Spiritual Direction Formation Program Graduation

Praise to the Father 

Praise to the Son 

Praise to the Spirit

Three in One

This is the song in my heart as I pondered over the graduation of the fourth batch (see above) of the Spiritual Direction Formation Program (2022-2023). I felt great joy and gratitude to be amongst those who were formed by a group of experienced, skilled and dedicated spiritual directors from Life Direction Singapore. It took a year and nine months of serious yet meaningful and enjoyable experiential learning and practicum. Even till out last sessions, our teachers were emphatic that we have to continue being under spiritual direction and supervision. That is how seriously that take this calling and ministry of spiritual direction. I now understand why this should be so. This ministry is a sacred and holy entrustment.

The introductory course was done online because of the Covid-19 precautions. When our first semester began, we were all wearing masks in class. By the time of graduation, we were all maskless at the ground floor conference hall of the newly opened La Salle House, a retreat house located at St Patrick’s School. 

Sr Elizabeth(above right), a Good Shepherd Sister who led the earlier program batches, brought us down memory lane with photo collages of the beginnings of the program more than a decade ago, and Sr Francisca (above left) of the Cenacle Sisters, who emceed the graduation service, was the program director of this batch. Together with her, a team of volunteer spiritual directors (see below, together with graduates) gave of themselves in generosity and a labour of love to form us in this calling. One by one our names were called as we went up to receive our Certificate of Completion, signed by Diana Koh, Chair of LDS Exco and Sr Francisca. 

The program included class lectures, mostly by Sr Linda Lizada (see below pic with my pastor friend Seng Chor), workshops, group sessions, faith formation, retreats and the practice of spiritual direction under supervision. We were all placed in faith sharing groups (see second one below) and were each assigned to a spiritual director who met us once every three or four weeks for three semesters. We also had to see two directees monthly, and our supervisor (see my supervisor Joy Toh below) during the nine months practicum. Despite having pastored for forty years, I learned so much from this program that would help me to accompany pastors in their journey of faith.

Over the year and nine months of classes, group interactions, and retreats all the participants have grown into an ecumenical community of spiritual directors. Life Direction Singapore, a Christian community of spiritual directors, has granted us complimentary membership and that means we have access to resources, ongoing input and supervision. 

I felt glad that I completed this program. I almost did not sign up, but God intervened, and through the generosity of an anonymous benefactor, my son, and a pastor friend, I have been able to be equipped to fulfil my assignment in the new chapter. Although I have retired from my position as a senior pastor, there is no retirement for a servant of God, or even a child of God. I will continue to steward my spiritual gifts and other resources for whatever God invites us to. I will trust God to lead Christians that need spiritual direction to me. Like all the other spiritual directors of Life Direction Singapore, for each session of 45 minutes, a little stipend of $30 to $50 is suggested. However, many spiritual directors will not allow a lack of money to hinder individuals who cannot afford it, to receive spiritual direction.

Pray for all the graduates of this batch of spiritual directors.

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SDFP: Almost Done & Yet Not

I had mixed feelings when Sr Fran reminded us that our Spiritual Direction Formation Program (SDFP) was about to end on 30 September 2023. I felt a sense of relief that our input sessions of a year and nine months were about to be completed. I have enjoyed this learning journey together with my fellow learners of spiritual direction and will miss their company. At the same time, I had a sense of anticipation that a new vista has opened up before me, a feeling that bubbled up when I began my practicum in January. This was how I felt about the impending end of the program. 

What is left of this SDFP 2022/23 is one whole day integration session, an eight-day directed silent retreat, and finally, graduation. Sr Fran also announced that we would be given a complimentary one-year membership in Life Direction Team, which entitles us to join the team for their planned input sessions. She also encouraged us to continue our learning journey by accompanying directees regularly, continuing with supervision and with spiritual direction. They are serious about our ongoing formation. I cannot but be most thankful for the passion, care and sacrifices of the team that has driven this whole program.

There is so much more to learn. Not textbook learning. Not more lectures. More of learning through a process of practice, reflection, personal growth and ongoing supervision. I look forward to this. What I have learned will more fully equip me to accompany younger pastors in their journey of growth and serving God’s people. I believe this to be part of my God-assignment.

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Silent Retreat: Spiritual Direction Formation Program

“A five full days silent retreat”, this was what Sister Fran emphasized to us. She is the leader fronting this program of Life Direction Singapore. We checked in at 4pm a day earlier on Monday to settle in and began our first session at 8pm. After that session, grand silence began and continued till the wrap-up session on Sunday morning at 10.30am, following which, the silence ended. It was an individually directed retreat, as each retreatant had a spiritual director whom they met with for about thirty to forty-five minutes each day.

As a friend

During the opening session, we were asked to write the grace or blessing we wanted to receive from the Lord during the retreat. I wrote that I wanted “friendship with Jesus”. I wanted to spend the week like a vacation with Jesus as my friend. I recalled the verse in Exodus 33:11, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend”. I longed to keep company with the Lord. 

In my first session with my spiritual director, Soo Hoong, a ministry staff from Paya Lebar Methodist Church, I shared with her the grace I asked for: friendship with God. She asked me to think of this retreat as being with a friend for a week. I could discuss with the Lord what we could do together, or vice versa. I could also share what is on my heart or ask the Lord what was on his heart, like, “How do you see me?” In the sessions that followed she would prompt me with other suggestions of how this divine friendship could be nurtured and find expression during the retreat.

I asked the Lord a few times, “How do you see me?” The answer was to come two days later through an image that came to me of an infant child. Straight away I was reminded of a Psalm that I meditated upon years ago about a weaned child. I searched and found Psalm 131: 2: “Instead I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child, who no longer cries for its mothers milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me”. It dawned on me that my faith used to be immature, like a baby demanding, upset and controlling, wanting my needs and expectations met my way and in my time. Otherwise, I would cry in anxiety and turmoil. My faith has since become a calm and quiet trust in God during troubles and trials, matured and willing to wait patiently for God. I was pleased that that was how the Lord viewed me. Any mother would tell you how relieved and pleased they would feel when a child has moved on from mother’s milk on demand, to being totally weaned to a calm and quiet patience.  I was happy that He was pleased with my growth.

During the retreat, I seem to be gifted with a garment of praise. My heart was bubbling with joy and I was praising God often. I often sang worship choruses, hummed a melody or sang in tongues. I did it in my room, while walking the labyrinth or the rail corridor. It was a relaxed, praise-filled, and joyful retreat.

Using the labyrinth

There are two labyrinths at Montfort Centre and they can be used in different ways. I walked the labyrinth before breakfast, or at sunset or at night, because these were the times it was not hot. I sometimes walked the labyrinth to converse or discuss a matter with the Lord, as I would with a friend on a hike. Other times, I walked it to express praise and adoration, and to sing in the Spirit, or to hum a hymn. Significantly, I once used the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” and had a touch from the Lord, a grace moment, when I felt contrition and confessed my pride, and acknowledged that I am but a graced person, who earned nothing, did not deserve anything, but that all had been given to me, all is gift. 

One beautiful day with fair weather, I walked the rail corridor from Railway Mall to the newly done-up Bukit Timah Railway Station. It was a pleasant saunter with the Lord, taking in the sights and taking the occasional photograph. When I reached the Station, I simply sat and rested for a while, looking around at people taking photographs in empty carriages along old railway tracks preserved for ours and later generations to appreciate our history with Malaysia. There was a lovely café, but I was not prepared to pay $5.50 for a cappuccino. I did not walk back but took the train back from King Albert Park MRT station to Cashew. 

Paint your feelings

The organizers had art materials available for any retreatant to use. Though not trained in art, I felt the urge to take some water colour paint and brushes to express my heart and I noticed that the colours and images I painted expressed my feelings appropriately. They were bright colours, intimate and celebratory images, and point to the joy, intimacy and gratitude I felt. They kind of summed up this retreat for me. Though it was part of the “course requirement”, it was very much a formational experience for me. 

If you are interested to know why silence is important in prayer, click HERE.

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Spiritual Direction Formation Program Has Begun

I have begun my Spiritual Direction Formation Program: the last two Saturdays were intensive sessions from 9am to 5pm. In the first introductory session we were introduced to the history of this program, to the spiritual directors, formators, supervisors, and lecturers. They shared with us who they were and how they entered this ministry and the joy and growth it brought them. All the participants shared our stories too: how we chose to sign up for this formation course.

Course Components

The course would have as its main aim to form the life of the future spiritual directors. Form, not train, because it is not about mere skills, but the forming of our disposition, inner life, and values. A few of the components of this formation is each student meeting with an assigned spiritual director every two or three weeks for the duration of the course. I had already met with my spiritual director twice before the sessions began. We will also be in silent retreats every semester with the number of days increased each time. There would be input seminars for learning content. Books to read of course. Supervision, at a later stage. This is off the cuff from what I remember. 

I enjoyed the sessions thus far. Hearing the stories of all the participants, teachers and learners, in the first session was inspiring and moving. I was surprised I had stayed alert from 9am to 5.30pm that day. Of course, I shared my story too: what was in my last blogpost. No need to re-invent the wheel. The second Saturday, was more content based, but done in such a way there was fun interaction in groups of 5 and questions and answers with the lecturer/formator. Sister Linda Lizada from the Cenacle Sisters taught the session. Teach less, learn more. I also got to know more of my fellow course-mates and felt blessed and privileged because they share with authenticity and vulnerability.

We were blessed with good bento food and tea breaks and we have a firm but friendly safety officer, herself a trained spiritual director, who made sure of social distancing and safety measures were taken, like eating in your small groups.

On A Personal Note

I have two friends as course-mates. One is Ps Seng Chor, a retired pastor like me, with whom I have gone on retreats with, and with whom I am in a 1-2-3 group sharing group. The other is Juliana, whom I knew from a camino, and our work with the team at Iganatian Journey, that organizes retreats and caminos.

I met a fellow participant with whom I resonated with. She had been praying and writing in to the Life Direction team asking when they would run another course. They had run this course three times in the past and it has been about ten years since the last one. So this would be the fourth locally run course and I am glad to be on it for it had been my prayer too. There are overseas courses available but I preferred a local one for its local context, and the ongoing community with which I can receive further input, supervision and support.

I am also thankful that my grown-up children told me they would sponsor the remaining shortfall in fees. They are really kind and generous and I am blessed to have such children. In more ways than I can number, they have showered me with gifts and support and encouragement. I would have missed out on this course had it not been for the intervention of the Lord through an anonymous giver, and another pastor friend who helped substantially in the fees. I am glad and excited because this is part of a new chapter in my life.

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Why Pursue Spiritual Direction Course

I am thankful that by God’s grace, my parents who were not church goers sent me to Sunday School in Bukit Timah Evanglical Free Church when I was in primary school. For a few years of intermittent attendance, I was introduced to Jesus, the gospel stories, the church. Even after I stopped attending, I was more open to Christianity. Thank you Lord, for without my knowing it, you were already wooing me when I was a young boy.

This divine wooing resumed when I was in secondary four, for a friend passed me a yellow booklet called “The Four Spiritual Laws”. I read it a few times and prayed the sinner’s prayer a few times. However, I told no one and my faith was inert, a dead faith. Thank God this would not remain so for too long. The wind of the Spirit blew where it willed and he chose to come like a monsoon that rained upon the nation in the early 1970s. 

Spiritual Intensity

I was caught up in this spiritual revival that was poured out upon the nation. One of the theatres of spiritual stirrings begun in Dunearn Secondary Technical School (where NJC now sits) and spread rapidly to other students from various schools through the inter-school youth meetings of those days. Many experienced a crying revival of repentance and transformation, with the baptism of the Spirit with speaking in tongues. My life with God was intense, purgative, deep, empowering, life-changing, unforgettable. It laid the foundation for what God had for me in later years. I found myself driven with great earnestness towards spiritual disciplines, even to extremes at times. There was a great hunger for God and the things of God.  I grew in scripture knowledge, involvement in ministry, discipling, teaching, preaching, and leadership responsibilities. I experienced many intimate and intense moments with God in lengthy days of prayer and fasting. I experienced the thrill of being used by God in spiritual gifts as I ministered in the church, receiving affirmation and helping me see what vocation God had for me. Lord this was a beautiful, memorable time in my salvation history. It is so sacred, so holy and something I treasure so much. Thank you, Lord. 

The intensity and depth of the Spirit’s work in my soul led me to answer God’s call to the pastoral ministry. It was done with much consultation with the elders and with much patience and submission. The regular scripture meditations stacked up to finally quit cadet teaching and enter full-time Christian vocational work in church, with the elders’ approval. My theological education commenced with Tung Ling Bible School and then Trinity Theological College. By then the revival had waned, and so had my fire of intimacy with God, buried as I was in dry theological readings and assignments. 

Pastoral Ministry & Burnout

Pastoral ministry was challenging and for many reasons I felt overwhelmed at times. During my forty years of pastoral work, I can clearly identify two periods of burnout. In both bouts it was the Lord who came to my rescue. I ended up in both times in retreat houses and found my recovery through silent retreats and spiritual direction. The stillness and silence, the separation from the normal busyness and distractions helped me to draw close to God and hear from him more clearly. Cleansing and release came and hope was restored, and in both occasions I returned to pastoral ministry renewed, refueled, reconfigured with a new operating system.

This led me to wish that I had experienced the blessings of contemplative prayer and soul care earlier in the pastoral ministry for then I would have been more effective and be able to bring more credit to my Lord. I cannot rewrite the past but I can help others who have the whole future ahead of them in pastoral ministry or leadership. I do feel for younger pastors in ministry plodding and navigating the very challenging seascape of church today. Burnout and discouragement and disillusionment are real threats to cutting short God’s assignment for them.

In His Time

I saw no training for spiritual direction in Singapore and began praying for one to open up. I tried to sign up for overseas training but the timings in both cases were not right for me.  When Life Direction Singapore decided to run a course, I attended the introductory. However, I found the fees for the twenty-one months course beyond me and decided not to attend. God intervened miraculously and an anonymous giver I do not know at all offered to cover half of the $10,000 fees. God knew the longing of my heart and my need to be equipped and removed the obstacle that blocked me from saying Yes to God’s invitation. For this Lord, I give you thanks with all my heart for even in my retirement you have assignments for me and the supply of grace, gifts and provision would be there. Amen and amen.


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