Beloved friend and mentor to City Harvest Church, Phil Pringle preached a powerful message on Romans 8:28. In this interview with City News, he goes deeper into hope, depression and the amor of God.
City News: For the past eight years, particularly in the thick of the CHC trial, Romans 8:28 was a verse we turned to, that was preached to us, that was given to us as a Word. Why did you decide to preach on this verse?
Phil Pringle: On Saturday night (Aug 18) I spoke about how that verse came to me like a sword to defeat the devil. I was doubtful that Scripture would be effective, but I found that when I used it— as in, confessed that Scripture—it really did bind the strongman and defeat the devil. And so my confidence in that Scripture is high, and I know when I preach it, it is like a sword that has been in battle, and it works. I love preaching it because one, I know I’m going to be freezing up the devil’s activities; secondly I know it’s going to build faith and, thirdly, I know that God wants to give this church hope. That no matter what it’s been through, everything is going to work out together for good. And it’ll be completely shocking to so many people how good that good will be. I think you’re beginning to see it, with that building fund amount of $310 million being met over eight years—that is astonishing.
Amen! God is good! What was your purpose for dropping this Word in our hearts?
Faith is like batteries. It gets used, it needs recharging. The faith of this church has been strong but it needs recharging all the time, and reminding. Just because we knowsomething, that’s not necessarily enough. Knowledge of a thing is one thing, but having the spirit of the thing is another. So, one might know that God is with us, but if I believe it and if people can believe, then it stops an awful lot of sin. So: I believe that all things work together for good; it stops me gossiping and saying negative things about the church. Saying things like “Oh I don’t know if we’re ever gonna make it through this”, “I don’t think we’re ever gonna get to the other side”, “What would Pastor Kong do when he comes back?” I just think that if you instill faith and hope in people’s lives, it’s a great antidote to the negative.
What has God been telling you about CHC?
He hasn’t told me anything specifically, but If I think of the future, I think a lot of the prayers and dreams that you have desired will come to pass. The fact that you have been through this kind of trial is a compliment from God, because He felt you could get through this and make it to the other side; pay this kind of price and still emerge victorious. I think He let you have this trial to fashion you into the kind of church you need to be for your future destiny.
You talked about “the call” (“who are the called according to His purpose”). We know this in theory but how do you recognize it’s the call?
Love is a good way to distinguish the call. What you love will indicate where you’re meant to go—who you love, what you love doing. I think that can be a big part. God is love, so whatever God is calling you to do, there’ll be a sense of love for that. I love the Bible, I love prayer, I love the church, I love leading other people, I love faith. I know what I’m meant to do, so I devote my life to that. Then I find all the outcomes of the other things [a pastor is expected to do] happen anyway: I have a ton of counselors and pastors who do all the other stuff. So, I think everybody has a call and a plan on their life from God, and the most beautiful thing you can do in life is to discover that—and do it. Discovering it is one thing, doing it is another.
What if you’re not ready for your calling, and you decide you’re not ready to take up this call?
I don’t think anybody can get rid of the call upon their life. Scripture says the gifts and callings are without repentance. If God has given it to you, He’s never going to take it back. So, you know when you are following the map in your car and you take a wrong turn, and the woman’s voice says “Rerouting”. It gives you another route but the same destination. I think that’s the same with God. If you take a few wrong turns and mess it up, He’ll try and reroute you to get you to the destination another way. But that call, and the call of God is not a destination, it’s a lifestyle—so it’s not like, “One day I’m going to have the call of God.” It’s like “Every day, I have the call of God.”
You also spoke about hope and mental illness. Could you elaborate on that? In Singapore, we’re seeing a lot of youth going through anxiety and depression. Suicide rates are on the uptake. How do we bring this hope to people who may not be coming to church?
It’s not just a Singaporean problem, it’s a worldwide problem. The World Health Organization predicts suicide will be the leading cause of death in the early 2020s, which is a terrible prediction. I think the church has the answer, and I think counseling does help. I think that the main thing, though, is that what people feed on in their minds is what they become.
So, if you’re feeding on negative material all day long, like if you’re watching a lot of horror movies, I’m not trying to be legalistic here, but in terms of mental health, it’s like your body. If you eat bad food, if I gave you rotten cabbages and meat that was poisoned, corrupt, decayed food, then you’re gonna get sick—it’s inevitable. And if I put in your mind evil thoughts, murders, deaths, horror stories, a lot of blasphemy, swear words, anger, and you feed on that, and that’s your diet for your mind, and then you say “I shouldn’t be depressed.” Well, you’re gonnabe depressed! ‘Cause you’re feeding on depression. So there needs to be some level of discernment about what we consume mentally and emotionally. If we’re always consuming anger, and we find ourselves getting angry and murderous in our thoughts.
Society responds by saying “You’re feeling depressed, take a pill day and night”, but it’s never really addressing the need to change your mental diet. It’s like: in the name of freedom we should be able to watch pornography and horror and do terrible things and watch the news all day long, it’s going to be negative. The press is addicted to giving you bad news, just about everything.
If you’re listening to complaining and whining all day long, you’re going to develop the feeling like the world’s a horrible place. But if you develop thankfulness, forgiveness, appreciation and gratitude, encouragement, you develop all those things in your life, your mind’s going to be fine! You’ll think about good things.
The mistake is some people say “Oh, that’s not the real world” as if the real world has to be negative. You can positively say “These are great people!”, “What a wonderful time this is!”, “This is a magnificent house!” I choose to not look at the negatives unless they need to be considered. I don’t consider that I’m in an unreal world; I consider that I’m just perceiving a different kind of reality to them. Bad thoughts lead to bad emotions. If you think bad thoughts about a person, or somebody told you bad things about that person, when you see them you’re going to feel animosity, until you find out that they’re a really nice person. And that confuses you—“Why’d that person tell me all those bad things about you?”
How do we reach out to someone who has depression who might not know God?
I’ve never been refused prayer if I ask if I can pray for someone. If someone says “I’m depressed, I’m really going through a bad time”, and I say, “Let me pray for you” and they say “Oh, that’d be nice some time”, I’ll say, “Why not now?” So for me, the first thing is to pray for them, and let the presence of God fall on them and they feel God. As soon as a person feels God they will feel hope. Even if they feel convicted about sin, or chastised and rebuked by God, they will still feel hope. That’s the difference between conviction and condemnation from the devil. If you feel like you’re condemned, you feel lost. With any kind of treatment from God that’s not exactly positive, He brings hope with it. Hope is the most delicate and fragile thing something. We have to constantly give each other hope with encouragement.
You spoke today (Sunday, Aug 19) about the weapons of warfare and how to arm yourself.
It’s interesting that Paul says “Put on the whole armor of God”. That means it’s not on us! It’s like we’re not clothed with armor. That’s intentional activity. It doesn’t just fall on you. So, put on the breastplate of righteousness—you gotta believe with your heart. Put on the word of God at your deepest level—I think that’s just meditation in the Scripture, so that it travels from the brain to the soul and spirit.
Put peace on your shoes—wherever you go bring peace with you, bring calm into people’s lives. Gospels are good news—you’re bringing good news. Some people approach you and your heart drops, you can predict they’re going to bring you bad news. But some people walk to you and you know they’re going to be bringing you good news and peace, not anger.
Then it says make sure you put on the helmet of hope. That means, think. Make sure you think about possible futures, and that will create a Teflon cover for my brain. The devil takes hold of any foothold we give him—the Bible says don’t give the devil a foothold. Thinking negatively gives the devil a foothold.
Then it says “Take up the shield”: the shield of faith is switched, “I’m going to believe God.” And then it says “Take up the sword of the Spirit”—that means we’ve dropped it! We’ve put it down! It takes some jogging of the memory to say “confess the Scripture” Speak the scripture, because it builds faith and defeats the devil.
But today the Scripture I used was from Peter: “Arm yourself with the same mind”. If we imagine we’re not going to suffer, if we imagine that following Jesus is going to be without pain, we are going to be surprised. And if we thought that pain would be a very unusual thing to happen to a Christian, we’re wrong. So, accept the fact you’re going to have pain, it’s going to be difficult, you’re going to have trials, and feel like you’re going to die (laughs). Accept these facts, then you have armed yourself in your mind.