15251148Does anyone know who wrote:

“Education is a funny thing. At eighteen, I knew all the answers, now, at age 46, I don’t even understand the questions.”

The last few days I had the privilege of ministering at the Singapore Baptist Pastors’ Retreat. I recalled that I had first spoken to some of them about twenty years ago. I had just come back from Regent College. Then I knew most if not all the answers. Twenty years down the road I am just beginning to understand the questions.

Of course a lot has happened in my life these past two decades. I lost a wife to cancer. I lost another to divorce. I experienced clinical depression. I lost most of my public ministry. I struggle to raise two sons as a single parent. And last year I lost my father.

Recently I was having lunch with some friends. They remarked that their lives were so boring compared to mine. I told them “boring is good!” I would not wish on anyone some of the pain I have experienced.

One of the things I have learned is how little control we have over our lives. That does not mean we have no responsibility for our lives. I take full responsibility for all my sins and mistakes.

Still there are many things over which we have little control. In coming to terms with that we embrace afresh the fact that it is God who is in the driver’s seat. And that He is indeed the Author of our lives. He decides in His ultimate wisdom and love, whose life gets to be boring and whose life gets to be a little more exciting.

We have limited control over our lives. But He is in control and so it’s OK.

Twenty years ago I had some idea of how my life was going to turn out. A key premise would be that I would grow old with the wife of my youth. I would probably live and die in Penang, my hometown. I would be pastoring a church all my life. And perhaps be a catalyst for the renewal of the church in Malaysia.

I tasted some of those things for a while. But I had absolutely no inkling that I would be where I am today. A widower and a divorcee, a single parent, running a small freelance ministry by myself, waiting upon the Lord to rebuild my life and ministry.

But as I told my sons recently, I have learnt my most precious lessons in my most desperate moments. Of course I am echoing only what so many have learnt before me.

Some have asked me how I have survived all these years. My answer is that I clung on to God. And frankly I deserve no credit for this. In the maelstrom I clung on to God for dear life. There was nothing else I could do.

There were also the many key friends that the Lord sent my way. In retrospect I know I was a lousy “patient”, often lashing out in my pain and confusion. Yet this group of angels refused to give up on God and on their friend. They walked with me through the darkness till the first signs of dawn and beyond. I cannot adequately express my thanks to them but I know that in His time the Lord will reward them for their Christ work.

Perhaps you now understand why I am such a champion of mentoring and spiritual friendship. I have the highest respect for the rugged Christian individualists among us. And yes there may be times when we have to walk alone. Still I can’t help but remember that the Lord told a pre-fall Adam “it’s not good for man to be alone.”

Twenty years on the Word of God remains the same. It is still a sure foundation, and a reliable guide to life. It’s just that I have discovered that life in a fallen world is a whole lot more complex than I realized. And though my commitment to the veracity of God’s Word remains unchanged, my understanding of how to apply God’s word to a complex world has become a little more tentative. I have learnt to listen a whole lot more before I speak.

Some of this must have come through because one of the pastors at the conference who was there twenty years ago, remarked that then, my talks really moved his mind. Now my talks speak more to the heart. Thank God!

I am not at all claiming my life has been any harder than anyone else’s. Indeed as the retreat unfolded, many stories came to light and we were all humbled by what many had gone through. For a while we were not just church ministers. The ecclesiastical masks came down and we embraced our common humanity and the fact that indeed we carry both the life and the death of Christ in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:10)

I did get one thing right twenty years ago. I believed that life with Christ was going to be an adventure. I still do. But just like Tolkien’s Hobbits leaving the Shire on their quest, I had no clue as to what the adventure would entail.

I had no clue that it was going to be so frightening. And so joyful. I had no idea of the extent of evil in the world and in my heart. I did not know how generous was the grace of God, how severe His love. And heck, the adventure is not even finished yet.

But as the song says:

I know whom I have believed And am persuaded that He is able To keep that which I’ve committed Unto Him against that day. (Daniel W. Whittle, 1883)

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan