did when his master’s wife “caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’” He didn’t decide to stay and have a chat without going to extremes! “…he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house” (Gen. 39:12). Paul advised Timothy to “flee youthful passions” (2 Tim. 2:22).

 

The Bible says that one of the most uncertain things in life is the way of a man with a woman (Prov. 30:18-19). This means that this is an area with which we have to be very careful because we could easily fall into sin (Prov. 2:16-19; 51-23; 6:20-35; 7:4-27). The human heart is very capable of deceiving itself and convincing us that something is pure when actually it is very impure. Therefore it is very easy for us not to see that something dangerous may be happening in our lives. Often others see the dangers, but usually they are either too afraid to tell the person or they give the person the benefit of the doubt and do not attribute impurity to what they see.

 

If you find that you are having warm feelings towards someone of the opposite sex and if either you or the other person is married, be very careful in your relationship with that person. These may not be sexual feelings. They may just be feelings of wanting to go to that person whenever you have a problem or of wanting to talk to or to see the person often or of always wanting to help the person. Such feelings towards those of the opposite sex should be had only with spouses, prospective spouses and family members. Such feelings can develop even when you are involved in God’s work, because you are doing something beautiful together. They start as something that looks very beautiful and pure, but they could develop into something very dangerous.

 

I work for Youth for Christ. And one of the commonest problems in youth ministry is that young girls hero-worship their male youth leader so much that, without realising it, they develop a “crush” toward the youth leader. Satan is very quick to pounce upon such opportunities to cause havoc in their lives. Married male youth workers are particularly vulnerable if their wives are not very affirming of them.

 

I do not think we ever lose the warm spot in our hearts towards our old girl friends and old boy friends. Sometimes that warmth expresses itself in hostility, but because that too is a kind of warmth it can quickly become transformed into romantic love. You may not have met the person for decades, but a chance meeting can resurrect all sorts of emotions which become difficult to control. We must be aware of the dangers and be careful whenever we meet a person of the opposite sex with whom we once had a more than normal emotional tie.

 

Jerry Jenkins, in an excellent book called Hedges about how to guard our marriages, describes what he calls hedges that we need to grow in order to protect our marriages. He explains one of these hedges like this: “I avoid flirtation or suggestive conversation even in jest.” He says that this is because he believes in the power of words and how people respond so positively to compliments. “Idle flirting gets people into trouble because the other person needs and wants attention so badly.” Excessive complimenting of a personal nature can affect a person more than we ever imagined. Jenkins point is that, without saying something like, “You are wearing a beautiful dress,” some would unwisely say something like, “You look gorgeous today.”

 

Jokes like, “It’s amazing how we click; you should have married me.” or “If I had met you before I met my wife, I am sure I would have married you,” can be extremely dangerous and, of course, insulting to our spouses. Yet I know of situations where such statements have been made by Christians.

 

A good guideline to follow in this area is never to do with or say to a person of the opposite sex anything which you will not be able to freely share with your spouse or prospective spouse. Dr. Jay Kesler wrote that his married daughter had told him, “I would be hurt more deeply if I found out my husband had a strong friendship with another woman, in which he discussed things with her that he couldn’t or wouldn’t discuss with me, than I would be if I discovered he’d had a one-night stand [a sexual encounter limited to a single occasion].” Neither Dr. Kesler nor I wish to give a one night stand any legitimacy by this comment. But I think it is significant that she said how extremely upset she would be if she found out that another woman had won the heart of her husband to the point of being the recipient of conversation that she alone deserved to have as his spouse.
TWO

Helping People

 

One of the commonest situations giving rise to extra-marital affairs in the church is that of counsellors having affairs with people they counsel. This illustrates a problem that is very common today. People who are helping others of the opposite sex, especially helping through counselling, sometimes end up having affairs with the people they help.

 

Counselling involves the sharing of things that have affected our emotions deeply. Therefore it is easy to develop an emotional tie with the person to whom you have shared, especially if you sense that the counsellor is also encouraging an emotional tie. This is why those who do regular counselling must have some strict guidelines to regulate their activities as counsellors.

 

My policy has been not to counsel alone with a woman more than once or twice. After that I prefer to hand over the person to another woman or to meet with her spouse or my wife or someone else. I know that professional counsellors cannot keep this rule. But, as we said, regular counsellors have strict guidelines regulating their activity.

 

We do not encourage men discipling women and vice versa in YFC Sri Lanka, though there are several instances of supervision across the sexes. I know that rules in this regard would change according to ones culture. I would only say that whatever the practices within a given group may be, extreme care should be taken to ensure that boundaries are not crossed. During the process of helping someone you lead from the other sex, if a sensitive personal matter arises, you can hand that problem over to someone of the same sex who can deal with it more intimately and freely.

 

Often others notice when boundaries are crossed, even though the persons involved may not have realised it. Because the relationship started as something beautiful the mind tries to convince itself that this beauty is still there—even after the relationship has gone too far. Others may realise that the way these two people look at each other suggests that something more than an ordinary friendship has developed. This happened to my wife and I when we visited a friend. We feared that the way she and another person with whom she was working looked at each other suggested that something romantic was developing. But we did not feel confident enough to talk to her about it. Some months later we found that she had got far too close to this person and had to leave this place of work.

 

We need to warn people when we see that something wrong is developing. When they are told, they should take the cautionary advice of others very seriously. Usually what happens is that they get hurt and deny that anything bad is going on. They may even accuse the person who warned them of being narrow-minded, untrusting or of interfering into other people’s private lives.

 

Another thing that helps is to make sure that, if you are going to have a long conversation with a person of the opposite sex, you meet that person in an open place so that others can see you. I strongly recommend glass doors for all offices of people who meet with people of the other sex. I know that many Christians do not follow this guideline today. I can only say that they are playing with fire. This is an area where it is “better to be safe than sorry.”

 

Sometimes when a person insists on helping another of the opposite sex too much, it could be because that person is suffering from an unhealthy “messiah complex.” There are many people in the body of Christ. We do not have to meet every need we face. One of the most important jobs of a leader is to make connections for those they lead. They realise that they cannot meet all the needs they encounter. So they connect the needy person with one who can help him or her.

 

If I write a letter that is not of an official nature to a woman who is a good friend, I usually show that letter to my wife. I realise that unmarried people cannot follow this practice, but they can maintain the attitude of care that lies behind the practice.

 

We must be careful about sending affectionate or personal SMS text messages to persons of the opposite sex who are not our spouses or prospective spouses. One thing about SMS messages is that sometimes people accidentally send messages to the wrong people. I know this because at least two people have got love notes I have sent my wife from abroad and have not known what to do with them! I know of a Christian group where one staff worker got by mistake an SMS sent by a married staff worker to a single staff worker which was far too personal. A disciplinary inquiry was the result!

 

Hospitality is a ministry strongly encouraged in the Bible. However, again we need to be careful that it does not give rise to situations that could result in unhealthy ties. For example, it would be very unwise for a person to be at home for an extended period of time with a visitor of the opposite sex while his or her spouse is away. And if they are alone in the house they should avoid long conversations in the absence of the spouse. This is a particular problem in smaller homes. I have heard of situations in Sri Lanka where a visitor sleeps in the same room, sometimes on the same bed, as the couple at night. This is a situation which must never be permitted.
THREE

Friendships

 

It is very important for us to cultivate close friendships with members of our own sex and share our struggles and joys mainly with them. Of course, our spouses or would-be spouses are the ones we share most with. Our family members—male or female—can also be the friends with whom we share such things. Some people find it easier and less threatening to share private matters with those of the opposite sex. But, especially after marriage, this becomes very unhealthy. It goes without saying that the ideal situation is when our spouse is our best friend.

 

I am not saying that we cannot have good friendships with those of the opposite sex. Our lives can be greatly enriched by people of the opposite sex if we can follow some basic rules such as not getting too close emotionally by sharing intimate things. In settings like a Christian group or a work place much joy and mutual enrichment could result from men and women having fellowship and working together. There are perspectives which women bring to a group which men often overlook; and the same can be said of men.
FOUR

Accountability

 

John Wesley’s famous and highly effective method for ensuring Christian nurture had a heterogeneous group called the “class meeting” where men and women of different ages and social backgrounds, but living in the same area, met regularly to study the Word and apply it to life. Special enrichment came to the participants because of the diversity of the group. Wesley also started another group called the “band” which was equivalent to what we would call an accountability group today. This was a more homogeneous group where the members were of the same sex and generally belonged to the same age group.

 

We need to have an approach to life that includes the idea that nothing we do is absolutely secret. The best way is to have an accountability partner or partners, and to have an understanding that when they meet with us questions will be asked about our weak and vulnerable areas. It is imperative that somebody knows about the serious weaknesses in our lives and checks up with us on how we are faring in those areas. This seems to be implied in 1 John 1:7 where, before saying that the blood of Christ cleanses us from sin, John says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” The context is talking about confession of sin and therefore we could interpret the walking in the light which opens the door to fellowship as referring to being honest about our sins.

 

Today people often share sensitive things with outsiders like professional counsellors. I am not discounting the value of professionals who can be very helpful to us when we have serious problems. But professionals are never a substitute for accountability relationships. The best people to help us on the long term with our weaknesses are those who move with us closely and with whom we cannot hide things about our lives. A famous psychiatrist Thomas Szasz has said that “Psychotherapy is the purchase of friendship.” People pay a professional to give them a listening ear when that is what their friends are supposed to be doing for them.

 

It is not always convenient to talk about our weaknesses with people close to us. We are forced to face up to the consequences of our actions with them. For example, people often prefer if a counsellor knows about their weaknesses rather than their supervisor at work. They fear that if their supervisor knows their weaknesses their promotions may be jeopardised. But should not that be the case? Shouldn’t we be promoted according to our qualifications? If we have a weakness which will hold back our promotion is it not wrong to hide that from the person who decides on the promotion? Often in Christian groups the leaders are not responsible for the pastoral care of those under them. That is looked after by a specialist in pastoral care. I think that is an artificial separation of responsibilities. In the Bible leaders are shepherds who care for their sheep.

 

Many famous Christians who fell into sexual sin have said that it happened at a time in their life that they were not accountable to anyone for their personal lives. If you do not have an accountability partner, find one. Don’t blame the organisation you work for or your church for not providing one for you. You can’t miss out on such an important resource simply because a group has failed to provide it for you. I’m sure you would not stay away from a doctor when you are very sick if your employer did not have a health plan for its employees.

 

One sad situation in the church in Asia is that Christians can’t trust people to be faithful in not telling things that have been told to them in secret to others. Our people do not seem to have the integrity to maintain confidentiality. Because of this many are afraid to share openly about their lives. It is imperative that we develop a new generation of Christians who have the integrity to keep secrets confidential. If you get hurt once don’t get discouraged in your quest for trustworthy friends.

 

In Youth for Christ we have asked our leaders not to share with their spouses matters of a sexual nature that others of their own sex share with them. This is because when we share those things with our spouses the person who shared with us could be unnecessarily embarrassed. Besides they may not want to share sensitive things of a sexual nature with us if they knew that we will tell that to our spouses.

 

Of course, sometimes there are biblical reasons for sharing the confidential information with others. For example, when a Christian commits a sin for which he or she needs to be disciplined, then the person who is told about it may need to ensure that leaders who can do something about this are told about what has happened.

 

Interestingly the business world has strong principles of accountability when it comes to relationships between the sexes within the professional circle. This is because affairs within an office are considered as a hindrance to the effective running of the office. I have a brother in the business world, and he has told me that where he works there is “zero tolerance” of anything that looks like sexual harassment or abuse and a ban on affairs between people within the same division. They do it because it hampers the effectiveness of the organisation by letting unhealthy factors influence the judgement of the person having an affair. We have a stronger reason to be strict on such matters: they violate the laws and dishonour the name and incur the wrath of the Lord we represent.

 

Let me mention one sad observation that I have made over the years. I have found that sexual sin is an area that some Christians often lie about or withhold information. Some of these people have very open fellowship with those they are close to. They share about their needs, and are usually willing to apologise for their wrong deeds. But when it comes to sexual sin, they deny the truth; they hide the facts and usually will not confess until they are confronted with indisputable evidence.

 

Even when faced with the evidence they will usually accept only what is known by others, though there may be much more serious issues which are not immediately apparent to others. Only half the sin is confessed and consequently the prospects of complete healing from the sin are greatly minimised. Without proper healing there is a great possibility that the person could do the same thing again under conditions similar to those which led to the earlier sin. The sin has revealed a weakness in the person’s life which needs to be dealt with decisively if healing is to take place.

 

When we are confronting a situation of sexual sin in the body we need to bear in mind the fact that people are often untruthful in this area. Because we do not like the unpleasantness that comes with the confrontation, it is possible to avoid facing the real issues and being satisfied with dealing with a serious problem in a somewhat superficial way. Then no real healing will take place.
FIVE

The Power of Sex

 

We must never underestimate the power of sex. After all, this is the force that God created to ensure that life on earth continues. The sexual urge of a man is particularly powerful. Proverbs 7 explains vividly how a man could be dragged into sexual sin like “an ox goes to the slaughter” (7:22) when he gives into seduction. I am amazed at how naïve wives can be about the sexual nature of their husbands. They allow them to help people in ways that would make them vulnerable to temptation. They leave them alone at home with young house-maids, sometimes for several days. They say that they trust them because they are godly men. But godliness does not take away sexual feelings and urges. These are a part of godliness. God intended for married men to have a strong sexual drive so that they could enjoy sex within marriage. If the sexual drive is a gift of God, godliness should not decrease it.

 

Therefore a man must never take risks with sex. It is too powerful a force to be careless with. Again we say that this is an area where it is “better to be safe than to be sorry.” The wife holds the key here. She needs to know when to tell her husband that she is unhappy about something he is planning to do with a woman. And if she is unhappy with something he is doing she should avoid an accusatory tone when she tells her husband. That could make him defensive and aggravate the problem greatly. I have seen too many happily married men who underestimated their sexuality and ended up making huge mistakes with other women.

 

A few weeks ago a realisation dawned on me that really shocked me. The Bible says we should think of sexual enjoyment only within the context of marriage. But society is constantly bombarding us with the idea that we owe it to ourselves to enjoy sexual pleasure whenever we can from whomever we can. And unconsciously we Christians too have been influenced by this.

 

We have lists of the sexiest women and sexiest men in the world. The rationale behind this seems to be that the sexual attraction of these “beautiful” people must be made available to the whole world to enjoy. We supposedly have a “right” to enjoy their sexuality. So the magazine section of the Sunday newspaper will have sexually stimulating pictures of models, and it is easy for us to derive satisfaction from them.

 

The fashion industry thrives on making the female body look sexually attractive. Sex is one of the most effective means to success in advertising, as the billboards in our cities show. The lyrics of songs and the plots of novels and films imply that extra-marital sex is a normal and, sometimes, necessary aspect of life. Philip Ryken quotes some research that shows that “with all the encounters and innuendoes, the average American views sexual material more than ten thousand times year.” Ryken says that “by a ratio of more than ten to one, the couplings on television involve sex outside marriage.” According to the Bible, all these things are sins. Jesus said that to look at a woman with lustful intent is adultery (Matt. 5:28).

 

It is considered normal for a couple who have got close to each other to start living together long before even considering marriage. We seem unmoved when we hear that a famous actress has gone to live with a famous actor. These are the people whom our youth consider to be successful in life. However, according to the Bible, adultery lands us in hell (1 Cor. 6:8-10), and hell is a terrible place. This is deadly serious. We get all excited about thousands dying in the tsunami and think nothing about famous people condemning themselves to an eternity in hell and, given their popularity, challenging others also to do the same!

 

No wonder the Bible says so often that we must purify our minds (Eph. 4:22-24; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; 2 Tim. 2:21-22; Jas 4:8). We are constantly exposed to filth, but the filth does not look filthy at all. We have even slid into an attitude that thinks that filth is not a big deal. In such an environment we are more prone to succumb to temptation. We have taken the first step on the slippery slope that leads to adultery. We have accepted the common fallacy held by people today that sexual enjoyment could be had without committed love. When that theological shift has been made in our minds we would be less able to resist powerful temptation when it hits us. How much we need to keep asking God to purify us because it is so easy for us to allow the ever-present filth around us to get into our minds!

 

Another area we need to be careful is about touching people of the other sex. Hugging has become very common in the church these days. This can be a joyous thing in certain cultures. However it can also get out of hand, and there are several stories of situations where that has happened. Jerry Jenkins suggests that we should be very careful whom we hug and make sure that we hug people of the other sex only when others are around.

 

Another thing to avoid is long hugging. An affectionate hug can turn sexual after a few seconds. You may be comforting a person through this long hug, but it is not worth the risk. The last thing a person who is suffering some sorrow needs is a confusing sexual relationship with a person he or she likes very much.

 

Today the practice of laying hands on a person when praying is common. I mention this here because this practice has caused so many problems in Sri Lanka. We need to be very careful about where we touch people when we pray for them. With a person of the opposite sex, I would touch only the head and I do not touch a person if I am alone with the person. Sadly some Christian leaders in Sri Lanka have touched people in inappropriate places while praying for them during pastoral visits and caused much dishonour to Christ.

 

Because of the power of sex it is imperative that we always remain on guard in this area. One of Sri Lanka’s great Christian leaders Dr. Colton Wickramaratne says how he met the elder statesman of the worldwide Pentecostal movement, David du Plessis, when du Plessis was in his eighties. Dr. Colton asked him at what age a man could consider himself freed from sexual temptation. The old warrior of God responded, “Don’t ask me, I am too young to answer that question.”
SIX

The Power of Past Sexual Experiences

 

Over the years I have found that some people come to Christ with severe scars from sexual experiences during their pre-conversion life. They may have been abused as children; they may have been addicted to pornography; they may have been guilty of abusing people themselves; they may have had the habit of indulging in sexually loaded conversation with members of the opposite sex. The fact that they come to Christ does not automatically take away the sexual feelings that are in their minds. They do not feel free to talk about these feelings with other Christians, as conversation on sexual things is often taboo in some Christian circles and almost always very uncomfortable.

 

What happens therefore is that Christians struggling with unresolved sexual issues grow in their Christian life without dealing with this problem. They suffer silently and grapple with temptation without anyone knowing about it. Suddenly they encounter a situation which is ideal for committing the sexual sin they have been battling with. They cannot resist, and they end up falling, and everyone is shocked.

 

The problem is compounded by the fact that Satan often tempts mature Christians with the sins they committed before their conversion. This was something my first Area Director in Youth for Christ, Dr. Victor Manogarom, told me, early in my ministry. After being a Christian for some years can get careless about maintaining a warm and open relationship with God by neglecting our daily time with God. We can allow bad influences to come into our lives through things like indiscriminate TV watching and internet use. Then we become vulnerable to “the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11), who eagerly waits to attack Christians in their weak areas.

 

A key to solving this problem is having accountability situations as described above. Here people do not need to feel shy about talking about their sexual temptations. Their accountability partners would expect them to share about their sexual behaviour outside marriage, and often the prospect of doing this acts as a deterrent to sin. I have come to believe that if a person has committed serious sexual sins at any time before or after his or her conversion to Christ or is suffering from serious affects of having been sexually abused, that person needs to talk about this to a trusted accountability partner or leader. Then they have brought into the open a possible area of serious problems, and will be alert to signs of failure in that area.

 

Another key is for Christian leaders to bring up these topics in their teaching and preaching so that they are brought out into the open. This way those struggling with these issues realise that they are not alone in the struggle, and they could become bold enough to talk about them to others. This is what I discovered when I started sharing the material of this booklet to different groups of Christians in Sri Lanka.

 

I think of all the experiences triggering sexual hyper-activity considered in this section, the most tragic is the sexual abuse of children. In my ministry I have encountered several people who have struggled with increased sexual feelings ever since they were abused when they were children (The other common reaction is distaste for sex following abuse). They did not consent to what was done to them. It was forced on them, but it did arouse sexual feelings at an early age which left them unusually sexually charged. Some of these people ended up committing serious sexual sins in adult life.

 

We cannot condone the sexual sins of these people on the grounds that they were abused as children. Yet how much pain and sin could have been avoided if they had shared their struggles with a trusted person or persons and become the recipients of God’s therapy for healing these affects of abuse. How much safer it would have been for them if they had a group of accountability partners who knew of this weakness of theirs and made sure that they were accountable regarding their behaviour in that area.

 

The way abuse ruins people’s lives must surely be a reason for sexual abuse being considered such a serious crime by society. May the church be equally or more severe in its condemnation of sexual abuse and more conscientious in its attempts to heal those who have been abused. We must remember that this is one of the serious secret sins of South Asia, that happens all too often but is usually hushed up and not confronted.
SEVEN

Affairs and Insecurity

 

Ultimately every wrong sexual affair is an expression of insecurity. The ego gratification that comes from the attention and adoration of another person or from the sense of conquest—of having “won” someone—causes one to be blind to all the negatives that come with the affair. Most people go into wrong relationships lured not so much by sex as by the sense of self-affirmation that comes from the affair. Sometimes it is the sense of conquering another person’s mind and body or of being able to control another person which brings satisfaction. The extreme form of such conquest is rape.

 

Dr. Jay Kesler says, “People are most vulnerable to sexual temptation, I’ve found, when they’re unable to achieve their goals, when they’re frustrated or they’re discouraged, when they’re dreams are being dashed.” This is why people often get into affairs at times when they are having serious problems in their vocation and their vocational value is under question. The sense of significance of people, especially men, is closely tied to how significant they feel in their vocational life. The sense of self worth given to a man by an adoring female (often not half as “beautiful” as his own wife) or given by having conquered the body of a woman, temporarily fills the void and insecurity that he feels about himself.

 

This insecurity theory explains why strong political leaders (whose so-called strength is actually a compensation for insecurity) have multiple affairs with younger people. All the acclaim that leadership brings does not take away the hunger they have for affirmation, and significance. It also explains why people in mid-life often have affairs. As Dr. Kesler says, “Middle age often brings with it a particular vulnerability to sexual temptation…. Some people become frightened about growing older, and they wonder if women still find them attractive. So they’re tempted to test the waters to find out.”

 

If the affirmation of ones spouse is a wonderfully precious experience, the chances of that person going into an affair are greatly reduced. But the ultimate cure for insecurity is the thrill of being a child of God for whose life God has a wonderful plan. This is why spending unhurried time with God daily is so important. In a passage which warns about the dangers of worldliness and impure thinking James exhorts: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas. 4:8). From such times with God, not only are we fed with God’s truth which gives us a sense of the terribleness of sin, we are also fed with doses of loving affirmation from God which help to reduce the attractiveness of an affair.

 

When we spend time with God we experience something of the thrill of knowing that the eternal God considers us his children (1 John 3:1). The Bible says that God delights in us (Psa. 37:23; 147:11; 149:4).The greatest thrill in life is the knowledge that God looks at us with a smile and exclaims, “He belongs to me,” or “She belongs to me.” If so, the greatest terror for Christians would be to know that they have forfeited the smile of God. This is a great preventive to sexual sin.

 

So, however busy we may be with other duties, let us never neglect the thrill of relishing the presence of God. Let us never allow the sense of being loved by God to leave us. Then if you are married, single, widowed or divorced you can still be a happy, fulfilled and secure individual. God can fill that void of insecurity so much better than an affair can!

 

EIGHT

The Importance of Discipline for Sexual Sin

 

Over the years I have seen several situations where a Christian commits a serious sexual sin, comes back to God in repentance and returns to Christian activity without a thoroughgoing disciplinary process. My sad observation has been that many of these people commit the same sin again. That a person committed such a sin once reveals a weakness in that person, which forgiveness does not necessarily cure. Discipline is designed to heal such weaknesses (1 Cor. 5:5). The trauma and humiliation of having gone through such serious discipline acts as a deterrent the next time this person is tempted in this weak area.

 

This is why it is so important for people to bring representatives of the body of Christ into the situation after they have committed serious sexual sin. Private personal confession may forgive past sins, but it may not heal some of the causes of that sin. Therefore we must urge Christians to be open about such sin to those who can help them. We must also urge the church to go through the extremely painful process of disciplining offenders.
NINE

Some Guidelines for Married People

 

While an unhappy marriage is never an excuse for having an affair, a happy marriage certainly helps avoid affairs. Therefore we must make cultivating our relationship with our spouses the most important project in our lives next to cultivating our relationship with God. What the Bible describes as a process of two becoming one (Matt. 19:6) does not happen automatically. It requires hard work.

 

The ambition to be one with our spouses should consume us and our energies. We must approach this task with deep dedication and the willingness to drop other things to give time to it. Sometimes our lives can be so tyrannised by urgent demands that the most important things in life get pushed out of our schedules. Our relationship with our spouses is a common casualty here.

 

Here are some guidelines for nurturing your relationship with your spouse.

  • Make sure that your spouse knows that he or she is the most important person in your life. Sometimes spouses of people involved in helping others, like doctors and Christian leaders, say that their spouses care for everyone except those in the family. Our spouses must know that if they are unhappy or have a problem we treat that as a serious matter and do all we can to help out. Hermas, who was probably an early second century church father, said, “Guard your chastity…. If you always remember your own wife, you will never sin.”
  • In the life of a family there need to be physical expressions of the fact that our spouses are the most desirable people in the world to us. H. Norman Wright, an experienced marriage counsellor, advises “Make the first four minutes together (morning, evening, and so on) quality time of building and affirming daily affection”.I advocate the practice of some sort of affirmation that our spouses are most important to us and loved by us once or twice a day. A hug, a kiss, a word of pleasure at the sight of our spouses are among the things that we can do. I think it is very important for couples to sleep next to each other at night. I know some couples keep children between them in bed or they sleep in different rooms as one parent needs to be near the children. I think these actions make statements that are unworthy of a marriage—that physical companionship is not very important to the couple.
  • If you find that you have not had a nice long chat with your spouse for some time, then clear up your schedule to ensure that you have one soon. You cannot have a happy marriage if you do not have long chats. It is sad that some couples do so much talking before marriage and so little after! Frequent long chats are an indispensable aspect of faithfulness to your spouse.
    When I am travelling I try to contact my wife in some way everyday. Now because SMS communication is cheap we communicate daily through that means when I am abroad. One thing that such communication shows is that we are always thinking about our spouses and that they are the most important persons in our lives. These are things we cannot take for granted, especially because there are so many things that come along which try to break a marriage.
  • Prayer is like cement which binds couples and families together. It is also source of power and grace to the family. I have found that it is easy to overlook praying together as a couple, and sadly many Christian couples have got into this rut of not praying together regularly. Therefore we must be constantly alert to the need to pray together regularly. Pray as a regular habit. Pray also when you face an important issue in the life of the family—like a birthday, an exam, a sporting event or a sickness. Pray with your wife before she goes for a difficult counselling appointment or with your husband when he is facing a crisis in office. All this buttresses the sense that we are partners in a life in which God is the head.
  • Research and the Scripture show that women need to be shown affection.The Song of Songs gives us a good example of this. Therefore it is important for the husband to regularly show affection to his wife in tangible ways. As we have said physical expressions like hugs and kisses and verbal expressions like statements expressing love and appreciating the wife’s beauty are an important part of a happy marriage. Some husbands show physical affection only when they want to have sex. That communicates a selfish motive rather than true love for and appreciation of the wife and her body.
  • Research also shows that the make-up of men is such that they need to be regularly affirmed.They need to know that they are appreciated and admired by their wives. And there are always things to admire in a husband. Sadly, some wives only focus on negative things and hardly ever mention the positives about their husbands. Proverbs 27:15-16 says “A nagging wife is as annoying as the constant dripping on a rainy day. Trying to stop her complaints is like trying to stop the wind or hold something with greased hands” (NLT). A husband who is wounded and humiliated by a wife’s criticism at home becomes vulnerable when he gets praise and adoration from a woman at work.
  • A general rule for any marriage is that couples should work hard at complimenting each other. The knowledge that the person appreciates a key aspect of his or her spouse’s personality deepens the relationship because the appreciated persons sense that their spouses understand them. Praise also completes joy, for joy is completed only when it is shared with another. I believe this is one reason why God asks us to praise him. So make sure you praise your spouse daily. I heard the famous Christian writer Charlie Shedd speak at the Fuller Seminary chapel on his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. He said that for twenty-five years he has complimented his wife at least once every day and that he has found a new thing about which to compliment her every week.
  • I wish I could tell people who are always suspicious of their spouses and confronting them with these suspicions that they should be constantly affirming their spouses and showing them how much they are appreciated. How easy it is for us to destroy the self esteem of our spouses by always accusing them. This is never an excuse to have an affair, but people facing rejection at home become very vulnerable to an affair if they encounter someone of the opposite sex who admires them greatly and expresses that admiration. God intended the home to be a place where people come from a hostile world and find a haven of acceptance and affirmation. We must not turn it into a tribunal of accusation.
  • Try hard to do things along with your spouse. This may be impossible for some, but it is the ideal situation to be in. If your spouse does not work with you in ministry and the other major things that you do, then make sure that you take the time to explain what is happening in this work. If he or she is completely outside your work/ministry-realm, it will be hard work to explain to him or her. But that hard work must be done in order to ensure that you two remain truly one.
  • Often married people are unfulfilled sexually because they have an unbiblical attitude towards sex. Some grew up in very religious backgrounds that only talked about the dangers of sex and not about the beauty of it. Therefore because their attitude to sex is very negative they are not free to enjoy it. Some were involved in sinful sexual behaviour before they became Christians and therefore now they do not think of sex as something holy and good. Some were abused sexually when they were children and now sex is something repulsive to them. Sadly, this is a situation that is far too common in South Asia today. Some learned about sex from the wrong place and what they learned was not the biblical teaching about sex. This shows how important it is for Christian parents and for churches to educate Christians about the biblical teaching concerning sex.
  • According to the Bible God created sex for four reasons. Firstly, it is the means through which children are brought into the world (Gen. 1:28; 9:1). This was included among the things that caused the sixth day of creation to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Secondly, sexual relations help to deepen the intimacy of two who become one through marriage (Gen. 2:24; 1 Cor. 6:15-16). Thirdly, it is a means of having pleasure as spouses find satisfaction from each others bodies (Prov. 5:18; Song). Fourthly, it was used as an illustration of our relationship with God (e.g. Hosea). When a couple thinks of sex in this way they are freed to enjoy it to the fullest as God intended.
  • As Paul teaches, make sure that you have sex regularly. He seems to consider having sex as a duty to perform! “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband (1 Cor. 7:3). He says that when couples do not have sex regularly Satan exploits the situation and tempts them to sin (1 Cor. 7:5). Of course, if for some unavoidable reason you cannot have sex for some time, rebuke Satan and never entertain the thought that you deserve to have sexual gratification outside marriage.
  • Generally it is a blow to the ego of men when their wives refuse to have sex when they want to. On the one hand it is important for wives to know that rejection of sexual advances by a husband can be a blow to his ego which Satan could exploit. On the other hand no husband should force himself on an unwilling wife. With God’s help the man can withstand the blow to his ego and can try to understand the reasons for his wife’s reluctance. The same thing is true when the wife wants to have sex and the husband is unwilling.
  • Let those you minister to know that your spouse is the most important person in your life. They desperately need models of healthy family living. If they get the impression that your spouse is not the most important person in your life, you have given them a bad example and misrepresented Christianity.
    Because of wrong ideas of family life some will think that giving so much attention to the spouse is evidence of a lack of commitment to Christ. I can assure you that, if your colleagues see you working really hard with your other duties, they will not remain upset that you care for your spouse so much.
    In Youth for Christ most of our youth have come from non-Christian homes where biblical family values are not practiced. We must make sure that these values are taught to them. Otherwise when they get married, they will behave like their parents did. After teaching on the biblical idea of family-life and after they see that you work very hard at both your ministry and your family life, they will invariably accept that what you are doing is correct. It is when workers do not work hard and do not do a quality job with their responsibilities that others complain persistently.
    It is not easy to be fully committed to both family and God’s work along with all the other responsibilities that come our way. I think that for most of us our cross is the balanced life. Caring for your family, dong your job or studies well and doing Christian ministry can be very tiring. Of course, the Bible never says that tiredness is a sin.
  • One key to a happy family is the Sabbath concept. According to the Bible not taking one day a week for rest is a sin. It is a sign of restlessness coming out of our failure to grasp that God, and not we, is the one who does the work. If we can’t keep a day when we do not work it could be because we do not trust God to do what is necessary for our well-being when we follow his commands. This, of course, was the sin of Adam and Eve.
    Our Sabbath day can be given primarily for God and the family. Remember that those who work so hard that they do not spend much time at home; often end up having affairs with people at work. I think this is one reason why the average of medical doctors and Christian workers having affairs is so high. Every healthy marriage should have special times which the couple give just to enjoy with each other. This is surely the model presented in books like the Song of Songs. I remember going for an ice cream to a restaurant with my wife one morning and people looked at us as if we were having an illicit affair! I think they were not used to older married couples giving time for pleasure just with each other. Our children need to know always that the most important person in our lives is our husband or wife—not the children. It brings great security and a wonderful model to children to see their parents so devoted to each other.
  • Affairs look like pleasurable experiences. People can convince themselves that they are really having fun with the other persons and that they never have such enjoyment at home with their spouses. The lack of fun at home is not an excuse to have an affair. Yet it is true that if we enjoy our family life, if our homes are havens of joy to which we can come after the rigours of life in a hostile world, then we would not want to risk losing this precious experience of joy through an affair.
    Joy is an important aspect of family life, and the Jews in Old Testament times had lots of opportunities for family-fun built into their lives, such as at mealtime (Deut. 14:26). In biblical religion a lot of importance is given to celebrating victories and special blessings. The biblical festivals, which included a lot of celebration, were developed on this idea. So make sure that when something good happens to a family member you celebrate together. When a member succeeds in studies, sports or any other field our family usually goes out for a meal or for ice cream (which are not common practices in Sri Lanka unlike in affluent countries).
    Once we get married we must adjust our understanding of fun to fit in with what the other members of the family understand as fun, and we must make sure that we have many opportunities to do fun things together. Sometimes this may involve giving up a source of fun which you like but which your family does not like. I enjoy sport and my favourite sport was rugby, which I played as a youth. However, my wife knew nothing about rugby and my children also did not take to the game. They all liked cricket. Therefore I decided that cricket is the sport we will watch as a family, not rugby.
    Not only does a fun-filled home reduce the risk of affairs, it also gives our children the sense that clean fun is more enjoyable than the unclean fun which their peers are indulging in. That would make the temptation to join them in sinful fun much less powerful.

 

Family life is one of God’s most beautiful gifts to us. There are few joys on earth that compare with the joy of a couple who have been careful to love each other and protect and nurture their relationship over decades of marriage. Sex will remain a precious thing to such a couple, and its enjoyment will deepen with the passing years. How sad that many Christian couples miss out on this joy by not nurturing their marriages. It is not too late to change. If you are married, make the joy of your family life one of your greatest ambitions in life. If you hope to get married, go into marriage with the strong determination that you are going to guard the joy of your family and do all you can to nurture it.

 

So as to underscore what I am saying here, let me give two quotations from two of God’s great servants of the past. George Müller said, “I never saw my beloved wife, at anytime when I met her unexpectedly in Bristol, without being delighted to do so.” Martin Luther has said, “There is no more lovely, friendly or charming relationship, communion or company, than a good marriage.” This is the type of relationship we must seek to have with our spouses.
TEN

A WORD ABOUT SINGLENESS

 

Much of what we have already said can be applied to single people. However because single people have a unique situation with unique challenges, I would like to say a brief word especially to singles, though this will help married people too.

 

An Important Call. Singleness is a noble calling from God which Paul held in high esteem (1 Cor. 7). It is true that singles cannot experience the satisfaction of having sexual relationships and in that sense they are deprived of one of the joyous experiences of humans. Ruth Tucker in her biographical history missions has a chapter that outlines the great work done by single women missionaries. But she also says that one thing that most of these great single missionaries experienced was loneliness and even depression.

 

So can we say that are they missing God’s best for their lives? We cannot, if we take what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 seriously, for he recommends that those who are not married remain single, especially in view of what he calls “the present distress” (verse 26). The abundant life which Jesus said he gives (John 10:10) must surely be available to singles. Actually Jesus was single and he was the happiest man who ever lived. This is why he said that when he gives us his joy our joy will be full (John 15:11). It is interesting that this statement was made just before he was going to suffer the greatest suffering any human experienced as he took upon himself the punishment for the sins of the world. So Christians can be fulfilled even when they seem to be deprived according to the world’s standards.

 

The problem is that we live in a world which seems to have made sex into a god. The warped sense of values which comes from this suggests that those who do not have sexual relationships are deprived of a basic necessity of life. But research has clearly shown that this is not true. People who abstain from sex can be perfectly healthy individuals.

 

A key reason for Paul’s recommending singleness is the unique way in which they can serve God without the burden of caring for a family (1Cor. 7:32-35). In my study at home I have a photo gallery of twenty-eight Christian heroes who have excelled in the fields that interest me most. Eight of them are singles: Amy Carmichael, John Chrysostom, Henrietta Mears, Blaise Pascal, John Stott, Sadhu Sundar Singh, John Sung and Corrie ten Boom; and one, C. S. Lewis, married in his late fifties and was widowed four years later. The ratio of great singles to married people here is much higher than the average in society. Ruth Tucker quotes a Baptist missions official who wrote, “I estimate a single woman in China is worth two married men.”

 

Unfulfilled Desires. Yet singles will still have sexual desires which are not going to be fulfilled. What do they do with these? Let me say that all Christians will have situations similar to this at some time in their life. I believe I am in the last third of my life, and my wife and I have to prepare for one of us leaving and going to heaven. After thirty happy years of marriage that is something that is going to be very hard for the one who remains. We would like to die around the same time, but that is unlikely. So we have to prepare for life alone after being so used to life together. We know it will be hard. But we also know that God always remains with us through hardship and give us a joyous life. Christian joy can survive even the separation of loved one through death.

 

We find situations where a Christian marries a psychologically immature person and has to live with a relatively tough marriage until death separates them. It will be hard, but God will give the needed strength. Some who are married are unable to have healthy sexual relationships because of psychological or physical reasons. While there is healing for many of these problems and they should patiently seek that healing, some of the problems are not going to be healed.

 

These are exceptions to the norm which God permits some to go through. But he is bigger than the problem and will enable those enduring this to experience the abundant life he gives to his children.

 

Holy Longing. What then does one who has no fulfilling sexual experience because of singleness or some other problem do? I want to suggest the biblical discipline of “holy longing.” Christians are people who have tasted of the blessings God intends for them, but who know that what they now experience is only a foretaste of the fullness. Therefore on earth they will experience frustration so that they will groan as they long for the fullness. Paul explains this in Romans 8:18-25. In the Psalms we find the faithful panting (Psa 42:1) and thirsting (63:1) after God. This is a thirst which will not be fully satisfied until we get to heaven. The Song of Songs applies this principle to the love between a man and a woman where they eagerly await the consummation of their relationship in marriage.

 

Singles and the others mentioned above will encounter severe pressure because of their unusual situation. There is pressure from the sexual orientation of society. There is pressure from well-meaning relatives and friends who want them to get married and keep asking insensitive questions about that. There will be pressure from their own human desires for romantic love and sex. They cannot deny that such exist. But they can transform their desires into holy longing. God has perfection planned for us. That will be fully realised only in heaven. In the meantime he may give the gift of marriage at a relatively young age or at a later age. Or he may call some to singleness. They can long for the fullness that God has planned and remain pure so as not to destroy God’s beautiful plan for their lives.

 

Because sexuality is God’s gift they can long for sexual satisfaction, always saying that if God does not will that for them they will still remain happy and pure. So they will not settle for the second best. No sex before marriage. No giving in to the boy friend who wants to have sex before marriage. No giving of my body as a play-thing for someone who does not truly love and respect me and is not willing to devote a lifetime of commitment to me. No trivial romantic relationships without an idea of marriage because romance is a beautiful gift intended to last a lifetime.

 

We had four single Asians in my seminary dorm when I was a student in the USA. On Friday evenings our dorm was deserted with all the Americans having gone on dates (I must confess that I find it difficult to harmonise the western practice of going steady without plans for marriage with the high view of romantic love as a lifetime commitment found in the Bible. I am distressed to see how, with the influence of western media, this practice is gaining popularity in Asia). On Fridays we Asians would sometimes exclaim to each other, “I want a wife!” This was a holy longing for romantic and sexual satisfaction which is part of God’s usual pattern for humans. I knew, of course, that if God called me to singleness I would have to live with a sense of incompleteness in some areas till I die. But I rested on the truth of Psalm 138:8: “The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever” (Psa. 138:8).

 

The great hymn-writer Fanny J. Crosby (who is also in my photo gallery of 28 Christian heroes) was blind from the time she was six weeks old. A remedy for a slight inflammation in her eyes as a result of a cold went horribly wrong causing blindness. She expressed holy longing in her hymns that spoke of the wonder of heaven and the foretaste of it. The most famous of these is the hymn “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine.” A Scottish minister once told her it was unfortunate that God did not give her the gift of sight. She startled him by responding, “If I had been given a choice at birth, I would have asked to be blind… for when I get to Heaven, the first face I will see will be the One who died for me.” Holy longing!

 

Crosby was married to a blind musician, but her only child died in infancy. Here’s what she says about the man whose mistake caused her blindness. “In more than eighty-five years, I have not for a moment felt a spark of resentment against him, for I have always believed from my youth up that the good Lord, in his infinite mercy, by this means consecrated me to the work that I am still permitted to do.” Her songs exude with the joy of the Lord.

 

Fanny Crosby exemplifies an attitude which should characterise all Christians and which will help them remain sexually pure and happy whether married or single. This is an attitude of a deep satisfaction in God mixed with a yearning for more of the blessings God has planned for us. Single people should not harbour resentment over people they had hoped to marry who let them down. If God permitted that, he surely has another happy and blessed plan for them. This happiness and contentment in God and his will helps us to overcome the temptation to finding fulfilment in ways that displease him.

 

The Church’s Responsibilities towards Singles. There are some needs which singles have that the church must ensure are looked after.

  • The proclamation of the church must place before its members the important role that singles play in God’s programme, and the unique way in which they can contribute to the cause of Christ. They should do whatever is possible to discourage in the church the practice of making insensitive remarks which hurt and embarrass single people.
  • When single people get ill or have some special physical or emotional needs, it would be good if they know that there is a home to which they can go for some “tender loving care”. My wife often keeps single women in our home during their times of sickness and emotional stress.
  • Single women need to know that they can rely on some men who will help them in situations where a man’s presence would be very helpful. And single men would enjoy some healthy mothering, especially if their parents are not nearby.
  • We must ensure that single people have friends who are both of their own sex and of the opposite sex, so that they can experience the richness that comes from such friendships. Many churches in the west have developed specialised ministries to singles. This is an encouraging development. But it does not take away the need for singles to have happy, pure and helpful friendships with married people.

 

 
ELEVEN

Don’t Give Satan a Foothold

 

I have often wondered how some giants of the faith could have fallen into adultery after they had been genuinely used by God to do so many mighty things in his name. Clearly the fall into prominent sin of these giants was not as sudden as it may seem. I believe they had left small areas in their lives where compromise was allowed. I speak from experience as I have seen how dangerous such things can be in my own life. We think it is a small thing, and so we do not flee from it as Paul advises (2 Tim. 2:22). But Satan relishes these small things, and lets them grow in us almost without us realising that something serious is happening. Soon we have come to a state where a serious and prominent sin happens and everyone is amazed at how this could have taken place.

 

Paul warned: “Do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26—NIV). If we do, he will enter into our lives and use that little thing and let it grow until it destroys us. It could be a friendship with someone we are counselling or helping that has got too close. It could be going to borderline sites on the internet. It could be letting our eyes stray to things they should not focus on in bookshops or on TV. It could be watching movies or reading books that are not edifying. These are just the start of a plan that Satan has to trap us. Paul’s advice is for us not to negotiate with these things; we are to “flee youthful passions” (2 Tim. 2:22).
TWELVE

Spreading Untrue Stories

 

I have seen many people deeply hurt because others spread untrue stories about them based on hearsay or inaccurate observation. So I need to caution you about this, for unknowingly you may become guilty of wickedness. If you suspect that something inappropriate is developing between two people, talk to one or both of them. This way you can clarify the situation and you can alert the other person who may not even realise that something seriously wrong is developing.

 

Do not fall into the trap of gossiping about this with others, which is a trap which Satan delights to prepare for you. If you are not sure, seek clarification from those who know. And, even after that, be careful to whom you talk about it. The Bible is very clear that making false accusations about people is a serious sin which merits God’s punishment. So, for your own sake and for the sake of the body of Christ, avoid spreading stories that you are not sure about.
THIRTEEN

God’s Grace is Greater

 

Paul said, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). We must all be alert to the possibility of falling! Several people who have had affairs have told later that they knew they were vulnerable to various kinds of temptation, but they never ever thought that they would have an affair some day.

 

Fortunately after the warning cited above Paul immediately went on to say, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). When I hear that someone I greatly admired has had an affair, my immediate response is to think that, if these great people fall, there is no hope for me! This verse shows us that though great people may fall, with God’s help we can make it!

 

The immediate trigger for this article was the news that a foreign Christian I respected very much had had an adulterous affair. A day after I heard this, tired out after two speaking appointments and needing a fresh touch from God, I decided that I will sing some hymns of praise. The Lord ministered to me wonderfully through them.

 

As I was turning the pages of the hymn book, I stumbled upon the hymn, “Fairest Lord Jesus,” which was extremely refreshing and health-giving. It talks about the beauty of Jesus. When we are devastated by the circumstances around us there is nothing that is as helpful as contemplating the beauty of God (see Psalm 27:4). We must never forget that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20b). Always, even when sin seems to be on the rampage around us, grace must be our primary focus in life.

 

Because grace is the primary focus in life, we approach life with a positive attitude. So when it comes to relationships with members of the opposite sex, because several people have ended up having sinful affairs, we must not allow ourselves to forget the beauty of healthy friendships which enrich us so much. God intended our brothers and sisters to enrich our lives. We must not let the fact that some fell into sin deprive us of the enrichment God desires for us.

 
SPECIAL NOTE

THE SERIOUSNESS OF ADULTERY IN THE BIBLE

 

In view of the casual attitude to adultery in the world today I have decided to include a note on the seriousness with which the Bible views it. The seventh of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). The punishment for adultery in the OT is death (Lev. 20:10-12; Deut. 22:22-25). Whereas in the ancient Near East adultery was considered a sin against only the other partner in the marriage, in the Bible it is regarded as a sin against God, as both Joseph and David have stated (Gen. 39:9; Psa 51:4). Nathan declaring God’s word to David about his adultery said, “…you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Sam. 12:10).

 

Peter Craigie points out that “the reason why adultery is singled out for attention in the Decalogue is because adultery, more than other illicit behaviour, has to do with unfaithfulness in a relationship of commitment.” Later the idolatry and religious apostasy of Israel were described as adultery (Isa. 57:3; Jer. 3:8-9; Ezek. 23:43; Hos. 2:2). That is, the marriage tie mirrors the tie between God and his people. It has to do with that all important aspect of human life: binding commitment to God and to spouse.

 

The seriousness of adultery lay in the fact that the family was an absolutely vital aspect of the covenant relationship of God with the community of Israel. So much of God’s will for his people is achieved through the family. The Bible takes the principle of commitment which lies behind God’s covenant relationship with humans and the covenant relationship between man and wife very seriously. To violate that principle is to violate the way God works with humans. This is a serious crime. Earlier God included honouring parents in the Ten Commandments as that too is a part of this God and family tie included in the covenant with Israel.

 

In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul presents another strong reason why adultery is so serious. It is based on the fact that there is a very close tie between Christ and our bodies. He accentuates this point through four statements in this one paragraph: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13b); “Your bodies are members of Christ” (6:15b); “…he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (6:17); “…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (6:19). Because of this union with Christ and our bodies, Paul says, “So glorify God in your body” (6:20).

 

Sexual relations make two bodies into one, says Paul quoting the oft quoted words from the institution of marriage in Genesis 2:24: “The two will become one flesh.” Relations between man and wife are an aspect of our relationship with Christ, and therefore it is part of the body being one with Christ. But if one commits adultery, the body belonging to Christ becomes one with someone in a way that violates the oneness with Christ. Paul says, “…do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?” (1 Cor. 6:16). The person has rejected Christ and replaced him with a prostitute.

 

Paul says that the damage done through adultery is more serious than other sins done with the body: “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (6:18b). Other sins like drunkenness are also sins against the body. But adultery does this in a unique way in that it becomes one in the fullest sense with another person when it should be one only with Christ. And Christ detests this oneness through adultery.

 

All this would not make sense if we did not grasp fully that the believer’s body is one with Christ. Say the Principal of a school is in the front seat of a vehicle while a student of the school drives that vehicle. What if the student screams obscenities at other drivers while driving and breaks all the road rules? What an insult to the principle that would be! Adultery heaps a greater insult on Christ. It can only be committed by kicking out Christ from the car (our body)!

 

We must not forget the terrible earthly consequences of adultery. David was told, “…the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Sam. 12:10). And that is what happened to David. His relationship with the Lord was restored and (I believe) so was “the joy of salvation” for which he asked in his heartfelt psalm of penitence (Psa. 51:12). But his family history after the adultery was one of serious strife.

 

This is so today too. The spouse is deeply hurt, and lives with a wound all her life. Children not only live with the wound, they often live with anger and shame over what their parent did. Though God forgets when he forgives our sins; people often don’t. And that could be a scar in the person’s reputation. Then, there is the other person involved in the adulterous act. That person is usually wounded deeply. A pastor committed adultery with a young girl, but was subsequently restored to his wife and his ministry following genuine repentance. But he found out many years later that the girl had become a prostitute.

 

Finally there is the affect that adultery has on the church or organisation, especially when it is committed by a leader. People are confused and discouraged. They reason, “If he can’t make it, what hope is there for us?” There is disillusionment over and anger against the leadership as the members feel they have been let down. When the leadership proceeds to discipline the wrongdoer or fails to do so adequately, the unity breaks as the members usually divide into groups—some agree with the action taken, and some don’t.

 

Using a word used for fleeing from danger, Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18a). We are to avoid it like the plague. We are to run away from it like running away from a forest fire or a wild animal waiting to devour us. It is absolutely dangerous. When we are tempted, we must run away from it in terror. A friend of mine in the ministry asked his former senior pastor who had fallen into adulterous sin, what he would say by way of advice to younger ministers. He simply said, “Don’t do it!”

 

Prayer Is a Job We Do

I have come to view intercessory prayer is the most powerful thing I do.  Doesn’t the Bible say, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16)? I am learning to view praying for people as a job that I do, like writing a report or visiting a sick person or preaching a sermon. When I finish praying for the day I have a sense that I have achieved something.

 

This thinking is in keeping with a wonderful discovery I made when studying

1 Corinthians 13 recently. In Christianity love is an end and not just a means to an end. That is, we don’t love only because we want to achieve something through that loving. Loving itself is an achievement. Remember Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats?  He comes to us as a hungry person in need of food, a thirsty person in need of drink, a naked person in need of clothing, a sick person and a prisoner in need of a visit (Matt. 25:35-36). From the world’s perspective, you don’t achieve much in terms of visible earthly success by helping people like that.  But there is a huge heavenly reward for such work, even though it may not be recognized here on earth.

 

To the Christian, love is an achievement! We have been successful when we have loved someone. Praying may be one of the most powerful forms of loving, and that is something we can do even when we are very weak physically. When the husband of Anna the prophetess died, she gave herself to the vocation of prayer, which she faithfully fulfilled for several decades (Luke 2:36-27). Her job was to be a prayer warrior. If prayer is so powerful and if after retirement we spend most of our “working time,” praying, then when we retire from being “big shots” in our professions we are actually getting a promotion! Big shots are usually freed from “lesser duties” so that they can do the really significant work. Intercessors who retire from their jobs are actually being freed to concentrate on the most significant and effective work.

 

So let us learn to look at intercessory prayer as a job that we do. Of course, if we are leaders then intercessory prayer should be part of our job description.  Leadership should give us good practice for promotion to the prayer warrior vocation when we retire.  I must say with sorrow that sometimes I have been with Christian leaders in my travels and noted how little time they spend in prayer and that they do not use the opportunities when free time is unexpectedly available for being with the Lord. They have gotten out of touch with prayer.

 

If we wait till retirement to launch into a life of prayer, we will invariably not succeed in the launch, unless we repent of our prayerlessness and God does a miraculous work of transformation in us. If we do not have the taste for long seasons of prayer while we are in active duty, it is unlikely that we will get back the taste after retirement. So we

had better get down to it immediately.

 

People filled with love become joyous people. So intercession is not only a prescription for preparation for retirement, it is also a prescription for joy! And if the key source of freshness in our lives is not taken away with retirement but rather given greater emphasis than before, then we have nothing to fear about retirement. Let’s become intercessors NOW!

 

— An unpublished paper by Ajith Fernando, Youth for Christ National Director for Sri Lanka and author of The Supremacy of Christ, Jesus Driven Ministry, & other books.

Prayer and Burnout

Written in July 2002

 

Ajith Fernando

 

In recent times I have been reflecting much on the idea that prayer is one of the surest means of preventing burnout. I have thought a lot about this as many have told me recently that the schedule I keep makes me a prime candidate for burnout. I suppose the jury is not in on this yet. Perhaps in 15 years from now I will be able to speak with more confidence on this issue. But I do believe that time spent daily lingering in the presence of God is a great antidote to burnout and other ill effects of stress and hard work. Here are some reasons for that belief.

 

  • If spending a good time with God each day is a non-negotiable factor in our daily calendar, then this time could really help slow us down and heal that unhealthy restlessness and rushed attitude that often causes burnout. There are few things that help heal our restlessness as time spent lingering in the presence of God. If a fixed time has been set apart each day for prayer, then there is no point rushing through the exercise as we are going to spend that amount of time whether we rush or not. That time has been blocked out for prayer in our schedules. So we are forced to change gears from stressful rush to restful lingering in the presence of God.
  • An hour or more spent each day in the presence of the almighty and sovereign Lord of the universe does wonders to our sense of security (Psa. 46:1-11), the lack of which is another common cause of burnout. With security comes “the peace of God which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) which is surely a wonderful treasure to live life with. When we do not have security in our tie with God, we will be restlessly running from activity to activity subconsciously hoping that our activity would fill the void in our lives. We are, in fact, afraid to stop and be silent before God. I once heard the Singaporean Dr. Robert Solomon say, “We are uncomfortable with silence because silence forces us to face God.” So we go on with our busy activity till we drive ourselves to the ground!
  • The peace we just described is the result of presenting our requests to God (Phil. 4:6). When we spend time with God we are able to “cast all [our] anxiety on him because he cares for [us]” (1 Pet. 5:7). It was during a time of deep crisis in our ministry that I discovered the great release that comes from consciously handing over our burdens to God. I had difficulty going to sleep because I was overwhelmed by worry over the situation. I learned to confess my inability to bear these burdens alone and to place them upon God by a conscious act of release. And release was what I felt as a result of this.
  • When we pray we open up our hearts to God. And if someone has hurt us, then we are going to grapple with God over that. This grappling gives God an opportunity to break through into our lives with his comfort. And that comfort enables us to overcome bitterness over people’s actions. What a heavy burden bitterness is for a person to bear! It will drag us down in our spiritual lives and make us prime candidates for burnout.
  • If, during our time with God, a lot of time is spent in intercession, we have become conduits of love. When we pray for others love is flowing out of our lives. But this is not a love that drains us of our emotional strength. We are praying, which means that we are in touch with him who is the inexhaustible source of love. As love goes out through prayer, God’s love comes in, and the regular flow of love in and out of our lives makes us glow with the joy that love alone can produce.

 

So our time spent with God each day becomes the most refreshing thing that we do. Such freshness attacks those triggers of burnout that often accompany our stresses and strains.

Passionate for God? Or Addicted to Mediocrity?

 

Ajith Fernando

 

I was once at a meeting of preachers, and they were discussing the problem of having inadequate time to prepare their sermons. One person said that given all the things he had to do, it was impossible for him to give much time for preparation, and therefore he usually goes to preach without much preparation. I was in a state of shock at what I heard, but I did not say a word. This happened about 9 months ago, and I have suffered much since then. Thoughts have been rolling over and over again in my mind as to what I should have said that day. I have finally decided to put my thoughts on paper.

 

We represent a great God who is over all and whose majesty is beyond all comparison. The greatest tragedy on earth is that people do not honour this great God. Our great goal in life is to bring honour to God. And we preachers have the opportunity of doing that when we preach. When people come to any meeting under the name of God, they should leave with the sense that God is great. Therefore our preaching, our worship-leading, our singing or whatever else we do in the name of God should always leave people with the impression that God is great.

 

I experienced this as a youth every Sunday as I sat under the ministry of the Rev. George Good. We participated in glorious services each Sunday, and Sunday became my favourite day of the week. I realised that the ministry was a glorious call and it thrilled me just to think that God may have called me, a shy youth who thought he would not amount to anything, to be a minister of the glorious gospel. I was fired by an ambition to do what I can to reflect the glory and majesty of God.

 

What if we preach an unprepared sermon that puts people to sleep or leaves them with no sense of the greatness of God? What if they leave a Christian meeting impressed by the lack of preparation and excellence in the programme? I think that is, in ecclesiastical life, a crime akin to what murder is in social life. It has brought dishonour to God who is great and majestic—and that is the greatest tragedy that could happen on earth. It would be better for us to die than to be responsible for doing that!

 

And I think death is what we may be called to endure! If we are so busy as to find little time to prepare, then we may have to lose some sleep in order to prepare a good sermon that will feed the people and bring honour to God. Doing that continuously may cause us to die ten years earlier than would be normal for us. But it would be better for us to die early having brought honour to God by our ministries than to live to a ripe old age having brought dishonour to God. The great preachers Spurgeon, Moody and Whitefield died before they were 60 years old possibly because of their strenuous ministries. But no one blames them when they realise the amazing good they did, during their lifetime.

 

If course, there are few things as refreshing in life than preparing for public ministry, especially when that ministry involves time spent in the Word (out of which all ministry springs). During those times with the Word, God feeds us and gives us the thrill of discovering eternal truths and their applications to daily life. As with all forms of dying in Christianity, when we “die” in order to prepare for public ministry, we end up finding new and exciting experiences of life.

 

Many years ago Franky Schaeffer wrote a book about Christian programming entitled Addicted To Mediocrity. I think that is a problem with many Christians today. I have been to worship services where I have seen the preacher choose his hymns five or ten minutes before the service starts! Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, how could such an abomination take place in the house of God? There is a symphony in worship that makes it flow and pulsate with energy and rhythm so that the soul’s desire to worship God is caught up in meaningful acts of worship. Can you prepare a symphony in ten minutes?

 

Just look at the great detail that the Old Testament goes into detailing the order of worship, the preparation for worship, the selection and training of those who take a role in the leading of worship. It goes on and on, chapter after chapter, giving details relating to worship. Why? Because worship reflects the glory of God, and therefore it must be done well. Its quality must reflect the greatness of God.

 

If God’s Word looks at preparation for worship as something so important, how dare we take it to be anything less than a matter of life and death? The great seventeenth century preacher Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was sickly man. He is reputed to have said, “I will preach as if I’ll never preach again: as a dying man to dying men.” And many other preachers have taken that into their lives as an important theme. Some have had those words framed and hung in the vestry of their churches. Every time we represent God in public it is a matter of life and death. We are doing a great, great work.

 

Just think of it: the great and glorious God has called us to represent him on earth! What an earth shattering privilege, and what an awesome responsibility! What a thrill, and what a scary task!

 

We must always seek to reflect his glory. But when we represent him in public this becomes all the more serious, for we stand as official representatives of the King of kings and Lord of lords before a gathering of people. May the Lord release us from our addiction to mediocrity and cause us to be ignited with a passion for his glory that causes us to prepare well whatever the cost. If we are going to preach then we must fashion our schedule in order to give us time to prepare. If, for some reason, that becomes impossible, then perhaps we will have to cut down on our sleep in order to prepare adequately to represent God well. And if we die early doing that, we would have died for a great cause!

 

Let me just add one more point. We must work as hard as we can. But God in his wisdom may permit something to go wrong while we are up before the public. We may make a silly mistake like a slip of the tongue which makes everyone laugh. A disturbance may make it difficult for us to be heard. Another person may make a huge mistake that reflects badly on us because we are the ones before the public. The public address system may suddenly make a huge noise. I have learned to take these as disciplines that the Lord allows us to endure.

 

When you strive for perfection; when you seek nothing short of the best; when you want to do a great job—the best in the world that someone with your abilities could possibly do—it is possible to let your ambitions shift into becoming ambitions to show your greatness rather than God’s. But God will not share his glory with anyone (Isa 48:11). So if he sees the danger that our striving could become selfish striving, he will discipline us with something humiliating. Then, without flying into a rage and shouting at others who may have caused the problem, we accept the rebuke saying, “Thanks, Lord, I needed that!”

 

If God wishes to let us make a mistake, we thank him for his wisdom. But woe to us, if we represent God as people addicted to mediocrity. Our God is too great to be thus dishonoured. It would be better for us to die than to do that.

Pain Does Its Work, and Grace Takes Over

Written in Mid-2005

 

Written by Ajith Fernando while travelling abroad

 

I left home on a trip abroad feeling very discouraged and hurt because of some problems. This is normal in the Christian life, and these are emotions I must not deny. Sorrow and pain must be permitted to do their work. They

  • deepen our commitment and mould our character, especially teaching us patience;
  • lead us to confess sin and show the fruit of repentance;
  • prepare us to face greater suffering;
  • bring us closer to suffering humanity;
  • make us more effective ministers; and
  • increase our joy by causing us to depend more on God and his grace than on earthly things and ourselves.

 

But we cannot go on living life overwhelmed by our problems. Once discouragement and hurt have done their work we must return to the normal Christian life which I like to define as “being overwhelmed by grace.” Now, this perspective may come soon, or it may take days or weeks to return. But till it returns we must struggle with God like the psalmists did in many of their laments.

 

Grace must soften our hearts so that more grace can enter in, making us gracious and taking away that destructive attitude of anger that looks at life saying, “I have been wronged.” Such anger is an enemy which we must fight with utmost dedication, for it takes away the thing that makes discipleship so worthwhile: the joy of the Lord. The sorrow may remain. But the joy of the Lord can coexist with sorrow, pain and tears. It cannot coexist with bitterness. Anger also takes away our anointing for we act in the flesh and not in the Spirit. This makes even the good things we do useless from God’s perspective—wood, hay and stubble which will be burned away at the judgement (1 Cor. 3:12-15).

 

Grace also takes away our cynicism which looks at life with the attitude that says, “There is nothing sincere and genuine in life.” The gospel tells us that sin has affected every sphere of life, and that everything on earth is in need of redemption. But it also tells us that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). So we must replace cynicism with hope in grace and a burning ambition to apply that grace to every situation in life.

 

We mourn the ravages of sin, but we do so with a heart softened by grace. Jeremiah shows this heart. He thundered angrily over sin but was also known as the weeping prophet because he wept in love for the wicked and hypocritical people who rejected his message. Mourning and weeping? Yes! Cynicism? No!

 

The sin and hypocrisy in the church and the world are terrible. But we always reckon that grace is greater than sin. So we cannot afford to let cynicism rule us, for the last word is with God, not with sin.

 

On this trip I realised that I needed to retreat into God’s presence and receive his healing. One of the things which help us to return to the attitude of being overwhelmed by grace is exposure to the simple, but beautifully profound, truths of Christianity. God did that to me during my retreat through the book, Out of my Mind, by Joseph Bayly (Zondervan). He had a column by the same name in the now defunct Eternity Magazine. It was my favourite monthly reading in my early years in the ministry. Three of Bayly’s sons died aged four years, three weeks and eighteen years. Each of his other four children ended up in ministry. He was known as a prophet to our generation, but his writing oozes with the deep grace of God learned through suffering.

 

Bayly reminded me that, in the life made beautiful by grace, there are some things which are normal but which the world despises. We must accept these things as basic to the Christian life and not be overly upset by the more negative ones among them. Here are some of those things:

  • a simple trust in Christ and an enjoyment of his love which causes us to be thrilled with life;
  • sacrificial love for others including our family members;
  • suffering for our principles;
  • following the way of the cross even though the world sees it as going down on the status scale;
  • proactively seeking to bring people to faith in Christ because that is their only hope for escaping eternal damnation and finding eternal salvation;
  • accepting every disappointment and hurt as a means used by God to bless us;
  • opposing wrong, however out of step we may seem with the rest of society;
  • studying the challenges to Christian thinking in contemporary society and formulating responses to them so that Christians will be warned and armed to face them and non-Christians will be challenged to change their minds;
  • refusing to allow the sham values of our superficial, media-dominated society to influence our values, lifestyle and methods.

 

These are the things I must pursue and make my goals in life. Sadly even many Christians are pursuing things that really have more to do with earthly honour than the will of God. I can assure you that earthly honour will not satisfy your soul. They think they can be satisfied through things like the following:

  • status and earthly power;
  • climbing to the top of the ladder in sports, in the arts, in academics or in our professions in order to prove how capable we are;
  • earning money and acquiring other earthly possessions;
  • revenge and overcoming and humiliating enemies; and
  • proving that they are right and those who opposed them were wrong.

 

God made us humans with eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). We are too exalted to be satisfied with mere earthly honour. Only the joy and peace of the eternal God can truly satisfy our souls. John Wesley said, “O what a pearl of what great a price is the lowest degree of the peace of God.” It is a treasure so valuable that it is worthwhile sacrificing everything in order to obtain it.

 

Let’s “have done with lesser things” and let our lives be consumed by the pursuit of God, of his wonderfully loving nearness, of his joy and peace, and of his service. And, so that we will not be sidetracked and deceived by the powerful forces at work in this world, may we feed ourselves daily with the truths of God which challenge the sin, hypocrisy, cynicism and anger of this age.

Ministry and Power

Written in April 2001

 

Dear friends,

 

Here are some rambling thoughts that I jotted down in response to a query from a friend about power.

 

Ajith

 

About Power–I simply do not know what to say. I have such negative thoughts about its impact on the church that I may not be a good person to write on this.

 

Evangelical social workers bring funds and with that comes power, which they often wield in an unservantlike manner resulting in social workers being disliked by the poor.

 

We are so eager for quick expressions of power that specific power praying has become very popular in place of what I would call prevailing prayer. Prevailing prayer agonises over a people for years–patiently waiting for God to break-through and paying the huge price involved in identifying with these people in long-term ministry. How much easier to go to this place and proclaim Christ’s victory over it! Charles Lowe has written a book Territorial Spirits and World Evangelization which makes this point.

 

I fear that this approach to spiritual warfare is causing some unfortunate attitudes–where we view people the way we should be viewing demons, as enemies. Also I feel that when outsiders hear our warfare language they feel that we are waging a war against them and this could cause some unnecessary opposition.

 

The focus on power could be causing people to be insensitive to others. The triumphalistic attitude could cause people to think that by virtue of their position in Christ and God’s Lordship over the universe, they can worship God freely wherever they are. This could cause insensitivity to neighbours. The result could be that they disturb the neighbours by loud worship. This is also causing unnecessary antagonism and giving persecutors an excuse for doing what they are doing. This seems to be a problem world-wide. A recent report I read on the persecution of Christians in Indonesia mentions loud worship as one of the accusations brought against Christians.

 

I was really excited when the church rediscovered the forgotten doctrines of the power of Christ and spiritual warfare some years ago. But recently I have felt that we need a few correctives to the excesses of this emphasis especially when it is divorced from the Christian emphasis on the primacy of love for neighbours.

 

Also I fear that in the church we are seeing so much jockeying for power and influence that the leadership of the evangelical movement may be using fleshly methods for achieving good aims which could on the long run be counter-productive. Again I feel that we are using the power of position and funds etc. to achieve goals without the attitude of servanthood which should characterise our lives.

 

For example, when someone does something wrong we present the rule book and the disciplinary inquiry method to check him/her without using the pastoral method of ministering to the person in depth. This, of course, takes time as we open ourselves to the anger and bitterness that the wrongdoer has. Instead of an hour’s disciplinary inquiry we may need to have ten personal conversations of an hour each. These conversations could produce a lot of pain as the wrongdoer may blame us for the situation etc. My point is that the rule book is replacing pastoral care in the church today.

 

In pastoral care there will be a lot of disciplining. But is not done in a legal way–it is done relationally. On the long run however the pastoral care method could be so much more redemptive in terms of restoring the wrongdoer. But people used to exercising authority have no time for such long drawn out methodologies.

 

On Leaving Behind a Legacy

Cairo, February 2010

 

His Burial Place Unknown (34:6, 9b). The record of the burial of Moses is also significant: “…and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day” (34:6). There has been some discussion about who the “he” is that buried Moses. The text does not make it abundantly clear. The writer/editor who inserted this last part to Deuteronomy could be saying God buried Moses. Joshua is also mentioned in this passage often, and it could be him. The writer could even be using “he” as a collective term to refer to the people of Israel.

Is it not interesting that the burial place of Moses is not known? Chris Wright points out that some later Jewish interpreters saw this as a balance to the emphasis in Deuteronomy on the closeness of Moses to God. He explains, “There is danger that one who had spent so much time face to face with God (v. 10), one who spoke for God almost interchangeably at times, one who had mediated the blessings and the judgements of God, might come to be unduly venerated.” However, there is no grave that would tempt the people to have an idolatrous shrine for Moses.

I am writing this from Cairo, in Egypt, where the story of Moses began. We have a free day and some of the participants of the meeting I am here for are visiting the pyramids. The ancient Egyptians made sure that there were monuments to their great kings and queens. Moses’ great legacy was the Word. He had no interest in any other on-going legacy. Then and now people speak of dynasties. Leadership is passed on to the children of leaders after they complete their term of office. While this is not necessarily wrong, it is never an important factor determining the choice of leaders. The qualifications for Christian leadership are devotion to God and the ability to lead people to follow God and his ways. If the child of a leader is most qualified, then he or she can be appointed. But Moses’ left no dynasty. His successor, Joshua, was not related to him. He did not even belong to Moses’ tribe (Levi); he came from the tribe of Ephraim (Num. 13:8). Yet, our passage later says, “…the people of Israel obeyed [Joshua] and did as the Lord had commanded Moses” (34:9b). When the people obeyed Joshua, they were actually doing as the Lord had commanded Moses. Moses’ great legacy was the Word. As we have said before, that is the legacy we must seek to leave behind: not great books that we have written, not books written about us, not buildings that bear our name; but people who seek to faithfully follow God.

I believe almost everything I do in ministry—especially in studying, teaching and preaching the Word—has been influenced by my mentor during my graduate studies, Dr. Dan Fuller. He has a brilliant mind and an amazing grasp of the Bible. I am greatly embarrassed that he is not too well known today, while I have received a measure of recognition, even though I see myself as a dwarf in the fields of Bible and theology in comparison to him. Seminary authorities sometimes questioned Dr Fuller about why he was not writing more. This is something that seems to be required of seminary professors nowadays. He would respond saying that he was writing people books! One of the students he influenced is John Piper—one of the most prolific and influential writers in the church today.

The record of the end of Moses’ life shows what we should have as a primary ministry aspiration: get people into the Word and teach them to obey the Word. Earthly monuments will be insignificant in light of the glory of eternity. In one of the few glimpses of heaven we have in the Bible, the twenty-four elders “cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” (Rev. 4:10b-11). Only God is worthy of glory. The thrill of seeing our God face to face will be so great that we would gladly lay the rewards for our service—our heavenly crowns—at the feet of God. Let us not waste our precious time and energy trying to leave legacies on earth that will make people remember us.

In all we do, the only ultimate vision or primary motivation we have is the glory of God. And if we have lived with that as a goal, we have lived well. The great composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, often wrote at the end of the musical scores of his compositions the initials, “S.D.G.”, for Soli Deo Gloria, meaning, “To God alone, the glory.” Yet, he knew that he could not do this work of glorifying God on his own strength. So he would often initial his blank manuscript pages with the marking, “J.J.,” for Jesu Juva, meaning, “Help me, Jesus.” May that be our prayer too as we spend our remaining days on earth with a passion to bring glory to God along: “Help me, Jesus!”

 

Leadership Succession

January 2010

 

Dear friends,

Just a note to tell you that I had a wonderful time in the Philippines. I felt much freedom as I preached. It was a joy to have good fellowship with lay people who really love and serve God while being in the marketplace.

In three towns–Manila, Cebu and Davao–we had public meetings to release the Philippine edition of my book The Call to Joy and Pain published by OMF Lit. This is the ninth edition of that book to be released. And I think it is the nicest! It is a delight to know the quality of some of the literature coming out of Asia.

I was also able to complete chapter 31 for my Preaching commentary on Deuteronomy. It was really applicable to me because it described the procedures followed in Moses handing over the leadership to Joshua–something that I am hoping to do myself. The overwhelming message to me from this passage was that the whole focus was on encouraging the people to be obedient to God’s Word after Moses died. In order to do this Moses had to do two things.

  • He had to leave a written repository which would help them obey God and return to him after they have strayed. This was done especially through a song which would become part of the folklore of the people. Even when they have forgotten God and his ways they would sing it without caring for the words because it had become a one of their cultural practices–somewhat like the hymns sung by British football (soccer) spectators today. One day God would use the words of those songs to bring them back to himself.

 

  • The other thing Moses was to do was to spend time with the leaders explaining the Word to them for they were the ones who would ensure that the vision of God for the nation would be communicated to the people. Without wasting time on elaborate farewells we must spend our last days most with the leaders drumming the ethos of the movement into them. If what drives a movement is its programme, the likelihood of the movement departing soon from its original vision and crumbling once a strong leader leaves is great. The biblical model for movements is for them to be driven by a passion for its mission derived from God’s unchanging Word. If the leader has been concentrating on communicating that passion to his or her leaders, just like Jesus did with the Great Commission, then the likelihood is much greater that the movement will pursue the passion after the strong leader is gone is greater.

No time was spent for praising the achievements of Moses, whom some consider to have been the greatest national leader in human history. I thought of all the precious time, energy and resources that are wasted trying to praise and recognise departing leaders and leave behind things that will help people remember them and their legacy. There is no need for people to remember us. What is important is to leave a people with the vision of God’s desires for them, so that even after they stray they could come back to God. Moses’ legacy was the Word of God he gave to the people!

William Carey said, When I am gone, speak not of William Carey, but of William Carey’s Savior.

And what a wonderful Saviour we serve! I was preaching the same sermon in the three book launches–a sermon I must now have preached over 50 times. Each time I was more excited about the truth in it because it is truth from the Word of God. I have just finished two busy months where I have preached and taught about 65 times. But I am more fired up about preaching than I was when I began my ministry 33 years ago. Why? because the Word of God is such a powerful instrument to handle and the Lord Jesus is such a wonderful Saviour to serve.

Thanks for your prayers,

Ajith