EMP 2023 Day 3: Steven Lee

Good morning everyone,

I would like to share with you all a Bible verse that I would like to reflect on for the year of 2023. The verse is James 1:12 and it goes like this, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” I wanted to hold on to this message throughout this year for the following reasons: (1) this signifies a new beginning of challenges that I may face this year, (2) it also signifies the end of challenges that I have been facing in the past, and (3) it gives me motivation and purpose to push through on a daily basis.

So first, when we read back to James 1:2, it says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” I think Pastor Daniel in the past has mentioned something about this verse or this chapter in James how the Bible does not shy away from warning us about the challenges that are about to come our way. The verse says “when” we meet trials of various kinds not “if”. Like Pastor Daniel always mentioned in his sermons, the Bible never says anything about Christians never having to face adversities because we have God on our side. We will face adversities and challenges in the near future no matter what, but God will always be there supporting us and strengthening us through those times. Similar to James 1:2, James 1:12 also points out “for when” one has stood the test, meaning that trials are forthcoming and inevitable.

As I apply this message to my life, I can only wonder what my next challenges will be. It could be as small as waking up early in the morning for EMP this week and going to work afterwards then attending classes at night. It could also be something new after my graduation in May that may require a lot of my time and energy. I don’t know what the new challenges that I will be facing this year, but I can only hope and trust that God will be with me every step of the way.

The second reason why I chose this verse is because I think James 1:12 also gives us hope that whatever challenges you may be going through currently will eventually come to an end. The second half of the verse gives us a lot of hope and encouragement. “For when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him”. If we look at different translations of the Bible like the New Living Translation, it reads, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him”. Even though the English Standard Version and other common versions assume the word “afterward”, the meaning is implied. The verse talks about the end of a trial and the reward that we receive for enduring the trial. James 1:12 could serve as a warning message to us all of potential challenges that may come our way but also serves as a very hopeful message that hints at our challenges coming to an end.

For me personally, it has been about a year and a half since I started my Master’s program at SMU. School has taken a huge toll on my life, and I can easily say my studies at SMU while balancing through other responsibilities have been the most challenging thing that I have been going through. Not only were the contents that I’ve been learning were hard, but also the time and energy it took out of my life were pretty huge. Starting out this program, I was nowhere near the level of my peers in terms of having the knowledge and having a statistics background or coding background. Every week I felt behind compared to my peers (maybe it was the enneagram 4 in me to constantly compare myself to others). When my friends would take 1 or 2 hours to complete an assignment, it would take me twice the amount of time and effort to understand the content and assignment. I was constantly anxious, discouraged, and exhausted from school. It was also never easy to balance my time and energy between 2 grad schools with work and church ministries. I still remember the day when I went to the PD’s office either during or after my first semester of SMU’s Master’s program. I broke down and told Pastor Daniel that I have been very honestly praying and confessing to God that I need a break from church ministries and my responsibilities as a shepherd. I remember telling Father God to give me a break from church ministries and responsibilities for the next 2 years while I go through the program. I definitely was not in a good place spiritually or mentally, and I just did not have the confidence or faith that I could serve as a shepherd and a youth ministry director well while juggling through work, DBU online class, and SMU classes. This heart carried on all throughout 2022 and I really couldn’t balance all of those responsibilities together at once. I failed countless times serving as a shepherd for our House Church members, and I failed to serve faithfully as the Youth Ministry Director. This past year has definitely been one of the worst years of my spiritual life but now I am nearing an end to SMU’s Master’s program. With graduation set up for May (hopefully), my biggest challenge that has been eating my life away is finally coming to an end. Challenges really aren’t meant to last forever, and I am just excited to see what God has in store for me next. Connecting this past year back to the verse James 1:12, I can’t confidently say that I remained steadfast or stood the test well. However, I am blessed to be in this current position where I can actually see the end of the road to this long journey.

Lastly, this verse gives me a sense of motivation and purpose to move forward. The last part of James 1:12 reads, “he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him”. I think all in all, what I want to take away from this passage is that God has a promise for me that He wants to keep because He loves me. I started this entire journey of going through SMU’s Master’s program with a conviction that I received from God 2 years ago. I was working for an insurance company getting a minimal pay at the time. One night I felt this weird conviction that I needed to study and specifically for a GMAT to go to a business school. That night I just followed through my conviction and bought the GMAT prep books on Amazon without any hesitation. That night’s conviction led me to where I am now. I am still a little uncertain on what God’s promise to me was that night. It could be God leading me to a better career, a solid foundation for me to be able to provide for my future family, etc. However, the most important fact was that God loved me and He was with me all through this time even when I was not. And because of that, I am truly thankful and blessed.

Thank you.