Tuesday, February 12, 2008

God calls servants, not heroes (sermon by Pastor Thomas Chong)

Last Lord’s day, 20 January 2008, a visiting minister, Pastor Thomas Chong from Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church preached a very encouraging message from the book of Judges chapters 6 to 7.

Pastor Thomas preached on the famous account of Gideon. His topic was “God calls servants, not heroes”. He spoke about Gideon’s fear when the Lord called him as he was from a poor family and least among his people. He was terribly conscious of his limitations and weaknesses. Pastor Thomas said our weaknesses always trouble us but he encouraged us that God has already taken into consideration our weaknesses when He calls us. He calls us despite of our limitations and weaknesses so that when a task is accomplished it is clearly seen that we are merely an instrument and it is He that works through us by His grace.

Pastor Thomas also spoke about Gideon’s obedience despite his fears. He said courage is not the absence of fear but courage is to go on despite of fears. Gideon had to order things aright in his own household. He had to bring down the altar of Baal but he feared his own people will get angry and so he did it by night. They were indeed very furious when they found out what he had done and they wanted to kill him but God protected him. From this portion, Pastor Chong exhorted us that if we want to be useful to God and be of a spiritual blessings to others, we must first order our life aright with God. Our obedience and our commitment to the Lord must come first.

Lastly, Pastor Thomas shared on the sufficiency of God. Gideon’s army were reduced from a huge number to a mere 300 to fight against the huge armies of the enemies. It was God Who specifically chose these 300 hundred men and the rest went home. From here we see the necessity of our weaknesses. The reason why God reduced Gideon’s army was to ensure that the victory is clearly His works and the Israelites cannot say that they are delivered by their own hands. The Israelites were to see their own weaknesses but God was to accomplish the victory for them. Pastor Thomas said we can learn that we are weak but God works nevertheless through weak vessels. He warned us of the danger of self-sufficiency and dependent upon self.

Pastor Thomas encouraged us to recognize that we are merely instruments in the hands of a mighty God, and it is the Lord using us, not we ourselves. And when God calls, though we sense our weaknesses and limitations, we must obey. God is committed to work and accomplish His purposes in and through us, when He calls us. We are all called to be servants, the Lord alone is our Hero. The cross is a symbol of weaknesses but our Lord was crucified on the cross. God used the symbol of weaknesses and turned it into a symbol of grace in His work of salvation and redemption. Salvation is all of grace. God taking our curse/our weaknesses to reflect the glory of His salvation! He challenged us by asking “What has God called you to do?” God calls servants, not heroes.

When the MP3 sermon is available for download 0n my church’s website, I highly recommend that you download it and listen to it, if you can. I am sure you will be greatly encouraged and challenged by the message. It is encouraging to see Pastor Thomas Chong himself serving our Lord so faithfully and cheerfully despite his great afflictions and struggles with cancer for many years. It is heart breaking to see him so frail and to know that he has been very ill, but also greatly heartened to see him pressing on in the Lord’s grace and strength. It is evident that in his weaknesses, the power and glory of God is shining forth. He is himself living out the very message that he shared with us. His testimony is an encouragement to many and it magnifies the Lord.

This sermon is a great encouragement to me and I believe to anyone who is conscious of his/her weaknesses. We desire to walk closer with the Lord and to serve Him all the days of our life. But we are sadly conscious of our limitations and weaknesses. When God calls us or open a door of service for us, we often shrink back. We wonder how are we going to serve the Lord considering our weaknesses or limitations. Or sometimes we find ourselves struggling in our service for the Lord and don’t know how to carry on. Our weaknesses and limitations trouble us daily. But here is the encouragement. God knows our weaknesses and limitations. When He calls us to serve Him, He has already taken these into considerations. Yet He is please to use us, so that we may know that we are merely instruments in the hands of a mighty God. When all is done, it will be clearly seen that it is all of the Lord, and God glorifies Himself through our work.

This is often the struggles especially of those who are afflicted with illnesses or disability. Mental illness in particular is a stigma in our societies. In the past, those who suffered from mental illness were confined in institutions or mental hospitals. Thank God for the discovery of medicine and other helps that make it possible for a patient with mental illness to live among the society, to function almost close to normal, and to contribute a little to the society.

And God knows our mental illness. He allows it out of His love and sovereignty. We may not always understand why, but we have no doubt of His love for us. He Who gave His only begotten son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to suffer and die on the cross for us to redeem us from sins and eternal condemnation, continues to demonstrate His love for us especially in our afflictions. We have found Him to be our refuge and strength. In our weaknesses, afflictions and trials, we have experienced His love and faithfulness in many wonderful ways, found His promises precious to souls, His presence and His Words comfort us, and His grace sufficient for us. For it is often in the darkest days in our life, that the mercies and faithfulness of God is most felt and experienced. It is then that we know by experience that He is our refuge and strength.

And despite our afflictions, weaknesses and limitations, God has a work for us to do. Our mental illness is our special calling through which we can be useful for the Lord and be a blessing to others. Through our illness and afflictions, we are sanctified and drawn closer to the Lord as we cast our cares upon Him and experience afresh His love and faithfulness. We experience much comfort from God through His Words and the love and kindness of His people. God comforts us so that we can comfort others with His comfort.

“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

It is sometimes very difficult to understand how a person who suffers from clinical depression or other mental illness feels or what they have to go through. Unless one has gone through it himself, it is almost impossible to imagine the pain, anguish and hopelessness this illness can bring at times. So it is hard for others to comfort such a person. True, ultimately it is God alone that can comfort us but God does usually uses means and human as instruments. When one is mentally ill, he can hardly feel God’s presence with him because depression has a way of numbing his brain and disabling it from functioning properly (what some people termed as chemical imbalance). The presence and encouragement of another person who has gone through the same deep water and experience the deliverance from God, can at times be very therapeutic and most comforting. Our presence can make a difference in another sufferer’s life even if we can hardly do anything besides being there and just assuring him that someone cares. He can be comforted that if a human being can care for him so much, how much more will God care for him? So God has a calling for us in our own afflictions. He calls us to comfort others with the same comfort that He has comforted us.

But whether it be mental illness or other afflictions or trials in others’ life, we are still called to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice. So even when others are going through other afflictions and trouble, we can also learn to comfort and encourage them with God’s comfort. As God has preserved and delivered us time and again from very painful and difficult experiences, we can bring hope and comfort to others by sharing God’s mercies and faithfulness to us, and encourage them to hope in God Whose mercies endureth forever. May God give us the grace and strength to serve Him in this unique calling of encouraging others so that He may be magnified and his saving grace made known and experienced by His suffering people.

I found great encouragement when I watch the series of videos by Dr. David P Murray on “Depression and the Christian.” These series of 6 very excellent messages are available on .pdf, .mp3 and video formats which can be downloaded from the website of Sermon Audio. You can also read the articles from my category on your right hand side under the heading “Depression and the Christian”.

In Message 1 “The Crisis”, Dr David P. Murray made the following observations:

“Like all affliction in the lives of Christians, mental illness should be viewed as a ‘talent’ (Matt.25:14ff) which can be invested in such a way that it brings benefit to us and others, as well as glory to God.

Dr James Dobson, the Christian psychologist, observed that ‘nothing is wasted in God’s economy.’ That “nothing” includes mental illness.

Mind over Mood, while not written from a Christian perspective, illustrates the possible ‘benefits’ of depression thus:

‘An oyster creates a pearl out of a grain of sand. The grain of sand is an irritant to the oyster. In response to the discomfort, the oyster creates a smooth, protective coating that encases the sand and provides relief. The result is a beautiful pearl. For an oyster, an irritant becomes the seed for something new. Similarly, Mind Over Mood will help you develop something valuable from your current discomfort. The skills taught in this book will help you feel better and will continue to have value in your life long after your original problems are gone.’

It is usually broken people that God uses most. In Passion and Purity, Elisabeth Elliot quoted Ruth Stull of Peru:

‘If my life is broken when given to Jesus it is because pieces will feed a multitude, while a loaf will satisfy only a little lad.’ “

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