This prayer of trust in God is not easy. I find that when I bring a burden, problem or concern to God, I have strings attached. I unconsciously want it answered my way, and usually as soon as possible. I want the outcome to be what I envisage to be God’s plan or will in a given situation. If things does not pan out that way, I get upset, frustrated, worried. But I am learning.
I am learning prayer from Mary, the mother of Jesus. She saw that the wedding at Cana was in trouble because the wine was running out (John 2). It was a big problem because hospitality was a big thing. It was hard for hosts to estimate the amount of food or wine needed because virtually everyone invited could invite anyone. What did Mary do? She told Jesus, “They are short on wine.” That’s all. She did not tell Jesus what he needed to do and how to do it. When I pray, I find myself telling God what to do as though I know the best way of solving various problems. Who has known the mind and ways of God to counsel and instruct him? Of course none of us tell God what to do – except unconsciously or unknowingly – in prayer. It cannot be called a prayer of trust in God then. It should be called a prayer to control or use God.
This insight from Mary’s example has been an impetus for me to learn to pray by just letting God know there is a problem and telling him I don’t know what to do and I trust Him with it. If he does whisper, or bring to my mind something I could do about the matter, I will just do it, no matter how irrelevant or inadequate the action he drops in my mind may seem. Pouring hundreds of litres of water into stone jars seemed totally inadequate and irrelevant to the shortage of wine in the wedding, but the servants did as they were told and lo, and behold, God was able to do exceeding beyond all that Mary could ask or imagine, and all the glory goes to him.
When I do the prayer of trust in God it liberates me from this grasping tendency to want to maintain control over events and peoples future, over wanting to look good, over my lust for success as I define it, over greed and selfishness. I enter a realm of peace, contentment, and abandon. I welcome a willingness to let God be God, for I acknowledge that I am not.
One of the good things about Seven Fountains retreat center is that there are several good cafes along the main road it is situated at. One of them, my favourite, is the Art Roastery just across the road from its main entrance. It’s a hip, arty and creatively done up cafe with live birds and garden as its key features – besides good affordable coffee and cakes. It is a magnet for the Facebook and Instagram generation. Its unique setting beats the stale Starbucks blah blah standard decor.
Anyway, after four days of silence, solitude and prayer I gave myself a reward and had a flat white and a slice of exquisite and to die for coconut cake. Maybe the many retreat meals of vegetables and fruit and unsweetened chrysanthemum tea that I had made me crave for a booster. And so I had it. It was a great place for reflection and journaling. There is a back room away from the crowd where you have more privacy and that was where I went.
This kind self-reward of three hours of reflection and break from the normal routine adds colour, introduces freshness and eases some of the intensity of interior work. I find that the relaxing change makes me feel energised and ready to continue the prayer journey.
Myself: I am here because I am worn out and tired. I also find I am not drawing as much life from scripture as before. What is going on?
Fr David: Yes sometimes people find it difficult to pray well simply because they are exhausted. It is possible that this may be the reason scripture meditation is not as life-giving as before. You are a Singaporean and you are a very busy stressed up people. Furthermore, you are Chinese.
Myself: Ha ha (laughter). I still have some pain in my heel. Gout.
Fr David: Oh that’s terrible. I had that too. There are three things important to health: 1) Prayer as a relationship with God, 2) Resting well. When we rest well we are better able to pray well and move closer to God. 3) Exercise. Exercise the mind and well as the body.
Take a good rest. Rest as much as you want. Be present with the silence. Enjoy the quiet. Go out to the open air, to nature. Maybe go to the Chiangmai University lake or the waterfall. Walk the labyrinth and the garden,
I love Ignatian spirituality. It is holistic: spirit, mind, emotions and body are all important. It is very practical and contemplative active.
I did not know how tired I was. I thought I was quite rested. Church camp in Bangkok, followed by an extended eight day of vacationing. Then the week before I was home bound and even bed-bound because I was recovering from a vicious bout of gout. I was indeed surprised that I slept more than usual including catnaps between meals. Furthermore, I found myself drowsing during prayer. I made a deliberate effort to sleep and rest more in this retreat.
The food at the Seven Fountains is wholesome. There is always rice and simple salad available for lunch and dinner, plus a vegetable and a meat and a vegetable soup. So it was not difficult to cut down on my meat intake and increase my vegetable and fruit consumption. Gradually I got better and I believe the fiber heavy diet helped my recovery from gout.
The interesting thing is that as I rested well and ate well, I was also praying better and the scripture began to come alive for me. “He make me to lie down on green pastures, He restores my soul”.
No wonder the angel simply let a stressed out prophet Elijah sleep, wake up to eat, and exercise. It readied him to hear God by the time He got to the cave.
The labyrinth is one of the key prayer features of the Seven Fountains. In past retreats I could never quite enjoy or relate to it even though I had used it a number of times.
This retreat, I find myself gravitated to it and deriving life from using it as a prayer method. I start off my “journey” to the center, unloading a matter before the Lord. I pour out my burden to the Lord about a specific matter. I do it until I reach the center, which usually takes about ten minutes or more.
The important thing is to know that my task is to tell the Lord the problem, that’s all. I do not tell Him what He should do to fix it. How He fixes it is up to Him. Like Mary who went to Jesus with the problem, “they are running out of wine”, and left it to her Son. We do not need to tell God how to fix it. He is the ultimate Fixer. He has His ways and timing and sometimes unknown to me, I could be the one in need of fixing!
By the time I stand at the Rock in the center, I have downloaded all my troubles to the Lord, and there I fully hand over the matter to Him and wait in silence to see if there is some insight, image or movement within me.
Then I would move out of the center again twisting and turning till I am out of the puzzle, but this time feeling lighter and at peace and giving thanks to God.
I did quite a number of rounds of this, for as a pastor I do have burdens which I am carrying that I should not be carrying. So laying it all down to the Lord in a prayer activity helped me feel at peace, grateful, faith-filled, and fulfilled.
The Seven Fountains Ignatian Spirituality Center keeps upgrading itself. It is almost like it has a Singapore spirit. Upgrading and improving is a passion that drives the country. I see it here in Chiangmai. If I remember correctly there were so many improvements over the last seven years. One major one was ensuite bathrooms. Another was the bitumen repairs. Then the rabbits and turkeys came. And the wooden hut was renovated and air conditioned to be another great prayer space. Yesterday, when I came in, I saw the new elevators.
Apparently the sight of older retreatants lugging luggage up the staircase moved the priests with compassion, and in addition the financial means was there for the lifts to be done. I also noticed the enlargement of the dining space to accommodate more dining tables and chairs. The grounds have also been spruced up, with the unwanted plants and weeds and ponding and stagnant water removed and the grounds looking like a newly barbered head. All in all it gives the sense of hope, freshness, and progress.
Where did they get the money from? From donations, many of which I suppose to be from Singaporeans. It is a lovely partnership or fellowship where giving and receiving is the order of the day; the priests and their generosity of opening the retreat and giving direction freely, the Singaporean retreatants so blessed and transformed by the ministry, giving generously in return. What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the Everlasting Arm!
In a sense this upgrading is what also happens in our lives as we learn to be silent, and pray in solitude, with the help of spiritual directors. The Lord draws near, we become sensitive of the movements of the Spirit, we become open to Him and obey Him and we are transformed or “upgraded”.
That is why I am here this week. I feel tired physically and weary emotionally. I have not been praying well. I have lost my appetite for lectio divina. I spend more time on reflection and journaling. Is this a season I have gone into? I need to understand what is going on. Is it perhaps my tiredness and weariness dulling my appetite for God? I look forward to a deeper love for the Lord, which is the grace I desire and seek.
Perhaps I experienced a tiny bit of what God felt when it was said of Him in Genesis, “And God saw everything that was made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). That was how I felt about the WRPF Church Camp 2019 in Bangkok: it was very good. Like a gentle spring in my soul, I felt the stillness of peace and a joy that quietly bubbled up throughout the days of the camp. There was no hurry: no huff and no puff, no rush from meeting to meeting. I felt a welcome restfulness throughout the camp. It was very good.
Fed fresh Bread
To sit back and receive fresh truth from heaven and be in presence of Christ felt like I was a mobile phone seated on a wireless charger. The invited speaker was Leslie Quahe. He was enlightening, edifying and entertaining. He stirred me, stretched me, and seized me with his humorous, riveting and transforming proclamation of His Story and his stories. I felt very blessed. At the end of the four sessions, I felt energized 100%.
I heard of Leslie Quahe from theological college days. He was one year my senior. My only image of him was of him playing soccer, and him with his motorbike. Thus when my sister in law Baby asked if I would like to meet him, I did not hesitate. Why not? We met in his home in Bangkok and got to hear about what he had been doing all these decades, and his stories amazed me, and I concluded this guy can potentially be our camp speaker in future, but I should first invite him to preach a sermon one Sunday when he was in Singapore. He duly did so, and that’s why he was our camp speaker.
Church encouraged, leaders affirmed
I was encouraged when he affirmed and prayed for the leadership at the last session, releasing what I believe to be prophetic words that confirmed that our last six years of emphasizing on intimacy with God through walking ancient paths of prayer; of emotional health and growth, were on the spot with what God had wanted for WRPF’s destiny as light to others of what first love is.
It is tough to slow down and to wait and to listen to God in prayer. We are a society that values productivity and obviously silence, waiting and prayer seems highly unproductive. We had to be strong in conviction in order to resist the pressures and temptation to be like other churches and the rest of society. “Do you love Me?” was Jesus question to Peter who had been scarred by the failure of his activism and self-sufficiency. It was not, “What have you done for Me?”. To have this heavenly assurance when you are going against the current of worldliness, is an approving nod from the Master.
The food the hotel served was better than any of the church camp foods I have had over many decades of church camps in Malaysia and Batam. The food was delicious and we had long meal-times of one and a half hour or more, so that people could mingle and fellowship at leisure. No need to gulp your food to rush to an afternoon workshop! No afternoon sessions – they are all free and easy.
I was happy we had a missions component and we were greatly helped by Ruth Center in Bangkok who organized three activities for us to serve the residents of the slum. Some went about visiting the elderly poor with rice packets and prayed for them. Some went to play games with the younger ones who lived in the slum. I joined the construction crew whose assignment was to build five platforms with water cisterns. This was laborious work and I loved seeing how the young people did the main bulk of the work. They were awesome in strength and power. It dawned on me that I was not of much use, not even for photography, so I helped minimally in carrying concrete slabs, and spent most of the time chatting with Simeon Siau, another person who shouldn’t be there. We were kindly and tactfully excused from the rest of the afternoon while the rest of the construction crew finished the job!
I loved the idea of creating mission platforms so that men with more practical skills and know-how (like Bezalel and Company who built the tabernacle of Moses with the help of the Holy Spirit) can serve God with their gifts.
Yes, I do rate this camp with five stars. I was very pleased with the organizing committee and I hope they too were very satisfied when they saw that their hard work made possible the spiritual and eternal impact we felt at the camp!
Air fares to Chiangmai are daylight robbery. Direct flights would easily cost upward of SGD$300 even rising to SGD$600 in peak season. For anything under SGD$300 you would have to include a stopover, which meant a long wait at a Bangkok airport.
This was what I was rudely made aware of as I tried to book a flight to Chiangmai in mid-July. It’s not the school holidays; it is the rainy season, so I thought it would be inexpensive. SIA’s direct flight was close to SGD$500. By God’s grace, the God must have brought to my mind Scoot. Thank the Lord, I have finally managed to get a Scoot ticket for SGD$350. I was over the moon.
I am heading to Seven Fountains Ignatian Center for a 8 days retreat and rest. The pastoral ministry does take a toll on most of us, and we all do need that time-out to rest, sleep, eat, drain out and process the negative emotions and experiences, deal with the shadows in our life, draw closer to God and feel His unconditional love, practical care and the peace that passes all understanding. To know Him more, to love Him more, to follow Him more closely.
Why is it important to have an experienced priest or minister trained in spiritual direction to accompany you? Most times, we are violent towards ourselves – condemning ourselves, pitying ourselves, angry with ourselves, regretting missed opportunities and mistakes. It can get depressive and self-harming. A director would be quick to spot that, alert you, and direct you gently to green pastures and still waters of God’s mercy and grace. They will help you be more gentle with yourself. No more bashing of oneself but rather basking in the grace and love of God.
I am thankful the church I serve, World Revival Prayer Fellowship, gives its pastoral staff five days paid leave and a reimbursement of up to $600 for directed retreats annually. This has been very helpful. I wish such an enlightened policy had been around when I was new in the ministry. The purification, the healing, the strengthening of faith, and simply the rest of mind, body and emotions all add up to a restorative, redemptive, regenerative time in the Lord. I always return with more grace, more peace, more love, more resolve, more energy. Always! And the church people benefits when their pastor is renewed in the Lord, or is more in love with the Lord, or simply more rested in body and soul.