“Is this like Vogue’s 72 questions? I’d better get rid of this dead cactus!”
Laughter fills the small studio as Caroline, 22, welcomes me into her studio. It’s a small space – smaller than a usual single bedroom, but it is evident that she has made that place her second home.
Warm ambient lighting nestles the room, and an acoustic R&B playlist plays softly in the background. I recognise the scent in the air; it’s the same cedarwood freshener I have at home.
This is the newly opened studio of local artisan jewellery brand, 3125. I sit down with Caroline to find out more about the greater story and vision behind her brand.
Caroline Goh, 22, the founder of local jewellery brand 3125.
It was 2014. 18-year-old Caroline was working on a school project that required her to come up with her own fashion brand and product line. Something that could be sold at an actual pop-up market. Caroline, then a final year fashion design student in LASALLE College of the Arts, was struggling with the project.
“The entire process of getting approval from my lecturers and digging for ideas was very tiresome,” she shared.
“I realised I was trying to do everything on my own and not seeking God — our actual source of creativity.”
Caroline then decided to take some time out during class and went to the library to pray. What happened next sounded incredibly unbelievable.
“God showed me these 4 digits: 3125. And no, it wasn’t for 4D! I wish,” she laughs.
She didn’t quite know yet what He meant back then at that moment. But she remembers heading to the cafe downstairs in school right after. In the washroom hung a frame with the Bible verse: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the future without fear.”
“I went back to Google where that verse came from, and spooks! It was Proverbs 31:25!”
Caroline headed back to class with this new God-given vision and pitched an entirely different proposal to her lecturers. To her shock, everything went smoothly from then on.
Looking back, she believes that God’s intent was to give her the opportunity to share His Word everytime someone asked her what 3125 meant.
"I went to the library to pray ... And God showed me these 4 digits!" Caroline shares the moment God gave her the vision for 3125.
It is not conventional to have someone at Caroline’s age to start a venture from ground-up.
“After I graduated, I was actually involved in quite a few freelance projects – some design projects here and there, creating a fashion line for the disabled and working at a local jewellery brand,” she tells me.
Like any other fresh graduate, the thought of looking for a “real job” also crossed her mind multiple times as well.
“I knew that I wasn’t as ready as other entrepreneurs.”
But she couldn’t ignore the question that kept tugging at her heart: If not now, then when?
She gives credit to her freelancing experience for sharpening her vision and helping her to know better what she wants to do.
“I found myself more inclined to set up my own business and work for myself. It’s not that working for others is bad or working for myself is any easier, but I just wanted to take this risk with God. If all else fails, I am not afraid because He is with me.”
Everything at 3125 is handmade by Caroline, and occasionally her family members.
I asked her if she’s ever felt lonely running the business on her own. Afterall, it’s a one-woman business and she usually spends her days alone in her studio crafting new designs and working on new orders.
“I think I struggled the most when I was transiting from student life to this. It was fun managing the business while schooling back then. But as I pursued this full-time, there were many things that I didn’t know that I had to know! Like business registration and bank accounts … Figuring out all this adulting stuff alone was really tough.”
That wasn’t all. While any friend of hers might think that she’s got it all together due to her funny and outgoing persona on social media, she reveals that she’s faced some internal battles over the years too.
“I struggled a lot with self-confidence. You can’t tell at all from the outside, but frankly a lot of times I can’t help but to compare my works with others,” she says.
“People have more following, more business going on, more mentions … But I find a lot of comfort when I am reminded that God works in His perfect timing. My ‘best’ cannot be compared with others because we all have our own battles to fight and our own race to run.”
One of Caroline's biggest struggles starting up her business was figuring out the administrative matters with the relevant authorities and businesses. "I didn't know what I had to know!"
Thankfully, Caroline’s family has been more than supportive of her venture. I have seen for myself over the years how her parents and siblings would come down and help out at 3125’s booth during the pop-up markets that she goes to twice to thrice a month.
Besides helping to tend the booth and even doing sales, her family members have contributed their own strengths to value-add to the business.
“My dad is more of the business guy. He reminds me to do my PNL (profit and loss), finances and operations. On the other hand, my mom is more of the creative person. Recently, she learnt a bit of jewellery-making just so that she can help with the production. She follows me overseas for material sourcing too.”
In her free time, Caroline also practices handlettering. Samples of her works line the walls of her studio.
Besides just crafting trendy minimalist jewellery, 3125 is also committed to larger causes. Caroline shares with me that she’s been involved in projects revolving around entrepreneurship, volunteering and community work since young.
“When I decided to study fashion, I somewhat knew that I wanted to do something different in this industry. Apart from just producing beautiful jewellery, I wanted those products to actually mean something to someone.”
3125 currently gives 10% of their sales proceeds to Tamar Village, a daytime restoration centre for people affected by or involved in the sex trade. Interestingly, it wasn’t just a random choice.
“I came to know about Tamar Village through three friends who completely didn’t know one another — one of my clients Jin Yong, Amanda from SELAH and then my friend Elisa. I guess when God has reiterated something thrice, it means something right?”
Spurred on by this thought, Caroline reached out to Tamar Village in 2016 and shared with them the possibility of a partnership. Ever since then, 3125 has been giving financially to support their ministry.
Photos from 3125's latest campaign.
In December 2017, 3 years after that school project, 3125 moved into its own brick and mortar space at Sultan Plaza. Tucked away in a corner of this deserted strata mall, Caroline got to know of the available space through a church brother who runs a tailoring business a few doors down.
It’s an unconventional location for young businesses and business-owners, she acknowledges. Human traffic is minimal and many shops have their shutters down even in the day. The washrooms in the building are dingy, and Caroline admits that she’s heard of strange rumours about the building. But the bubbly 22-year-old is undaunted.
“I think the studio and showroom is a great testimony of how a beautiful space can exist in an old and forgotten building,” she laughs, recalling the times that her family and friends have reminded her to watch out for her safety.
Caroline hopes that the doors of 3125 will see more people coming in for a different kind of retail experience. Besides being her own workspace, the studio also retails products from other local brands.
“This space is small and cosy, so that people who enter into the shop don’t feel pressurised to buy anything. I am more interested in building relationships and making meaningful conversations actually!”
She has one more dream for her studio – to hold a live worship session here one day.
3125's brick and mortar shop located on the third floor of Sultan Plaza.
She reflects on her journey for the past three years, and tells me that she has learnt many lessons big and small along the way.
“Although it can get tiring sometimes, but it taught me a lot about building your spiritual stamina. If I can invest so much time and effort into an interest of mine, how much more should I in Kingdom affairs?”
“God has really blessed me with a lot of mentors too, from fellow entrepreneurs I met through the markets to lecturers, and really supportive friends who are not just interested in the business but yourself, as a person. Sometimes you really need to hear from others and communicate with them, just to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing.”
I ask Caroline how long does she envision herself doing this. She ponders, and tells me that she’s taking things one step at a time.
“I trust that this is just one of the many things that God has given to me to steward. Should there come a time when it’s time to move on, I hope that I would gladly move on to the next season God is bringing me to.”
3125 is a local artisan jewellery brand dedicated to empowering women. 10% of their proceeds goes to Tamar Village, who supports the street women of Singapore by providing job opportunities, training and workshops to improve their livelihood. Besides crafting regular product lines, 3125 also does bespoke jewellery.
Their studio is open strictly by appointment only. To make an appointment, click here.
One man. One simple message. Five nights. Thousands of lives transformed for eternity.
I remember the first time I saw the video of Dr Billy Graham’s crusade in the old National Stadium. Tears welled up in my eyes as I saw the throngs of people who responded to his call to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour. I was deeply moved.
To be honest, as a first-generation Christian from a fairly young church filled with fairly young people, I’ve only begun to really hear about Dr Graham in the recent years.
But that Crusade, I’ve heard, was one of the main catalysts to the growth of the local church in the decades since. It was at this crusade that Dr Graham had released the prophecy that Singapore was to become the Antioch of Asia – something that I’ve always heard people talk about.
According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, this man preached Christianity to “more people than anyone else in history, reaching hundreds of millions of people either in person or via TV and satellite links”.
At his 5-day crusade in Singapore exactly 40 years ago this year, more than 50,000 people showed up every night, filling up the old National Stadium.
While the video moved me deeply, it also stirred up a strange sense of unsettlement within me.
And I know why: It’s a sight we haven’t since seen in modern-day Singapore.
Back then, the crusade brought together not just 337,000 attendees, but also the larger Church in Singapore. Local churches put aside their denominations and differences to unite for the preaching of the Gospel and salvation of more souls.
My editor cites the incredible statistic that out of the 260 churches in Singapore then, something like 230 were involved in the Crusade in some way – almost 9 in 10 churches contributing as organisers, translators, inviters, ushers, clean-up crew, whatever it took.
All to have those in attendance to hear the Gospel.
“You may never understand it all intellectually, don’t wait till you understand it all – come as you are,” Dr Graham’s words rang across the stadium that night.
“Jesus said, if you are not willing to acknowledge Me publicly before men, I will not acknowledge you before My Father which is in Heaven.”
By the end of the Crusade, more than 19,600 people chose to acknowledge the King of kings and Lord of lords, surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ. Over the years since, the Christian population in Singapore grew from 8% to nearly 20% today.
It was a simple message, and people just obeyed and believed.
IN THIS DAY AND AGE? WHY NOT?
As a Gen-Y millennial, it’s hard for me to imagine or picture this happening. I grew up in a society and demographic plagued by self-awareness and self-concern. My peers and I have not seen any crusades of this scale or mass spiritual revivals in our time.
Unfortunately and ironically, doubt takes up a huge part in our day-to-day faith. Some part of me feels that such a simple message would not really convince any non-believing person today. Everyone’s so cynical. It’s so hard to even bring one friend to church.
But even as I consider these thoughts, I know that I’m the one who is wrong.
Our self-awareness and self-concern must never hinder the proclaiming of the Gospel.
We always talk about being the Antioch, but are we really taking steps of faith in our daily lives to live out the prophetic destiny of our nation? Do we even desire this destiny? Do we dare to believe?
Are we, in our individual spheres, being the salt and light that God has called us to be? Are we being effective ministers of God’s presence to the people around us?
As I read the news reports last night on Dr Graham’s passing, I was once again left in admiration of this servant of God.
Dr Graham’s own words (adapted from a quote by one of his faith heroes, D L Moody) about death in his 2006 documentary God’s Ambassador, that had resurfaced in the wake of his passing, is extremely inspiring and poignant.
“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
His achievements were great and many, and he had a valuable legacy. Yet the tributes had all noted that above all these things, he lived a life of integrity, humility and passionate pursuit of God alone.
I found myself asking: Will there be anyone like Dr Graham ever again? It is difficult to pinpoint another man who is like him in character.
His unwavering faithfulness and commitment to the Gospel sowed a powerful seed of faith in our nation 40 years ago. This seed has since then grown and allowed many generations that followed after to benefit from and experience the joy of salvation.
The baton’s now in our hands. Will we choose to take up our cross today, for the salvation of souls tomorrow, for the glory of God in eternity?
Had Dr Graham decided that it would be too hard to share the Gospel, many of us would not be who we are today. Many of our churches would not even exist.
We might not all be stadium prophets or evangelists, but we all have a part to play as Christ-followers in God’s grand plan.
It’s not difficult, it only takes obedience.
The baton’s now in our hands. Will we choose to take up our cross today, for the salvation of souls tomorrow, for the glory of God in eternity?
VALENTINE’S DAY, 2014. “How’s everything between you two?”
It was Valentine’s Day and I was having breakfast with my mentor. The conversation had inevitably drifted towards me and my then-boyfriend, whom I was meeting later in the evening.
Whenever leaders and friends asked me about our relationship, I always gave my default answer.
There are difficult moments, but we’re good.
I tried to not let on as much as I actually wanted to.
My eyes were fixed on the cup of tea in front of me and I prayed she didn’t notice that muscle twitch in my face.
The truth was, we weren’t good.
I felt that by keeping quiet about our troubles meant that I was honouring him. Don’t air your dirty laundry, I was taught. What if I lose his trust by confiding in others?
I told myself that maintaining a relationship is hard work. Getting put down, the disappointment, the hurt, the crying, the fighting … It’s all part of the package.
But … Was it really?
Nobody knew that I was more fearful than I was excited about meeting him for dinner later that night.
That would also be our last dinner together. A week later, we broke up.
Where did we go wrong?
AUGUST 2013. We had been great friends, we shared many things in common and we dreamed passionately for the same things for God. In the eyes of many, we were a dynamic pair.
He would make a good life partner. I’d thought to myself. That was what he told me too. We talked about our future, the family we would want to build and our life together ahead.
Everything was great.
I must’ve missed it, but one day it all just changed completely.
He became withdrawn and distant. Suddenly everything was an issue. He wouldn’t be satisfied over whatever I was wearing, or how my skin looked that day. He would text me after his swim class and call me out on my lack of sportiness and my unathletic build.
He started complaining about my introspective and pensive nature. One night he texted me at 3am: You should do something about your skin and those pores.
Maybe all those things were valid. But why did it hurt so much?
FEBRUARY 2014. Two days before the break up, I was in a corporate prayer meeting in church. He was sitting right in front of me.
I couldn’t pay much attention to whatever that was going on. My mind was in a state of mess as I thought about how pained I was to be in this relationship. This isn’t the relationship I wanted.
As I stared into the back of this familiar stranger, I was finally faced with the truth I’d been escaping from.
I was in a toxic relationship.
WHEN ABUSE TURNS INTO SELF-ABUSE
There is a fine line between speaking the truth and outright verbal abuse.
My ex had always ended every of his “critique sessions” with “this is all for your own good”.
And for the whole of our relationship, I believed it. I made myself believe it.
But like what Timothy Keller said before in one of his sermons, “Truth without love is imperious self-righteousness. Love without truth is cowardly self-indulgence.”
Both are selfish, and equally hurtful.
By listening and believing to his every word and action, I lost sight of who I really was. Who was I? I no longer knew myself.
I started to hate myself. His emotional abuse had turned into my self-abuse. Unknowingly, fear had replaced excitement and joy. I was always in anticipation for our next blow-up.
BREAK UP? CAN OR NOT?
It is extremely uncomfortable to talk about breaking up in the church. In a place where love and relationships are (rightly) celebrated, those trapped in failing and unhappy relationships often remain silent and hidden.
Is it okay to break up?
That question crossed my mind countless times. I’d even asked a trusted girlfriend from my cell group the same question, and she’d assured me that “it’ll all get better”. After all, that’s the outcome that all of us want to our problems. Who doesn’t?
Some weeks after our breakup, a friend who came alongside to comfort me asked me a question I’ll never forget.
Do you think your relationship glorified God?
A show reel of every single moment in that relationship started playing in my mind, and I knew deep down that my “no” resounded much louder than my “yes”.
Yes, building and maintaining a relationship is hard work. Sometimes it is painful. But if the relationship is always painful, how is it even glorifying God?
There are mainly two ways to manage a toxic relationship.
1. Set healthy boundaries
In the book “Boundaries” by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend, they explain that boundaries can manifest in the physical, verbal, emotional, mental and social. Things that should be considered within these boundaries can include feelings, beliefs, behaviours, values and limits.
If we don’t set limits, we remain a prisoner to the wishes of another person – healthy boundaries help us to love and serve one another better.
We usually think that setting boundaries can be selfish or hurtful. We fear that by setting boundaries, we’d risk losing a relationship. Yet if we don’t set limits, we’d remain a prisoner to the wishes of another person. Healthy boundaries actually help us to love and serve one another better.
2. Cut off unhealthy relations
While the ending of relationships isn’t the most recommended solution to most problems, sometimes the most extreme boundary will happen in the form of cutting of unhealthy ties.
Galatians 5:1 tells us that, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
I don’t presume this of you, but Jesus died to set me free. By consciously remaining in a toxic relationship, I was just restraining my God-given freedom.
In our emotionally abusive relationship, I was hurt through and through and I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had lost all ability to empathise or to show compassion because my pain had worn me out.
I’d become extremely bitter, not just towards him and myself, but to others in happy relationships. We simply loved each other better as friends than we did as a couple. It was never going to work out.
Instead of pleasing God, I was busy with trying to appease him.
But I was never going to be able to “fix” his problems or behave “perfectly” enough to make him happy. In fact, there was nothing I could do to make anything better.
In attempting to do so, I was only snuffing out God’s light in my own life. Not only did our relationship failed to glorify God, it was the complete opposite of what is expected of a healthy relationship – which is selfless love, unreserved kindness and unending grace.
SOME THINGS JUST WON’T CHANGE
MARCH 2014. It’d been a month since we broke up. One night while walking down a long, dark road alone near church, I got very upset at this barley drink I’d just bought. It tasted so bad and was a complete waste of my money. But I didn’t want to throw it away.
I’d only just bought it. I invested my dollar in it. I wanted something to accompany me for the long walk, and also because I’d hoped that it’ll taste better later.
But that barley drink didn’t taste any better 2 kilometres later, so I finally decided to chuck it into the bin.
Right then, I had an epiphany.
My relationship had been like that barley drink.
Even though it was all going south, I wasn’t willing to let go of it for good. Because it’d only just begun. Because I invested this much of myself in it. Because I wanted the companionship, and because I thought maybe after a while it’ll all be better.
But that barley drink didn’t taste any better 2 kilometres later. Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? (Jeremiah 13:23)
Four years have passed, and I still don’t miss it.
I wonder if you can relate to some of the sentences below.
You’re struggling with school and no matter how hard you study, you’re just not doing well enough.
You’re stressed out at work and doing OT all the time, but someone else is getting the long-awaited promotion instead.
You’ve made sacrifices to spend more time with your family, but no one’s grateful about it and more tension is building up instead.
You’re in a relationship with someone but it feels like you’re not.
Or you desire to be in a relationship, but there’s just no one available around you.
Life can really suck. And even as I write this … I’m feeling it.
Why does life just seem so difficult? And God, You want me to take ownership and give thanks amidst all these problems I never asked for? When will this striving ever cease?
One thing I’m learning is that our lives have seasons of waiting, darkness, and hopelessness. But there are also seasons of light breaking into darkness, immense bliss — fulfilled hopes.
Some seasons are harder for us to endure — we can’t wait to get out of these heavier moments. But in generally “good” seasons, we become comfortable and reluctant for change.
The simple truth is that seasons are good for us. Seasons help us to mark chapters in our lives. Seasons help us to make and adjust to transitions. Seasons help us to start afresh.
I was always looking forward to the next season in my life.
When I was younger, I looked forward to being an independent young adult — I couldn’t wait to get to make my own decisions.
But when I became a somewhat-independent young adult, I sometimes found my responsibilities too tiring to bear and I dreaded having to make decisions. I was always looking forward to the holidays for a break. Yet when the holidays came and passed, I was full of dread towards the next season.
I realised I was never content — regardless of the season I was in. At every turn I just refused to own the season God had placed me in.
Why was I so… unsettled?
The answer: I couldn’t see the purpose of my season.
My eyes weren’t fixed on what God had in store for me. They were fixed on what was directly in front of me. Refusing to take ownership of the season created a vicious cycle of unhappiness and discontentment. My eyes were always roving around for something “better” — something more.
But what we often don’t see is that every season we’re in is like the field which hides treasure (Matthew 13:44). We must buy the field.
There’s no guarantee that the field we’re to purchase will be beautiful — lined with fresh, fragrant wildflowers. Frankly, the field might turn out to look bleak and barren. But if we recognise that there’s a hidden treasure beneath the surface — everything changes.
That empty plot of unwanted land suddenly flows over with possibilities. It becomes something we can not only accept, but something we would sell everything off to buy.
Willing to receive what we would not typically want, this unwanted piece of field may be revealed to hide the treasures we need.
IF YOU’RE CURRENTLY IN A GOOD SEASON …
Well, good for you. Thank God when you’re doing well — but don’t get too comfortable. I’m not saying that to make you doubt His goodness.
It’s just, when we get too comfortable in our season, it can be very difficult for us to get up and move into our next season.
Beware the black hole of complacency. Complacency encourages the absolute minimum. It stops growth. It kills.
But maintaining a heart of gratitude reminds us that every blessing that we receive is from God. It helps to keep us on our toes, ready for the next season or task He assigns.
IF YOU’RE CURRENTLY IN A BAD SEASON …
It’s definitely easier for us to own our season and have a heart of gratitude when things are going smoothly and well. But how about when things seem too difficult to bear?
The secret lies in viewing gratitude as a posture and lifestyle independent of our current situation. Instead of being thankful for things, we should focus on being thankful in every circumstance.
There are seasons for growing and pruning, for celebrating and soaring. And there are seasons for grieving and mourning, for inactivity and reflecting.
But a spirit of gratitude transcends whatever season we are in. It surpasses disappointment, discouragement, and despair. It blooms and thrives just as beautifully in winter as it does in spring.
Gratitude helps us own our seasons. It enables us to see beyond our present circumstance, into the purpose of the season. It gives us eyes that are primed to look out for God in our lives.
Seasons will change, seasons will end.
When I understood that, and accepted that each season had its purpose for my life — I started to own my seasons.
And through it all, God’s steady love proves sufficient to sustain me. He remains sovereign over all.
Living becomes beautiful when you receive the season of life you’re in as a gift from God with gratitude.
I grew up in a traditional Chinese household. We went to temples and burnt incense. I even remember my mother buying some pencils from the temple when I was 7 because it was believed that if I used those pencils in my exams I would do well.
Growing up observing these traditions and beliefs, Jesus was a completely foreign concept to me.
Interestingly, I first came across Jesus in one of those old-school tear-off daily Chinese calendars when I was 5. They had an illustration for every key event of the month, and for April they had an illustration of a bloodied man nailed to a cross.
I remember asking my mother who was the man and why he was on that cross.
“He was nailed to the cross to die. He’s Jesus.”
The image of the nails piercing through his hands and feet with blood flowing out freely stuck to me for a long, long time.
I wouldn’t really call my younger self an atheist. I didn’t believe in the traditions my family followed, but I also had a very negative impression of Christians and the Church.
I had Christian relatives who were avid gamblers and even manipulated my grandfather to alter his will for their financial benefit.
My aunt often complained about how the Church that invited my cousins to their free Sunday kids programme ended up asking them to tithe monthly, even though they were not members of the Church or even Christians at that point in time.
My Christian classmate often skipped school and slept in classes. We even copied answers for our homework together – from another Christian!
Going to Church didn’t seem to make them any different from me, I reasoned. In fact, I seemed to be doing better than some, if not most of them.
When my classmate first invited me to her Church on a Saturday afternoon in 2008, I gave no second thought to it and turned her down.
The Easter service invitation card that Fiona gave me on the bus home from school.
I’m not free. I have CCA. There’s a remedial class happening. I have a family gathering.
I made up all the excuses I could. I didn’t want to mess up my life. I didn’t want to become like them. Church was the last place I’d ever wanted to be at.
Yet underneath the surface, my life was already a mess. I was quietly in search of a purpose and a hope in my life. But I was too proud to let anyone know about it.
One day after school, I decided to get myself a Bible and find out what’s the deal about Jesus.
In April 2009, my father was suddenly hospitalised for hypertension. I came home from school after an exam and found my mother standing anxiously at the gate.
“Your dad… He’s in the ICU.”
I’d never been gripped by such a fear as this.
One night in my room after a hospital visit, I opened up the rarely opened Bible I’d bought earlier that year at a Borders sale, thinking there was no harm in finding out a bit more about what my friends believed in.
I didn’t know where to look; I didn’t know what to do. Then my eyes landed on this verse in 3 John.
“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 2)
That night, something changed within me. Unbeknownst to me, my heart had started moving towards this God who calls me beloved.
“Want to go to the mall tomorrow?” Fiona, my classmate, asked me.
It was Christmas Eve the following day.
A part of me guessed that we were going to Church – and to be fair her Church service did take place in Suntec City – but for some reason I just didn’t call her out on my suspicion.
I thought that showing up for once would make her stop inviting me in the future. I went wanting to leave the service as soon as possible. I went ready to confirm for myself that Church wasn’t for me.
I don’t remember much of what happened during the service, or the songs they sang. At one point I even wondered to myself, what is going on?
But I remember very clearly the message that was preached that day by the Senior Pastor – an exhortation from Romans 5.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
Everything started to fall into place.
The illustration of the bloodied man nailed to the cross came back to my mind again. So that was why he was there.
Jesus died for me. That was how much He loves me.
When the time for altar call came towards the end of the service, Fiona nudged me and asked if I wanted to receive Jesus into my life.
Without any hesitation, I nodded and we went down to the front of the hall together.
All I wanted to do there and then, was to run to the Man who had died that painful death for me.
“Oh, you became a Christian?”
I bumped into a secondary friend on the bus and she couldn’t hide her surprise hearing that I was on my way to Church.
I couldn’t blame her for that; I had been relatively vocal about my disapproval towards Christians and the Church in the past.
Nobody could really understand what motivated this change in me. To this day, neither do I have the exact words to explain it.
Every now and then I think about my life before and after 24 December 2009.
At the age of 16, where my peers seemed to have known what they wanted to do in life and what they wanted to study in the future, I was purposeless and directionless. Life was utterly meaningless and there were many days when I wanted my life to just end. I wasn’t suicidal, but I had absolutely no clue why I was alive.
My life was a mess. But nothing in my life today is the same as my life back then.
As a new Christian, I learnt that God loves me unconditionally, wholeheartedly and continually. But to continue believing in that required an additional measure of matured faith.
I continue to believe God’s love even when I don’t see or feel it, just like how I believe and know that the Sun is still there and real even when it is not shining. I continue to believe in God’s love even when the darkness feels overwhelming. In psychology, this is also known as object permanence. It is the understanding that things continue to exist even when they cannot be seen.
In psychology, object permanence is the understanding that things continue to exist even when they cannot be seen – like God’s love even when the darkness feels overwhelming.
This is the hope that keeps me going even on the most difficult of days.
If I hadn’t received Jesus Christ into my life, I wouldn’t have known that there was so much more to my life. I wouldn’t have known Someone whom I can talk to and who knows all of my thoughts.
So this Christmas, if someone has invited you to church, I encourage you to go with an open heart. Don’t let others decide for you what Christianity is about. Come and see for yourself who the bloody man nailed to the cross is.
And if you’re wondering whether to invite a friend, a classmate, a colleague, a family member to church, I hope you find the courage to just do it. If Fiona hadn’t taken that first step to get me to Church that Christmas Eve 8 years ago, I wouldn’t be where I am and who I am today.
If you’d like help getting connected to a local Church or community of believers, feel free to drop us a message at email@example.com! You could also pop by one of the many Churches celebrating Christmas this weekend – find one near you using our Christmas directory!
It’s official. Singapore’s favourite verse of 2017 is … Jeremiah 29:11.
YouVersion released their year-end review recently, which said we may be living amid the most Bible-engaged generation ever. The summary also shows the top verses around the world – the ones that were shared, bookmarked and highlighted most often by the global Bible App community in 2017.
The verse of the year was Joshua 1:9.
I wonder if Singapore’s top verse of 2017 should raise more concerns than hope.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Growing up in the youth ministry, this verse was widely and commonly quoted. We used it when exams were drawing close, when we had to submit our choices for our school applications. Then we grew older, and this verse was still used when we were job hunting, when we went for job interviews, when our parents went for health screenings …
For the average Singaporean, this verse seems to give some hope and assurance in this fast-paced, cut-throat society. It has all the right words in it: We love planning ahead. We are always so concerned about our future. We want quick solutions.
But while Jeremiah 29:11 is one of our most beloved verses, it’s possibly one of the most misunderstood ones.
We love anything that promises us prosperity. Huat ah! Prosperity in the form of straight A’s. A degree from a prestigious university. Or a high-flying career. Or a #goals kind of relationship.
But while Jeremiah 29:11 is one of our most beloved verses, it’s possibly one of the most misunderstood ones. I’m definitely guilty of having quoted it frequently and written it on many well-wishing cards over the years.
But do we really know what the verse means?
Jeremiah 29:11 was part of a letter written by the prophet Jeremiah for the exiles in Babylon, who were discouraged and disillusioned. They had suffered terribly. They had lost their land, their throne, their temple.
And when they read that line, they probably would have felt … a strange mix of distant hope amid tremendous disappointment.
Because this letter was a reminder to the people of Judah that they would not be returning home anytime soon. Not for 70 years, to be precise, according to Jeremiah 29:10.
The Israelites were exiled due to their own sins. But God had shown incredible mercy and called them to repentance. The exile was a consequence of their actions, meaning their immediate future looked bleak. But in His grace, He promised them prosperity instead of harm, and a hope and a future.
It was in such a state of despair that this letter was written, as an encouragement to the exiles in a foreign land.
Now, you might ask, so what? Even if the verse is taken out of context, it’s still true to some extent, right? God does know the plans for each of us, so it’s applicable for those seeking God’s plan for their life, right? Well, yes and no.
Consider the context in which these promises were made. In Jeremiah 28, another prophet named Hananiah makes a bold declaration: God will restore Israel in two years. The tens of thousands of people living in exile will be going home soon. Hang in there!
It is far too easy to take Jeremiah 29 out of context and instead hear in it the promises we want to receive.
Whatever Hananiah said sounded good. It was what people wanted to hear. But … it wasn’t true. God had no plans to make everything better in just two years. Hananiah persuaded the nation to trust in his lies (Jeremiah 28:15), and they believed him easily because it was a semblance of the release from their situation that they were so desperate for.
He had preached rebellion (Jeremiah 28:16): Drawing hope not according to the Word of God, but the wants of man.
All along I’d read Jeremiah 29 like I was listening to Hananiah. I believed that God would work out everything for my benefit soon, and in ways that made sense to me. It is far too easy to take Jeremiah 29 out of context and instead hear in it the promises we want to receive.
We fall so easily into the trap of self-deception.
But this isn’t a dismissal of the love of the verse, because at the heart of it lies an eternal truth: That God really does know what’s in store for you, and His heart is always for the good of those who love Him.
No, the plans that God has for you may not be the plans you want for yourself. But that doesn’t mean His plans aren’t better plans.
We need to be careful of our natural human tendencies to twist God’s promises and plans into caricatures of what they really mean. Here are some ways to help us keep that tendency in check.
HOW CAN WE CORRECTLY HANDLE THE WORD OF GOD?
1. DIG DEEPER
When you know the Word better, you are able to discern what is true and untrue (Hebrews 5:12-14). Discipline yourself; set aside time daily to read the Bible. Take your time to read and understand. Read with a greater sensitivity to context. It’s always quality more than quantity.
2. DISCUSS WITH OTHERS
None of us has a monopoly on truth or insight. Join a cell group to study and discuss the Bible together. Or maybe your church has regular Bible Study meetings. Or consider Bible Study Fellowship, which works across church and denominational lines. As iron sharpens iron, let your community help you to grow. Be open to hearing new perspectives that you otherwise wouldn’t have thought of yourself.
3. DIE TO YOURSELF
The key, I feel, is to commit ourselves to seeking God first and only. By laying down all our pride and desires, we turn our eyes on Him to help us realise that we live within a story much bigger than our own. A story in which God resolves the disappointments of life in ways we can never even imagine.
If you came to this story through social media, you’ve probably also read about the Annie Ee case, the ban mian auntie, or the group of Singaporean teen girls called Beaunite.
Less than a week ago, a K-pop group consisting of a bunch of Singaporean teens calling themselves Beaunite posted a video introducing themselves. Cue the flamethrowers.
While the original video was quickly deleted, the sound of hate continues to echo. The video was reposted for everyone’s consumption. Threads have been formed to flame them. Response videos have been made to roast them.
Comments on one of the reposted Beaunite videos on YouTube.
We know that the video wasn’t anywhere near the standard you’d expect from a professional K-pop group. And no, we don’t know what their motivations might have been; but even if the video was done in the name of fun, would it warrant the degree of flaming and shaming they received?
Why do keyboard warriors have no qualms in trolling these girls, many of whom would be secondary school kids? And not merely riding the wave of hate, but making money off their response videos? One hater (sorry, we won’t provide the link) has already clocked up more than a 100,000 views on YouTube; by our estimates, that could be worth more than $200 in ad revenue.
Profits from put-downs, dollars for damnation, gain off gripes. How many teenage spirits can you step on to gain fame and fortune?
It’s the dark and rude underbelly of the Internet – the comments section. This happens even on the most innocent of articles. In an interview with Madam Leong, aka ban mian auntie, netizens in the comments section were debating which “God” she was referring to. Needless to say, it spiralled into a whole name-calling fiasco.
Looking for the ugliest of Singaporean humanity? Search the Web.
It’s funny, because when I walk around town, take a bus or train, or eat at the hawker centre, most people seem to lead pretty undramatic lives. There’s no real evidence of this depth of hate. But you never know if the person beside you on his phone is posting yet another comment, throwing more kindling to the fiery pit of hate.
Take the Annie Ee case for example. An appropriate initial response – being appalled by the evilness of another man – somehow escalates into equally evil responses.
We are so happy to express anger.
There’s a strange power in anonymity. The fact that we’re hidden behind a computer screen and online alibi seems to have emboldened us to say things that we would never say in real life.
Anonymity seems to give people the freedom to reveal the true nature of our thoughts. It’s scary.
I’ve encountered it personally IRL. Some years back, after a camp I’d helped to plan, we put out an anonymous survey form for feedback.
The response that we got was disheartening. With the guarantee of anonymity, some of the respondents wrote the harshest words I’ve ever heard or read in such a setting.
I could’ve spent my time better somewhere else. Hated the games. One of the worst camps ever.
Would they have said those things if asked face to face? Most likely not, at least not in that manner. We definitely didn’t hear it from them in person.
It seems the Internet gives all our worst impulses just what they needed to thrive.
We’re so good at waging war. Now I wish we’d learn to wage peace.
If someone has a differing opinion or take on an issue from us in real life, we might feel frustrated. We might even have a robust argument about it. But we’d also see that person as another fellow human with valid human emotions and thoughts, instead of just an object for us to mock and scorn.
We seem to be able to hold more space for empathy and understanding face to face than on the Internet, where every comment box becomes a conquest, a battlefield where we have to take sides. Or a blanket party to join.
I once read on a blog that the “contentiousness for the sake of being contentious (is confusing). No great wars were fought over the virtue of fighting. No epic debates were waged in defence of argument.”
We seem to have lost all ability to empathise, to show mercy and to have compassion. We forget how to be kind. We spend hours and hours on the Internet waging war after war after war.
We’re so good at waging war. Now I wish we’d learn to wage peace.
“You’re actually in a life-threatening situation right now.”
That was what my dentist told me in all seriousness.
7 months ago during a regular check-up, my dentist suspected that my lower wisdom teeth were not growing normally. He instructed me to return in two months for an in-depth scan where he would then decide if I had to extract them.
In my heart, I knew we didn’t have to wait two months to know. My wisdom teeth had been hurting on and off for years.
But as I dreaded the coming appointment, I ended up cancelling my next visit out of fear.
BRACE FOR IMPACT
A day came when I woke up with a terrible sore throat and fever. Even worse – the lymph nodes on my neck had become swollen.
I reasoned that I must have been under the weather or that my body was “heaty”. That illusion quickly shattered when my jaw started swelling and my gums began to bleed.
Desperate and in severe pain, I called my dentist.
The X-ray showed that both my wisdom teeth were more than three-quarters impacted in my jawbone, where there was definitely no more room for further growth.
In fact, my wisdom teeth were so badly infected that this had caused my lymph nodes to swell. “If we don’t extract this soon, the infection may one day travel to your heart. You might die,” my dentist said calmly.
I thought constantly escaping from the dentist meant that I’d never have to face my biggest fear. Running away from a fix, I chose to live with the persistent but bearable pain.
That was a mindset of denial which had now put my life in danger.
THE ROOT ISSUE
I realise now that this is how I’ve dealt with most of the issues in my life.
I see the situation at hand and assess it. Then from my own understanding, I predict the worst possible outcome and – more often than not – invariably decide that the best course of action is to run away.
Running away always seems to be the most painless and easy way out of any situation: Broken relationships, family issues, tricky financial situations …
And fear is what makes us run.
When Moses sent spies into Canaan – God’s Promised Land – to gather information, the spies’ fear of the giants overshadowed the blessings Canaan had to offer. Although they brought back the bountiful fruit as they were told to do, their end-of-trip report focussed on all the seemingly impossible obstacles looming over them (Numbers 13:26-33).
So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size … We became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13:26-33)
In their fear, they forgot God’s promises to them (Numbers 14:2). They could only see how they were very probably going to die very painful deaths.
My eyes were fixed on my predicament instead of the promise.
I couldn’t see how my pain would be relieved after the surgery – for good. I could only see how painful the surgery itself would be.
My eyes were fixed on my predicament instead of the promise.
But my running away didn’t solve anything. It didn’t heal the pain I was feeling or make the wisdom tooth issue magically disappear.
Instead my wound worsened as I singlehandedly made the issue more severe than it ever needed to be.
KEEP KEEPING ON
When I finally went for my surgery, the actual procedure proved to be a breeze. However the recovery process wasn’t as smooth sailing as I expected.
By the third day my entire jaw was very swollen, as if I had a golf ball stuck in my mouth. It was badly bruised, having turned a shade of blue-black and dull yellow. Four days later I went back for a review and learnt that my stitches had torn, hampering my recovery.
How long more?
In my healing journey, I learnt problems don’t get solved overnight. Relationships aren’t restored overnight. Debts aren’t cleared overnight.
Rather, transformation happens step by step. The impossible only seems impossible because you haven’t taken that first step of faith out of the boat yet.
Sometimes we fall into a relapse; stitches tear and wounds reopen. And that’s alright – we press on. What truly matters is we keep going, fixing our eyes on what’s ahead (Philippians 3:14).
Growing up, I wasn’t entirely in the dark about my personality. I remember recognising early on that I was a little bit different from the others.
I was a quiet girl who enjoyed being alone – immersed in my own world. I often ate alone during recess, and I didn’t have many friends. I wasn’t a popular girl. I was a little bit … invisible.
So it comes as little surprise that I wasn’t very well adjusted when I became a youth leader in Church.
Most of the other youth leaders were loud, outgoing and had bubbly personalities. The chief extrovert was a fellow leader named Wendy.
I recall how effortlessly she entertained Church campers with her fun icebreakers. And I always marvelled at how she could share the Word of God with others with such gusto.
To me, she was an energiser bunny which exuded confidence and never ran out of steam. Everyone loved to be around Wendy.
But as for me? Well, I was the direct opposite of Wendy. I was neither a good orator nor charismatic.
I felt a lot of pressure to be a Wendy though I just wasn’t like her. I misguidedly figured that I had to do something about my introverted personality.
So I began to be very enthusiastic in my cell group. I tried to be talkative. I tried to be like all the other leaders who so easily connected with their youths. I surrounded myself with people almost every day in a bid to be someone I innately wasn’t.
I lived this half-life for some time before I finally burnt out.
Extrovert or introvert – there’s no “better” personality to have. We are all made in God’s image.
At the very least, I was finally able to face the fact that I was not an extrovert and that it just wasn’t working. I returned to the other side and fully embraced my introversion.
But that soon meant that retreating to my own space and keeping to myself became excuses, and all too convenient for me. As a newly “practising” introvert, it became a lot easier for me not to do Church things and meet people.
In time, I became invisible again.
It was only some time after that that I saw all the mistakes I had been making. I wrongly thought that as an introvert, it was acceptable for us not to participate in social things or be part of a community.
The truth is, we are not defined by our personalities: introvert or extrovert. We are defined by our identity in Christ. We are the children of God.
And He didn’t make any mistakes when He created each and every one of us. We are each designed according to His will, for a unique plan and purpose. So me being an introvert wasn’t a mistake.
I simply failed to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of my introversion.
Thank God I see a little better now. I may not have an outgoing personality but it doesn’t mean I can’t reach out to people.
My way of sharing the Gospel might not take place on the stage, but it does happen in smaller settings like cafés.
Extrovert or introvert – there’s no “better” personality to have. We are all made in God’s image, and following His will, we all have our own unique ways to serve the Kingdom.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
My heart longs to see more introverts looking less at themselves and more at God. Instead of breaking away from community, we each should all be putting roots down – finding our unique places in the Body of Christ to serve God as His beloved children.
I believe that’s what Jesus wants.
Names in this article have been changed for privacy.
“Our fight is simply to make it to tomorrow”: This is what depression looks like
by Mak Kean Loong | 9 October 2017, 4:34 PM
I almost committed suicide in August of 2017. I’d made plans. I’d started to put part of it into action, unbeknown to those closest to me.
I have a loving wife, a couple of good kids, and a supportive extended family. My Bible study group meets at my house every week, and we are a close-knit group. My support mechanisms are in place, and I know what I should do when depression hits, due to an earlier episode.
So why did things go wrong?
My temper had been getting worse day by day, even in the workplace. At home, I found myself over-critical of my boys, and easily tired. I withdrew from many social engagements. I forgot how to be happy. I’m still not sure how much of that was negativity, or how much of that was something else. My moods were often low. The doctors would call my persistent low mood dysthymia.
The stage was set. No one, including me, expected that the crash would happen.
Depression is a reality, and pain can lead us down paths we never knew existed. Let me try to give an idea of how depression feels.
Picture yourself putting on something that wraps itself around the top of your skull. Attached to this is a chainmail veil that drops over your eyes and ears. At the same time, a steel band is put around your heart, and starts to constrict, just a little, even as a cape of liquid metal drapes itself on your shoulders. It’s not heavy, but the weight is definitely felt. None of these can be taken off at will.
Now everything that you see and hear is filtered through this haze. All positivity is filtered out, through your eyes and ears. Pleasure is taken away, and whatever you see, touch, taste, hear, is now tinged with grey negativity. It’s never totally black. It’s a drip torture, little by little. You start losing touch with the world.
If this change was sudden, it might be easier since you know for sure you need help. Instead it drips on you, little by little, giving hope that things may improve, even as it takes away hope.
The band around your heart grows tighter. Everyday, the cape drags down further, gradually. It becomes harder to breathe, and every day grows dimmer, as you drag your feet, as you try to carry on. Soon, you can no longer lift your head. Everything feels like you’re slogging through mud. Drink tastes dry, and food tastes like sand.
Occasional bursts of enjoyment gets through, but nothing lasts beyond that sparkle of time, which makes it even more painful because you can’t reach back for it.
Despair starts to set in. Your self-worth drops. Hopelessness is your constant companion, as pain wracks your heart. Breathing becomes ever more difficult, and death itself seems like a good way out. It doesn’t matter how positive life is for you. Every step is painful, and everything is gray with despair. Every blessing becomes pale, every good thing becomes a shadow that you desperately wish to taste and enjoy, but can’t.
Words matter at this point. Words that tell you that you’re worth something; that someone cares. If you don’t even have that, suicide becomes a reality to dance with. Even with support, death becomes delicious, something to savour, because the pain is so deep that nothing else can fill your heart. As the pall continues to grow, as you struggle to breathe, to walk, to think, nothing matters anymore.
That is how depression feels for a sufferer.
I won’t publish my plan, so that others won’t get an idea of how I planned to end my life. But it had been well thought out. When I reached home that day, I knew how I was going to do it.
Yet, I promised myself – God’s grace upon me! – to call the Institute of Mental Health’s emergency helpline. If no one picked up, or I got disconnected, I would proceed as I’d planned.
I held the phone for 10 minutes. The counsellors were busy. When someone finally answered, I kept my word. I spoke. She listened. She asked. She advised me to come in to the IMH emergency clinic as soon as possible. She gave me directions, and made sure that I knew their number, so that along the way, I could call if I was in danger. I told her I would.
She had no idea that she was instrumental in saving my life.
I was admitted to IMH for my suicidal plans and tendencies. The time there wasn’t always easy, though everything was regulated and I was well taken care of. There were group therapy sessions in the ward I was in, and I responded well to medication. I was discharged after a week; other patients usually stay for at least a few weeks.
If my story speaks to you in any way, to your current struggles or past feelings, please know this: You are not alone, and help is available.
If you have never sought medical help before, please consider it. There are various means that you can use in Singapore.
If you are not having suicidal thoughts, or don’t believe that you will act on your thoughts in the short run, visit a government polyclinic to get assessed. GPs in Singapore are generally well equipped to assess such conditions. I have managed to get compassionate help from my private GP as well as a polyclinic GP. They will refer you to any government hospital specialist if there is a need.
There are also other sources that you can seek for help from, such as counselling centers, or private therapists.
If you are already seeking medical help, remember that you are not alone. There are many people who are also seeking medical help for mental issues. Don’t feel ashamed, or fall for the fallacy that if you are mentally ill, you are mentally weak. No one chooses to be ill, just as no one chooses to have a broken arm, or the flu. Don’t blame yourself.
Be responsible in taking your medication, and keeping up with your follow-ups – that is already a huge thing. Be responsible for your own actions, and apologise where you need to, but don’t apologise for being sick.
If you feel suicidal, answer the following questions:
1. Do you have constant thoughts of suicide?
2. Do you have a plan on how to commit suicide? Can you describe it to some level of detail?
3. Do you have a timeline by which you wish to commit suicide?
If your answer is yes to any/all the questions above, seek immediate help. Death may seem to be the only option, and may seem delicious and easier – but your mind is lying to you. There are other ways out, and you need to seek help.
Call the Samaritans of Singapore at 1800-221 4444. Alternatively, IMH has a 24 hour helpline at 6389 2222. Both numbers are manned by trained volunteers or counsellors around the clock. Why not talk to someone who is willing to listen to you before you do anything? You have nothing to lose by calling either of these numbers as soon as possible.
There are major changes that mental health sufferers will have to adapt to. Our expectations of life and the world need to be toned down. Get well first. As long as we are not well, there are fights we cannot fight. When we are better, we can then educate others on the illness, and increase awareness of the issue.
Our fight is simply to live to the next day. When we have accomplished that, we can fight for the next week. When we have conquered thinking a week ahead, we can then learn to fight a month ahead.
Don’t expect too much of yourself, because your mind needs to recover and heal. Sometimes the healing can take years. Sometimes miracles happen, and healing is quicker. If not, don’t forget that such mental illnesses are there for the long haul.
If you find yourself dipping back into the darkness, try not to despair. Talk to your mental health professional at the closest possible opportunity. Work with your doctor or therapist, not against them. Pharmaceutical conspiracies are precisely that – conspiracies. The amounts we pay for our medicines, especially at government hospitals, don’t justify the doctors keeping us on treatment for longer than necessary.
Our doctors and therapists work hard to help us get better. If you are not comfortable with the doctor or therapist working with you, by all means, ask for another one. Just don’t do that too often, as there aren’t that many in Singapore to go around!
Get a support group that understands you without demanding more from you. Support groups can include friends, family members or members of your religious group. We need to grow and heal at our own pace, and no one has a right to dictate the pace for us. Our actions will determine how much we progress through therapy and medication.
If we are not honest with our support groups, or our doctors, we can’t expect to get better any time soon. If we are honest and responsible, reaching out for help when we need it, there is every hope and chance that we will come out from under this dark cloud at some point.
Singapore remains a country where depression and similar mental conditions remain not well understood. The medical help structure however, is robust, and has contributed to saving lives. Don’t waste our lives or hurt the ones who love us, by taking our lives into our own hands. Seek help, and remember that we are never alone in this fight. At least you now know that I’ll be struggling alongside you!
This blogpost was first published on the author’s own blog. It has been edited for length and republished with permission.
I’m a claustrophobic introvert and it’s pretty obvious.
Me-time is my favourite time of the day. It’s when I just lie on my bed and read, or watch some YouTube videos. Just me and myself.
Needless to say, the days I dread most are the days when I have gatherings or events to head to. People. Humans. They drain the life out of me.
My closest friends know this: I hate socialising and meeting new people.
For instance, I was on my way to a church retreat after work one evening, when the sudden thought of having to interact with many strangers scared me. I made a U-turn and headed home instead.
I love solitude and silence. Left to my own devices, I would just stay at home forever — and I know I’m not the only one.
THE FRIEND WHO GOT AWAY
I got to know Janice (not her real name) in JC. We quickly became close friends because we were so similar. Janice was easily exhausted from being surrounded by people and overwhelmed by the tasks she had to do.
She began skipping classes once a week. Then it became twice a week. Eventually she was just never in school.
She kept retreating to her safe space and comfort zone.
I love solitude and silence. Left to my own devices, I would just stay at home forever — and I know I’m not the only one.
It became increasingly frustrating for us as her friends because we were constantly trying to track her down. We had to call her at home every morning to get her to come to school, and every night to make sure she got her homework done.
There was Project Work to do, and there were SYF selections coming up. But Janice just stopped showing up.
She ended up repeating JC1, but eventually her escapism got the better of her and she dropped out of school altogether.
No one from my circle of friends in JC has managed to get into contact with Janice since.
THE INTROVERT’S ESCAPE
I totally understand the motivation behind Janice’s tendency to run from everything.
My current workplace has an “open desk” concept. That means there aren’t any cubicles or partition. Also, the office is basically housed in a renovated storeroom, so there isn’t exactly a lot of space.
I’m sandwiched between people and our team isn’t exactly the quietest and tidiest one around. It’s an introvert’s worst nightmare.
So when the option to work offsite came up, I jumped at it immediately. It felt like cold water for a thirsty man.
I was more productive at home. It was tidy, quiet and spacious. I got more things done and I saved time on commuting and lunch breaks. It was a win-win situation.
I rationalised my decision with the cold, hard statistics I could see tangibly. I mean, being in my comfort zone helps me!
Until I realised that it was becoming poison for my heart. On the days when I had to come into the office, I was filled with dread and frustration. I couldn’t wait for the day to be over so I could quickly get home to my safe place.
Work became merely a routine of tasks I had to complete. I didn’t know what was going on in my colleagues’ lives and how they were doing. Constantly retreating to my comfort zone, I switched off my interpersonal skills completely.
But it wasn’t supposed to be like that. Whatever happened to team spirit? Whatever happened to being there for one another? What happened to relationship building?
If I continued to stay in my comfort zone, where was the reliance on God? Where’s the room for God to move in unthinkable ways? Where’s the trust in God?
It would be so easy to live my life the way my personality would otherwise dictate. But I can’t let my introversion be my excuse that keeps me from living life to the fullest.
I still don’t go to gatherings as often as my friends would want me to, but I try. It’s difficult, but I ask God for help. For strength. For patience. For endurance. For joy. I ask Him to expand my perspective, that even in overly-social functions I can find meaning and purpose over sheer reluctance.
It would be so easy to live my life the way my personality would otherwise dictate. But I can’t let my introversion be my excuse that keeps me from living life to the fullest.
Maybe I’ll bless someone with my presence. Or maybe, I’ll be blessed by something someone will say to me.
I choose to show up. Not because I am obligated to. I know that doing things out of a spirit of obligation will eventually burn me out. But I see the greater picture: Christians can’t be light in a dark world without showing up. I cannot be a light in the world by hiding at home (Matthew 5:14).
Jesus first showed up for me.
This is why I choose to lay my introversion down at the altar. This is why I show up.
I didn’t know how to react. My mind was a blank. The doctor continued explaining my report, but I just stared blankly at her. As I lay down for her to examine me, I noticed that tears were streaming down my face.
“Triple Negative Breast Cancer” was what the doctors called it. A rare form of breast cancer.
Anyone else would have called it their worst nightmare. And now it was mine.
It was August 2016. I was 28 years old, working as a music educator and happily in a relationship for more than a year. Howard and I were already discussing marriage and our future together. Life was really good and I had nothing to complain about.
I had discovered a pimple-sized lump underneath the skin on my right breast. I didn’t think too much of it until a month later, when I realised it had grown to the size of a grape. It might just be a simple cyst, I thought.
Two weeks later, I finally saw a doctor at the hospital to get it checked up and removed. The cyst had grown to be about 5cm in diameter. Cancer didn’t cross my mind. I was still convinced it was benign.
Walking out of the clinic after receiving my diagnosis, I felt as if my entire world was crumbling to pieces.
I’m too young to have cancer. I have a lot of things in life to accomplish. I still want to look pretty, to have fun, to go on holidays and eat delicious food. I still want to get married. With cancer, will I be able to? Will Howard accept me?
I was to undergo a full mastectomy of my right breast. They couldn’t save it because the tumour occupied more than 80% of the breast.
After my surgery, I saw that one side of my chest was heavily bandaged and flat. I braced myself for how it would look like after the bandages were removed. I asked myself every day in the hospital: When I see my body in the mirror, a huge scar across my chest – one breast no longer there – will I break down and cry?
Would this make me less of a female? I worried about how Howard would see me. Honestly, I feared how other people would look at me, more than how I’d see myself.
The next course of my treatment was chemotherapy. The initial side effects were severe nausea and headaches. I couldn’t eat or sleep well for the next few days. It got so bad that even drinking a sip of water would cause me to gag. I was like a living corpse.
One week after my first session, I realised my hair was falling out while I was in the shower. I stood staring at the clumps of fallen hair in shock.
I knew it was coming, but seeing it happen with my own eyes was another thing. Even gently combing my fingers through my hair would cause it to fall out relentlessly. When I woke up in the morning, my whole pillow would be covered with hair.
He revealed to me: This is your new crown. The crown of faith, strength and courage.
The pain of watching my hair fall off was far worse than having to see myself bald. It was like watching bits of yourself waste away to nothing. In the end, I plucked up the courage to visit the hairdresser to shave my head bald.
As I watched her take huge snips out of what little hair I had left, followed by the sound of the electric razor shaving my head, I had to fight extremely hard to hold back my tears.
Lord, lend me your strength. I do not want to cry here in public. Hold me tight and keep me strong.
But that night, during my quiet time with God, He revealed to me: This is your new crown. The crown of faith, strength and courage.
Then, as though my life hadn’t fallen apart quite enough, I was informed that chemotherapy would eventually cause me to lose my ovarian functions. That meant I would become infertile. I would also experience menopause at the age of 28.
How could this be? Just months ago, I had been talking to Howard about how many kids we wanted – and now I couldn’t even have children biologically. But thanks to modern medicine, there was a solution: Freezing my eggs in a storage unit for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in the future.
I had to undergo 14 days of injections to grow and ripen as many eggs as possible before the surgery to have the eggs extracted. I also had to take monthly jabs to protect my ovaries as much as possible in hopes that they might function normally even after my treatment.
“If you tell me this is going to be enough for the future, I’m trusting You and I’ll be contented. But if it is not enough, then give me what You think is best for me.”
But it was through this trial that I got to experience a miracle of God for the first time. On average, it is recommended to have 10 to 15 eggs ripened and frozen for IVF to be potentially successful. On the second last day of my injection cycle, I only had 6 eggs – a far cry away from what was considered to be a safe amount.
I prayed to God and asked Him, “Lord, I only have 6 eggs. If you tell me this is going to be enough for the future, I’m trusting You and I’ll be contented. But if You think it is not enough, then give me what You think is best for me.”
He was silent. But the day after my injection cycle ended, I entered the operating theatre with a heart set on trusting Him and went through the procedure.
The surgery was supposed to last at least two hours, but within 40 minutes, the doctor had managed to extract 10 eggs and ended earlier than expected. God had answered my prayer in His own way and showed me that He heard my cries.
In the initial discovery of my cancer, I questioned God so much about why I had to go through this suffering.Why does this have to happen to me when everything was going fine? Why now? Why me? Why, God, why?
I felt like everything had been taken from me. I had lost my hair. Lost my natural ability to have children. I had even begun to experience lingering numbness in my fingers and toes. I’d heard of patients who lost their sense of touch because of chemotherapy and were ultimately unable to even hold a pencil. Being a piano teacher, I couldn’t have this happening to me.
It wasn’t that I was angry with God. I was just really sad.
I came to Him on my knees, crying and questioning Him; it was so difficult to fully surrender myself to Him. Then, one day, I heard Him for the first time, loud and clear, “My child, I need you to do this. You are not alone, for I will be with you.”
I believe what it says in Isaiah 40, that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Jesus is for me.
Finally I could say that I wasn’t afraid to die. I told Him that If I were to not make it through surgery or cancer, I was no longer afraid, because I knew He’d be there on the other side waiting for me.
In May 2017, I finally completed my chemotherapy treatment and was declared cancer-free.
I was more than ready to head back to work – back to a normal life. There were medical bills from the treatment and future reviews that I had to pay and save up for. Becoming a cancer patient meant that I was no longer able to buy insurance. That means I have no fall-back plan should I ever become ill again. And I have no guarantee that I won’t have another relapse of cancer.
One week before I returned to work, I was told that my contract with the company had been terminated because they deemed my health condition to be a liability. They offered me a part-time contract instead, and as I was financially desperate at the time – I took it up.
The confusion resurfaced in my heart. I thought the trials were finally over … How could I lose my full-time job as well, God?
Then, in early September, I went for my quarterly review at the hospital and was told that I now have osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is when you develop fragile bones, with an increased chance of fracture. It is more commonly seen in older women as a side effect of menopause, but as my ovaries had stopped functioning because of chemotherapy, I am experiencing it too.
Now I have to be extra careful with my physical movements and try to maintain a healthy weight. I currently only weigh 39kg. You can’t tell by looking at my size, but that reveals how hollow my bones are because of the osteoporosis.
Besides this discovery, two really tiny white spots were also found in my remaining breast from a mammogram and ultrasound scan. Not again.
The doctor tells me that I need to go for more scans, and if there is cause for suspicion, she will have to do another biopsy to determine if it is cancerous.
God, please don’t let me go through this again. I don’t think I can do it. I thought it was over already?
I have struggled and wrestled with God. I have yelled and cried in front of Him.
But again and again, I choose to surrender. He knows best. He knows my heart through and through.
The scar across my chest is a beautiful reminder of the time when God was there by my side to fight the battle for me. It is also a reminder of the moment that I chose not to give in – but to keep the faith and fight. It represents who I used to be – someone who treasured her outward appearances – and who I am now. A warrior.
At this time of writing, one of the spots has miraculously disappeared. The doctors have no idea what the remaining spot is and because it is too tiny, they can’t do anything about it right now. The only thing we can do is continue to pray and wait.
Please, remember me in your prayers.
Despite all the uncertainties, I choose to trust in God’s promises and in His providence. I trusted Him once and He didn’t fail me.
I’ll trust Him again no matter what.
The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Yolanda now actively speaks to lend her support to fellow cancer fighters around her. If you know anyone who is going through the same situation and needs a companion for encouragement, drop her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For many parents-to-be, finding out the gender of their unborn baby is usually an exciting and touching moment. But not for my parents.
My father really wanted a son. Imagine his disappointment when he found out that the baby in the womb – me – was a girl.
To make things worse, my mother felt insecure in their marriage. Newly relocated to a different country, she wasn’t sure it was the best time to bring a child into the equation. She was depressed and lonely.
She planned to abort me.
I only found out about this when I was around 11 years old, after eavesdropping on a conversation between my mother and a relative.
When I confronted her about this some years later, my mother didn’t shy from admitting it, though she said she wasn’t proud of it.
She was almost 30 then, she said. She was still settling into marriage. She had a job to think about. She wasn’t doing things on impulse.
In the end, she later told me that she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. “I tried to imagine the future that was in store for you. You had a bright future ahead. It would’ve been selfish for me to just live for myself.”
In August 1993, I was born with multiple physical deformities – a club foot and a tumour on my head – due to my position in my mother’s womb and a traumatic labour. My mother said it was one of the saddest days of her life. When she saw me, she was filled with regret.
A LIFE OF SCARS
Knowing I had almost been aborted changed how I lived.
I grew up distant from my father and I don’t recall having ever made any real emotional connection with him when young. For the longest time I didn’t know why. I remember finding the many birthday and Father’s Day cards I’d made for him strewn carelessly around the house or even used as rough paper. Neglected, unreciprocated. It became the norm for me.
Every time an argument sprang up at home, it would end with, “It’s all because of you.” I was the cause of my father’s unhappiness. I was the cause of my mother’s pain. I was the cause of their marriage falling apart.
I shouldn’t have existed.
I was the cause of my father’s unhappiness. I was the cause of my mother’s pain. I was the cause of their marriage falling apart. I shouldn’t have existed.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that my parents didn’t try their best to bring me up. But unfortunately, I grew into my teenage years conscious that I was an unwanted burden to my parents. So I became extremely introverted. I hated birthday celebrations because, “what for?”
I never really fit in anywhere. I was bullied in school and I spent my childhood trying to meet my parents’ expectations – just so that they could like me more. The better I performed, the more applause I got, if only fleetingly.
At the root of it, it always felt like nothing I did would ever be enough to satisfy them. I was an empty shell. I struggled to find a sense of belonging and a purpose for living.
Maybe I really should have been aborted, I thought.
WHY AM I HERE?
When I was a confused 16-year-old, I visited a church and came to know God.
All my peers were abuzz about which JC or poly they’d wanted to go to, and they all had big dreams for their future. For the first time ever, I started to really ask myself: What more is there to my life?
I didn’t know.
Knowing God didn’t immediately erase away all those years of unworthiness and non-existent self-worth. I didn’t immediately feel purposeful in life, and I definitely didn’t forgive my parents right away. In fact, it actually felt even sadder to know that while I know God is loving and sovereign, I still had to grow up under such painful circumstances.
Why me? Where was God all these years?
I was that cynical young Christian. In my world, God had a plan for everyone, but He forgot about me.
I HAVE A DESTINY OF MY OWN
I looked at God the same way I viewed my parents. They were distant and achievement-oriented, and so was He. In order to win His affection, I would attend cell group and service diligently. Faith to me was purely based on good deeds.
It was only until the recent years that I slowly understood for myself the truth that I am a child of God.
And when I did, for the first time, I felt different. I felt special. I felt loved. Extraordinarily loved.
God said that He knew me (Jeremiah 1:5), even in the womb. He made me wonderfully and fearfully, down to the number of hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30). He goes with me wherever I go (Deuteronomy 31:8). He has never forsaken me (Deuteronomy 31:6).
I came to understand and accept the truth that I am a child of God. And when I did, for the first time, I felt different. I felt special. I felt loved. Extraordinarily loved.
God has a destiny for me. For me!
It’s okay if my parents didn’t welcome me. It’s okay if they saw me as imperfect. It’s okay if I wasn’t good enough for them.
Because I now know: My life isn’t an accident (Psalm 139:16).
THE LONG ROAD OF HEALING
The journey of reconciliation and healing from years of hurt and resentment built up is long and difficult.
There are days when it gets really tough and my mind goes back to that same thought: It would be better if I had been aborted.
But I wasn’t. I was given a chance to live.
When I recently talked to my mother again about the possibility that I had been aborted, she said she was thankful she never went ahead with it. “It might have been the easy way out, but I think it definitely would’ve been lonelier. I’m relieved that you’re still around,” she told me.
Our past can shape who we are today and how we see each other. But I’ve learnt to put away my bitterness towards my parents. My father has long accepted that I’m his daughter, and, like any dad would, has warned me about the male species. My mother now calls me her best friend.
Birth and abortion – it’s not like other choices we may be called to make. It’s life and death. It’s black and white, no greys in between.
Do you find yourself stuck in survival mode at work?
by Galven Lee | 26 September 2017, 11:58 AM
The biggest issue faced by young working adults today is the absence of spiritual ambition. While there is much striving towards worldly measures of success, a void of spiritual vision exists in how Christian working adults see the integration of their faith and vocational calling.
On one hand, it is so easy to focus on feeding our carnal appetites for validation, achievement and success. This crowds out our wonder over the Gospel, amazement at the vastness of God’s grace and commitment to the Great Commission of disciple-making in and through everything we do.
On the other hand, we need to see role models and practical examples of how it is possible not just to survive, but be an active minister of reconciliation and kingdom transformation in the world.
Together, both factors lead to a crisis of spiritual ambition, where young working adults do not realise that we have been called to such a radical partnership with God.
We need to see role models and practical examples of how it is possible not just to survive, but be an active minister of reconciliation and kingdom transformation in the world.
And I think not enough is being done to address this issue. While terms like “marketplace ministry” and “kingdom” are very much in vogue today, many events and conferences approach the topic without bringing in actual practitioners across industries and fields who are playing their part as radical kingdom ambassadors.
In fact, we often limit our imaginations of such activities purely to sharing the Gospel at work and being good at our jobs.
While both are important, it is of tremendous significance for us to realise how we are called beyond that to engage and transform the culture by transmitting God’s kingdom values through the work we do, the policies we set and the objectives to which we are working to.
So we need to affirm the intrinsic value of every member of Christ’s body. A high-flying banker does not have a more successful CV than a social worker at a Family Service Centre. Conversely, the social worker’s job is not inherently more holy or meaningful than that of the banker.
All of us are placed in various families, workplaces and communities. The Church as a whole needs to examine and understand how we can proactively go out there to be voices of righteousness and shining lights in the nation.
We often limit our imaginations of such activities purely to sharing the Gospel at work and being good at our jobs.
We are called to be gatekeepers, watching over the metaphorical “gates” of our city. This means that we need to move from a day-to-day “survival” mode in the workplace to becoming a transformative influence wherever God has placed us.
I believe that God, the God of miracles, constantly opens up creative possibilities and kingdom opportunities for the taking. It is up to us to walk into these amazing possibilities that God has prepared for us, in our families, workplaces and communities.
The desire to raise up more young kingdom ambassadors led to the formation of the LuminoCity conference, which was birthed during a discussion at the Hong Kong international airport in 2015. Horace Hui, a young professional from Hong Kong, discussed with the leadership team of FGB Gatekeepers Singapore the importance of rallying young Christian working adults across Asia over a common platform.
The team was then returning to Singapore after conducting a kingdom/marketplace training school for professionals in Hong Kong. In that Holy Spirit-inspired moment, they saw the present need for a platform to rally young professionals across Asia-Pacific to catch the vision of transforming the culture of society and discipling nations.
Thus, plans were made for the inaugural edition of LuminoCity in 2016. Although originally intended for young Christian professionals from the Asia-Pacific, the first edition saw participants come from as far as Finland and Ghana.
It was clear that the Lord was impressing on our hearts that it was imperative for LuminoCity to be a global coalition of like-minded believers, passionate about influencing cultures with the values of God’s kingdom.
The verse that God had given us came from Isaiah 60:1 – “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” – which reflected the vision of believers arising and bringing the glory of God and His Kingdom over their cities and nations.
LuminoCity is a gathering of the nations for God’s kingdom purposes. It is a rallying point and a time of renewal and seeking the Lord for personal revelation and national destinies.
It is also a significant spiritual event and a global declaration to the spiritual realm, that the Lord’s people will do the Lord’s work in the places that the Lord has placed them in – no turning back, preceding revival in the nations.
We also hope that the diversity of topics across the whole spectrum of society and insight from an eclectic, international mix of speakers will provide sufficient inspiration, best-practices and practical steps for participants to bring back to their life, living and livelihoods.
We hope that LuminoCity will serve these purposes for young Christian professionals as they dialogue with one other in this intimate, three-day conference.
Can we accomplish this in a three-day event? No – the deeper work of discipleship takes months and years. Hence FGB Gatekeepers Singapore, the parent organisation behind LuminoCity, focuses on providing a variety of intergenerational mentoring and discipling relationships and platforms.
LuminoCity is a 3-day forum that will bring together thought-leaders and disciples in the marketplace for conversations to shape the culture of our day. It will be held from November 3 to 5, 2017, at The Pavilion. Visit the LuminoCity website for ticketing information, and follow them on Facebook for updates. The early bird offer of $180 (usual price $250) ends this Saturday, on September 30, so book early to avoid disappointment.
What exactly is hope? What is the basis for it? How do we learn to hope? And how does it look to you?
We hope for many things, and in many people. We hold onto hope amid uncertainty.
We bear hope in the small things – I hope that I can leave school on time today so that I can make it for the concert – and the big things – I hope she pullsthrough, you whisper, staring through the glass surrounding the ICU ward.
This natural human inclination to hope for something reflects a recognition of a higher power – or at least the longing for one. A higher being who will hear our cries for help. Something, someone for us to cast our worries onto.
I was a cynical 16-year-old when I attended my first church service, ready to disprove God with my real-life experiences with hope and its failure.
Hope is no bad thing. Hope brings people together. Hope gives people the strength to carry on. But it is not to be confused with optimism. Human hope more often than not ends us up in disappointment.
I hoped for many things and put my hope in many people, but all these things eventually fell through and I was crushed time after time with disappointment. I was emptied by false hope.
I was a cynical 16-year-old when I attended my first church service. I was ready to disprove God with my real-life experiences with hope and its failure. But I realised I’d got it all wrong.
I have learnt that hope is, in truth, almost the opposite of our ordinary usage. Hope is an indication of certainty; a confident expectation.
Hope tells us that God has not abandoned us in this world. There will be tears, but He will wipe them away. There will be death and decay, but resurrection and new life will eventually spring forth.
It is hope that erases the victory of the grave. Hope is what helps us to sing, “Death, where is your sting?”
Hope is just like a reservoir of strength.
Hebrews 6:11 calls us to the “full assurance of hope”. It means a hope that is fully assured. It is confident. Certain. Not a “fingers-crossed” hope. It does not waver. It is not the lip-biting and heart-stopping moment as you watch your team take a direct free-kick in the last minute of a match.
When Psalm 42:5 (NKJV) says, “Hope in God!” it does not mean to cross your fingers. It does not mean that God might work.
Hope tells us that God has not abandoned us in this world.
Human hope disappoints everyone eventually. Even Christ-followers. It will never satisfy us. It is short-lived and temporal. It wavers and easily fades away. Perhaps you have been hoping for a long time that you’re now bordering on hopelessness.
Eight years ago, I came to church completely deflated by false hopes. That very day, the pastor preached a sermon about real hope – and I was sold. My problem wasn’t that I was harbouring hope, but that I’d placed my hopes in things and people that would inevitably fail.
Roadblocks will still be in our way and difficulties will still befall us. But real hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:5). Be confident that He will come through. Be strong in God. Be courageous in God. Stand strong in Him.
WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND. IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE MOVIE, GO WATCH IT FIRST. DON’T SAY OPPA DIDN’T WARN YOU!
“How was the movie?”
My mom asked me after I’d came home from watching Battleship Island, a World War II epic inspired by historical events. The storyline centres around Japanese wartime atrocities against Korean civilians in a forced labour camp on Hashima Island, also commonly known as Battleship Island.
I couldn’t answer her.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the movie. My heart was racing throughout the show, and the explosive action on screen had me retreating into my seat. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to say that I’d enjoyed the movie.
The main reason – war movies aren’t entertainment.
It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of cinematic storytelling, but rather than purely fictional plots, war movies are built largely on actual events; on someone else’s reality. I found myself recoiling in fear as I watched the men being beaten ruthlessly into submission and young girls being dragged off to comfort stations. I had to remind myself to breathe.
The scenes were gory and disturbing, but even more disturbing was knowing that what I saw was probably only a fraction of reality.
This wasn’t just a figment of some screenwriter’s imagination or a distant memory from the past. The characters might have been created for the screen, but we know from the history books that the cruelty portrayed was not.
I tried to put myself in the shoes of 8-year-old Lee So-hee (Kim Su-an, Train to Busan), the daughter of Lee Kang-ok, one of the men conscripted to work the treacherous mines of Battleship Island.
Kang-ok promises So-hee that they will one day be free again.
Almost forced into a comfort station with the rest of the captured Korean women, she unexpectedly finds favour with the Japanese due to her singing skills and is relieved of her initial posting. Even so, it is unthinkable for a young girl to have to endure such a nightmare and witness mankind at its ugliest.
Yet in such horrific times, she continues to trust in whatever her father tells her – as he tries to downplay the gravity of the situation for her sake – and hopes for the future with childlike faith.
In the later half of the movie, I was also moved by one of the unnamed characters – a one-legged man who had been crippled in a mining accident. He wasn’t foolishly optimistic; he knew the dangers and potential consequences of trying to escape the island. But he wasn’t going to sit and wait for the Japanese to kill them all either.
He might have lost his leg, but unlike some others, he hadn’t lost his hope.
He was adamant that even if he had to die, he wasn’t going to go down without a fight. And to the end, it was this hope that helped him to persevere in their escape.
Hope. In these situations – is there really hope?
I find myself in no position to say this. I’ve never experienced anything close to war, violence, bloodshed or terror. I’ve never tasted poverty, starvation or a desperation that my life depended on.
Division, hate and violence are still very much prevalent all over the world at this very moment. Terrorism continues to rage worldwide. Every day, young women are captured to become sex slaves of ISIS and other militant groups. Refugees are fleeing war-torn Syria in droves, and North Korea remains a nuclear threat.
The monstrosity of humankind still runs in the veins of men right this very moment, as innocent blood continues to spill onto the soil of the earth.
If I was heartbroken from watching a movie, then how much more God – who time and again has witnessed humanity fall wilfully into self-destruction?
But when we young Singaporeans only understand war from the safety of our newsfeeds and cinema seats, it’s so easy to become numb to news headlines and immune to injustice.
In our daily mundane lives, we forget about those who are suffering beyond our shores. Or we choose not to think about them. Maybe most of us don’t even know how to think about them.
After watching Battleship Island, I felt burdened – for the world and for my own emotional handicap. I started to ask God to put in me a bigger heart for mankind. I wanted to know His heart even more. If I was heartbroken from watching a movie, then how much more God – who time and again has witnessed humanity fall wilfully into self-destruction?
In a world where war and violence have become daily news, it is easy to become hopeless about the future ahead and live in fear. It is easy to give up and succumb to the circumstances around us. A popular MRT poster for terrorism reads: “Not if, but when.”
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. (Matthew 24:6)
We need to prepare ourselves for battle. Just like the crippled man, don’t let the Enemy use fear to seize you and take you captive. And just like little So-hee, believe our Heavenly Father when He urges us to have hope (John 16:33). We are armed with the promises of God and His unchanging character.
He is merciful. He is kind. He is compassionate. He fights for us. (Exodus 14:14)
If God hasn’t given up on humanity through the ages of time, then hang in there. We don’t have to be afraid. He’s not done with us yet.
I grew up in a family where I was always taught that “character is more important than how well you do in school”. My parents never pressured me to get straight As. They were okay with failure as long as I’d tried my best.
But I began to heap the expectations on myself when I was in Primary 6. I didn’t do very well for my PSLE and was placed in the Normal Academic stream.
I remember crying when I received my results. My parents couldn’t understand why I was so upset with myself when they were not.
I harboured high hopes for my future, but wouldn’t do anything to achieve any of it.
When I was 13, I realised that I wanted to pursue Psychology. I had it all planned out in my head – I’d go to Ngee Ann Polytechnic, then NUS. But despite these goals, I allowed myself to be distracted from my studies in secondary school.
I harboured high hopes for my future, but wouldn’t do anything to achieve any of it.
I was busy chasing relationships, and often got into disciplinary cases for bullying, truancy and disrespecting my teachers. I became this vulgar, hot-tempered, rebellious kid. I struggled academically.
There were times when I really wanted to change and get serious about my studies, but some of my teachers, peers and even my own family would say things like “You’re from Normal Academic, you’ll never get that far,” or “You’re not the studious type, don’t expect too much.”
I remember the worst insult I received from a teacher: “You’re Denise Soon, how can someone like you ever do well in school?”
Was being Denise Soon a bad thing? Was I hopeless?
I came to know God when I was 16 and I became determined to become a better student. But it was hard: I’d never learnt how to study. Only how to play.
So I didn’t do too well for my N-levels and O-levels, and I didn’t manage to get accepted to study Psychology at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. But I was thankful that my O-level results enabled me pursue Psychology at the University at Buffalo under SIM Global.
That meant I would start university at 17. I felt inferior: Most of the students there either had an A-level certificate or a poly diploma, whereas the different path I’d taken meant I was in university straight after my O’s.
I didn’t know anyone else who was under probation. I felt like the dumbest student in school. Part of me blamed God.
Someone told me, “Even if the rest don’t do well, they have something to fall back on, but you only have your O-level cert. If you fail, what can you do? Who would want to hire you? Which other school will accept you?”
I was scared.
According to the requirements of my major, if I were to get anything below a GPA of 2.5 for my first year, I could very possibly be expelled.
I also started to get heavily involved in church at that time. I started to serve as a life group leader, an actor and creative scriptwriter in the kids’ ministry, and as a musician. I was busy juggling church commitments and school for the next 2 years. But my grades were getting worse with each passing semester.
Before my 3rd year of university, I received an email from the school telling me that I was being placed on Academic Probation.
I was scared because I was left with just one more year. I didn’t want to get expelled. I was averaging a D-grade, and my average GPA every semester had been dropping – my GPA at the end of Year 2 was 2.4.
I didn’t know anyone else who was under probation. I felt like the dumbest student in school. A part of me felt disappointed with myself for not managing my time better. Another part of me blamed God.
Where was Your grace when I needed it the most? I served You so hard – sometimes to a point where I didn’t have enough time for my studies – so how could You let this happen?
I had to take a long, hard look at the student that I had become.
I realised that I put in less effort in modules I wasn’t interested in. In some semesters, it was easier to count the number of times I was present in class, instead of the number of times I was absent. I chose to scroll through Facebook, rather than my lecture slides. I’d fall asleep in class even if I wasn’t tired.
All this meant I wasn’t very good salt and light in school. How could I claim to live for Jesus if I couldn’t even show basic respect to my lecturer? How could I say that I’ve been transformed by Jesus, if the way I behave shows otherwise?
I struggled to serve in the kids ministry – I felt like a hypocrite teaching the children about Godly values if I wasn’t living them out at home or in school. I thought about stepping down.
Denise also serves as a cell group leader in the kids ministry.
I had to take a summer semester, but it came between my annual church conference and church camp.
I had a to-do list that seemed endless. Mid-terms, final exams, term papers, a million readings – while preparing to serve on the worship team for church service and camp, and write sermons for the kids ministry.
There was one week when I had to practice 11 songs; some days I had church-related activities the day before an exam. Every week I’d question whether it was worth committing myself so much to church, at the cost of my grades.
I was afraid of prioritising God because I found it hard to trust that He would provide.I looked at my friends who weren’t in church, with more time to study, getting better grades.
I was angry and bitter. I was desperate. But I also knew that I could let the situation come between me and God – or I could let it draw me closer to Him.
So I bargained with God: If I give up my time to serve you, I expect you to help me with my grades.
I recently got back my results for my first summer semester and to my surprise, not only did I manage to pull up my GPA but I also aced my term paper and my exams with a score of 99.9%.
Looking at the results, I can confidently say that #onlyJesus could help me pull through my academic struggle. I was never one who did extremely well in my subjects; to even ace a higher level module, I knew it had to be God.
Even when I failed to trust him, He never failed me.
At this year’s church camp, what my pastor said hit me hard.
“Have we become such busy people, with so much to accomplish every day, that we’ve forgotten about the brokenness in our lives and our desperate need for a Saviour?” he challenged us.
“When something you desire directly competes against God’s desires, you deny yourself of your desire to pursue God’s desire.”
Denise at church camp this year with her SIM campus group (top) and her cell group (bottom).
I’ve learnt to trust that God will provide everything I need – so that I’m not distracted to do the real work.
I’ve learnt that I should never feel guilty for serving too hard, while worrying that God will shortchange me.
I’ve learnt that God wants to see how I make my choices. Will I choose to pursue Him or pursue my grades?
There’s a cost to going all-out for Him, but there’s also a cost to not going all-out. When I stopped to count the cost, I realised that if my studies don’t revolve around God, then what’s the point?
Jesus went all out for me. Now I must learn to do the same – not just in church, but at home and at school as well. He deserves my all. 💯
I don’t volunteer with the grassroots and I’m completely oblivious to any community events held in my constituency. Truth be told, I don’t really care.
And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. I scroll through Facebook every morning and resonate with my friends’ angry posts about yet another train breakdown.
I read news articles on our upcoming Presidential Election and I lol within.
Don’t even get me started on how the lift in my HDB block is faulty half the time. As I write this, the lights in my lift haven’t been working for a week already.
To be completely honest, my mind starts drifting whenever the next prayer item at any church event is “Singapore”.
This is how emotionally detached I can be when it comes to this country. My heart is always yearning to be somewhere else.
But then I walked the different lands, met the people, tasted the food … and realised there is no other country like the one we’ve been placed in.
Have you noticed? Singaporeans are a funny bunch — we tend to become so much more defensive over our country when we are overseas.
We get upset when people mistake our country as being somewhere else. I remember being continuously mistaken as a Mainland Chinese while overseas. When they realised I was of Chinese descent but spoke English natively, their next assumption was: Oh, Malaysian?
There are many things we can complain about our home. Yet there are also many things we can be thankful for.
Another time I was overseas at a busy traffic light where the locals just dashed across between cars and motorcycles. I stood at a safe distance and waited for the green man that never seemed to come. I stood out like a sore thumb in a jaywalking crowd. But suddenly I heard a familiar voice behind me.
“Eh, wait lah! The cars so fast, traffic light changing already.”
I can’t even describe to you the joy I felt in that moment.
There are many things we can complain about our home. Yet there are also many things we can be thankful for.
Just like us, these people lived normal, humble and hardworking lives.
But the difference – their homes were approximately the size of a coffin. Many can’t even stand up straight in their homes.
In Singapore, even the flats under our Public Rental Scheme are at least 10 times the size of those “coffin homes”. In comparison, our public housing system looks almost too good to be true.
Yet we complain.
My mother left behind her life in a neighbouring country as a young 20-something and arrived in Singapore about 30 years ago in hope of a better life. A brighter future.
You wouldn’t want to live back there, she told me.
True enough, on one occasion when we went back to visit some relatives, the local customs officers demanded for a bribe for us to pass. Their reason: Our bags were too big, despite them being completely within the airline’s regulations.
I feel very much relieved every time I return from overseas and pass through customs, knowing that I’m in good hands.
There’s much to be thankful for.
I have a house to return to. I have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in every night – with air-conditioning as a bonus.
I go to church and I can speak publicly about my faith without worry.
We have easy access to our favourite social media platforms. We don’t have to consider migration to escape some poor provincial life. We don’t live in constant fear.
Singapore may not be the most perfect country, but I choose to be thankful for what we have.
As controversial as it may seem, I’m also thankful that we are a “democratic secular state“. In this I am talking about how our Government can’t and won’t use some claimed higher spiritual authority as an excuse for violence – as happens so easily and often in many other nations.
Timothy Keller writes in Making Sense of God that there is yet a truly secular state that exists with “a genuinely pluralistic society” and a “marketplace of ideas” in which people of all kinds of faith, including those with secular beliefs, could freely contribute, communicate, coexist, and cooperate in mutual respect and peace”.
I beg to differ. Singapore may not be the most perfect country, but I choose to be thankful for what we have. It sounds schmaltzy, but it’s taken a lot for me to reach this understanding.
Home is the place we’ve been called to love, to serve and to protect. It is the land that God has placed us in, to work it and take care of (Genesis 2:15). Our country has been blessed with much.
While there is always as much fault as we can find with this country, there will always be things to give thanks for (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
So while there might still be a long, long way to go for us in the “I ❤️ SG” department, I’m sure if we take a moment to think about it, we’ll easily find one thing we’re thankful for this National Day. And not just because it’s National Day.
Have you ever reached a point where your life feels like a lie the whole time?
No matter how many hollow how are yous you’re asked, you’re always good, even when you’re not – because we all know that no one’s really looking for a true answer.
Maybe you don’t have the words to sum up the mess you’re currently in. Maybe you don’t even know where to begin.
And in the process of repeatedly lying to others about your okayness, you start convincing yourself that everything is okay too.
Then one day it all falls apart. The facade cracks under the weight of reality. All this while, you’ve been wandering: Wandering in pretence and denial.
LORD, HELP ME TO REMEMBER
The Israelites wandered around in the wilderness for 40 years because they just couldn’t fully believe and trust God. Not for long, anyway.
Faced with the rough situations they found themselves facing, they forgot how they’d originally cried out to God for deliverance from their Egyptian masters (Exodus 2:23-25).
It’s so easy to only focus on what we think God isn’t doing, forgetting what He has done, or not seeing what He is doing.
I remember one weekend when I was serving on the worship team, my senior pastor came up to me backstage and told me that his nephew had complimented my guitar-playing.
I was flattered, but encouraged by the comment. We proceeded to have what I thought was a really powerful and ministering session of worship later during service. My spirit was lifted.
Fast forward a few hours, to a post-service worship evaluation, when someone casually pointed out that my guitar-playing felt underwhelming and distracting.
Immediately my spirits plummeted. I was discouraged. I started blaming myself and my lack.
God’s telling us: I know you’re not perfect. That’s why I chose you: That in your weakness, my glory can be revealed.
That one comment had eradicated all that happened earlier in the day. I forgot about the great time of fellowship with the people I was serving with, the encouragement from my senior pastor and the joy of freely praising and worshipping God on stage.
My eyes were fixed on what went wrong. Everything else paled in comparison to that one negative comment.
But what I’d failed to see was that in God’s kingdom, everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Everything doesn’t have to be okay.
It’s God’s gentle rebuke to Moses just before he returned to Egypt to set his people free. I’m not eloquent, God. I’m slow of speech. I’m not okay. God’s reply:
“Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:11-12)
In other words: I know you’re not perfect. That’s why I chose you: That in your weakness, my glory can be revealed.
LORD, HELP ME TO BELIEVE
The man with the epileptic son in Mark 9:24 recognised his difficulty in believing but the need to do so. He exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
On the other hand, the Israelites, though physically out of Egypt, were still yearning for their old comfort zones (Exodus 14:12) because they couldn’t believe what God said He was going to do.
You can take a person out of Egypt, but not Egypt out of a person.
Sometimes the detour is the road we’re meant to take. Sometimes your seasons of wandering have a lesson or two in them.
The Israelites’ disbelief turned an 11-day journey into 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
Imagine trying to get to point A to B on a GPS. While the initial directions may seem straightforward, sometimes we find ourselves rerouted because of external factors: Traffic, train breakdowns, bad weather … Seldom are we actually able to travel punctually in a direct, smooth path.
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. (Exodus 13:17-18)
Sometimes the detour is the road we’re meant to take. Sometimes your seasons of wandering have a lesson or two in them.
LORD, HELP ME TO CARRY ON
It’s time to drop the pretence. Come as you are into His presence.
Our burdens are not simple, and usually can’t be relieved by simplistic platitudes. Cheer up! Hang in there, it’s gonna get better!
But what can relieve a complex burden is a simple promise.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)
Don’t make an 11-day journey into a 40-year trudge through the wilderness because of your pride, blindness, deafness, hopelessness, restlessness, or stiffneckedness.
If things are not okay, they’re not okay. That’s fine. That’s human.
Most of all, that’s room for you to really see Jesus at work in you. And that’s the starting point of hope.
Times are changing. The real world isn’t exactly the real world. Our online personas aren’t exactly us. It’s as if everyone is now a brand, needing a certain level of brand management.
Personal Instagram feeds are so highly curated now. Feeds are so visually cohesive and appealing, with beautiful backdrops and high-quality images with a VSCO filter slapped on.
Yet even with all the effort that goes into the curation and filtering, everyone still says the key to maintaining your online persona is authenticity.
Or at least the appearance of being authentic.
I’ve heard friends in the arts community voicing their disappointment and anger about the public response towards the recent Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the National Gallery. You’ll know if someone has been to that exhibition, because it’ll be plastered over their Instagram feeds. Instagram story after story, post after post.
There was a post going around Facebook calling out an influencer for using “an art exhibition to shill for some watch — one that can barely be seen in the picture.” Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only one.
A quick search of the #yayoikusama hashtag on Instagram reveals a staggering 402,820 (and counting) posts – many of which are portraits of people posing in the rooms with Kusama’s work acting as just a backdrop. Interestingly too, there are another 6,136 posts under various hashtags of the artist’s name misspelled.
Since when was everyone so interested in art?
IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? IS THIS JUST FANTASY?
Instagram turns our lives into a show. We set the stage. We frame the camera. The people and things around us become props. We become the director or even the lead actor if we want to. Valuable moments in life turn into a complicated staged production.
In the pursuit of authenticity, we’ve lost our authenticity. We’ve become like everyone else. We no longer know why we’re doing what we’re doing, but we only know that we have to keep doing it. We don’t even think about it.
Since when did everyone become purveyors of artisan coffee?
In the pursuit of authenticity, we’ve lost our authenticity. We’ve become like everyone else.
The idea of authenticity becomes a journey down the rabbit hole for both those who enviously and covetously browse and buy the idea of it and those who post to sell it.
Type in #liveauthentic into the Instagram search bar and you’ll find over 19 million posts, many of which feature someone posing against a cool scenery or backdrop along with a caption full of hashtags that don’t matter.
The desire to #liveauthentic not only compels us to disguise and hide our flaws (MeiTu XiuXiu, anyone?) but also to romanticise them.
Ever seen someone post something along the lines of “I’m just trying to be real here”? That is when #liveauthentic has been hijacked by self-centredness.
By the way, I’m not throwing stones at others – I’m guilty as charged. People have always said that I’m “Insta-happy”, referring to my willingness to post frequently about my life.
This is ironic, since I’m an introvert; why do I behave like an online extrovert, friends ask me.
On one occasion while I was overseas and posting about how good the food was, a friend texted me to tell me to “stop it”. I was pretty sure my intentions were just to journal down daily experiences in my life. But then again, my posts apparently affected others.
Where do we draw the line?
MULTI-TASKING OR MULTI-MASKING?
It is hard to tell which is more dangerous: The loss of our sense of spontaneity and authenticity on Instagram, or the rabid attempts to fake an Instagram-perfect life.
There was a time when I starting to fall into the idea that my self-worth depended on the approbation of my followers. Seeing that my followers – mostly my church friends – only liked my church-related posts, I subconsciously started to only post about church.
I was filtering my life just to suit my audience’s preferences.
In the competition for a spot on my Instagram feed, a good and memorable dinner with loved ones can’t win a completely pointless yet nicely planned flat lay — unless it’s got a high-quality photo.
I eventually got frustrated and tired. This isn’t the real me. I realised that there were so many facets of my life I had compartmentalised, overlooked and kept away for the sake of the social media game.
Probably the clearest example of such compartmentalisation is the phenomenon of running multiple personal Instagram accounts — one for the curated you and the other for the unfiltered you.
Why the need to wear so many masks if all we want to be is authentic?
The secondary Instagram accounts usually feature a visually unappealing feed and captions that are completely uncensored and vulnerably honest. To facilitate your multi-tasking, Instagram recently introduced the ability to toggle between multiple accounts from directly within the app.
But why the need to wear so many masks if all we want to be is authentic?
We are ceasing to see. Using our eyes to appreciate the beauty of things around us is no longer enough. It always has to be documented. My first thought at a breath-taking sunset: Where’s my phone?
We seesaw back and forth between false realities of ourselves. We put on a mask in a bid to live the authentic life that everyone seems to be living.
It’s so tiring.
Who am I, really? What is my identity? What am I here for?
There is a place and space to #liveauthentic in our Christian walk. That place is rooted in the firm foundations of Christ, and not ourselves. If Christ isn’t enough to define us, then what is? What could ever be?
I’d woken up with a nagging image of my former cell group member in my head. I wondered why. I hadn’t heard from her or seen her around for quite a long time, come to think of it; I decided to drop her a text to see how she was doing.
She told me she’d been busy at her new job and we ended the conversation on a good note. Everything seemed fine.
A few weeks later, I heard that she had decided to leave the church.
I was shell-shocked. She was the one who was always at cell group. She was present throughout exam periods (when attendance always dwindled), through the dry seasons (when people started leaving) … Everyone counted on her to be always there.
We used to run the race together. Now I look around and they’re no longer here with me.
Then I went to look at old cell group photos, and realised that many members have already left the church – and even the faith.
These were the people who chided me when I chose to skip cell group for no good reason. They pursued me when I was on the slippery slope of falling out of church. They championed evangelical events and got me involved even in the busiest of exam seasons.
We used to run the race together. Now I look around and they’re no longer here with me.
KEEPING YOUR FAITH
How do you keep the faith when the people you’ve grown up with in the faith are all going, going, gone?
I’ll be honest: It’s been disheartening. It’s been difficult.
It’s difficult when people you are close to leave the church. It’s difficult to leave (I’ve toyed with the idea before – admit it, we all have). It’s difficult being left behind.
I understand that most of those who left didn’t make that decision lightly. They’re usually dealing with some serious pain and turmoil.
But those who remain deal with the pain and grief of losing a friend. That was me.
WHOSE FAITH IS IT ANYWAY?
With each friend that disappeared, I grew more weary and doubtful. Then I realised what had happened: I had grown dependent on the people in the church. They made church comfortable. They made church fun.
But our faith should never be found in people. People come and people go. People will fail us. Our faith can only be found in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
I am called to go wherever He goes, not to go wherever my friends go. I needed to make my faith my own, not theirs.
In the gospel, John tells the story of people who believed in Jesus through the excited testimony of a Samaritan woman who had a life-changing conversation with him at a nearby well.
So the Samaritans went right to the source – they sought out Jesus himself, and urged him to stay with them. They listened to Him for two days – then they believed.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.” (John 4:42)
Going to church makes you a Christ-follower as much as going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.
Owning my faith involves a daily conscious decision to make Jesus the leader of my life and the forgiver of my sins. It happens through a lifetime of conscious and intentional choices to hear Jesus for myself and to do what He says. It doesn’t just happen just because you’ve been physically present and attending all the worship services and lifegroups.
As my senior pastor always says, going to church makes you a Christ-follower as much as going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger. To be a Christ-follower, I need to own my faith actively. Every single day.
If not, I’ll find myself falling away from the faith as well.
In learning that, I found the strength time and again to carry on even when I’m the only one left.
‘THANK YOU FOR HOLDING SPACE’
My mind goes back to an incident when a brother in our cell group suddenly sent us all a long text saying that he no longer wanted to come to church.
This was during our weekend-long church conference. Right after the conference ended, my leader rallied the group to dash straight down to his house to just be with him. Check if he was okay. See if our presence could make a difference.
That night in his home, we just ate dinner together in his kitchen. It was unusually quiet for a group of 10 people.
Some weeks later, he showed up in church again. I never found out what triggered his sudden desire to leave. But he later shared with me that he was thankful for that night, when we went down to be with him and not question him.
He thanked us for holding space for him to sort his emotions out, but at the same time for not letting him go.
BEHIND EVERY NUMBER IS A LIFE
This was the spirit my leader imparted to us, that no one gets left behind (Luke 15:4). When one man is down, we go to him. We bring the church to him.
People might say that this is all for the numbers. That with every person gone, the church statistics suffers. That’s also true. Who did you think was paying the bills for the church facilities?
But behind every number is also a life. A name. A face. A story. A child of God. Aren’t we called to empty hell and fill up heaven?
It is my prayer that my friends will one day find their reason to come back into His arms again.
Till then, I choose to stay. To commit myself to what Jesus has instructed: The fulfilment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
And that’s my comfort. That even when you’re the only one left, He promises that He will be with you to the very end of the age.
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
I wrote that verse out and put it up on my room walls the night before my ‘A’ Level examinations.
Five years later, that poster has completely faded out. But the verse is etched onto my heart.
I had my future all planned out.
I was very sure that after graduation I would be diving into my highly-anticipated design career. My dream? To be working with East Asian design powerhouses. I had no time to lose; I had to start somewhere quick. Somewhere prestigious would be good.
Deep down I knew that my soul needed something more, something greater. But what I saw there and then was me progressing towards the fulfilment of my dream.
I first heard of Thir.st somewhere in mid-2015. A faith-based creative project? Sounds like a wonderful initiative, I thought.
But when a friend asked me if I would consider working full-time there, my mind screamed: Run!
I’ll be honest. The idea of working at Thir.st scared me.
All I could see was what a hindrance to my life full-time ministry would be. Full-time? More like fool-time.
Full-time ministry meant that my dream career would have to be put on hold indefinitely. No reputable industry career for my parents to be proud of, no fat paycheques to splurge on holidays and, you know, things.
All I could see was what a hindrance to my life full-time ministry would be. Full-time? More like fool-time.
Think about it, my friend would go on to tell me. So Thir.st sat quietly at the back of my mind for the year that flew by.
THERE MUST BE MORE THAN THIS
Upon graduation, I received job offers here and there. I went for interview after interview, but none of the jobs sat well with me. These things, as I realised later, would only be distractions that would not allow me to get to where God wanted me to be.
I knew that there must be more than this, but I was avoiding thinking about Thir.st at the same time. I continued flirting with my options while pretending to not hear God.
I was on the run; I would not surrender myself.
Deep inside me I bargained with Him. I already gave You the days of my youth and my entire university life! I thought it was enough. I thought it was the end of me taking surprising turns in life.
But God is patient. He perseveres. In passionate pursuit of me, He outran me. One afternoon, at a prayer meeting in church, an old worship song started cranking up in my head, and the lyrics came to life for me.
God of my youth I remember
Your call on my life took me over
Your love has seen me through all my days
I stand here by Your grace
I decided to stop checking my email inbox for anymore job offers. I was done with pretending. I’m in, I told God.
On May 23, 2016, I gave my word to work full-time at Thir.st. On my way home, I finally checked my email. A new email came in – a job offer from a government ministry. I would be lying if I said my heart didn’t dip a little when I saw it.
But as with all distractions, the disappointment was extremely short-lived (10 minutes, to be exact). I knew that the burden in my heart had finally been lifted. The wrestling stopped. For now.
WRESTLING BUT NOT RESTLESS
On July 4, 2016, I took my seat in the office and embarked on a new journey as the visual editor of Thir.st.
There isn’t anything romantic about full-time ministry. The world wonders why a fresh grad will dive seemingly unthinkingly into full-time ministry work. My parents wonder if they’ve raised a child with no sense of reality and responsibility. Friends wonder if perhaps it was the only and last door open.
What a fool, some laughed.
Church friends think it must be really rosy and cosy. It’s not. The wrestling continues.
There are days when I return home from a gathering with friends who are now working in high places and I feel dejected. There are days when I go to a secular gathering and get teased about selling my life to the church. There are days when I receive lucrative job offers from prestigious design studios and I wish in my heart that God would just say go.
People ask me all the time how long I see myself being in this for. I don’t know. The act of surrender involves not setting a deadline while putting your hands to the plough.
But my wrestling does not equate to restlessness. One year on, I have learnt to see the purpose behind my work. I have seen how the stories have touched people and how the content has helped many. I begin to see my role as a facilitator to bring people one step closer to God.
People ask me all the time how long I see myself being in this for. I don’t know. The act of surrender involves not setting a deadline while putting your hands to the plough.
You surrender the end as you did the beginning. You devote your all wholeheartedly to whatever you do, right here, right now. No thinking about what if, what could have been,what could be.
There is no personal glory and agenda in my work. Since this is what I do, I do my best. I no longer wrestle about the surrendering, but I only wrestle to surrender. In my wrestling there is peace.
If the days of my youth (or whatever is left of it) are called to be given to Him fully with my arms open wide and my heart fully surrendered, then so be it.
“I have something to tell you. I’m attracted to the same gender.”
Someone I was mentoring in church had suddenly asked to meet me. She looked extremely jittery and it was clear something was up.
“I … like girls. And there’s this girl …”
Her voice was shaking, her eyes fixed on the table. It was a side of her I had never seen in our years of friendship. She sat before me, completely vulnerable, her life peeling apart like layers of an onion.
She told me that she’d been in a secret relationship with a girl from our church for some time, but she wasn’t proud of it.
In that moment, what I saw wasn’t her coming out to me. It wasn’t her relationship with a girl. Instead, what I saw was her vulnerability.
“I know it’s not natural. We both know it. I want this to stop. But I just can’t.”
In that moment, what I saw wasn’t her coming out to me. It wasn’t her relationship with a girl. Instead, what I saw was her vulnerability. I saw her trust – her trust in me that allowed her to bare her darkest secrets. Her fears. Her hurts.
“Aren’t you going to get angry?” Her eyes were welling up with tears.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people around me speaking about same-sex attraction in hurtful ways. Ever said “that’s so gay” as a joke or to describe something you don’t like? These things are insensitive. They hurt.
The church needs to be ready and equipped to walk this journey alongside brothers and sisters. Through my own experience of journeying with Christian friends who came out to me, I’ve learnt that we really should rethink some things we often hear.
TRY NOT TO SAY …
1. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” This overused line has become the top offending statement for many. To say “love the sinner” often sounds as though we view others as “the sinner” and that we are holier than them, which isn’t the case.
2. “Struggling with homosexuality/SSA” This is only appropriate when referring to someone who admits to be in conflict over their sexuality and is resisting the tendency. People who accept and live with their same-sex attraction are not struggling with it.
3. “The gay lifestyle” This implies that everyone who experiences same-sex attraction has the same lifestyle, which is untrue. Many may frequent gay bars and clubs, but there also many who live very sedate and conservative lives.
I thanked my mentee for trusting in me enough to share with me whatever she was going through. For a Christian to come out about her sexuality to someone in the Church was definitely something that required more than just a bit of courage.
We need to learn to walk alongside them rather than just telling them what to do from the bleachers.
So if you are someone who is struggling with same-sex attraction, I know that you didn’t ask for this. It’s not just a phase. I won’t tell you that it’s a passing thing that will be over soon. Because we both know that it won’t. You didn’t create this. It’s not your fault. There is nothing inherently wrong with you.
But here’s the catch: You are not to blame for your feelings and inclinations, but you are responsible for managing them wisely and properly.
And you are never alone in this journey of managing your feelings.
Paul wrote in Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”
We all deal with various kinds of temptations and inclinations that yield to the flesh — just that some are more common than the others. Most people don’t toy with the idea of cutting themselves every time they are sad or angry, but some do. Many people aren’t tempted to indulge in pornography to destress or to feel better, but many are.
This is the reality of the struggle between the flesh and the spirit. You are not meant to give in, helplessly, every time you have an urge. The need for self-control is part of the reality of Christian living.
Not only should we try to make it easier for someone to talk about their sexual struggles, we must avoid making the mistake of always talking about it. By only talking about this aspect of their life all the time, it reinforces the wrong idea that this is all there is to them and that this is their identity.
I made that mistake we made. I briefly shared about the situation with my leader just to keep myself and my mentee accountable and in check. But unfortunately, it blew out of proportion. Leaders kept asking me, “How is (insert mentee’s name here) and her struggle with that?”.
No how have you been or have you eaten, but it was always how is the SSA situation going?
Here’s the catch: You are not to blame for your feelings and inclinations, but you are responsible for managing them wisely and properly.
I would like to think that they came from a place bearing good intentions at heart. But the constant questions about just that particular issue in my mentee’s life made it feel as though it was all there is to her as a person.
There were also other battles going on her life. Her financial worries, her parents’ disapproval about her faith, the stress she’s facing in school …
Our identity isn’t built on our sexuality. Or our achievements. Or what school we go to. Or where we work. Or our relationship status.
Our identity is fundamentally found in the person of Jesus. We are defined by God and God alone. He identifies each and every one of us as His own (2 Corinthians 1:22).
We still have a long way to go in terms of learning about how to walk alongside each other, for better or for worse. But what I have learnt in my years with my mentee is that only the revelation of Jesus in our lives – the awe from finding our identity in Christ – can spark the beginning of any transformational work in our lives.
I’ve heard it all before. I come from an arts school and creative background, so I have friends — many friends, in fact – who hold very liberal worldviews and lifestyles. It was clear as day that we were different. We lived completely different lives, stood for absolutely different causes, and our Sundays were definitely spent differently.
But as different as we were, these people were also my classmates. My peers. My friends.
Many of my friends make fun of me being Christian – “are you sure by being near us you won’t become less holy?” – while some openly attack Christianity as if I wasn’t there. The negative impression they have of the Church and those in the Church is obvious enough.
I often wonder which aspect of my faith repulses them.
I love these friends of mine, I really do. While I may not endorse and subscribe to their way of living, I accept them and respect them as my friends. I celebrate and rejoice in life’s milestones with them, and my heart breaks with theirs when something goes wrong.
But while I love them as my friends, I’ve found this isn’t fully reciprocated. Friends have shunned me just because I’m a Christian. The vibe is that they can’t trust me, like I’m a spy planted by the Church, or a time bomb, waiting to unleash my doctrine and condemnation on them.
The strange thing, though, is that most of my Christian friends are not the loud and militant Christians we hear of in the media.Quite the opposite: They are mostly silent. The gist is: “Best to keep quiet in case we say the wrong things.”
I guess I understand their response. We Christians have been on the receiving end of much flak. It probably pays to be careful.
But silence is usually read as consent. So when they choose to stay mum on any issue, that is seen as a lack of protest. Agreement.
Most of my Christian friends are not the loud and militant Christians we hear of in the media. Quite the opposite: They are mostly silent.
It’s sad. The current state of our culture is plagued by division. Anyone who disagrees with the Left is automatically put on the Right (what’s really right anyway?). If you aren’t for us, you must be against us. On the other hand, those on the Right see compromise and kiasi-ness – spinelessness – in anyone who doesn’t get red-faced and stand up for the causes they believe in. If you aren’t against us, you must be for us.
But as a Christian, I camp on neither of these sides.
The Church isn’t called to accommodate culture. No – the Gospel is offensive. Tweaking it to accommodate culture means you water down the Gospel. It means you’re only preaching grace and not Truth. The angels in heaven aren’t singing “Grace, grace, grace”. They are singing “Holy, holy, holy” (Revelation 4:8).
The Bible is about grace/love and truth. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Batman and Robin. Kaya and toast. We must engage culture with love but also with truth.
We speak the truth in love to war against this present-day dichotomy of worldviews. We’re not the Left. We say, this is wrong. We’re not the Right. We say, you are loved. Which means we say simultaneously: This is wrong and I love you.
The love and truth of Jesus Christ cannot be contained in a bunch of rules, an event or even a colour.
We’re far worse than we ever imagined, and far more loved than we could ever dream.
Timothy Keller put it so well. In the Bible, #lovewins, but not in the way people tout these days.
Love! Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails!(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Jesus is in the business of transforming lives through love. No matter a person’s life choices, social status, or even sexual preferences, life transformation results from the journey with Him – not from merely changing into a different set of clothes before embarking on the journey.
It is sad and ironical that in our pursuit of love today, so little love is demonstrated. We put people down in order to get our point across. We slap labels onto one another because we can’t see eye to eye.
I may totally disagree with you on what brings true happiness and I will always live by my own personal convictions as a Christian, but I cannot dictate your thoughts and choices. Maybe others have tried to do so. Not me. Who am I to tell you what to do?
If God was in the business of condemnation He would’ve sent a condemner, but instead He sent a Saviour.
Because that’s not what God called me to do. We are all familiar with John 3:16, but I take my cue from the verse that follows: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)
If God was in the business of condemnation He would’ve sent a condemner, but instead He sent a Saviour. A Saviour to save our souls through unmerited love.
My role, my responsibility, is then to love people enough to care about their eternal souls. That’s not telling anyone what to think. It’s just telling them what I think – beyond that, it’s their life.
At the end of the day it seems like we’re all after the same thing: Love. I choose the love that doesn’t hold people down, but sets them free.
At 24, I’m not really at the age where I should be worrying about “feeling single”. It feels like I just graduated yesterday, and it hasn’t even been a year since I started working full-time. I’m still very young!
Or so I tell myself. Because the reality is that time is ticking away. One by one, my peers are getting attached and married. One of them is awaiting the birth of her first-born in a few months’ time. She’s my age!
Suddenly it seems like we’re all not as young as we thought. And I’m beginning to feel like I’m falling behind in this trajectory that everyone else seems to be on.
Where is my Mr Right? Should I start bracing myself for a lifetime of singleness?
Tick tick tick tick tick.
When everyone around you talks about marriage as if it’s a pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow, it becomes easier and easier for someone who is single like me to feel as if I’m missing out on the full and complete package life has to offer.
Frustrated that I was being stereotyped as the single Christian (whose life seems to be going nowhere because she is single), I resolved one night that I was going to consciously embark on a journey of seeking contentment in my singlehood.
I decided I was going to take ownership of my singlehood. I needed to learn to be content living in my current state of singleness. Of being just myself. Of being on my own.
Here’s what I’ve come to learn: Singlehood is not a second-best. If single is what I am right now, then it is God’s best for me right now!
We’ve mixed up singleness and loneliness. But they’re not the same thing. One doesn’t have to come with the other.
I’m beginning to see that singlehood is a gift (1 Corinthians 7:7). It does not have to be a pit of bitterness. While it may not be a gift many would choose for themselves, we do not choose our gifts. We are given them by a divine Giver who knows the end from the beginning, and wants above all else to give us the gift of Himself.
We’ve mixed up singleness and loneliness. But they’re not the same thing. One doesn’t have to come with the other.
Singleness becomes loneliness when I wait for that someone to come into my life and never leave again. Singleness becomes incompleteness when I wonder if and when God will bring my “significant other”. Singleness becomes self-pity when I saw that I seemed to be lacking something unlike others.
No one in Christ has to ever wait for joy. We may have to wait for a spouse, or for a job, healing, reconciliation. We may have to wait for all those things and a thousand things besides — with no guarantee or promise that these things must or will come to pass. But Jesus bled and died at Calvary to ensure and promise that we never have to wait for joy and fulfilment.
Psalm 16:11 does not say that in marriage (or a new job, or a healing miracle) there is fullness of joy. Instead the psalmist says, “In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Joy and fulfilment can be found right now, wherever we are, whatever the marital status.
Someone once shared with me that understanding and embracing the gift of singleness is understanding the relationship between worship and joy. When a life is devoted to the worship of a holy God – worship not just in the singing of song, but in the complete giving of ourselves in praise and surrender in all circumstances – there is joy. When joy is found in the presence of a holy God, worship will overflow.
When worship and joy collide, the room in my heart for discontentment or loneliness gets crowded out. The gaze of my heart is turned outward and upward.
When joy is found in the presence of a holy God, worship will overflow.
While it is still occasionally awkward to sit through courtship and wedding (and, increasingly, birth) announcements, deep down I know that God knows what He’s doing with me. There are still some days when I really want to be like everyone else. But on the many other days, I don’t. And I’m happy about it.
When service to Christ and joy in Christ are married within me, I am then able to see that every gift He gives is good. Even when it does not come in the shape of a marriage proposal.
Almost 30, still single – but things are looking up
by Chan Sihan | 28 April 2017, 10:53 AM
There are many reasons for someone to be single.
Perhaps the standards we seek of our ideal partner might be too high: Maybe you’re holding out for an adventurous woman who is beautiful, yet with the inner beauty of biblical Ruth, or a God-fearing man whose features are worthy of the cover of Men’s Health magazine.
Maybe nobody in your circle of friends or influence appears a good fit. Perhaps you are always hanging out with people much younger/older than you. Or none of them are of the same faith. Or they are, but you can’t find the middle ground on some doctrinal beliefs.
Perhaps you are single now because you are so tired and worn out from past rejections.
I am about a month away from my 30th birthday as I write this, and I have experienced practically all of the above. Too many times have I received the all-too-familiar question from well-meaning friends and not-so-distant family members: “Why don’t you have a girlfriend’?”, or “Isn’t there anybody you’re interested in?”
While these are well-meaning questions, they sometimes cause a certain profound hurt to surface in my heart. I can definitely say I am not intentionally single.
I’ve had crushes on numerous women in the past decade, and the closest thing I have ever come to a relationship was an official “exploration” with a girl in church – essentially just us getting to know each other better as friends. We never even held hands. Needless to say, it didn’t work out; it was a car wreck due to selfishness on my part.
The yearning led to disappointment, the disappointment to self-condemnation, the self-condemnation to anger. Yes, I was angry with God.
I’ve found almost every other girl I’ve been interested in in church has been practically unapproachable. Being in an Asian society, it really isn’t easy to get to know a person of the opposite gender without raising a red flag that screams that you’re interested in them.
My two older siblings already have families of their own (with two and three kids, respectively), and here I am, single and with nary a past-relationship to even ponder upon. It hurts. It really does.
I often ask God why. I wish I had the answer.
Those of us who are single, or who have been (and that means all of you), have definitely asked this question at some point. How we yearn for somebody to care for, to share the joys and sufferings of life together. We all want to be desired, to be admired and loved not just by anybody, but by somebody we ourselves desire after.
This yearning in me grew over the years. The yearning led to disappointment, the disappointment to self-condemnation. Perhaps I’m just not attractive enough. As hard as I tried to improve on my character and personality, I never could seem to compete with that other good-looking, mild-mannered guy in that other life group.
Self-condemnation eventually led to anger. Yes, I was angry with God. Why wouldn’t He, in all His sovereign power and loving grace, answer my simple prayer for a wife?
This cycle of emotions repeated itself numerous times, more than I’d want to remember.
To me – as I’m sure it does to many of you – having a partner to love and live life with appears the best thing that could ever happen. And, by extension, not being attached feels the worst thing; it means we are not attractive. Undesirable.
But good as it is, there is a better thing than mere human companionship.
Nothing trumps the fact that God loves us, so much in fact that He died for us even while we were His enemies (Ephesians 2:4-5)! We are loved and desired by the greatest being in the universe – and here we are bemoaning our singlehood.
I’m not undermining our desire for a physical companion. However, isn’t it comforting to know that there is more to love than just earthly companionship and marriage? Scripture reminds us that the institution of marriage is temporary (Matthew 22:30).
Obedience to Christ and holding fast to His covenant will not go unnoticed.
So if we’re not fixated on marriage as the end-goal of our existence – which it surely isn’t! – what is the hope that is held out for those of us who are single?
“Thus says the Lord: ‘To the eunuchs [those who cannot procreate but turn their lives into a unique service instead of marriage] who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.'” (Isaiah 56:4-7)
That is the hope we have: The promise of an everlasting name better than sons and daughters!
What does that mean? I can only imagine! But what I do know about it is that it is better. Better than anything I could imagine in my limited human mind. It is something no earthly marriage can attain. It encourages me that obedience to Christ and holding fast to His covenant will not go unnoticed.
The focus of our lives should be to honour Christ, and the institute of human marriage is meant as a picture of what the marriage between Christ and His bride, the church, is like. But why yearn merely for a reflection when the real thing awaits? Why seek the temporary promise of an earthly marriage, when we can look forward to what is eternal?
Consider the example of Paul, who appears not to have been married during his time writing epistles as the apostle to the Gentiles. In 1 Corinthians 4:15 he writes about how he is as a father to those he watches over, while in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 he says he cherishes them as a mother.
Similarly, I may not have a physical family to raise, but the Lord has graciously given me a spiritual family to look after. It is through His grace enabling me to overcome my struggles in life that God will speak and build people up for His glory.
Yearn and desire for God’s will to be done in your life, even if it means that you will be single for the rest of your life. It may not sound like the best option to us, but the Lord has a greater promise for you, and He will honour your faithfulness to Him.
And that is infinitely, eternally greater than we can hope for from a temporary marriage in this temporary life.
Some years back, I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. While many had said that it felt like a feature-length “Just Do It” advertisement, the constant theme of “stop dreaming, start living” throughout the movie struck a deep chord within me.
This is life. I thought.
Exactly five months after the movie, inspired to have my own Walter Mitty experience, I embarked on my first-ever solo trip to Taipei. I was 20.
For the first time in a long while, I felt courageous. I felt free. I felt alive.
THIS IS LIVING …OR IS IT?
The 21st century young adult’s mind is often found wandering. We scroll through our Instagram feed decorated with beautifully curated travel photographs by our peers. We look with admiration and envy. We grow disillusioned, restless, sick with everything in the here and now.
At some point, my default homepage on my browser was an airline website. I spent great lengths of time staring at my annual calendar, seeking out cheap airfare deals and travel blogs.
Such is the fickleness of wanderlust: A flicker of a thought, a few frames from a movie, what could happen once we get to the place we’re lusting after.
We believe that everything will be perfect if we could just be there.
I soon realised that in desiring to always be somewhere else, I was constantly discontented with my current location.
After my first solo adventure, my fulfilment was short-lived. Within two weeks, in sober dismay, I was counting down to my next great escape.
I rationalised with myself: You deserve a break! This will be a healing trip. You will come back a different person! You need this!
But I soon realised that in desiring to always be somewhere else, I was constantly discontented with my current location.
10 days away from my parents would give me a breather from their nagging. A week away from work would help me to destress. But all in all I knew I was running away from my reality. I was taking the easy but temporal way out of my problems.
And yet after every trip comes that same familiar feeling we all know too well—a painful slap back into reality, where our physical body returns but our minds are still wandering.
It hurts more than ever to be facing the same old problems where we’d left off. Our minds start wondering if only I was somewhere else again. If only, if only. The cycle repeats.
We are here, but never present. It’s a very sad reality.
WANDERLUST: A SYMPTOM OF SOMETHING DEEPER
Our inclination to wander can overflow into other areas of our lives. The desire for a new lifestyle, a new home or country to live in, or even a new identity. We may start to lose ourselves. We start to wander away from God’s heart.
We ignore what God has already given us and grumble to Him for what we do not have – that’s discontentment.
Discontentment, when unmanaged, when full of entitlement, is a dangerous thing.
How, then, do we learn to be content?
The secret to contentment is actually very simple.
Paul shares his experience and secret from the prison, that “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.
Discontentment, when unmanaged, when full of entitlement, is a dangerous thing.
While travelling can offer one a momentary sense of freedom, abandonment and independence, it is only the truth of God that can truly set us free from any kind of bondage. The truth of His love, grace, majesty and glory.
The truth of how He fully knows us.
In this glorious truth, He invites us to live, breath and exist fully in Him, that we’ll never hunger or thirst again.
God gives us more than what travelling can ever offer. It’s of a deeper, more abiding nature — far more valuable and priceless than any flight deal, Airbnb stay, or Walter Mitty quote.
Today, I choose to be present. This is really living.
Have you ever felt a pain so great that it pounds through every fibre of your being?
My mind goes back to one night some years back when I’d gone to see a volunteer counsellor in one of the prayer room sessions held in church. I had just gone through a traumatic patch in life, and I was struggling to find myself again. I was broken through and through, but all my friends ever said to me was, “You should really move on with life, this is taking too long.”
Well, as if I enjoy being stuck in this brokenness.
I felt that I had no one to turn to, no shoulder to lean on and no listening ear to confide in. That night I unloaded all my hurt and pain to the counsellor, an older lady in her late forties.
The next morning, I received a call from one of my leaders in church.
“(The counsellor) gave me a call. Why did you even go to her?”
I was chided for confiding in someone outside of the campus ministry I was under (“people will think that we are not taking care of you”) for a pain that was so personal (“I think you’re grieving too much and for too long; you need to move on”). That it was not okay to be not okay.
But looking back, I beg to differ.
It is okay to be not okay.
A BRUISED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK
There is a significant biblical witness of “lament” as a valid response to troubles and pain. Many of the psalms are called “Psalms of Lament” – poignant cries of distress and grief. Often the psalmist complains about the hurt inflicted by those around him. Sometimes he is troubled by his own thoughts and actions. Other times he expresses his frustrations with God Himself.
The book of Job is filled with cries of lament. So are some of the words of Jeremiah, who likens God to a deceptive river with unreliable water (Jeremiah 15:18). That’s harsh!
But their grief was brought before God in the fullness of emotion, the way we can only do so with someone we trust. They were brutally honest about their feelings.
We should never assume that if we are trusting and walking with God, we wouldn’t ever weep, feel angry or hopeless. We need to be gentle and patient with ourselves, as we would be with people who are in grief and sorrow.
In Isaiah 42:3, it says this of the Chosen Servant, Jesus Christ: “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.”
Their grief was brought before God in the fullness of emotion, the way we can only do so with someone we trust.
The bruise that we are talking about here does not mean regular minor injury. It denotes a heavy and deep contusion. The injury might not show on the surface but it is nonetheless potentially fatal.
Jesus will not break the bruised reed or snuff out the dying candle (Matthew 12:20). He cares for the fragile. He loves people who are beaten up, badly battered and painfully bruised. They may not show it on the outside, but inside they are dying. Jesus sees all the way into the deepest parts of our hearts and heals us where we are bleeding (Psalm 147:3).
Suffering and hurting people need to be able to weep, grieve and pour out their hearts instead of being immediately shut down by being told to move on. Nor should we do that to ourselves when we are in pain.
WHAT ABOUT OUR OWN HAPPINESS?
Timothy Keller wrote in his book, Walking with God through Pain & Suffering, that “suffering reveals, communicates and imparts God’s glory as nothing else does”. While His glory cannot be increased because it is already perfect, it can be magnified.
If God is treated like God during our suffering and pain, then it can reveal and present Him in all His greatness and glory.
If we seek God as the non-negotiable good of our lives, we will get happiness thrown into the mix somehow. Yet if our aim is mainly and solely personal happiness, we will end up getting neither.
But how does suffering benefit us? How do we benefit when we’re not even “happy”?
Happiness, in Keller’s words, is a by-product of wanting something more than happiness – to be rightly related to God and our neighbour (Matthew 5:6). If we seek God as the non-negotiable good of our lives, we will get happiness thrown into the mix somehow. Yet if our aim is mainly and solely personal happiness, we will end up getting neither (Matthew 10:39).
It is in the darkest moments that we easily feel we are getting absolutely nothing out of God or out of our relationship with Him. But what if it is during then, when it does not seem to benefit us at all, that we continue to pray, praise, worship and seek God?
If we do that, that is when we finally learn to love God for who He is, and not for His benefits.
REJOICING IN SUFFERING
What does it mean then, to “rejoice in suffering”? Rejoicing cannot simply mean having happy emotions.
We need to acknowledge that suffering creates inner sorrow and makes us weak. To deny our hurt, to tell ourselves that we are fine, means we will likely pay a price later. We will eventually find ourselves blowing up, breaking down and falling apart. Then we will realise we were kidding ourselves. We were hurt more than we thought we did.
To rejoice in God means to dwell on and remind ourselves of who God is, who are we and what He has done for us. If Jesus who was perfect was also a man of sorrows, who are we to not feel any sorrow? Rejoicing in suffering happens within sorrow.
Rejoicing doesn’t come after the sorrow. It doesn’t come after the weeping. It doesn’t come after the pain. The pain drives us into the joy of our salvation – the joy of knowing God – and enhances our relationship with Him. The joy enables us to actually feel our grief without sinking and drowning us.
It is okay to not be okay. But the key lies in what we do when we are not okay.
Today I went back to school, perhaps for the last time ever, to pack my graduation show booth up for tear-down.
My FYP booth – a year of frustrations, running into dead-ends and sleepless nights, all contained within these two walls.
Time has really flown by. And yet at the same time, it feels like a long time coming. To be honest, my final year in university has been fraught with anxiety and loneliness. My nights were filled with vivid nightmares, and I was plagued by constant paranoia.
Now standing in front of my FYP that was encapsulated in a 180cm by 230cm booth, I wonder if my final year – or even my entire four years in school – put a smile on God’s face. I hope they have.
Some four years ago, He gave me a very specific calling to abandon my own dreams and to apply to NTU’s design school to pursue a route that He had planned for me. He wanted me to use whatever gifts I had as a positive influence.
I was hesitant and afraid, but I chose to trust Him anyway. In these four years, I tried my hardest even in the hardest of times. I confronted my own fear of socialising to devoting myself in building His community of creatives in school.
The community that God had planted in our school – we devoted ourselves to meeting regularly, supporting and guiding each other through challenges in school and prayed for our school.
He brought me on a supernatural journey to learn what it means to let go and let God; what it means to let Him establish my every step; what it means to include and remember Him in my every decision; what it means to stop asking God’s plan to fall into my own; what it means to lay my rights down with a “hallelujah”.
I wasn’t the best student out there. I wasn’t blowing everyone’s minds with cool works every semester. I definitely wasn’t scoring straight A’s contrary to the general belief that design school is a breeze to score.
It was in university that I went through some of the darkest and deepest valleys in my life.
I worried constantly about many things: What if I couldn’t major in visual communication? What if I couldn’t get the modules that I needed? What if I couldn’t get an internship? What if I couldn’t get a FYP supervisor…?
But God never gave up on me.
He pursued me in the darkest nights and in the most painful of times. He lifted me from the darkest pits. He blessed me abundantly beyond what I’d imagined.
When I was in the darkest nights, He said, “Create. Keep creating, because it is what I’ve called you to do.”
I got into my ideal major. I got all the modules I needed and most of the modules I wanted. I scored two internships at two well-established design studios. I found myself an FYP supervisor before the official application window even opened.
When I was in the darkest nights, He said, “Create. Keep creating, because it is what I’ve called you to do.”
When I was jaded, He said, “Work, for I am with you.”
When I was in doubt, He said, “Don’t ever discount the partnership that you have with Me.”
He has always been faithful and never once did I ever felt that He had forsaken me. I understood what His love meant – passionate, unconditional, undivided, fierce, loyal, unwavering, long-suffering, forgiving, faithful …
And I continue to discover that everyday.
Now I leave school with a deeper understanding and assurance that I live not for my own, but for Him in me.
I’m thankful that four years ago I chose to embark on this ride He called me on to. My prayer today is that I give praise for the closure of this chapter and maximise this next (hopefully temporal) season of rest and silence while I wait upon Him to send me on towards my next destination in His good timing.
Now I leave school with a deeper understanding and assurance that I live not for my own, but for Him in me. All that I have today and all that I am today, is to Him alone — I’m an heir of His grace. This refining through the fire, wasn’t that hard to bear after all.
The boy who’s always been picked on – and the God who picked me
by Mattias Tan | 17 April 2017, 4:25 PM
I’ve always been bullied.
Growing up, I felt no one understood me. I always felt that my parents favoured other people. At least, to my young mind it looked that way – it seemed they always spoke nicely to other people but were often harsh towards me.
Looking back, it’s only fair that I thank them; after all, they were raising me the best way they knew how (Hebrews 12:10) with the aim of producing good fruit (Hebrews 12:11).
Relentlessly picked on by the neighbours’ children, I was given humiliating roles that nobody wanted to play during role-play sessions. I was set up to fail at drawing competitions, and laughed at for being the slowest runner on the block during catching.
Going to school was not exactly pleasant either. Having to explain to my parents where lost lunchboxes went was a nightmare, especially when they insisted that I misplaced them again, even if that really wasn’t always the case. (To be fair to them, I had a penchant for misplacing my belongings a fair bit).
Not just lunchboxes – umbrellas and water bottles were regularly misappropriated and secreted away, and oftentimes the only way I could get them back was by demanding them back (which often failed and resulted in more mocking and name-calling), or getting a teacher in to help (which meant I got my things back, but at the cost of more name-calling, while subsequent bullying just got worse).
I couldn’t even look in the mirror – I couldn’t stand to see the person I saw staring back at me.
Just as I thought the worst was over, with my mediocre PSLE results, I leapt out of the proverbial frying pan into the raging inferno: Secondary school. Not only did the bullies from primary school follow me to secondary school, they ganged up with the popular kids, so the bullying didn’t stop – it intensified.
From the name-calling and hiding of things I suffered in primary school, it progressed to public humiliation, them taking turns to lob paint at me, and so many other terrifying ordeals.
Through it all, I spent most nights crying myself to sleep, their sharp words ringing through my mind as I wept. Things got so bad that I couldn’t even look in the mirror – I couldn’t stand to see the person I saw staring back at me. All their words seemed so true, so apt, so painful.
Determined to fix myself, I turned to one area that I thought could fix my pain: Power.
At that time, I held a relatively low rank within my uniformed group. But fuelled by an insatiable desire for copious amounts of power, I leapt at all opportunities to get the most prestigious and powerful positions, which would enable me to wield a disproportionate amount of power over the other cadets in my unit and get them to do my bidding, regardless of their views.
Not only was I power-hungry inside my CCA, I was the same outside, too. Harnessing the rage boiling inside me from being bullied, I took it out on others, taunting them, hiding belongings and so on.
But none of it satisfied. None of it stopped the nightly crying. In desperation, I turned to yet another way out: Companionship. At that time, I thought that having a girlfriend would be the solution to all my problems. I figured that even if it didn’t stop the bullying, it would at least make it more bearable, having someone who cared for you and was willing to hear you out.
Soon, I was getting myself involved with a girl and we both depended heavily on each other emotionally to get through the day. But the relationship didn’t work out, and after everything, I realised that the hole was still there. It wasn’t patched up.
As French mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal surmised: We all have a God-shaped void which cannot be filled by anything other than what it was intended to be filled by.
At my wits’ end, I decided to turn back to God. I was brought up in a Christian household, and though I doubted His existence back then – mostly due to the emotional experiences that I been through – I still attended church. Though I mostly did so to seek companionship and please my parents, I was unconsciously absorbing and remembering all that was said during sermons and worship.
It was in the endless, rolling deserts of South Australia that all the pieces finally fell into place.
It was my CCA’s biennial overseas trip and we were headed Down Under to Adelaide. The first week was spent in the city, but on the second week there, they decided to let us experience life in the desert.
One night, as I looked up, I saw the Milky Way, with the various constellations dancing about. And then it hit me. I was blown away by the fact that, despite creating all the stars, putting them into place (Colossians 1:17) and knowing each and every one of their names (Psalms 147:4), He knows and cares for me too (Matthew 10:30).
I knelt down and wept at the realisation that I was not only known but loved by The Most High God.
When I returned to Singapore, I attended my youth ministry’s annual Worship Night. At the service, I could feel the presence of God washing over me like waves, washing me clean and reassuring me that I was His and that nothing could ever separate me from His Love.
I knelt down and wept at the realisation that I was not only known but loved by The Most High God.
I went back to school, and no, the bullying and name-calling did not stop. I still feel the fear today of the next taunt, the next shove coming around the next corner. But I know now that in all these trials, God was with me throughout, and that He was the only one I could rely on.
Throughout the years, my heart has been yearning for things that God has not been giving to me. I yearned for a reputable career in the creative industry, but I’m now a full-time ministry worker. I desire for a relationship, but I’m still very single. I wish I had time to hang out with friends, but I find myself occupied with ministry even outside of work and church.
Week after week, the routine repeats. Full-time ministry work. More ministry after work. Lifegroup planning, mentoring, worship duty, more mentoring, lifegroup, more ministry planning. Still haven’t met up with the friends I’ve been trying to meet. I sink into my bed at the end of the day with absolute fatigue. Still single. The buzz from the flurry of activities dies down and the silence from my loneliness becomes louder than ever.
On some days, it is easy for me to fall into a pit of loneliness and disappointment towards God. This wasn’t what I pictured. Why is it so lonely to do Your work, God?
Then He spoke to me, “You need to do my work, my way. Trust me.” He asked for my full, total surrender.
LIVING WITH A SENSE OF EXPECTANCY
To do God’s work requires me to avail myself as His worker. A worker does not decide for himself his work for the day, but he waits on instructions from his superior. For me to be able to do God’s work effectively, I need to live with a sense of expectancy every day towards God.
What does the Lord want to do with me today? What does the Lord want me to do today?
I have no agenda of my own.
When I think that there is only one solution out of a problem and God has to give me that or nothing, that is me bringing my agenda to the table. Me thinking that I should be happy and not lonely doing God’s work? That is my agenda. My own agenda closes my own mind. A closed mind is a closed heart and a closed door.
This is the key to the freedom to do God’s work. To do God’s work effectively, I have to do it His way. I need to stop relying on my own strengths and logic. I need to make space for God’s plan in my life. I need to trust and obey Him.
TRUST AND OBEY
When our feelings from our own unfulfilled agendas become so great that they overwhelm us, it is easy for us to lose sight of what is at hand and the reality. The disappointments come like a mighty waterfall. The currents engulf us. The weeds wrap our around us. It is in these moments we feel that God has forgotten about us and shortchanged us.
But we forget that the truth is greater than our feelings. God loves us. (Psalm 42:8) God is our solid rock. (Psalm 42:9)
To do God’s work God’s way is to be a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8) It has no agenda of its own and it simply does what it ought to do. It trusts and obeys the natural occurrence of life and finds fulfilment of its purpose through it.
The heart which has no other agenda but only God’s is the heart free from itself. It is fully surrendered and it fully trusts. Its emptiness is filled with the love of God. Its solitude can be turned into prayer.
Good Friday and Easter are all about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here are 7 churches telling that story in 7 different ways that weekend.
1. THE LEAP: HOPE CHURCH SINGAPORE
Jail, addiction and guilt threatened to destroy a father’s bond with his son. Who could help them beat the odds to restore their relationship? Who could bridge the gulf between them? Find out in this Easter documentary on April 15 and 16 at Hope Church Singapore.
15 April (Saturday): 2pm & 5pm 16 April (Sunday): 10am
The Axis @ Textile Centre
200 Jalan Sultan #04-24
Have you ever wanted anything so badly that you would give up everything just to have it? This is the story of DANNY, a prize fighter in a post-apocalyptic future, whose success in the arena is fuelled by his drive to prove his father wrong. He thinks he’s conquered the world – until he discovers the truth about his father. Now he’s in the fight of his life.
14 April (Friday): 10.30am & 5pm 15 April (Saturday): 5pm
Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church
300 Bedok North Avenue 3
72 Hours chronicles the journey of a man named Jesus, from the Garden of Gethsemane to an empty tomb in Jerusalem. He suffered betrayal from His disciples, was brought before Pontius Pilate for His sentencing, given a crown of thorns, and was crucified on the cross; before men, but for their very sake. He was deserted, left to die, and was buried.
Three days later, a group of women came to anoint His broken body at the tomb. Yet, all they could find was an empty tomb … and folded linen. (In Bible times, folded linen on a dining table meant the diner had to excuse himself for a while, but would be coming back.)
This Resurrection Weekend, take a journey back in time 2,000 years ago and relive the 72 hours that altered the course of mankind forever.
15 April (Saturday):1.30pm (Youth), 5pm & 6.45pm 16 April (Sunday): 8.30am, 10.15am & 11.45am
Cornerstone Community Church Main Auditorium
11 East Coast Road
The Odeon Katong #03-01/02
4. THE LAMB OF GOD: COVENANT EVANGELICAL FREE CHURCH
The Lamb of God is a multi-sensory presentation about Jonathan, a shepherd who stood transfixed at the Cross of Jesus. It was there beside the glistening pool of blood that he realised what the Lamb of God really meant.
14 April (Friday): 9am & 11am
Bukit Panjang Centre
10 Jelapang Road
14 April (Friday): 9am & 11am
90 Woodlands Drive 16
14 April (Friday): 9am & 11am
4 Changi Business Park Avenue 1
Unforgotten is a bilingual evangelistic drama production that revolves around the lives of a mother and son, and how their lives take on a drastic turn when they encounter an unfortunate event. Witness the love of Jesus and how He brings about healing and reconciliation through his ministry on earth.
The drama will be followed by the preaching of the Word, which will be interpreted into Mandarin.
14 April (Friday): 4pm 15 April (Saturday): 5pm 16 April (Sunday): 10am
Level 6, Halls 601-604
The City will be culminating their Final Words From The Cross sermon series with a Sunday celebrating our Resurrected King. Breakfast will be served at 9.30am, followed by a time of rejoicing, a powerful message and lunch after.
16 April (Sunday): 10AM THE CITY 62 Cecil Street TPI Building #06-00 Singapore 049710
7. EASTER 2017: TRINITY CHRISTIAN CENTRE
It took more than nails to keep the Son of God on the cross. Experience the extravagant love of Jesus this Easter at Trinity Christian Centre, with a time of worship and sharing of the Word.
14 April (Friday): 10am 15 April (Saturday): 5pm 16 April (Sunday): 8.30am & 11am
Trinity Christian Centre
247 Paya Lebar Road
The credit analyst who left everything behind for an unpaid internship in Cambodia
by Esther Lim, International Justice Mission | 27 March 2017, 4:50 PM
When I was younger in the faith, I used to hate the idea of working in the church office. That was my only concept of what full-time ministry could look like. I had the perception that it would limit my worldview and the people I could meet, with work entirely revolving around church operations and the people in it.
After I graduated, I worked mainly in the finance field. The last role I held was as a credit analyst with a big Japanese bank in Singapore, and it was a really cushy job.
At some point, I volunteered briefly with a church located in Geylang. We would fan out into the streets each week, offering prostitutes – we call them streetwalkers – a word of prayer, homemade cookies, and hugs of care and love.
This short stint opened my eyes to the reality of human trafficking in our own backyard. As I read more about this issue, I got to know of the organisation International Justice Mission (IJM) and began toying with the idea of participating in the work of justice through their internship programme.
My journey leading to going full-time really wasn’t as dramatic and supernatural as you’d think. In fact it happened in the mundane and the daily living out of my faith. After God placed in me this seed of the possibility of taking up this internship programme some day in the future, I started to think about when it might happen, all the while still “roughing it out” in my mundane job, knowing that He had a purpose for me in the marketplace.
I thought 2017 would be a good year considering that I now have adequate financial resources – I don’t want to depend on others for support – and knowing that my parents are still healthy and working.
One day, while on my regular night stroll around the park, I told God that I’m just going go ahead and set the year apart for this work, as an act of worship unto Him. That night I felt God’s delight and pleasure over my decision. In the mundane and day-to-day walk with the Lord, I experienced having my desires transformed and seeing Him meet them, much like in Psalm 37:4: “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Along the way I also received a prophesy confirming my decision to go at this time, at the end of my 7th year of work. Personally, though, this wasn’t a significant push – I’d already made up my mind.
And that’s how I find myself now working in Cambodia, Phnom Penh, in the third month of a one-year unpaid internship with International Justice Mission, a Christian human rights organisation that is fighting the cause of modern day human slavery.
A photo from my first trip out into province to visit our clients. Due to confidentiality, it is not possible to get many photos on these client visits.
Moving out to do something out of comfort zone is always, well, uncomfortable. In planning for my move overseas, there were many nitty-gritty details that had to be taken care of, and sometimes dealing with everything at once can be overwhelming. But being in such a vulnerable position puts you in a position to learn to depend on God and experience His provision.
For example, I experienced His leading and provision in finding my current accommodation, which has helped me assimilate faster in this foreign land. Not only did I get a good deal on my rental rates, I also confirmed my accommodation in record time, on the 3rd day of my arrival in Phnom Penh. God indeed knows our needs through and through.
Neither am I alone in the journey. I know of many Christians here who are working in various NGOs, supporting various causes in their own capacities, serving the people here in Cambodia and surrounding countries. There’s so many avenues to serve if we would just look out for it.
I’ve experienced so much in this short span of time. And I know that by the end of this internship journey, I will have had many more intimate encounters with God to talk about.
The view from the balcony at my new place in Phnom Penh.
Some people have this misconception that God’s call is all-or-nothing: Either you are fully in, or you are fully out. While we should incline our hearts to seek to follow him fully every step of the way, we need to understand that realistically, God’s call in our individual lives is often progressive, and he reveals more of Himself as we follow Him in taking the next step of our faith, in whatever state of readiness we are in.
So if God is calling you to take a step of faith today, I encourage you to take it and see how God can come through for you. Even if you were to fail, know that God’s hands of grace is not too short for you.
As followers of Christ, we can count on His faithfulness and His ability to come through for us when we step out in faith towards his leading. If God is to call, he will also equip and prepare, and we can take heart in that.
International Justice Mission (IJM) is an international Christian nonprofit organisation focused on human rights, laws and law enforcement. It is currently the world’s largest anti-slavery organisation, rescuing victims of violence, sexual exploitation and slavery. To extend your support, in whatever form, please drop Esther an email at email@example.com.
“Your daughter dances like an elephant,” my dance instructor announced to my mother in front of everyone after class one day. I was 7.
It was nothing new. Every week the instructor did her best to make me feel like I didn’t belong, and this week she finally did it with my mother around.
I’m not your “average girl”. When I was in kindergarten, I was the tallest in the class at 130cm. I stood a whole head higher than everyone else and I felt compelled to slouch so I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Outstanding isn’t always a compliment.
I’m not exactly a gangly girl either. I’m generally big-boned, so usually sport a bigger frame than my peers — though I was never overweight by the standards of any school health check-ups or BMI tests.
My mother was embarrassed by what my dance instructor had put her through. The day after I was publicly labelled a dancing elephant, my mother told me, “If you were skinny and small like those other girls, you wouldn’t have been made an outcast.”
I look into the mirror and all I can see are things that I hate. This is my journey in living with the weight of body negativity.
My face is haunted by baby fats of yesteryears that linger and refuse to go away, no matter how many of those “face slimming roller” gadgets I’ve tried.
My face shines like the flash of a camera, no matter how many different skincare products I’ve used. People think I’m perpetually sweating. Sometimes I give up and lie: “Yes, the heat is killing me”.
My eyes are so small they look as though they are always closed. They are so small that my face looks like it’s just 90% skin and 10% eyes.
My arms are huge however I look at them. From the front, from the sides, from the back. I would pinch at them and imagine if I could just trim the excess off with a pair of shears.
My mother’s obsession with my appearance and size led to the downward spiral of my self-esteem. She constantly reminded me that I should step lightly, unlike an elephant. I was never allowed a full bowl of rice. I wasn’t allowed to eat anything after 5pm, even if I hadn’t eaten the whole afternoon. Three bites into a meal, she’d ask without fail, “Aren’t you full yet?”
I started to struggle with binge eating. I’d stuff my face with food as early as 6 in the morning, and starve myself for the rest of the day. I began to internalise my mother’s obsession over my weight.
When I came to know God as a secondary school student, I struggled with the truth that God loves me for who I am. Who I am? You mean, after I’ve lost all this weight?
My problem with body negativity was so deep-seated that it would not be reconciled with the knowledge of God’s unconditional love. In fact, it only got worse. I started counting the calories in every single thing I ate. I weighed myself every morning and night. I had a journal in which I recorded my body measurements each day.
My waist. Where is my waist? “Where is your waist?” is my mother’s favourite question. I continue to keep my non-existent waist out of sight by hiding under baggy clothes.
The ghost of body negativity creeps into my head during meals and screams at me: ARE YOU SURE YOU'RE HUNGRY? My mind is thrown back to the most recent time I stepped gingerly onto the weighing scale.
I sit down at the dining table as if I’m preparing to do a bungee jump. "There’s no turning back after this."
It took me a few more years to slowly unravel the truth within Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
I’m still learning. The “image” here has nothing to do with what come to our mind first when we hear the word “image”. Beyond the physical, the Latin root behind this word — Imago Dei — refers to the fact that humans bear a likeness to God in their moral, spiritual and intellectual nature.
There is so much more to my “image”. Being made in the image of God means that I’m more than the measurements and calories. I know my imperfections.
I am trying to love this body of mine along with all its imperfections that God has fearfully and wonderfully made. I am trying to love it not because I think that my thick waist proves its perfect use as a bolster, or that my always-oily face means that I save money on highlighters and moisturisers, but because it is mine.
I take it as an accurate chronicle of who I am and what I have been through, not as a failure in what society expects of me.
And just so you know, I’m munching away on a Kinder Bueno bar as I’m writing this.
We compare the number of followers and likes we have on social media. We compare our grades and the prestige of our schools. We compare our job titles and salaries.
In today’s society where we’re told competition is inevitable, comparison just seems to be a natural by-product. We’re engaged in a constant struggle to keep up. We’re easily wound up in jealousy and comparison. How can we ever keep up, we wonder.
Here are three handles – adapted from a sermon preached by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong of Hope Church Singapore in November 2016 – to help you adopt a Godly perspective to exit the hamster wheel of comparison, and learn to truly rejoice in the successes of others.
HOW TO OVERCOME THE SPIRIT OF COMPARISON
1. Celebrate each other’s successes
It’s generally easier for us to suffer with others easier than to rejoice with them. If someone is doing badly, it’s easy for us to offer comforting words and a shoulder to lean on — because we can do it from a vantage point that says, “Poor thing, I’m stronger than you.” It’s from a position of strength.
But when we have to celebrate with someone else’s successes, we are coming from a position that “he/she is better than me”. That’s what makes it difficult for many of us – acting from a position of weakness.
If we can’t bring ourselves to do this, we’re like King Saul, insecure and irked by the fact that the people honoured David more than him (1 Samuel 18:6).
God’s Word teaches us to intentionally celebrate the successes of others. This means that when someone does better than us, we do not envy. When we do better than others, we do not boast (1 Corinthians 13:4). And similarly, if someone isn’t doing as well as we are, we must learn to emphasise and suffer alongside. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26).
2. Compare yourself with … yourself
Saul started to compare himself with David instead of focusing on his own reputation as a great warrior (1 Samuel 18:8). In the light of what others were saying about David, the reigning king became displeased and discontented with his own achievements – even though nothing had changed about what Saul had done.
When we start to compare ourselves against others and find out that we’re doing better than others, we run the risk of becoming proud. On the other hand, when we realise that others are doing better than us, we’re at risk of becoming jealous. Comparing is generally a fruitless exercise; the truth is we’re called to take pride in what we achieve without comparing it against someone else (Galatians 6:4).
God has a special, individual race marked out for each of us. With our unique gifts and all the doors that God has opened for us, we should strive towards being the best that God has destined for us to be (Hebrews 12:1-2). And it doesn’t matter how the world views that.
This is the secret to being contented and yet not complacent.
3. Collaborate, don’t compete
If only Saul chose to fight alongside David, not against him. Can you imagine what a powerful duo they would have become? Yet Saul chose to try to get rid of the competition (1 Samuel 18:10-16).
We may not be attempting to assassinate our competitors like Saul, but our desire to compete can manifest in other ways. We may slander others or be sceptical and sardonic towards others’ successes.
There is critical thinking (discernment is good), and then there is a critical heart. This critical heart prevents us from celebrating with others and affirming them. We try to make make others smaller, just so we can appear bigger.
If someone is doing better than us, instead of defaulting to envy, perhaps we can stop to think about what we can learn from them to improve ourselves.
When Saul chose to compare and compete instead of collaborating and learning from David, he ended up being the biggest loser instead.
The reason that David had many great successes in his life was that he had the ultimate collaborator (1 Samuel 18:12, 1 Samuel 18:14). At the end of the day, the only partnership we need to have is with God.
Christians don’t only have the ability to affect the atmosphere – we have the responsibility to change it, said Bill Johnson.
The senior pastor of Bethel Church, speaking at the second day (15 March) of Kingdom Invasion 2017, told the audience at the Singapore Expo: “We were designed to manifest the presence of God on earth.”
“If you don’t discern the presence (of God), you will be reduced to principles. People study real money, not counterfeit money, to be able to tell what is real.”
He went on to share about how a simple act of kindness and service can actually turn out be access points to encounters with God.
“God doesn’t just touch people on a surface level – God heals on so many different dimensions… We owe people an encounter with God.”
He shared with the congregation that as Christians, we not only have the ability to affect, but we can also change the atmosphere.
“The strongholds of people’s lives are in the thought realm. The presence of the Lord removes people from a place of their own deceptive influences and helps them to think clearly for the first time in their lives. There is no lack in your soul in His presence.”
He went on to give the example of Moses and the burning bush, saying while God might appear to be ignoring Moses’ question of “who am I?” (Exodus 3:11-12) by only answering him with “I will be with you”, but He could actually be saying: “Who are you, Moses? You’re the man I’d like to be with”. God promised His presence before Moses could even wrap his head around the entire situation.
“We don’t just live carelessly; we need to live with ambition.” Bill urged that we become architects and designers of culture who live with intentionality so that we can shape the value system of our nations.
“When you walk in the room, the odds change: we carry the presence of a Person who has manifested for who He is. We are here to give language for what the lost are aching for.”
Amidst this, he encouraged the congregation to first set their face on God.
“He watches over the watch of those who watch over the Lord.”
Kingdom Invasion 2017 will run until Friday at Singapore Expo Hall 1.Night sessions starting from 6pm are free, subjected to availability of seats. For more details, visitwww.kingdominvasion.sg.
“In 1969, the Prime Minister of Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew) began to allow the legalisation of abortion and that decision was further sealed deeply by Roe v. Wade in 1973. But I prophesy that God is going to rise… He is going to raise up voices, intercessors, movements of adoptions and single mother homes.”
Lou Engle was speaking at the 5th edition of the annual Kingdom Invasion conference on Tuesday (14 March) night.
“Civilised nations do not kill our own children.” Addressing directly to women who have been through abortion themselves, Lou said, “Let your greatest pain be your greatest prophecy and bring forth justice in the nation.”
Later that night, the message was deeply on focused on the call for a generation of Esthers to rise up in Singapore.
He called for a movement of Esthers to reverse the decree of abortion in Singapore and the region.
“Esthers bring the keys to change history and to lead the nation into a mighty breakthrough.” He recalled how the women’s march took place earlier in the year in Washington D.C. and referred that as a sign of how Satan has overplayed his hand.
“When Satan has overplayed his hand, we know that Esthers will rise up soon and very soon.”
“TIME TO OVERTURN THE DECREE”: JENNIFER HENG
Standing forefront as the Esther of all Esthers was Jennifer Heng. With a trembling voice, she shared God had ignited in her a passion to stand up for abortion issues and how He had prepared her since then for a time such as this. Too much has been left unsaid and it is time for us to overturn that death decree, she proclaimed.
“There is a call to end abortion in Singapore that will have a profound effect on the foundations of our nation and other Asian countries. It is time to overturn the decree.”
The night ended with throngs of females coming to the altar to respond to the call of starting a pro-life movement in Singapore while males were seen to pray over them as a form of honour and respect.
A PROPHETIC DREAM
Lou Engle was speaking with regards to a dream he had about Singapore regarding the books of Daniel and Esther.
“I had this dream that two books were needed in Singapore – books that had been lost or simply misplaced. One of these books is the book of Daniel, and the other is Esther,” he shared. He went on to elaborate that God had impressed upon him that Singapore would become an apostolic sending place, to release the transformation of economies and cultures across the globe with prophetic clarity. Specifically, the call was to rise up Daniels and Esthers to reshape the economic and abortion landscape in Singapore.
Kingdom Invasion 2017 will run until Friday at Singapore Expo Hall 1.Night sessions starting from 6pm are free, subjected to availability of seats. For more details, visitwww.kingdominvasion.sg.