A Word from the Registrar
‘He said to them, “Come
away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while’ (Mark
remember the occasion when those words of Jesus first made an impact
upon me, nearly twenty years ago. I had been a Christian for perhaps 14
years. More to the point, I had been struggling to complete my Ph.D for
6 years and was more or less burnt out, full of doubts and questions,
wondering (frankly) if there was any point continuing as a Christian,
let alone a Christian scholar. Spiritually speaking, I had hit rock
bottom. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more hopeless-seeming
And then a
preacher drew attention to this verse, and said, ‘Perhaps there are
some here who need to hear this word, some to whom Jesus is saying,
“Come… and rest a while.”’ I felt myself so directly addressed
by his words that I almost called out in the middle of the service,
‘Yes! That’s me!’ Then, of course, my British reserve kicked in: I
did no more than bite my tongue and listen intently to the rest of the
sermon. But I went away from church that morning with a sense of hope
(the Lord knows the position I’m in, and has spoken to me) and also
with a plan (I’m going to go and have a holiday).
And so I
did: I went on holiday, God ministered to me, and in due course (it took
quite a while) things got better.
course, ‘come… and rest’ is not the only thing Jesus ever says to
his disciples in the Gospels. Earlier in Mark 6 he has sent them out to
minister in his name (vv. 7ff), and his words at v. 31 must be seen in
that context: Jesus calls his disciples to spend time alone with him
after a period of demanding service, to enjoy a time of refreshment
after which he will again send them out to serve him. And so it is with
us: we cannot be resting all the time, but we must rest now and them,
simply so that we will remain fit to serve the Lord.
through the kindness of Council and Faculty, I stand at the beginning of
my second sabbatical in my time at BGST. And again I seem to hear the
Lord calling me to ‘come… and rest’ in his presence; or rather,
calling me and my wife Eileen (for marriage has been one the blessings
of the past twenty years).
ways my situation is different now. I’m quite a lot older and somewhat
more experienced. As regards my career it could be said that I’ve
‘made it’ (I’ve got my Ph.D, I’ve got some publications under my
belt and more on the way, I’ve got a teaching job which I enjoy); and
in other ways too my life seems richer and more secure than it did then.
(I just wish I hadn’t put on so much weight.)
ways I’m reluctant to go on sabbatical now. These are exciting times
at BGST. There’s much work to be done, many interesting developments
taking place and about to take place. (If you’ve not seen the
‘new-look’ Library on the 1st and 4th floors then you should: I
think it looks really ‘cutting edge’.) BGST is about to move on to a
new stage, and I’d like to be around here in the next few months and
fully involved in the work.
And yet, I
do need a rest; or at least a change. I’ve been doing a lot of talking
and teaching in the four years, at BGST, at other theological colleges
in Singapore, and in various churches in Singapore, and some of what
I’ve been saying has come to seem boringly familiar to me. (I hope my
hearers haven’t felt the same.) I need some new ideas. Above all,
I’m fed up with telling other Christians to do things I’ve not come
close to putting into practice myself.
So I (I and
my wife) need to spend time reading and meditating upon Scripture, and
in prayer. I want to read some of the books that have been gathering
dust on my shelves. It’s high time I saw my family members and friends
in England again. It would be good to get some exercise. In short I need
to refresh myself mentally, physically and spiritually for further
service for the Lord.
I will be
spending my sabbatical partly in Singapore and partly in England. From
October to December I will be at Tyndale House, Cambridge, where I
worked before coming here, enjoying the great resources of that
wonderful research library. I will be doing quite a lot of writing. But
my main desire is to come back here having spent time with the Lord in
his word and thus refreshed and once more equipped
for ministry here.
possible that Jesus’ words in Mark 6:31 are what you need to hear?
Obviously you need discernment, for the call to discipleship is not a
call to a life-long holiday. Maybe Mark 6:31 is not for you at this
moment. But if the Lord does seem to be calling you to ‘come away…
and rest a while’, if (to put the matter in less overtly spiritual
language) you’re feeling stale and could do with a break, then maybe
you should think about taking one or at least planning for one – for
the good of your soul; as a necessary spiritual discipline; as means of
preparing yourself for further service.
I feel that
resting in this way is an act of faith: we put aside our regular tasks
and leave them in God’s hands, thereby acknowledging that the work of
the gospel can (for the moment at least) go on without us; we rest and
come into God’s presence to hear his word and in so doing we admit our
dependence upon him.
And what is
the alternative? ‘Beware the spiritual barrenness of a full diary,’
one noted Christian leader is reported to have said. Christians in
‘pragmatic’ Singapore are terribly results- and activity-orientated:
if we’re not doing something, if we can’t point to achievements and
statistics that show we’ve been busy, we feel guilty and unproductive.
But must we always be active? Yes, we must ‘redeem the time’, but
that means making the best possible use of the time available to us,
which is not at all the same thing as being busy all the time. If there
are no periods of rest and reflection in our lives the danger is that
our activity, even our ministry done in the Lord’s name, will be the
cause of spiritual emptiness and unfruitfulness, for ourselves and for
So: I look
forward to my sabbatical. I hope and pray it will be a spiritually
productive period of rest. And what about you? When are you next going
to take a break? Will you heed Jesus’ words?
Choo Kok Weng 22/6