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Studies

I’m afraid of life after university

by Joseph Koh | 8 April 2018, 2:51 PM

Last month, I sat down with an ex-mentee of mine for the first time in years.

A few minutes into our conversation, I realised that the second year university student across the table from me was nursing an anxious heart. With furrowed brows, he was telling me about a coveted internship that had slipped through his fingers.

I was no different in university. It was a time when the expectations and pressures of adulthood loomed large — a monolithic mountain made of our fears. I remember making comparisons and beginning to desire wealth and success. There was that thought that without racking up accomplishments in life – our lives would amount to nothing.

I still think about my friends from business school – especially those from Singapore Management University. There are certain drills pummelled into every student’s head there: One internship is never enough, work tirelessly on networking, make full use of your summers, spruce up your resume with accomplishments … It never ends.

By the time I got to the second semester of year 3, I began fretting about my future.

  • What am I do?
  • Where am I headed?
  • When will I find something that I’m great at?
  • Am I looking for something that isn’t even available?

I was flummoxed by many questions I had very few answers to. I didn’t know what I was going to do in life. I tossed and turned whenever it came to ascertaining the field that I was to pursue. I had considered consulting, research, public relations, journalism – even full-time ministry!

I wrote this down in my journal during my final year in university: “In the morning, I felt like there was a constant, nagging fear that dwelled in my heart as I was chionging [rushing] my essay. I realised that the past couple of weeks have been like that and I didn’t really know how to manage it … Such a fear and sense of dread when I embark on anything.”

When we choose not to lean “on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) or fears — but on God — we give Him the space to unravel the answers to our heart’s deepest questions.

I’ve worked for almost three years now. Whenever I look back at the hectic times on campus, I realise that the questions most university students are asking could be distilled into two existential ones:

  1. What was I created to do?
  2. Am I significant?

It really boils down to identity, because in our early twenties we’re still figuring out and fumbling through a world we cannot fully grasp or control. There were many things that I was interested in — music, urbanisation, branding and writing are some — but I had no clue about what I was particularly good at. God was quietly at work in my life, but I did not have much clarity on where His hand was directing me.

I’ve realised that the biggest danger is not in being unable to answer these questions. It is thinking that these two questions of vocation and identity are intertwined with each other. In university, our competencies and skills are inextricably meshed with our value in society. For instance, we rush into applying for Management Associate positions at premier corporations because we believe that we will be more highly prized in the marketplace.

But the Bible tells us that what we do is distinct from our self-worth. The gifts and talents that God has generously bestowed us with have no bearing on our significance as a son or daughter at the King’s table. Henri Nouwen writes, “Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity, and power is a false identity — an illusion! Loudly and clearly he says: ‘You are not what the world makes you, but you are children of God.’”

So, how should we answer these two questions?

I could give you any amount of handles, but what I really believe is that we have to start from a place of surrender. We must believe that forfeiting our soul to gain the whole world will only prove futile (Matthew 16:26). The crowns we adorn have to first be crushed.

On 12 January 2015, I attended a church retreat in the last semester of university. I was about to graduate and this was the very period where the uncertainties of life got inside my head and under my skin. During an altar call session, God waded past the seaweed and moss in my heart and found me. I wrote this in my journal entry to Him thereafter: “You brought me to the end of myself. I offered you my whole heart for the very first time in my life … I don’t know what giving you EVERYTHING entails but I know that there is no other way. I cannot live without you, Lord.”

My heart ached from this prayer, bruised from the breaking of my self-will. I finally caught a glimpse of what it meant for all of me to be found in Him. When we choose not to lean “on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) or fears — but on God — we give Him the space to unravel the answers to our heart’s deepest questions.

Our Creator knows exactly what our hands were grafted to do. Our Father provides us with the love, acceptance and validation that our broken souls need. In Psalm 33:15, we are assured that God is “he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do”. There is nothing that escapes Him.

If you’re struggling in the throes of university today, I assure you that when you give your life over to Christ, you will never free-fall into an abyss of uncertainty. He is more committed to your destiny than any mentor, employer or friend ever will be.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” (Saint Augustine)


This article was first published on Selah.sg, and is republished with permission.

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3 things I wish I knew before starting university

by | 16 July 2018, 8:08 PM

It’s that time of the year again – university term is starting. Some of you are beginning a 3 to 4 year journey of college education, for the rest, it’s a brand new semester.

Well, whether you’re a freshman or a senior, one thing remains true: The time will be up sooner than you think. As someone whose 4 years could have been better spent,  this is written with one hope only – that you don’t waste that time.

So in the spirit of the article, I’m not about to waste more of your time. Maybe those who’ve gone before me have even more advice to give, but here are my 3 tips to save time.

3 TIPS TO SAVE TIME

1. YOU CAN’T ATTEND EVERY SINGLE CAMP

I’m gonna be honest with you: Not every camp will be worth your time. Many will offer to teach you things like how to bid for modules, or where stuff is, but really … You can learn that online. Another thing you can do online – do some research on what various camps are like.

This is a personal peeve, but camps somehow have the potential to devolve into poorly-disguised mini-games simulating kissing or other suggestive activities. Forced mingling is awkward as it is, but if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation with people you’ve just met – I’ve seen how difficult it is to just walk away.

I did a quick poll with a few friends, and more often than not, we know now that O-Week friends don’t last. When it’s time to pick modules you’ll have to make new ones anyway — only this time without the pretend-kissing and/or influence of alcohol.

So pick wisely. Know why you’re signing up for a camp – and don’t feel pressured to either!

2. WORK ON YOUR WORK ETHIC

I had the worst work ethic throughout most of my university life. The freedom of picking arts courses compounded the problem of my indiscipline. Didn’t like a class? Skip it. Prof boring? Skip! Too early? Skip!

My ala carte attitude towards modules and lessons made for an awful attitude towards courses — which made for an awful attitude towards life in general. Things became about me. Did I like doing it? Was it convenient for me?

I took the general sense of entitlement and pick-and-choose spirit into my work outside of school and my friendships, and I paid high prices for that sort of attitude. It took a lot of time to unlearn, and a lot of painful days in the working world before I saw how damaging my laissez-faire university lifestyle had been.

What if you took university as practice for work? What if you worked on making your skills excellent, and your work ethic impeccable? Stepping into the working world might be easier by virtue of hard work in an internship or attachment. Either way, you’ll thank yourself for developing the right attitude and skill-sets to take into the workforce.

3. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK “SO WHAT”

I think it’s largely fair to say that by the time I reached Year 4, most of my batch-mates were either just waiting to get out or enjoying life before work. By midway through most of us had read hundreds of works and written dozens of papers. The sheer volume of literature we were wading through week after week left me disillusioned.

What was the point of it all? Who really cares about this stuff? Does it really matter?

Some works change you, leave a lasting and profound impact on the way you think and read. Those are great. But for every 1 of those pieces you get maybe 9 more meh ones that just leave you feeling kinda scared. Scared that you’ll spend your life on something that ultimately doesn’t matter. Like reading or writing fluff.

Often the mundanity of my schoolwork in university awakened me to the idea that there must be more than this. And that was the best lesson I took from the dozens of modules I chalked up: Don’t waste your life.

Maybe, you’re thinking that I just didn’t have a good experience — that’s why I’m so salty. Well, you might be right, I’m certainly open to the idea that I got my university experience wrong.

But the one thing I got right was to question what I really wanted out of all of it. Was I just chasing a scroll? Was it just for a job? Was entering a local university just a matter of fact, or the logical next thing to do?

The points of pointlessness in my journey got me asking the hard questions, but the hard questions led to solid places for why I do what I do. If university is a place where one quests for knowledge, then let your quest lead you to a grand purpose in life.

Die well. There’s infinitely more to all of it.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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REVIVE: What students mean for national revival

by Ethan Cheah | 10 July 2018, 11:39 AM

I clearly remember the day I accepted the position to chair REVIVE 2018. I was at church camp when I received a message from the previous chairperson, asking if I’d take over the position to lead the annual worship event that started in 2016.

At that point of time, I did not understand what taking up that role meant nor how significant it would be – not until the day itself, June 29, 2018. I just replied, “Okay, sure!” without missing a beat.

This year’s REVIVE theme was “Amazing Love”, taken from 1 John 4:7-8.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

This year, we focussed on the theme of God’s amazing love, especially the love He shows us in our high-pressured Singaporean life, be it in studies or even in our jobs

I must admit, however, that not everything went as smoothly as I’d hoped. At first, planning started off well; we met up as a student committee to worship and pray before each meeting. But as the days stretched on and the weight of the responsibility grew, I could see everyone’s perseverance fraying.

Watching the team struggle to work together sat heavy on my heart, especially as we made mistakes such as getting publicity out too late – which meant we did not expect as many people to come this time round. But we pressed on in faith nevertheless.

Despite the slight hiccups along the way, even on the day itself, imagine our surprise to see members of the public strolling in at 7pm! Perhaps it was going to turn out alright after all.

Little did I know then, but God had many other surprises in store for us that night.

After an incredible worship led by our very own students, old ACS Barker boys as well as students from other schools took to the stage to share their testimonies. Several of them actually came forth on the spot (we hadn’t planned for that many!) as God led them to share their stories.

And when the pastor-in-charge of REVIVE, Pastor Benjamin Lee, made a call of salvation for those who wanted to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, a group of more than 40 people – the size of a whole class – came forward!

As there were more people than we’d expected, the altar call team had to minister to the growing crowd in groups, and even I had to step forward to help pray with people. And when Pastor Benjamin made the call for those who wanted to rededicate their lives to Jesus, even more people started filling up the front of the stage to be prayed for!

Call my faith little, but I was astounded by the number of people who were stepping up to give their lives to Jesus afresh. By the end of the altar call, there were three long rows of people lined up in front, waiting for their turn. What a powerful sight it was, seeing God’s hand move.

I couldn’t help but think, long after the event ended, how precious it was to have been a part of this work of God. Who would have guessed what God could do with a small bunch of secondary school students?

A small bunch of secondary school kids who used their holiday time to rehearse for worship, make promotional videos, have early morning prayer meetings and just be great support to each other. And even though REVIVE has ended for another year, I believe revival has been kindled in our school – and beyond.

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light …” (1 Peter 2:9)


Ethan Cheah is a student at ACS Barker Road. He invites all other ACS Barker Road students to meet at the Bleachers for daily 7AM prayer meetings.

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The best lessons I learnt in school

by | 6 July 2018, 5:52 PM

It’s funny how time flies, within a blink of an eye, I am now Year 3 in a school that I still struggle to fully understand. I mean, one moment you’re walking into your very first lecture, the next, you’re well into your final year, taking on a 6-month internship programme at Thir.st.

But one thing has stayed constant for me, and that’s the community I’ve in school. When I was in Year 1, I joined my polytechnic’s Cru chapter. It was the best decision of my life. I’ve made the best friends I’ve ever had, brothers and sisters who’ve faithfully walked my poly journey with me.

As I now stand at the end of my poly life with graduation less than a year away, I can’t help but think back on some of the lessons I had learnt from this community.

3 LESSONS FROM MY CRU JOURNEY

1. It’s okay to be who you are

For an extrovert, I am surprisingly socially awkward. I remember when I first showed up for Cru’s welcome tea, not knowing what to expect or who to talk to.

But as I showed up, again and again, I saw something very different about the community – no one was disingenuous. And while the world says to put on a mask before everyone so no one can tell your true colours, this community laid it all down to be real with each other.

As I saw my new friends revealing who they really were, I felt the need to do so too. But as I did, something strange happened; instead of feeling endangered, I felt a certain release.

It was through this community that I realised how tiring it was to put on the mask of poise and excellence before everyone, and how easy it was to finally lay it all down and say, “This is me, all my strengths, all my weaknesses, all my flaws.” And at the end of the day, still be accepted for who I am.

This community, to me, was a picture of how we can and should come before Jesus. In John 6:37 Jesus says to us: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” If we come to Jesus, just as we are we are accepted and will never be driven out from Him.

2. It’s okay not to be okay


My best friends in community have become my best friends not just because of common interests and fun times we’ve had together, but because we’ve shared our struggles, pains and deepest hurts.

In my recent struggles, I found myself wrestling with the issue in the dead of midnight. After praying over it, I decided to call one of my best friends. Not only did he pick up the phone, he even talked it through with me till the early morning.

Such a sanctuary to be this vulnerable is such an apt image of how we can lay it all down before Jesus. In one of my favourite verses, Jesus gently offers us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus knows how hard it is to be human, He feels our every struggle because He went through it Himself. But instead of standing at a distance, He offers to have us cast our burdens on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

3. It’s okay to be different

Cru communities are usually made up of people from many different churches, denominational beliefs, socio-economic backgrounds and sometimes even nations.

Yet, I realise that the closeness of this community is not founded on the ignorance of our differences but in spite of them. Whenever we don’t agree on a particular issue, we always take the time to communicate and, as much as possible, compromise so that we can dwell in peace and unity.

Each time I step into this community, I am reminded of the hope to come. In Revelation 7:9-10, the Apostle John saw a great multitude of every nation, tribe and tongue, and they were all praising God as one.

What a beautiful sight it must have been, and what a glorious hope. As believers, there will come a day where we no longer pick out the differences between each other – we are only going to see each other as God’s fellow children; we are going to praise and worship Him together.

Even now as I look back at my two years with Cru, I can’t help but be in wonder of how this community has not only grown me but also given me a glimpse of Jesus and the future hope I have in glory.


Don’t believe me? Come and see for yourself. If you are a polytechnic or university student looking for a Christ-centered community to be a part of, why not join me and see for yourself what change being a Christ-centered community in school can do?

Contact @polycrusingapore, @np_crusade, @sp_crusade, @nypccc or @ntucru on Instagram. 

/ junheng@thir.st

JunHeng is a 100% extrovert who loves caffeine – lots of caffeine. He also likes HTHTs, jamming and eating good food. Did he mention he loves caffeine?

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I was so sure where the path would lead – and then the music faded

by Chantel Tay | 5 June 2018, 3:45 PM

As a child, I was a dedicated musician. Academic schooling was mandatory, but music nonetheless took on a large part of my life – I spent hours practising, and weekends were dedicated to shuttling to and from music classes.

I became more certain of my music journey as I grew older. At 14, I left the dance club to join my school’s Piano Ensemble. This further exposed me to opportunities that enhanced my experience as a musician.

I performed in solos, duets, and even with my school’s string orchestra. Eventually, I was accepted into the Music Education Programme, where music took up an integral role in my schooling life.

By then, I was convinced music had to be my calling; it was evident in my eyes that this was the plan God had in store for me. Everything seemed to be going well, and I was ready to pursue a music degree once I was done with my academics. This was going to be the year.

When I was unexpectedly shortlisted to take part in a conservatory’s piano academy, comprising of international students across the globe, it was an answered prayer for a clear sign that music was the path for me. This is it! I remember thinking.

But everything came crashing down when I suddenly sustained a wrist injury. The doctor diagnosed it as tendonitis, and the recovery duration was uncertain.

I felt as though everything I’d held so closely onto had been taken away from me.

Due to my inability to play even after a month, I eventually withdrew from the academy. At that point, my head was clouded in thoughts. Why, Lord? Wasn’t this Your clear plan for me?

What am I going to do now?

There were a lot of tears, a lot of frustration. I felt as though a goal that I had chased for years had amounted to nothing. If music was taken away from me, I had no idea where my calling lay. It definitely didn’t help that my friends were all busily sourcing for internships with a much clearer idea of what they wanted to do.

My injury continues to act up once in a while, and I am currently no longer pursuing music. Instead, I will be pursuing a Communication Studies degree – somewhere I never expected myself to be doing.

I’ve been thinking about the fleeting nature of earthly possessions set against the unwavering nature of God. When everything was going haywire, I realised that the one thing constant that I could seek and lean upon was God.

God is good even when there is nothing good happening in front of us. He doesn’t stop being good when things in our life look bad. In my heartbreak and confusion, I learnt what it means that His faithfulness is what remains unchanging in an ever changing world.

I was also reminded of the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-27, how he was so sorrowful when Jesus asked him to leave everything he owned in order to follow Him. If music was everything to me, then I was probably in this young man’s position.

But all the more, through this season, I’ve never been more convicted that I want to develop a faith that says yes to whatever Jesus asks of me, even if it means letting go of the dearest things in my heart out of trust that He only has good plans for me.

There will always be unending questions in my head about why this all happened. But I’m choosing to believe that God will make things right and beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). After all, I exist so that He will be glorified through my life.

When God chooses to close some doors and open others, He doesn’t call us to fathom His plans. He merely calls us to be faithful and follow Him. And this is what I hope to do.

The crucial thing about faith, I’ve come to learn, is not about its capacity, but how enduring it is.

“And the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ So the Lord said, ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

I believe the intention of using a mustard seed – something seemingly small, incapable of achieving much, is to emphasise that faith is the basis for growth in the Lord.

Sometimes we fall behind when our plans don’t work out, perhaps simply because God already has a better plan in mind for us – but how often do we find ourselves lamenting to Him: Do You not love me?

But before you bury yourself in emotional distress, feelings of unworthiness and doubt, I want you to remember that God loves each and every one of you.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

If God has crafted each and every one of us based on His desires, how could we doubt His love for us?

I know how challenging it is to keep the faith when everything that was going well suddenly takes a turn for the worse. But I’d like to believe that adversity is an opportunity for us to run towards our Heavenly Father instead of away from Him.

So run to Him. He will prove faithful.

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Does my CAP define me?

by Esther Yeoh | 30 May 2018, 4:41 PM

I used to hate it when people said grades don’t define you.

I certainly felt defined by my CAP (cumulative average point). It’s a grading system that decides whether you’ll graduate and how well you’ll graduate. It decides your pay grade, the amount you can save in ten years, the house you can buy, whether or not you get a car, whether you can send your kids to university, whether you can provide for your parents …

“CAP doesn’t define you” sounded a lot like a platitude to me. Saying that does not make someone who just flunked something feel any better. In fact, it makes us feel like you don’t understand.

As a student, I entered university to learn and to have a good time. So I didn’t think CAP would be a problem. I was told that when I got to university I would enjoy what I did – I thought that meant I’d do good in it too.

When I was in Year 1 and the grades weren’t that bad at the end of the first year, I wasn’t too bummed. I still enjoyed learning at the end of the day. Year 2 ended and the grades had began to plunge: I enjoyed myself, but it started to weigh on me that my CAP was a bigger influence on my life than I had thought it would be.

It was Year 3 where my CAP had plunged to the point where anymore of a drop would prevent from moving on to Honours Year. Terrified, I wondered that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this after all – or maybe I didn’t trust God enough. Maybe I should have studied harder (though I honestly studied my head off).

To appreciate the still small voice, it has to be contrasted with the fire, earthquake and wind.

My brain kept beating itself up that I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t even that I was a failure to my parents or society. To everyone who knew me, I was happy, enthusiastic and even somewhat of an achiever.

But I knew I had failed myself. I failed despite all my hours of hard work. I failed in living up to an upbringing that had taught me discipline and resilience.

I failed myself, and I couldn’t live with that.

Above all, I was questioning where God was in all of this? Isn’t Jesus supposed to define me?

Where was He then? Where was He when I honoured Him, put Him as my number one priority … And yet I felt like He failed me? Where was He at my weakest?

I thought of Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 19). All alone, he was running for his life. And Elijah asked God where He was in his time of need?

The Bible says that there was a great wind, then an earthquake, then a fire – but God wasn’t in any of them. God was in the still, small voice. He was there. He was always there.

To appreciate the still small voice, it has to be contrasted with the fire, earthquake and wind. If I never had any trials, I wouldn’t understand what it means to know God is there for me. He is my gentle whisper – my comfort through it all.

It’s true that your CAP will decide a lot of things in life. But Jesus defines me: I am a child of God.

Nothing can change the truth that the still small voice of God will be there in every wind and fire and earthquake that comes my way. So while CAP may play a role in deciding things like how much I earn, it is God who directs my destiny.

So, maybe don’t tell people it “doesn’t define them” in a way that makes it seem like you’re shrugging off the reality of their disappointment or pain. Tell them instead that it’s okay to grieve and feel pain – it’s normal to be sad and frustrated about failure.

Let them hear the still small voice of Jesus through you, telling them to go on. CAP, grades, accolades … These things are important, but they will fade away someday.

Only God’s gentle whispers – His Word – never will (Matthew 24:35).

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I’m afraid of life after university

3 things I wish I knew before starting university

REVIVE: What students mean for national revival

The best lessons I learnt in school

I was so sure where the path would lead – and then the music faded

Does my CAP define me?