In these past blogs, we’ve looked at how Advent affects our spiritual/physical senses. I wrote first about having eyes that see with a bi-focal view of Christ’s first and second comings, framing our faith with hope. We then discussed the right use of our mouths –to communicate God’s Gospel of love to a world that is truth-famished. Finally, we spoke having ears for God – the listening posture of the disciple who seeks to do all Jesus says.
I want to end this series by speaking about our feet – that is, our call to walk after the Holy Spirit in the footprints of Jesus, into world mission.
One of my heroes was the great Indian itinerant evangelist, Sadhu Sundar Singh who lived in the early part of the 20th century1. His missionary feet took him all over India and Tibet (and overseas on trips to Europe and other parts of Asia). Everywhere he went, he drew strange looks, the tall Indian dressed as a Hindu sadhu (or holy man). But Singh was a disciple of Jesus, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere he went. ‘I want to bring the water of life in an Indian cup’, he once said.
Vision of Jesus
Born in 1889, Singh was gloriously saved as an intense young man of 15 on the verge of taking his own life. He was heartbroken at the time since losing his beloved mother. In his anguish, he failed to find inner peace in his forays into his native Sikhism and Hinduism. On the morning of his planned suicide, he desperately cried out to God. At that point, his room filled with light, and he saw a figure he did not recognize, who said to him: “I died for you. For you and for the life of the world I gave my life.” On seeing the scars of the risen Christ, Singh knew it was Jesus and gave his life to him.
Disowned by his father for converting, Singh decided, after a period of prayer, he to take to the Indian road as a sadhu for Christ, traveling from 1905 without any possessions, and trusting God to provide his keep and lead his way.
He spent the early part of his ministry reaching out to villages and towns in Northern India. Small Christian communities in the North were surprised to see a Christian sadhu with saffron robe and turban and bare feet blistered by the dirt roads. They called him the ‘Apostle with the bleeding feet.’
Missionary to Tibet
But Singh was not content to stay in India and began to look further a-field to the land-locked country of Tibet, the first of a number of missionary forays he made there in 1908. It was a hard journey through the Himalayan mountain trade routes passable only in the summer months. There, he faced persecution at the hands of staunchly Buddhist Tibetan tribes.
At one town, Singh later recounted how he was sentenced to death by the chief lama and thrown into a dry well, one arm painfully wrenched from the fall. The well was covered over, and he was left in darkness for 2 days, in the midst of rotting flesh and bones of others of a similar fate. In desperation, he cried out to God.
Two days or so later, the cover of the well was removed, and a rope lowered. With great difficulty, Singh hooked it around himself, and was winched out of the well. Lying on the ground, the fresh air revived his weak and starving body. He looked around but found no one. Nor did he have any more pain in his arm. The next day found him back in town preaching again to the astounded people of the town.
The sadhu would later tell of many other similar supernatural experiences. But his life and ministry was more than the miraculous. Ultimately, it was the manner and message of his life – and feet – that enabled him to communicate a vision of Jesus that many in India found easy to relate to and understand.
It’s all about Jesus!
Above all, Sadhu Sundar Singh never forgot that Jesus was the centre and treasure of his life. He neither let a measure of global fame, the lure of a more comfortable life or the plaudits and criticism he received from various Christian corners, distract his focus on Christ.
He wrote: “Now I have no desire for wealth, position and honor. Nor do I desire even Heaven. But I need Him who has made my heart Heaven. His infinite love has expelled the love of all other things. Many Christians cannot realize His precious, life-giving presence, because for them Christ lives in their heads or in their Bibles, not in their hearts. Only when a man gives his heart shall he find Him. The heart is the throne for the King of Kings. The capital of Heaven is the heart where that King reigns.”
When Christ likewise has true ownership of all the rooms of our hearts, then our feet will likewise be fitted with the readiness of his Gospel of peace, to go where he sends us, to speak of his great salvation. Making disciples who listen to his voice and abide in his Word, we will make a people ready for his return.
This Advent/Christmas and always, may we have eyes, mouths, ears and feet surrendered to him, as we work and wait and the day of his glorious return.
 Parts of this blog are edited from a previously published article I wrote for Impact magazine. “The Apostle with the Bleeding Feet”, June/July 2008 issue, volume 31, no.3.
In this third of our Advent reflections, we consider the importance of developing a listening ear, in order to grow our faith and vision for the challenges, opportunities and mission of our day.
When I served in the army as part of National Service in Singapore, we were taught one basic rule in order to get-by in the military: ‘All you have to do is make sure you’ve obeyed the last order!’
Easier heard than done though. Similarly, many Christians have trouble hearing or giving priority to God’s voice in their life, let alone obeying it. His still, small voice so easily loses out to the cacophony of voices and noises, including their own, vying for prerogative.
But God longs to find us waiting to meet with him, that we may hear his voice and commune with him daily. Jesus told us that His Father, incredibly, actively seeks those who will worship him in Spirit and in truth (John 4: 24).
Did you know that what God’s first recorded question in Scripture is – it was the searching call: ‘Where are you?’ (Gen 3:9). God apparently has a habit of walking in the garden with them in the cool of the day (verse 8). Adam and Eve, having sinned and hearing the sound of God’s approach, realized in their shame, they were not fit anymore to meet with him. They did what any sane sinner would: they took cover and hid – not ever asking how one plays ‘hide-and-seek’ with an all-seeing God.
But sin does more than keep us shamefully hiding in guilt from an omnipresent holy God. It also deadens our ability to hear his voice. The prophets God sent to Israel found God’s people both hard of hearing and heart.
Jesus often ended teaching moments with an enigmatic challenge: ‘To him who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ Clearly, he was addressing those who were longing to respond to the voice of God, not ignore, refute or question it. Above the din of religious legalism, imperial oppression and the struggle to survive, such followers were ready to hear and heed his word, recognizing them as having divine weight and authority. ‘You have the words of eternal life,’ said Peter in John 6:68.
And as they listened, faith took hold. For the listening ear is a door to a converted soul. ‘Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.’ (Romans 10:17). When the searching voice of God finds people willing and ready to listen, transactions of eternal value are affected.
The very Word that spoke creation into being, finding entrance in the dark chaotic voids within us, does the ever-novel work of creating light and life once more. In Christ, God speaks to us – through the words of Scripture and through the activity of the Spirit.
But these are days when many Christians struggle to hear God. We are so easily distracted by the booming sounds of our own plans, the haunting melodies of illegitimate desires, screaming ambitions and the sheer noise of the world around. Listening does not come easy to us who are at the beck and call of trivia on screens, blue-tooth ear-pieces and the ever-haunting social media.
But Jesus was not so easily distracted – he had ears only for God (see John 8:26, 28), And he expects that we too will learn first to hear his voice (see John 10:3-5).
Witness then the posture of the true listener – of Mary, who to her sister’s chagrin, took the lowly place at her master’s feet, hooked on Jesus’ every word (Luke 10:39). Or of three disciples who find themselves literally floored when, on that unique mountain-top experience with the transfigured Christ, they learn that God doesn’t need advisors or consultants, but servants at the ready – ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’ (Mark 9:7).
Ultimately, we must learn to listen to Jesus before we can speak or act for him. Listening is a critical precursor to obedience (Matthew 7:24-27, Luke 6:46, John 14:24, James 1:22, etc.).
This Advent season may God help us daily to make space to hear him – to turn off our phones and devices, to listen, reflect and obey his every word and the wonder of his first coming in history, in preparation for his future return.
Last week, we began a series of Advent reflections by noting that all disciples of Jesus are called to a bi-focal view of life that keeps Christ’s first and second comings always in sight.
When all life is seen from this dual vantage point, faith, hope and love thrive.
Practically, this requires an intentional allowing of God’s redemptive acts to shape our present, and to order our everyday lives by godly means – i.e. devotion to Christ by means of grace, discipleship after Christ in Christian community and on-going mission with Christ into the world – for His greater ends of God’s glory and Kingdom come.
God’s storied interventions into our sad histories have profound meaning and impact on our identity and purpose. For one, it puts us in our rightful place.
Our lives become primarily not about us. (In truth, they never were.)
The self-centered sin-laden script of our lives is supplanted in Christ by His greater story of sacrificial love that saves. The world is His canvas to paint and restore. History is really His.
“God is not the supporting actor in our stories; we have bit parts in his.” 1
In fact, each time we gather for communion as His people, we remind ourselves of this: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
Such words are declared by God’s people after the consecration of the elements in the Anglican liturgy for Holy Communion. It is an ancient confession of the mystery of our faith. 2
They, of course, recall the Apostle Paul’s injunction in 1 Corinthians 11:26 – where he fuses past, present and future with meaning around our common table, with Christ as both exalted host and spiritual meal.
The season of Advent accentuates this reminder of an overshadowing transformative canopy of hope and love infusing the life of faith – a greater story than our sinfulness and brokenness perceives or allows.
For He indeed is the brim and base of our journeys round, the true horizon of our pilgrim wanderings, the Promised Land of our final hope and arriving.
God’s meta-narrative told in Scripture in 4 Acts (Creation, Fall, Redemption and Renewal) is the truest story there is, no matter what the world protests and proclaims. It is our making and becoming.
It is the only story we the church are divinely given to tell a world full of fear, the fake and the frivolous.
The saddest reflection I can make on this COVID-19 stained year is how little and to so few I have shared what I know and been graciously given by Christ – the greatest story never told?
For Jesus demanded we make disciples of all peoples in Matthew 28:28-20 – it is the lasting overarching task on us his church.
As the late John Stott argued, “His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us no other choice.”
Indeed, there is no higher purpose in life than to do the Father’s will; no work with greater significance than that which witnesses to and glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ; no lasting legacy that does not have God’s eternity in view.
He came to die so we, the condemned might be free; the dead in sin come to life in Him. He lives again, is ascended and will return to judge and rule. A Story of stories – timely, timeless and true.
This Advent and Christmas, will you and I, empowered by His Spirit, go the extra mile to tell his Gospel story loud and clear – with words that are backed up by our works and lives?
1 Vanhoozer, “Letter To An Aspiring Theologian: How of Speak of God Truly.” In First Things, August/September 2018. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2018/08/letter-to-an-aspiring-theologian.
2 Versions of this statement (called the Memorial Acclamation) are found in Eucharistic liturgy of many historic churches. In the Liturgy of St James, the principal liturgy of the Syriac Orthodox Church, after the priest blesses the bread and wine, the people respond with a similar acclamation: “Your death, our Lord, we commemorate, Your resurrection we confess and Your second coming we wait for. May Your mercy be upon us all.”
This Sunday past we entered the season of Advent. I hope in the next 4 weeks to provide us with reflections on the theme of waiting and working.
We live between two comings of Christ.
The incarnation and the parousia1 of Jesus Christ are the historical book-ends within which God’s eternal and indefatigable purposes for redemption and new creation are accomplished in time.
Jesus’ first coming as an atoning servant-saviour, and his second as all-conquering king of God’s kingdom, are the magnetic poles by which we, God’s redeemed people, set our course and navigate amidst the tumultuous and treacherous seas of our time.
At Advent, we have the opportunity to consider afresh the return of Christ not simply as future hope, but a vital fact that bears down on our present faith and work.
For the Second Coming is the central promise that will consummate God’s great redemption. Without it, His kingdom will not fully come on earth as it is in heaven. “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:25).
The bridegroom must return for his bride; the king come home to claim his rightful inheritance.
Jesus’ teaching and various parables bear that out2. He is coming back, so ‘keep watch.’3 That is, be ready and expectant.
But what is the point of watching if His return is inevitable?
We watch and wait in hope, so we do not despair. In the midst of all the uncertainty, challenge, suffering and fear in today’s broken world, God’s tomorrow is not in doubt.
And we long for that day to come. Maranatha is one of the earliest recorded prayers of the first church.4
There is an intimate link between watching and waiting. Watching is the posture of expectant waiting. And biblically, waiting time is not the same as wasting time. It is active, not passive, as we look to sync our daily lives with God’s timetable and plan for our world and his people.
Secondly, while we watch and wait hopefully, we work faithfully. We focus our minds on action and steward our calling as missionary disciples toward a lost world (1 Peter 1:13; Matthew 28:19-20).
The Welsh preacher G. Campbell Morgan wrote:
“Waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort. Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given.”5
This ultimately is what the season of Advent reminds us – God was faithful to the patriarchs and the prophets to fulfil his word to send Messiah at just the right time (Galatians 4:4). He will come still a second time, with signs and wonders preceding, to judge the living and the dead and to establish his kingdom rule forever, completing our salvation (Hebrews 9:27, 28).
The return of Christ calls us then both to a hopeful waiting and a faithful working. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
1 ‘Parousia’ in Greek literally means ‘presence’. It is used often in the New Testament, among other words, to denote the second coming of Christ – see 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1,8; James 5:7,8; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4,12; 1 John 2:28.
2 Matthew 24; Mark 13 and Luke 21:5-36. See also various parables including Luke 19:11-27; Matthew 24:46-51; 25:1-13; 14-30 and Mark 13:28-37.
3 Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:37; Luke 21:36
4 Aramaic phrase, translated ‘Our Lord, come’. See 1 Corinthians 16:22b; Revelation 22:20 and the first-century early church text – the Didache 10:6. (www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-hoole.html).
5 Article ‘Waiting for God’ by G. Campbell Morgan, accessed at http://articles.ochristian.com/article14291.shtml
Announcing ‘Jesus-Shaped Leadership’ a new small group Leadership Development Course by NAMS.
“To learn to be a disciple-making leader means to help people enter deeper into dependence upon the Lord Jesus, not ourselves.”
(NAMS Founder, Revd Canon Dr Jon Shuler)
In NAMS, we have always believed that the holy tasks of spreading the good news of Jesus and planting new churches are intimately related to the making of disciples who make disciples AND the raising up of faithful and fruitful leaders who believe and practice this passionately.
Indeed, we believe it is self-evident that the work of God’s church and kingdom cannot be accomplished without called, prepared and consecrated new leadership – who have learned to be utterly dependent on Jesus
The Jesus-Shaped Leadership course is a 7-week small group course on Jesus’ method for raising disciple-making leaders. It calls attention to the kind of leaders he modeled, incubated, trained and sent into the world.
Two free resources (A Participant course book and a Leaders/Facilitators Guide) have just been published on the resource page of our website:
(under the heading ‘Jesus-Shaped Leadership’)
Our prayer is that this short course will bring focus on the vision, values and godly methods of kingdom leadership development.
Each week’s lesson will focus on a different facet of leadership as the Scriptures and our Lord Jesus taught or instructed. It is hoped that the teaching from Scripture, personal sharing, mentoring and practical application will catalyze a culture of learning, encouragement and accountability for new and seasoned leaders alike. (The Leaders/Facilitator’s Guide will give additional information on how to run each session).
We have also released a new e-book in conjunction with the Jesus-Shaped Leadership course, also available on our resource page. It is called ‘4 Things Kingdom Leaders Do.’ You can access it directly from this link:
Please feel free to download, share and use these resources.
Dear NAMS Network and Friends,
The Anglican Bishop of South Carolina has asked me to step in, temporarily, to lead a parish here in my hometown called Christ the King/Grace Anglican Church. We will upload our Easter service to Youtube at 7:00am Sunday morning, US Eastern Standard Time. We would love to have you and your family join us. May the Spirit of God bless you and yours throughout this extraordinary Easter Season.
Servant General (NAMS)
The service can be accessed via this Facebook link: