All the World's a Classroom
“Academic excellence combined with spiritual excellence.” “Higher than the highest human thoughts can reach is God’s ideal for His children.” These are the ideals that we hold so dear. Following the examples of Daniel, Joseph, and Nehemiah, we desire to achieve and maintain the highest standard in our work so that God’s name can be glorified. Naturally, the enemy will not be happy with these efforts. I want to take some time to write, hopefully as an encouragement, about a trying experience that I believe those who strive for excellence are (most) susceptible to.
Everyone loves the days when the sun is out, the air is fresh, the flowers are blooming, and you just got an A on a test. Or if you’re not an undergraduate anymore, you can replace the A with a successful interview, a word of affirmation from your superior, an accomplishment at work, a thoughtful deed from a friend, an impactful Bible study, a successful event, or any other triumphant moments or instances when you receive a token of appreciation. But I want to talk about the days when these things seem to be miles away. I’m not talking about the regular, mundane, and uneventful days; I’m talking about days when the reality is polar opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. These are days when your effort is never enough, when self doubts arise, and when you feel like a complete failure both in deed and in character.
In moment such as these, there is a voice that starts out faint but grows increasingly loud in your head that you can’t seem to ignore. The voice sounds something like this: “What kind of student/worker/minister are you? You can’t do anything right. Your school work is falling apart. Your ministry is not having any impact. You say you want to glorify God, but how can He look good if you’re being such a failure? You say you believe in excellence, but look at your mediocre school work. Your spiritual life is an unpracticed theory, and you’re not even a decent person. Nothing about you is excellent.”
Have you heard these words before? I most certainly have. In fact, I’ve heard it more than once in my life, and the more I strive to be the best that I can be, the louder these voices seem to be. How did a quest for excellence turn into an endless fall to the mire of self?
The number of times that this voice appears is not the real issue. The real issue is whose voice I thought it was. There was once a time when I thought this was God’s voice. He helped me realize that it wasn’t, and that He loved me even before I discovered my own faults and weaknesses. I know enough to believe that He’s not a condemning God. But as this phenomenon occurred again and more intensely so, I realized that I thought it was my own voice, that I was condemning myself.
Once was a week when I basically went down this spiral, worse than ever before. It was again, the week when I saw “Passion of the Christ.” What struck me powerfully was the scene of Jesus praying in Gethsemane. Lucifer was there. Funny, I always pictured Jesus praying by Himself. Of course Satan was there; it was the most crucial moment of Jesus’ mission! There were two things that Satan whispered in Jesus’ ears as He called the Father’s name and as the Father withdrew His presence from Jesus, “Who is your father? …Who are you?” I gasped as I heard those words being uttered and it gave me the chills as I thought to myself, “I’ve heard that before. That voice sounds familiar.”
It grieved me to realize that I had been listening to the enemy’s voice more than God’s. Yet, I felt so liberated because as scales fell from my eyes, I finally saw that it was not my voice that condemned me. It was the enemy’s. It was comforting to know that this phenomenon is actually a temptation, and Jesus did not succumb to it in Gethsemane. It is not humility when we doubt the identity that God has invested in us. When Jesus did not feel God’s presence, when everything around Him did not testify that He was the Son of God, when His own countenance was so marred that even Lucifer himself looked more majestic than Him, He believed. His faith clings on to His identity which the Father had revealed from before, and praise Jesus, He clings on to His mission.
The Bible tells us in Revelation 12:10, And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. Accused. That was exactly what I felt. The enemy of the soul was accusing me.
The verse before tells us that he deceives the whole world. I was deceived – Satan was the last person I thought of when I heard those voices. In Zachariah 3:1-7, there is a vision of Joshua the high priest in front of the judgment of God.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.
In front of the judgment seat of God, we have to face our life’s record. May we remember that none of us lives unto ourselves.
The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
The accuser does not have the last word. God has the power to rebuke Satan. When God chooses someone, no one else can contend with Him. He said Joshua was a brand that He plucked from the fire.
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel.
Only in verse 3 does the Bible give the detail that Joshua’s garment was actually filthy. But apparently it didn’t matter to God. He still was a brand that God plucked out, dirty though his garment may be.
He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.”
God then did not leave Joshua in his dirty garment, as He does not leave us in our iniquity. He takes it away and clothes us with new garments, garments that we cannot get by ourselves.
Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by.
When God clothes us, He does it completely. He does not do a shoddy job.
And the angel of the LORD admonished Joshua, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here.
After all of that, then comes the bidding. Remain in my ways, and greater things are in store for you.
Oh the beauty of justification by faith: to be made right in the presence of God! What more grace can God bestow upon us?
So, to my fellow believers in excellence, when you hear those condemning voices, know that you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. Satan may accuse you of many things and all of his accusations may be true, but God has a stronger claim upon you, and He takes our filthy garment and replaces it with His garment of righteousness.
Revelation 12:11, the verse right after Satan was identified as the accuser of the brethren, says, And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
There is a way to overcome. It doesn’t say that we overcome by consoling ourselves that we’re not that bad. Neither does it say that we overcome by working so hard to attain that excellence back. The key to overcoming is Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The blood of the Lamb justifies us, and we should never stop testifying this good news. God has made a way for sinners to be His children, and there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom 8:1).
Don’t listen to the voices, look to Jesus, and keep getting up.
I watched the Passion of the Christ movie for the first time yesterday. As I watched every strike and blow they made, all I could hear over and over again is “with his stripes we are healed.”
In an age where Christ on the cross is often portrayed in a much cleaned up version, seeing the cross in its true dread (or closer to the true version) gave new meanings to “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” He was so marred that “we hid as it were our faces from him.” It was hard to see. Jesus was not speaking in metaphors when He said, “This is my body which is given for you.” He did give us all that He had, all that He was. Indeed, the cross was not a pretty thing to behold, and how crazy it must had been back then to proclaim that you believed He was the King.
When we behold Jesus and fix our eyes on Him, it is true that all others grow strangely dim. When I woke up today, all of the things that my soul was lamenting over this week went away. None of it mattered anymore, and I want to take this Easter season to ponder and meditate on Jesus alone. How is it that it’s so easy to focus on petty problems instead of the One who is the Solver of the greatest problem in the universe, sin.
How did Jesus do it?
How could Jesus bear all the pain, suffering, humiliation, and separation from the Father? Where could one find the strength to endure such great afflictions with unwavering faith? He trusted the Father, even when He could not see or feel His presence.
I remember Jesus prayed a most profound prayer in Gethsemane, saying “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” He found His strength in surrendering to His Father. Likewise, the strength of a Christian is directly proportional to his/her surrender. “Nothing is apparently more helpless, yet really more invincible, than the soul that feels its nothingness, and relies wholly on the merits of the Savior. God would send every angel in heaven to the aid of such an one, rather than allow him to be overcome.” Testimonies for the Church, vol 7, p.17.
Consider Jesus on the cross. Consider Him whose essence is love, that He would do such a thing for worms such as fallen, sinful men. This is the God that we surrender our lives and our will to. This God, His character, is a marvelous One to behold … and to belong to.
There with every slide, I see God’s grace written all over it. It was God all along who had helped me.
Sustained by God Himself and by the prayers of the saints, on Wednesday, January 20, 2010 I passed my program’s qualifying exam. I have to write about it, mostly for my own sake, because God did something marvelous.
The day before, my colleague and I had to give an extended version of the presentation to faculty members from another department. The presentation was a success and everyone was very pleased with it. It was a good practice and I actually felt confident about my exam. The work had been done and I pretty much knew the topic well. What made me a little worried was actually how not worried I was, and whether I was being presumptuous or not.
So the day came. I was looking forward to this day because it would be a closure for an episode in my life that I was ready to close. Half an hour before my defense, I went into the exam room to set up and pray. I sat down and flipped through the slides to make sure everything looks okay, and at that very moment, I was flooded with a sense of amazement and wonder. There with every slide displayed on the screen, I could see God’s grace that had been sustaining me this past year both to do the work that went behind every slide, as well as granting the strength to create the slides themselves. The presentation was made under strenuous circumstances, involving much drama (that I will not get into). It was God’s grace that helped me survive a rough summer last year when I struggled through a time of mourning and healing, felt inadequate to do research, and was discontented about life in general. He brought me into the society of brilliant and able people whom I could work with so that much was accomplished in spite of me.
It was God’s grace that got me through a very challenging fall semester, with many sleepless nights, high academic pressure, and even spiritual struggle toward the end. It was God’s grace that saved me at GYC from my old life and resurrected me once again into a new life, ready to start afresh with the new year. And now I had come to this point knowing that the only reason I could stand and present this work, is God. Presumption was not possible, for I knew how reliant I was on Christ. I knew that He will help me with this exam; there was no doubt about it in my mind. There was not a tittle of nervousness. But instead, there was joy. My committee may listen to my presentation as an academic requirement, but in my heart it was my declaration of God’s goodness. This presentation was my act of worship; this was my testimony. And so I knelt again and asked one thing for my audience. If there was anything that they would see in me, I’d want them to see that I had been with Jesus and Jesus had been with me.
The exam went extremely well. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything go that well before. God gave me clarity of thought and insights to answer their questions; questions that I’m surprised I could answer even as I reflect on them now. It lasted for one and an half hour, and they told me I passed with flying colors. My advisor was very happy, saying that it was what he’d like to see in all of his students. I came back to the room and knelt down again to praise God for His divine presence and for such a miraculous experience. Needless to say I was beaming for the rest of the week, and of course I could not contain my joy when people asked how my exam went. I could not prevent myself from saying it was all God’s doing.
So this is my testimony, a memorial that I raise up to remind myself that God is indeed faithful. This experience is just the beginning, and I look forward to the rest of my years in Princeton.