Bernice and I lost our first spouses to cancer. They were outstanding followers of Christ and it would seem to make sense that they should have had many more years of ministry and parenting. But God had other ideas. These are times when divine logic is completely at odds with what we think should be. Like the recent shocking death of Joseph Chean. After an outstanding term as leader of Youth With a Mission Singapore, he had just moved on to help provide leadership in Antioch 21, a key missions mobilisation initiative in Singapore. We all looked forward to his ministry in Antioch 21, knowing he would energise and mobilise many for missions. Then there is his loving wife, and two daughters who need their daddy. But God had other ideas. We went for his wake service two nights ago. A few thoughts came to mind.
1. We really need to trust the Lord
We easily mouth various things we believe about God — that He is all powerful, all knowing, and all loving. We believe that everything He does is an expression of all aspects of His attributes. But do we really believe this at times which do not sit easily with our logic? What does it mean when we say folks like Joseph died before their time? Whose time is it? Who decides? Who decides when we enter the stage of history? Did we have any control over that? Who decides when we leave? A God that is all powerful, all knowing and all loving.
2. Death is the pathway to life
One thing we do know about God — He brings life through death. Jesus died on the Cross. But it was His death that made possible the salvation of the world. Jesus Himself tells us in John 12:24:
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (NIV)
This is the divine pattern. Death is necessary for life. We do not know why the Lord took Joseph home so early, but I have no doubt that his death will revive the faith of many and lead many into the mission field. The death of Joseph will seed the rise of many Josephs.
3. All lives matter
Joseph’s life and ministry had an incredible impact. This can be seen in the global outpouring of grief and the many who honour his name and testify to his impact in their lives. His impact was obvious and public. But the word of God also says in Psalm 116:15:
Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants. (NIV)
Many others have also died around this period, people with hidden and quiet ministries. We should properly honour and grieve the loss of all of God’s people. The value of a person is not measured by the visible impact of his or her work. Hebrews 11 contains a listing of heroes of the faith. There are Joseph Chean equivalents, the Abrahams and the Moseses. But there is also the reference to some nameless “others” (v. 35b) who are in the same list. God’s measure of ministry is faith and faithfulness.
This is not a zero-sum game. Joseph demonstrated outstanding faith and faithfulness and deserves all the recognition of his life and ministry that he is receiving. We grieve his passing deeply. But let us make sure we accord the same value to all faithful saints who pass away.
4. Be the best you
As we walked away from the wake service last night, I felt the challenge to be the best me I could be. I could never be Joseph Chean. He had gifts and a passion for missions that I could never reach even in many lifetimes. But with God’s help I can try to be the person that God wants me to be. I am concerned for missions as all of God’s people should be. But my primary concerns are for healthy relationships within the body of Christ, for things like spiritual friendship and spiritual mentoring. I think the best way I can honour Joseph is to give myself wholeheartedly to my calling as he did to his.
We will be processing Joseph’s passing for a long time to come. There will be much pain in our hearts. In the meantime, we ask the Lord for help to trust His timing, to trust His ways, to honour all the saints, and to give ourselves wholly to what He calls each of us to do.