August 2019 Issue-TCF-Having Core Purpose and Being in God's Hands

by Lan Yingjie

As 2018 drew to a close, about 100 Christian teachers from across the island gathered at St Andrew’s Cathedral on the 29 December to knit their hearts together in prayer at the Teachers in Prayer 2018 event. Hosted by the Teachers’ Christian Fellowship, the event aimed to draw teachers to a central location to hear a sharing by Mr Winston Hodge, before committing the year ahead into His hands. Mr Hodge had recently retired from the Singapore Education Service as principal, ACS Independent.
After a brief time of worship, Mr Hodge began his message noting that education is not always smooth sailing, and never has been. Being a people business, you are always dealing with people. Unfortunately, where there are people, there are also problems -- gossip, silos, sliming, complaining, unreasonable demands, just to give a few. These negative things drain us, taking away energy, and making us disengaged. So, he asked, how did he keep himself going?
His answer was simple – having a core purpose that he prayerfully decided for himself, and a commitment to kindness.
A core purpose
Early in his career, he revealed, he learned from his colleagues, and from the word of God that you get to where you are by God’s appointment, and by God’s appointment alone. He thought his own first school posting was a mistake. He thought he was going back to his alma mater, St Joseph’s Institution but somehow, ended up at Outram Secondary School. He then spent eight wonderful years there, learning the craft of teaching from senior colleagues and meeting his future wife there too. Clearly, God makes no mistakes and he was there because God knew he should be there. 
The next question though, once you address the question of where, is what you should be doing when you are there? And the answer for him was simple -- as a teacher, your main purpose is to care. This took the form of caring for his students, caring for his colleagues, caring for his craft and caring for his school. Having a personal core purpose was neither a new nor novel idea. Scripture tells us in John 6:38, Luke 19:10 and John 10:10 that Jesus had a core purpose -- to obey His Father in seeking and saving the lost so that they could have abundant life (John 10:10). In that sense, Jesus had a clear core purpose.
However, it is not enough to merely possess a core purpose: it must be lived out. Mr Hodge wryly noted that every school has a school vision on a wall somewhere, with the principal making reference to it perhaps once a year. Yet, these nice words that are not lived out do not serve anyone, and people can tell. He shared four examples where Jesus lived His core purpose:
a) Jesus encountered the woman at the well, with five husbands. Culturally, He was not supposed to talk to her but He went up to her anyway as she was lost, to speak to her about her life and about God. Through that, she brought the whole village to God. (John 4);
b) Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling council, powerful but lost too. Jesus sought him out and took time to teach him too. Clearly, Jesus’ core purpose was also not dependent on the status of the person involved either. (John 3);
c) Zaccheus -- Here, Jesus sought a rich Jew who was hated by his own people for being a tax collector, and therefore, a collaborator with the Romans. Jesus sought him, a lost man searching for meaning in his life - and made himself a guest in his home. (Luke 19);
d) Jesus encountered the woman who was guilty of adultery, and the crowd that was keen to stone her. While the woman was evidently lost, the crowd was also lost too. Jesus’ words asking he who has no sin to cast the first stone, changed the crowd, and they left one by one, the oldest first, in realisation that they too, were sinners. He then turned to the woman, and told her to sin no more. (John 8)
In each of these encounters, Jesus was consistent. He obeyed His Father, and sought the lost to give them abundant life. This was in spite of His many problems such as opposition by the authorities, the difficulties of His own family and His community, and even betrayal by His own disciples. Nothing swayed Him from His core purpose. Mr Hodge then challenged the audience to figure out the core purpose that the Lord has called them to, and to go back to it. This clarity will help us in staying rooted, ready for when the shocks and discouragement come.
A commitment to kindness -- being God’s hands

Moving to his second point, Mr Hodge noted that it is sometimes easy to think that we succeed solely because of our abilities and hard work.  He then cited 1 Corinthians 12:12 which reminds us that we are many parts of one body. As such, we should not forget that we are where we are today because of the support and kindness of others. He shared personal anecdotes where friends and colleagues had extended kindness to him and his family at critical times of his life, and their acts of kindness had enabled him to move on, whether in the family or at work.

He emphasised that we all need to be part of such an ecosystem of kindness and care -- receiving and giving kindness at different times of our lives. There will be times when we may be the metaphorical toe nail, minor and unimportant, while a kind colleague or friend is the neck. However, in another situation, the reverse could be true. Therefore, it was critical that we take every opportunity we get to demonstrate love to each other, and to extend kindness when the situation arises. By doing so, we are making real what 1 Corinthians 12:12 says -- to live out our vital role as part of one body.
Mr Hodge then talked about his retirement and some surprising insights that he had from the last few months in school. He was particularly intrigued by the messages in the cards he received. Many cited small incidents that he had almost forgotten! One card talked about how when the writer was pregnant, he had sat her down and asked her how the school could support her through the difficult time she was going through. A student thanked him for not embarrassing him in the canteen when his shirt was inadvertently left untucked. These cards made him realise that people remember you for the encounters you have with them, as these are personal and an opportunity to connect and to be a blessing. It was then that he asked himself: “How many encounters did he have when he was not kind, or in the mood to be kind, and how many opportunities did he miss to be kind?” He reminded us that as educators, we encounter people all the time and each is an opportunity to be a blessing and a channel of God’s kindness. But the decision is ours to make.
Referring to Proverbs 3:27’s instruction to not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is in our power to act, Mr Hodge then pointed out that kindness is not a humanist concept that is not linked to God. If the Bible instructs us in this way, then we must never walk away from someone who deserves help, for our hands are God’s hands of blessing for that person. As teachers, he noted, we have so many opportunities to be God’s hands for the students, colleagues and parents that we encounter. Smiling, he exhorted the audience to possess a clear core purpose that we live out every day and a spirit of gratitude that we might offer kindness. This would keep us all going, he said, before closing in prayer.
The gathered teachers then reorganised into groups delineated by geographical locations of the schools they served in to meet other fellow Christian educators serving nearby, and to pray together. Praying for blessing, strength, and courage to be God’s hands, we reaffirmed our commitment to serve the Lord through our work in the schools, and emerged refreshed to begin a new school year.

  (Lan Yingjie is a beginning teacher at Hwa Chong Institution)