Encouragement comes from understanding God never forsakes His people, even during times of deep disappointment, says Mark Conner.
Thanks to its usual auditorium being used for a trade show, the first weekend of April saw City Harvest Church gathering for six services, held from Apr. 4 to 6, in its Jurong West premise and the smaller Hall 606 in Suntec Singapore (usually home to the Chinese Church). The presence of God, however, was greatly felt in every one of the services which featured guest preacher Mark Conner.
Conner, the senior minister of CityLife Church, preached two different sermons that weekend to empower and encourage CHC. Conner is a dynamic preacher well known for his teachings on leadership.
The Friday night message taught the Church how to stay healthy while serving as a leader.
“Every one of you is a leader,” the preacher said. “Whether you are leading people in a cell group, in your business, or in your family, you need to first learn how to watch over yourself.”
The best gift a leader can give to the people he is leading is to be a healthy leader, in love with God, in love with his family, and in love with the Church, Conner added.
With that, Conner shared five habits that healthy leaders possess:
1) Retreat Regularly (Spiritually)
Jesus had a habit of pulling away from the crowd to refuel and reconnect with His Father. The Bible often says that after a long day, Jesus would go away to pray.
“We live in a world that has so many distractions it is easy to miss God. We don’t have time to meditate or simply be aware of the presence of God,” said Conner.
“We actually don’t need more of God’s presence; we just need to be aware of His presence.”
That is why God says in Psalms 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Conner likened retreating to climbing up a tree: when a person climbs up a tree, he is able to regain perspective and check if he is going the right direction.
2) Deal With Internal Stress (Emotional)
Everyone has different coping abilities when it comes to stress. Using a diagram, Conner illustrated how when the level of internal stress is high, it is difficult for a person to deal with the external stress.
“Have you seen people who lose it when a little thing happens?” He asked. “It’s not the little thing that caused them to lose it, but that little thing was one thing too many for everything else they are carrying on the inside.”
Conner identified three sources of internal stress. Firstly, unrealistic expectations—it may be on others or on yourself; secondly, negative emotions—fear, anxiety, bitterness are all negative emotions that will sap energy on the inside and leave the person with no strength left to deal with external stress; thirdly, unresolved conflicts—it takes energy to keep a conflict alive, conflicts that are not energy-draining.
The challenge for leaders is thus to keep their internal stress as low as possible so that they have the energy to deal with the external stress.
“In fact, when you are having a really bad day, just take a piece of paper, draw a line in the middle, write down all your challenges and on the other side, write down everything the Apostle Paul went through,” he said, drawing laughter and applauds from the crowd. Paul was persecuted over and over again to the point of death, but he carried on his work with joy.
To deal with internal stress, Conner encouraged the members to find a confidant to talk to and pray with.
3) Keep Growing (Mentally)
Conner taught that the Christian life is meant to be a life of progress. Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.
“You don’t go from zero to 10 instantly; it’s a journey,” he said encouraging the members to not despise small steps of progress.
“A small growth in each area will cause a great impact in the overall growth and people will notice the change in you.”
4) Develop Healthy Friendships (Relationships)
“Healthy leaders should never walk alone,” Conner reminded the congregation that God said “it was not good for man to be alone.”
“We need community and friendships–every one of us need ‘replenishing people’ in our lives, that’s why going to church and cell group is so important. When one coal rolls away, the fire on it doesn’t last very long, but if all the coal stays together, the fire keeps burning.”
5) Keep Yourself Healthy And Fit (Physiscally)
“Physical health equals energy, and it all starts with a good night sleep.”
Conner reminded the congregation that rest is an important part of everyday life. “Everything moves in a rhythm, we breathe in and out, not just out,” he says. “I used to say that a Christian’s life is a marathon, but now I say that Christian life is not a marathon, it’s a series of sprints–engage, then rest and replenish. You’ll find that doing a series of sprints is more manageable in the long run.”
On the weekend services, Conner preached a different sermon that taught the Church how to manage disappointments.
The sermon opened with Conner sharing his personal experience of his mother passing away from a massive heart attack and he never got to say goodbye.
He also illustrated the experience of deep disappointment with the story of the two disciples heading for Emmaus in Luke 24:19-21. They were extremely disappointed after Jesus had been crucified because they had hoped that He would overthrow the current leadership. Instead, He died on the cross.
Conner encouraged the church with verses from Isaiah 43:2 that says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.”
“God never said we will not pass through waters,” Conner said. “But He promised that He will be with us.”
He encouraged the members to keep going even when it feels like they have hit a wall or reached a dead end. Reading from Romans 8:28, he reminded the Church of one of God’s greatest promises, where “all things” work together for the good of those who love Him.
He concluded by saying that if Christians do not gain insights to what God has in store for their lives, they will never know what He has planned for them. It is important to see the providence of God: He has everything under His control and is making use of all circumstances, including the negative ones, for the good of His people.
He encouraged the Church to share their sadness and disappointments with God, but at the same time invite God to share with them a measure of understanding as to why certain circumstances have been allowed to happen. Nevertheless, He is God Emmanuel. He will never leave or forsake His people, and He is with each one of them throughout their toughest moments.
Conner closed the sermon with a prayer that the people in the congregation would gain a new perspective, especially those who were undergoing disappointments in their lives, and for them to open their eyes to see that God is going through each one of their circumstances with them. He also roused the crowd with the strong declaration that God is providing and will provide all that they need, and blessed them with joy and confidence in God.
The congregation was greatly encouraged by the message preached by Conner, and the service ended with church members feeling energized.
Hah Zengmin, 29, a trader, said, “Disappointments can happen but we can always be encouraged that God is always there. Although no one enjoys going through challenging times, you will understand God’s greater purpose for your life in restrospect and be thankful for it. We need to start experiencing the goodness of God even in the midst of trial.”
Joseph Sng, 24, a student, summed it up nicely with his revelation: “All the things life throws at us actually bring us to our destiny. I understand that the providence of God is ever working, whether or not I see or feel it. God’s purpose in my life will prevail.”