But God wanted my heart before my hands
I sank into my seat as the plane took off for Singapore. It has been seven months since I embarked on the Discipleship Training School (DTS) with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) at its campus in Brisbane, and now I was returning home with an unnerving feeling of foreignness.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please stow your tables, pull up your window shades, and adjust your seats to an upright position. We are preparing for landing.” As the seatbelt sign flashed on for the last time, my mind went into a frenzy: what if everyone has changed and are different from who they were?
Instead of an excitement in returning home, all I felt was a wretched uncertainty as bouts of fear washed over me, like waves along a sandy beach. Fear of returning to the busyness of Singapore after the seven-month hiatus; fear of unfamiliarity when things should feel similar. The deepest fear I had was that I might forsake my radical love for Christ as soon as the pressures of Singapore society charged at me; I was uncertain of whether I would be able to keep my promise of spending an hour of quiet time with my Father daily — time perpetually sprinting in Singapore, leaving me far behind in its wake.
Amidst the fears and anxiety, there was one thing I was certain about: I was fueled up and ready to return to leading the youth cell group I had led before I left. Armed with the multifarious experiences on the streets and in YWAM classes, I was all-prepared to pray and dream for them. I wanted youths in Singapore to learn that there is so much more to life than scoring well in their O-levels or trying to be accepted by their friends. I was desperate for them to catch a better glimpse of how great God’s love is for them, and for them to find a firm security in their identity as a child of God. My heart was bursting with a passion to see their lives transformed, as much as mine was changed through the past seven months.
But as I waited upon God for a direction in leading the youths, God spoke these words into my heart, “Amanda, step down from cell ministry.” These mere six words left my heart in knots, as I could not understand why He would call me out of cell ministry: the youths needed a leader, and I was more than ready to serve them. I wrestled and questioned, and abounded in frustration at what I had heard God say.
It was the morning before an afternoon meeting with my leader. We were going to talk about the future of my ministry. I cried out to Him, “God, if you want me to step down, you must tell me why…” As I wiped away my tears and got up from my knees, I raised my hands up, and with eyes closed, I saw a vision of a past experience.
I found myself standing on the mountains in Peru (where I was a missionary for 2 months), and before me was the vast expanse of the Andes mountains. They stood tall and majestic, with clouds hanging so low that it drifted before my eyes. “How beautiful are Your works,” I thought. As I lowered my eyes by a few inches, there was the valley that cradled the homes and people of Cusco, Peru. I felt my spirit grieve as I remembered the broken lives and desperate hearts that were calling out for miracles and a saviour: children and mothers who were abandoned, and the sick who were desperately in need of a healer, and the Christians desparate for the freedom to practise their faith openly.
I lifted my gaze up on the mountains, and shifted it few inches below again, and up, and down again. I felt a tension between the ache of wanting to rescue the hurting, and the desire of staying up on the mountain adoring my God. But the tension soon dissipated as God whispered, “Amanda, don’t get busy serving too quickly. I would rather you stay up here in awe of who I am, than serve the people and lose your wonder of Me.” His words came like a bolt of lightning from behind the low-hanging clouds. As these words lingered in my heart, He weighed in, saying, “Amanda, do you not know that I love these people more than you do?” I also felt the Lord speak this verse over me: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9 NIV) Just as Jesus called Martha to sit and wait at His feet just as Mary did, I felt His loving hand pulling me to His side to rest.
As I replayed that vision over and over again, I began to understand the Father’s heart in wanting me to step down from cell ministry. I was facing this same tension between adoring God and ministering to hurting people. However, God is far more interested in making me a lover of Him, than a servant for Him. Often as leaders, we tend to focus on what our hands can offer, we get carried away with doing more and more because it makes us feel like better Christians. But God is first interested in our hearts. Being a Christian is more than just attending church or serving the Body of Christ, it is about building an authentic relationship with the King of kings, and sometimes we easily allow ministry time to overwrite our personal time with Him.
God wanted to re-establish my identity as His daughter, than His servant. I did not realise this, but serving as a cell leader soon became my identity in church, and I approached God as my Master before approaching Him as my Father. In fact, I even took on an identity of being God’s helper, and that my ministry was to help God out. I had to recognise that this ministry does not belong to me, but to Him; and that God can very well love on these youths Himself! It was then that I pondered upon Paul’s words: “for am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10 ESV) I was reminded deeply that serving God is not for show, and it does not make me any more spiritual than one who does not serve.
God longs for me serve from an overflow, than to strive in serving His people. It was only when I responded in obedience that I fully realised His purposes. Stepping down from ministry did not mean slacking off or drifting from Him, instead He wanted me to press in to my relationship with Him. I thought loving God meant that I had to serve Him, instead He showed me that it is when I am so in love with Him, that I cannot help but want to be involved with what He is already doing. Ministry is not about ensuring that my cell members come for services and cell, instead, ministry is about loving them to Jesus. And if I am not found in a place of intimacy with Him, I cannot lead the way for them.
I chose to pursue the heart of God by offering my heart rather than my hands, knowing that I can never earn His favour by serving. It was a tough lesson to learn all at once, but I also realised that ministry isn’t just about loving the people, but obeying God’s call. I learnt that my Father wants loving hearts, more than serving hands.