Friday, September 28, 2012

Pharisees

TITLE: PHARISEES
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 5:20
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 28 September 2012

"For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20)

Antidote: Humility with open hands
(Credit: www.youthworkinternational.com)
In the days of Jesus, Pharisees are the spiritual masters. Whenever one needs a word, an advice, or a teaching, go look for a Pharisee. They are the experts. They are the ones who have spent years studying and practising the Scriptures. They teach. They speak. They dish out authoritative advice. 

Much like people who need legal advice, they go to the lawyer, and if the case is extremely important, they engage the best lawyer money can buy. Or the best surgeon for medical procedures, or the best teacher with the greatest educational accolades. In the academy, we look for PhDs, for academics who have years of experience or have published many papers at world renowned conferences. We even compare PhDs as if certain doctorates are more prestigious than others.

For the Jewish community in the first century, if you need an interpretation of the Scriptures, a word of advice from a spiritual guru, you go to the Pharisee. They are the ones with the equivalent of a "Dr" or a prestigious title to prefix their names. To be a Pharisee is not easy. It takes years of hard work and training. It takes a lifetime of dedication to study and to soak in the Torah. In those days, a Pharisee is highly respected. Their words speak volumes and their interpretation of the law is more accepted than criticized. In those days, people do not question their words or wisdom. They are more than willing to receive them humbly.

Yet, Jesus sees through the truth from the untruths. He is able to recognize the less than pure interpretations of the Scriptures. Himself an avid student, Jesus is disgusted with the double standards the highly regarded Pharisees are practicing. Since Jesus' days, we see a 180 degree change of perception of a Pharisee. How on earth can a highly respected Pharisee in the 1st Century becomes so despised in modern times?

A) The Pharisee in Jesus' Days

Last week, I preached on the story of the lame man at the pools of Bethesda in Jerusalem. Jesus has done a wonderful thing. He heals the lame man by simply asking him to "Get Up! Pick up your mat and walk!" Immediately, the man who has been lame for 38 years gets up, picks up his mat and walk. Yet, the healing itself is not the main thing. The main thing that John the gospel writer is trying to highlight is not the healing but the DAY of the healing. It is the Sabbath Day. According to the Pharisees of that day, picking up a mat is considered work. Healing is also considered work. That automatically incriminates both the lame man and Jesus as having broken the law. The punishment is severe. Making others commit a crime is even more severe.

I know. For those of us who have witnessed healing, the first thing is joy and wonder. Not the Pharisees of that day. So focused are they on the practicing of the law, that they fail to see the merits of mercy and grace. Instead of rejoicing in a good turn of events, they choose to harp on the legalistic practice of their INTERPRETATION of the law.  Jesus sees through all of these. He knows the thoughts and intents of the religious leaders of that day.  That is why He challenges the people,

"For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20)

B) The Accidental Pharisee

Larry Osborne recently wrote a book that talks exactly about how believers in our times can become such a Pharisee, the wrong kind.  He observes one way in which a believer of good intent turns into a pharisee of selfish intent. Let me explain it simply in three stages. Let me call Stage One as Good Intention stage. Like most people, we all want to grow and bear fruit. We desire to be faithful and want to be better people. So we read books. We attend conferences. We sign up for Bible classes or intensive seminary courses. For some, like me, we dedicate years to study theology.

Stage Two is the Great Impression. Here, the believer gets transformed dramatically through some life changing event. It can be an amazing mission trip experience, or a powerful conference speaker. It can also be a great impression from a powerful preacher or influential teacher. It can be a great new idea that grips the heart so much that one starts to think mighty thoughts on how to change the world.

Stage Three becomes the fork where one either becomes a person who is humble and holy, or a person who moves toward arrogance and self-righteousness. It is at the juncture that we are at greatest danger of becoming an "Accidental Pharisee." Osborne gives this observation of people at this juncture.

"But as you press forward, it’s inevitable that you begin to notice that some people lag behind. And it’s at this point that your personal pursuit of holiness can morph into something dangerous: a deepening sense of frustration with those who don’t share your passionate pursuit of holiness." (Larry Osborne, Accidental Pharisees, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, p20)

C) Misplaced Zeal

When our zeal becomes misplaced, we substitute the desire to glorify God with the desire to glorify self. We let our knowledge become the key to humiliate or embarrass other people. We use our experience, knowledge, and qualifications as conduits to show off our great learning. As a result, our zeal becomes misaligned with God's will, and we have turned away to the dark side. We grow scales of the old-time Pharisees of the age.

I often warn myself the dangers of accidental pharisees. One thing I do is to make sure people in my Church call me by my name. I like to say, "Only strangers call me Dr." That said, there is a place to use titles and our experiences. Having it does not mean hiding it. What matters more is not the using it, but HOW we are using it.

When it comes to people with great knowledge, the journey only gets tougher and sometimes rougher. We need to let mercy and grace follow us right through. For every piece of knowledge, double pad it with grace and mercy. For every piece of experience, triple load it with gentleness, patience, and humility. For every person we meet who does not have the expertise or experience we have, be more ready to listen than to speak. Then, when we speak, we can speak not to boost our own ego, but to help the person as best as we can. Humility also means we need to ask permission to help them. It also means learning to receive advice as well.

Perhaps, this is something we all need to learn. Humility is not something that only the learned needs to learn. We all do. That way, our kind of righteousness is on the way of exceeding that of the Pharisees in Jesus' days, and the "accidental pharisees" of our times.

Be humble, for Christ is humble.

THOUGHT: “Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.” (Jane Austen)


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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Success in Ministry

TITLE: SUCCESS IN MINISTRY
SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 12:9
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 21 September 2012

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Last week, I was among a gathering of pastors by gracious invitation of the Bargens, owners of a Christian Retreat Center in the NorthWest part of Washington state. Called a "Pastors and Wives' Escape," We mingled with pastors both young and old, from both Canada and the US. We marveled at the beauty of the place, and the awesome hospitality of the hosts. They refuse any payment. They only wanted to honour God's servants, both active and retired. They took care of the housing and the meals, the programs and the refreshments, the setting up and the cleaning up. In one word, my wife and I are deeply grateful.

Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center
Since entering full-time theological studies nine years ago, my family have been surviving on our savings and love gifts from friends and well-wishers. My current work in Church also helps pay part of the bills. As we gain more years in things Church and theology, we lose more years in our former careers and work experiences crucial for our previous professions. Like what an ex-colleague tells me, "You will be losing your seniority." I try keeping up with things technology, but when I compare with the newer graduates, and the ferocious advancement of all things latest and greatest, I cannot help but feel old and slow, seeing my former technological accomplishments appear more like a history book, than a technical resume.

Right on. Indeed, I see many of my peers moving way up the career ladder. Seeing them with glittering titles and comfortable bank accounts, we do from time to time, wonder if we have made the wrong choice. I see people in Church taking month-long holidays in the Far East, through the Mediterranean, holy land tours, luxury cruises around the world, trips to Europe, and multiple trips back and forth continents. Their children go to Ivy League universities, and receive multiple job offers from posh corporate firms and big time companies. Some do weekend getaways to places like Las Vegas, New York, drive big cars and live in posh houses. Though not all are like that, the weakness in me, tempts me to look at the haves rather than the have-nots.

For us? No annual holidays of old. No splashes on goodies according to our desires. No big time celebrations of accomplishments. We have largely kept our holidays and any celebration low-key. There is always a budget consideration. This year is particularly hard, that we celebrated our 20th Wedding Anniversary, in so ordinary way: At home. We have reserved our funds for a short family getaway nearby before our daughter goes off to University. With our daughter in her first year at University, and my wife recently retrenched from one of her key jobs, we have to be careful in our spending, and humble in our celebrations. This makes the invitation to the Retreat particularly more meaningful. It is one way that God has said to us: "Don't worry. I will take care of it."

A) Measuring Success

One of the reminders over the 2 day retreat is how we measure success. Many churches measure success on the basis of the 3 Bs: Bodies, Budgets, and Buildings. The more people you have in your church, the bigger the budget, and the classier your buildings are, more or less determine the level of "success" in your church. If you are in a MegaChurch, where people queue up each Sunday to enter the Church, you are deemed to be more successful than the average Church. If more people come when you preach, you are seen to be more successful as far as sermons are concerned. If more people give, the Church is more successful financially. I can understand success from the perspective of the world. The question is, how is success seen from the eyes of God?

Dr Kent Hughes, our keynote speaker argues from 2 Corinthians 12:9, that faithfulness is more important than to be successful. I reflect on what he said, and here is my take home. We do not measure success according to what we see. We measure success according to how God sees.

B) Man's Weakness

The Road Less Traveled?
It is hard. Having lived in the high rolling corporate lifestyle, looking back can sometimes bring a tinge of regret. What if I have NOT given up my cushy job? What if we have simply remained in our previous lifestyles? Will not life be better, at least materially? What about our children? Do they deserve better? Such questions do haunt us from time to time. Such questions can stumble. It can tempt us to complain like the Israelites of old, whose complaining attitude makes God angry.

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (Numbers 21:4-5)
When I see myself wearing a hat of complaint, I am reminded that such things do not honour God.

  • Have I missed out on the invaluable learning and training I have received?
  • Have I undermined the exposure and the experience of pastoral work?
  • Have I appreciated the survival skills developed over these past years?
  • Have I forgotten how God has carried us this far?
  • Remember how the Lord has been faithful to draw the family closer?
I need to be reminded that I do not let any complaint wipe away the faithfulness shown to me over the years.


C) God's Strength

Ministry is a faith journey. It always is. The way we measure success is not according to visible numbers. It is in quiet faithfulness and gradual fruitfulness. Success is not in the eyes of men, but in the eyes of God. For Paul, success is in three things. Firstly, it is recognizing God's grace is sufficient. It is like God saying, "Trust me. Remember now that I will provide sufficiently for you."

Secondly, it relies on God's strengths rather than human strengths. It is like saying, "Care not for how the world sees you. Care for how God sees you."

Thirdly, it boasts in God, that God is able to turn man's weakness around to glorify God. It is like God saying to us, "Go forth in the power of God, not in the power of human strength."

I remember how faithful God has been for the past nine years, to sustain our journey of faith. He has brought many saints to walk alongside us, to encourage, and to motivate us to persevere. We use our testimony regularly to remind our children not to take life for granted. We tell them that as the Lord provide for us, that they trust that we as parents will provide for them. There is no need to worry, we tell them. On a more important level, we need to tell ourselves that we do not worry about how our needs are to be met too! Mind you, kids know when parents worry.

I am encouraged not to be too conscious about how the world sees me. In fact, whenever I introduce myself as a pastor, people around quietly roll their eyes. They seem to have a negative view of people in churches. After all, religion in the West is increasingly painted negatively by the media, no thanks to scandals in the Church, and the accusations of homophobia in others, etc. I prefer not to be distracted by the negativity of the culture, but to be faithful, to be humble, and to show the positive side of Christlikeness.

I am reminded that we serve not out of our own strengths, but in the Power and Might of the Holy Spirit. Measuring success is not in external numbers but in inner transformation of the heart.

D) Measuring Success

Kent Hughes has reminded the group of us that faithfulness is better than worldly success. Tim Keller in his latest book, "Center Church" has urged us to go beyond mere faithfulness, toward fruitfulness.  In ministry, I have learned too that numbers do not necessarily reflect inner changes. Many come for the attractive programs or the charismatic personalities. All you need is to create brilliant programming that attract the masses. You can also hire a powerful orator who can draw in crowds. Yet, that is not the way God measures success. God uses little children to spread his message to be childlike. God uses humble Jesus to speak out against the hypocrisies in society. God uses a small ragtag group of ordinary disciples to rock the world. Conversions by God is more important than crowds drawn in by human strength. It is Christ, not the Church, that ought to be glorified in ministry. It is not preserving the Church in its current state that is important, but glorifying God in ALL manner of Church life. It is not hanging on to old tested ways, but faith in changing our ways to make the gospel known to more. It is not holding on to power in the Church, but to hold on to Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Perhaps, the most important question with regards to success in ministry is this:

"How closely does your church resemble Jesus?"

That is the best measure of success. Thanks John and Ginny, for the wonderful gift of faithfulness for God's servants.

THOUGHT: "As pastors, the greatest battle we face is not a battle against our ministries. It's a battle between our flesh and his Spirit." (Shawn Lovejoy, The Measure of Our Success, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012, p19)

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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Selfishness

TITLE: SELFISHNESS
SCRIPTURE: Daniel 9:4-5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 13 September 2012

I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws." (Daniel 9:4-5)
Admit it.

We are all selfish people, one way or another. Whether it is that mad dash for the last item on sale, or the rude behaviour on the roads, we all have tendencies to see our own points of view as more "right" than others, more "honourable" than others, and more "reasonable" than others. The trouble is, perspectives are often skewed toward our individual selves. In one word, it is "selfishness." My main point this week is this: If selfishness points one to seek answers away from God, I wonder what selflessness or unselfishness can do?

A) The Selfish Gene

Selfishness: The Whole World is about Me.
In a book that launched him to world fame, the famous new atheist, Richard Dawkins, popularizes the idea of "The Selfish Gene." It is a book that trumpets natural selection and evolution. He offers his work as an observation of the behaviour of the human species rather than to try to explain its origin or purpose. It is this very dominant "selfish gene" that will come up tops in the survival of the fittest. The key theme in Dawkins's work is that the whole of life is dependent on a "replicator," something that reproduces itself for survival. My question is, what comes BEFORE this replicator?

Dawkins tries to uphold the doctrine of evolution, that there is no such thing as God, or a Creator. By pinning the the reasons for human selfishness on the gene itself, Dawkins liberates human people from taking direct responsibility, and to blame something else for all their problems. Yet, Dawkins is quick to point out that his book is about "altruism" rather than "selfishness" per se. How he justifies it is beyond me. For that matter, he even advocates that his book is more about the "altruistic" gene. Fine. If that is so, then why the title? Dawkins tries to be playful about it all by saying: "Let us try to teach generosity and altruism because we are born selfish." Through "natural selection," people with selfish genes can actually come together for the common good. I read it as him saying, since we are naturally selfish, why not just be selfish together for the common good?

Great. Like a slippery eel, there is no way for anyone to catch a circular argument, which points back to Dawkins's sleuthic insistence of: "Firstly, I am right, and secondly, if you think I am wrong, refer to the first statement."  This is evident even in the many ways Dawkins attempts to deflect criticisms in his latest preface to his 30th Anniversary edition of "The Selfish Gene."

B) Selfishness

If there is anything good from Dawkins's book, it is his title. It points us to ask why is it "selfish" in the first place? Dawkins prefers to call his book a treatise based on "science." Yet he himself tries to talk about things outside of science, and when he approaches unfamiliar territory of human behaviour and motives, he makes excuses to say that his work does not cover that. In fact, Dawkins is so adamant about natural selection and the superiority of science that I feel it has become his own dogma, his own religion, his god. As one who has studied the sciences and the engineering of life, I can say that even science is based on a series of assumptions. If that is the case, why is Dawkins so cocksure that his central tenets of faith in science and the natural selection of evolution is so right? By setting out to be atheistic in the first place, has he unwittingly cut out the faith element? In fact, it takes a greater leap of faith to believe in Dawkins's treatise than to trust the God of the Bible.

Selfish behaviour is everywhere. I remember one ex-colleague of mine complaining about his boss. "He only cares for himself." The trouble is, I thought to myself, aren't we all caring merely for ourselves too? For every ten people, we will be challenged to find even one who is selfless in their actions. Even in churches, we have this pareto of 10% of the people doing 90% of the work. Is the lack of Christian service an indication of sin even among Christian people?

There is a strong link. I know of friends who have a hard time trying to get people to serve in their churches. They work their hearts out. They call for volunteers. The responses are few and pathetic. Even the few who responded have their own conditions set forth.

  • I can serve only if ___________;
  • If nobody else is doing it, then I will do it;
  • I'm not free. Call someone else. 
  • Who are you to ask me?
  • Why me? 
  • .....

Some senior pastors caught in the bind take up the slack by making their junior staff do the rest of the work. Whether it is driving members to and from church, or leading in singing sessions, or conduct Bible studies, when ordinary members do not want to volunteer, those who are paid have no choice but to pick up the duties no one else wants to do. After all, like what some church members are quick to say: "They are paid after all, right?"

Wrong. A Church is not about distinguishing paid vs unpaid volunteers. It is about coming together to serve one another joyfully and without counting one another's contributions.

C) Selfishness is a Spiritual Condition


I have been studying Jerry Bridges's book on "Respectable Sins" for the past few months with some people from Church. Last week, we touched on the topic of selfishness. Bridges highlights four areas in which people are typically selfish with.
  1. Selfishness about our self-interests;
  2. Selfishness over our time;
  3. Selfishness over our money;
  4. Selfishness over our inconsiderateness.
The first is about putting our own personal interests more important than others, a clear opposite of what Philippians 2:4 is teaching us. The second comes from a sense of inner insecurity that if we do not keep precious time for ourselves, we will lose out. The third is about the nature of human beings to hoard things for themselves. That is one reason why the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer. The fourth puts our own feelings and conveniences above other people. All of these selfish behaviour comes out of one single reason: Our selfish nature. Bridges makes this observation:

"Even after we become Christians, we still have the flesh that wars against the Spirit, and one of its expressions is selfishness. Selfishness is a difficult sin to expose because it is so easy to see in someone else but so difficult to recognize in ourselves." (Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins, Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress,2007, p102)

Voila! We are selfish in the first place because of sin. Each act of selfishness points us away from God. On the contrary, each act of selflessness and unselfishness provides us glimpses of the glory of God.

D) Unselfishness

This week, I have seen examples of unselfishness occurring in the community I am in. Individuals volunteer to help out in Church. People reach out to the needy, even giving out money to those who cannot pay rent. Encouragement flows unexpectedly. I see unselfishness creating a warm feeling inside the hearts of people, that sometimes leads to tears of joy.

When unselfishness happens, selfishness takes a back seat. Let me close.

Any attempt to blame our genetic makeup for any selfish behaviour is not only silly, but downright irresponsible. After all, we have a choice, and we always have the power to make that choice for good, instead of relying on some mechanism inside of us. It is this choice that Dawkins himself agrees that can be used against the "selfish gene" in us.

E) Unselfishness Gives Us Glimpses of Christlikeness

The Bible is very clear that there is something behind anything that is selfish by nature. Sin. Even the prophet Daniel is quick to pray for forgiveness. Imagine that. The man who lived righteously in a foreign land, who had resolved not to defile himself, who braved ferocious lions, and survived the fiery furnace. He too confessed sinful behaviour. While the key goal for Dawkins theory of the "selfish gene" is for physical survival, the confession of Daniel goes beyond surviving physically. He has a spiritual perspective that we are already sinful, and we need help. Physically, whether we like it or not, we are all going to die one day. If that is so, rather than to live this present day with a mysterious dependence on a mysterious natural selection, why not place it on a known Person who walked the earth 2000 years ago, and who has proclaimed that He is the Truth, the Way, and the Life?

Trust not in any genetic makeup. Trust in the One who knows us in and out, genes and all.
THOUGHT: "Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness." (Martin Luther King Jr)

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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Toughest Job in the World?

TITLE: TOUGHEST JOB IN THE WORLD?
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 121
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 5 September 2012

"He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." (Psalm 121:3-4)

My first industrial attachment experience occurred when I was in engineering school. In my third year, I had to apply for a temporary job that lasts six months. It was one way in which my training would be more practice-oriented. Students were given a chance to apply to major engineering corporations or other approved places of work. Some of my esteemed peers, received invitations to work almost immediately. Others like myself had to go through the regular channels, to be interviewed, and hopefully get a good industrial attachment. For me, I harboured thoughts of a job that fulfills the following three conditions.
  1. It is not too far away;
  2. It is relaxed;
  3. It is well paid.
God certainly had a sense of humour. I was posted to a place that required me to wake up at 5.30am for six days a week, allocate at least three hours of travel per day, and received only minimum wages allowed under the program. After all the traveling, I had to cope with the different demands from my work colleagues, who saw me more as an interruption rather than a help. Looking back at my novice experience, I can say for sure that even though I did not get any of my three wishes, my experience was not that bad. There are many kinds of work that are much much tougher than my work experience then. I will be writing about one such job this week.

A) Toughest Job in the World?

One of the toughest jobs in the world is to work your hearts out, to cry your tears dry, and to battle the weariness of body and soul throughout. Not only is one often not paid, one has to fork out additional funds to do the job. This is caregiving.

It strikes me that social work tends to be something many say important, but the money that comes with it are sadly not reflective of the importance placed on it. Lip service? I see how some top bankers and corporate executives sit comfortably in air-conditioned offices, working according to their own time and convenience, and get paid millions of dollars. Their position often makes it difficult for them to appreciate what goes on at the bottom rungs of their organizations. Their pay is high, but their link to the lower ranks is low.

On the contrary, caregivers may come from third world countries, handling most of the household chores as well as taking care of the aged sick elderly person, or children who are chronically ill. They get paid very little. Family members often bear most of the brunt in caregiving. They are hardly paid, and often, they have to help pay for medical bills and other costs associated with the maintenance and care of their loved ones.

Caregiving is one of the toughest, if not the toughest in the world.

B) Give and Give / Take and Take

In Church, I see a lot of stress that comes with non-stop caregiving. Whether it is a case of a man suffering from Alzheimer's, or a child who is autistic, or a young man stricken with cancer, caregivers take the brunt of the physical and emotional demands of caregiving. People may say that love is the greatest. They extol the beauty of grace and of generous giving. They even claim that family bonds will grow tighter during difficult moments. When placed next to the actual suffering and caregiving needed, these come across rudely as empty words. For some caregivers, the prevailing perception of caregiving is that of a "give and give" relationship. They give and give, and keep on giving until they become a spent force.

This leads to a corresponding perception of the recipients of care, especially those who are totally dependent on caregiving for their daily activities. Readers who have experience with stroke victims can testify to this fact. When a sick person cannot help him or her own self at all, the caregiver does all the work. In such a case, the sick person becomes one who take and take, and take some more. Seeing how some families break down can often break my heart, causing me to pray: "Lord, why must they suffer?"

C) The Journey of Care

The Psalmist puts into words his journey through the valleys and the hills as he travels through the hills of Jerusalem. When he looks up at the hills, he exclaims aloud:

"I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?" (Ps 121:1)

Knowing he is not alone, he follows up quickly by acknowledging his spiritual companion.

"My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." (Ps 121:2)


The question is accompanied quickly with a knowledge that is firm and promising. Just like the Shepherd Psalm in Ps 23, the psalmist here declares out loud that it is the Lord who will comfort and will strengthen him on his journey through the ups and downs of the hills. His recognition of the Lord as "Maker" is more than symbolic. He knows that whether he is on earth or whether in heaven, God is present. God is in control. God is with him through thick and thin. God who made him, will also know and understand him. This knowledge is the essence of care. When we care for someone, we are essentially putting our words of love into works of action. We translate our intentions into tangible attention. We make known our inner selves through our outward deeds. The psalmist knows that he is cared for, and continues with a statement of trust.

"He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." (Ps 121:3-4)

D) Trusting God

When we know we are cared for, our capacity for caring rises exponentially. With confidence growing, the psalmist moves from the first person to the second person. He moves on beyond self-care, taking the position of sharing his experience and encouragement with "you." He assures readers that we will not slip, that God will watch over us. Most strikingly, see how the psalmist describes that the Carer from above will "neither slumber nor sleep." I know of caregivers who get weary and more agitated as the care period lengthens. When their financial and emotional reserves are spent, the stress takes on a whole new level of despair. Just knowing that there is God who is caring for all of us, the sick and the caregiver together, is a big encouragement itself.

At an Alzheimer's Conference, one speaker by the name of  Dr Majid Fotuhi gives the following five tips for caring for the caregiver.
  1. Tease your memory through brain games (give your minds a needed leisurely break)
  2. Strengthen your heart through exercise (physical workout helps)
  3. Be curious and learn (mental health)
  4. Laugh (emotional health)
  5. Eat well (Inner body balance)
All through it, he leaves out one important component: Spiritual health. In our technological world, medical professionals are good at scientific data, counselors are good with emotional counseling, and healthy professionals are good with physical routines and nutrition advice. The spiritual is often left to religious groups and pastoral personnel. Such compartmentalization only means that there is no single person who is able to help the caregiver or the recipient to piece together all of these aspects into one whole.

From my years of theological training, I have learned that the biggest challenge for caregivers is not theological. It is personal self identity. If we fail to know ourselves, we will not be able to handle grief or the pains of others who need us. Caregivers who are well-equipped with the technical know-how, but lack the self-knowledge of one's limits and potential, are digging themselves a future hole of despair. Let me share some tips for caregivers as I close.

E) Caregiving Tips

I learn this from an excellent book by Nell Noonan entitled, "The Struggles of Caregiving." First, recognize that the struggle between frustration and faith is real. It is not something to be resolved overnight, but something to anticipate from time to time. Let patience guide. Second, when we care for others, it is only a matter of time before we start to struggle with our own mortality and weaknesses. More accurately, we struggle with our own self-identity.
  • What will I do if no one care for me?
  • What if I get cancer too?
  • How can I understand this pain?
  • Who am I to give care?
Third, there will come a struggle with guilt. Could I have done more? Have I missed out an important step? What about the opportunity costs associated with the time and resources I have spent? For example, if a mother spends all her money and resources on the sick child, what about her other children who needs her attention too?

Four, there will be a struggle to try to make sense of the ups and downs so as to arrive at some form of equilibrium. How do I make sense of it all? Not all of these four stages will happen in sequence. They are just phases that can affect caregivers in different points of the journey.

That said, knowing that there are real struggles pertaining to faith, frustration, guilt, self-identity, and our weaknesses, we will be in a stronger position of caregiving. Add to that the faith and trust on God, we get spiritual help from above.

So, is caregiving the toughest job in the world? Maybe. I believe that while caregiving is tough, without faith and hope, caregiving is much tougher. This is why I believe the spiritual aspect of caregiving can never be ignored.

Begin with trust. Continue with trusting God. Le the One who watches us, who neither slumber nor sleep, keep us in Christ Jesus. When faith is present, the toughest job in the world is given to the Maker of heaven and earth. Caregiving is already tough. Let us not make it any tougher.

THOUGHT: "Within God-times, we allow our breaking hearts and weary souls to meet God at the deepest level of our suffering and struggle. When that occurs, a wondrous thing happens: God consoles and strengthens as only God can. A second outcome is surprising and humbling: we learn to console others in the ways God consoled us." (Nell Noonan)


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