The Sri Lankan was the keynote speaker at this year’s Xenos Summer Institute … and what a treat. Ajith has been serving as the head of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka since 1976, a country plagued by civil war for decades and the great tsunami only a few years ago. So I figured here was a guy who could convey what it really means to suffer, much to the shame of my cozy American existence. The man has had his share of suffering and pain, but what I heard, saw, and received from him was joy! The guy was full of life – what seemed to be a very simple life where the Holy Spirit has worked through him in ways he never would have expected.
Ajith taught on the prevalence of Joy in the Bible in the face of pain Wednesday night. Our culture really doesn’t know what joy is:
“Today people have lost their joy … especially in Christianity … people don’t want joy, they would rather have their desires fulfilled rather than joy … they give up joy in order to have success in career, or sexual conquest … material prosperity, revenge …The icons of young people seem to be so unhappy and yet our people want to be like them … Why?”
That’s a good question. I can easily look at things that way.
The truths of what God has done for us and will do form the basis of a love relationship with the Lord and the basis of our joy. But how do we, who live in such a cynical and joyless culture experience the joy of the Lord? Ajith gave three principles to follow:
- LAMENT over your pain (Rom 8:20) – It is important to groan and face the pain we experience in this world. When we do this we open ourselves to God’s comfort (2 Cor 1:3). The fact is, God is greater than the wickedness of this world.
- We must BELIEVE in God – James 1:2, “Count it all joy…” that God will turn or use this situation for good. Rom 8:38-39 states there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. Do you believe that? Ajith quoted Martin Loyd-Jones “most of your depression is because you are listening to yourself rather than talking to yourself”. God is a “pity-party-pooper”, when we start counting on the love and promises of God (i.e., “talking to our self” – mind set on the Spirit); the pity-party is over.
- We need to SURRENDER to God. This was an interesting twist. His point was, that if we cling to anything, even a good thing, it will take our joy away. We must “die daily” (1 Cor 15:31) … be a living sacrifice. My favorite quote from Ajith was “most of my plans did not work, but most of my dreams have been fulfilled – just not my way”. We need to surrender that notion that “I have been wronged”. In fact, if we are following Christ, suffering will come our way – it is a sure sign that God has looked upon you with favor (Acts 5:41).
Thursday morning Ajith taught on the cross and the problem of pain. Unlike other religious or atheistic beliefs, the God of the Bible is joins us in our suffering and pain. He intercedes for us, was tempted, was distraught over the way of His people, and suffered the ultimate for us. Christians are to have that impact too, like their Lord. We have a great opportunity in this culture to shine because we are the minority and the postmodern world doesn’t know what to do with itself. What is needed is radical servanthood. Ajith quoted Jim Elliot who said “he is no fool who gives up what he can’t keep to gain what he can’t lose”.
Ajith’s final teaching was Friday evening, and I thought it the best. The title was “How Must a Pastor Die”… but it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. Sure there was much about laying your life down… but the death you die is for and because of the Body of Christ, just as Jesus died for us (Jn 10:11). Ajith said his deepest pain has come from relationships within the Body, not from the civil war raging about him or even the tsunami that was so devastating. “Working with people is where the deepest pain is.” Maybe he and I are not so different after all. I know that is where my greatest pains and failures have come: my inability to love people. It’s also the greatest source of blessing, the Lord working in my life to share His love through other people and to give me the power to love other people.
The bottom line is that Christianity is a covenant faith – relationships are based on commitment. Our mobile culture makes this very difficult: we don’t have time for deep commitment, churches don’t push for long term commitment, we come to church as consumers, people can’t linger long enough to solve problems…
What can we do? Ajith then went through five truths that help us to endure the pain of commitment:
- We are the Body – 1 Cor 12 and Paul’s example in Acts 15 – there is no such thing as a “lone-ranger” Christian
- The Word commands us to strive for Unity – Eph 4:3; Heb 12:14; Phil 2:1-4 and Matt 5:23,24
- God is Greater than the problem – Rom 8:28
- God’s Love is Greater than the hurt we feel right now – Rom 5:3-5
These are revolutionary concepts, unheard of in our world. Take those passages before the Lord and apply them in your relationships and you may die a little only to receive joy that is out of this world!
All in all, I found Ajith a delight to listen to, very insightful, and a man who has been humbled by God. All of his teachings are now available (as well as the other speakers at XSI 2009) on the Xenos web site (http://www.xenos.org/teachings/index/index.php?source=XSI). Go have a listen.