Several days ago, the 16th of June, marked my 35th birthday and also the first anniversary of my ordination as a Deacon of the Church. I should have mentioned something on that day itself, but it has taken me several days to articulate these thoughts with sufficient clarity in order to ensure that I say what I mean.
Whilst this has been the first anniversary of my ordination as a minister of the Church, it was by no means the first year of my involvement in fulltime Christian ministry. To be exact, I have served in ecclesial-related ministry in a fulltime capacity for over 12 years by now. In Chinese terms, 12 years is often considered a full chronological cycle.
If I sought to call to mind my failures, I would have to venture into writing a tome that might earn me another doctoral degree, for I am no stranger to failure. In these past years, I have seen the best and the worst of people. I have also seen the best and the worst of myself. I have deeply hurt people and been deeply hurt by people. I have forgiven and can only pray that those whom I have hurt find it in themselves to forgive too.
But above all, this milestone for me is a celebration of God’s grace. The fact that I have made it to this point speaks absolutely nothing of my own virtue or deservedness. God has raised me up for this moment entirely for His glory and His Kingdom. My life was worth nothing and continues to be so save for the goal that God has placed before me, that is, the goal of declaring His glory and salvation to all whom I meet in the course of my lifetime and ministry. I mean it when I say He has called me precisely because I am the least deserving of all to have received this vocation.
I have learned, perhaps wisely, by now that many people seek to follow Christ, but most people prefer to follow Him from a farther distance because the further one stands away from the sun, the less propensity one has to be scorched by its heat. In a sense, it is hard to blame anyone for finding it overly tedious to follow Jesus closely and radically. He demands much out of a life, especially from a life that claims to love Him wholeheartedly. Anyhow, at whatever distance people have chosen to stand from Christ, Mother Church welcomes them all and nourishes them in Word and Sacrament.
I guess for me, it is rather difficult to settle for a more casual commitment to Christ. I blame it on people like St Paul and St Augustine of Hippo who have exerted entirely too much influence on my way of religious thought. These men were transformed from utter scum into saints with a wholehearted devotion to the cause of Christ. I am thinking, and I hope I am right, that if God has done the same for them, He might perhaps be able to do the same for me.
As I encounter this occasion of my birthday and ordination anniversary, I hold in my hands my greatest successes and my gravest failures. I realise I have no desire or wish for more than that which God has already bestowed upon me by His grace. I have only much gratitude to Him, to my family, and to all my precious friends who have kept faith with me throughout these years. A man who has enjoyed the privilege of countless underserved blessings should not long for more than that which he already has, and should never cease giving thanks to the Source of all good things.
I think I have arrived at the midpoint of my earthly lifespan (which may eventually turn out to be much shorter than the average lifespan anyway). With the remaining time, I pray that my faith will not fail me. With God’s strength and help, I seek to continue transmitting this one message to the world in many different ways:
Do not be afraid to follow Christ. Put out into the deep and seek to follow Him radically. There will be much suffering, but together with it, unspoken joy and true freedom in knowing that you belong to Him.
For now, I remain crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me. In Him, I move and live and have my being. Like the saints of old, my daily cry continues to be “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”