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Work

I just want to be a useful person

by | 12 April 2018, 11:23 AM

I had about 15 seconds to spare as I stood by my kitchen sink, waiting for my water bottle to fill up. It doesn’t take long for my mind to switch to its usual preoccupations. I was thinking of work.

Not the work I immediately had to do – 15 seconds wouldn’t be enough to sort that out! – but work in general. My job. My career.

In my wandering mind, I likened my life to a garden. There I saw an area overgrown with weeds – the corner of the garden marked out as “work”. The more I compared my career with others, the more the weeds of worry seemed to grow.

Their gardens seemed to be flourishing with fulsome, blooming varieties of financial security and career progression, while mine felt sad in comparison. I don’t even know how long my current job arrangement will last, and if I am cut out for the job.

When I looked at other gardens, I only saw how bad mine looked in comparison.

I came to realise that should I spend time comparing myself to others, I would neglect tending to what I had in my garden. Instead of thinking of ways to grow my skill sets, I would cease to take pride in my work. I lamented yet remained passive, and that nurtured a worrisome heart.

I thought that I might appear more successful if I had a full-time job instead of holding on to contract jobs. I thought that if I would be more fulfilled if I could have something more substantial on my resume – a “conventional” job arrangement so I don’t seem like a failure.

A worried heart is fertile soil for half-truths and flat-out lies. Whether waiting for my water bottle to fill up (or for the green man to appear on the traffic light), I found myself entertaining such thoughts over and over again.

“I don’t think God cares about what’s going on in my life. He’s too big for that.”

Even a quick examination of that accusation against God would have deflated the argument; but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to do that. Somehow I found myself special enough that God would overlook me – just me.

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

Am I not of value to my heavenly Father? In response to such a magnificent truth, my grumbling and self-doubt had to give way to a careful evaluation of the way I was living. And then I realised that my main gripe wasn’t really about my job or what I was doing – but whether it all mattered to God.

What I realised, then, was that I had a responsibility to my job, whatever the title was and however long it was I was doing it for. I have a purpose, and it is to honour God with the work of my hands. This matters to Him.

The more I sought clarity on my goal – that He be glorified through me – and remembered His love for me, the less I doubted His heart towards me.

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)

It may have been more practical to pray for a different job when I was feeling anxious about my future or career prospects. But I didn’t. Instead, I held on to a little prayer I had whispered under my breath more than one year ago.

Back then, I prayed that He would help me become a useful person – it was my moment with God most High and I knew that He heard me. I prayed that I’d be useful wherever I work. That prayer remains.

When I forget my value, He calls me to look at creation and rest in the knowledge that He is my Father and provider. And in that rest I find strength again to ask that He uses me – everything I offer – and makes me fit for every work that is set before me.

I just have to be faithful to tend to what is in my garden.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and deeply devoted to her dogs. She is also a strange introvert who loves good chats with strangers and anyone with a story. At other times, you'll find her watching nature in wonder, wherever the sunlight touches with gold.

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Finding my first job and learning when (not) to leave

by Chantel Tay | 19 June 2018, 5:03 PM

“Everyone has a job, all your friends are working, everybody is employed.” The voices echoed in my head. I was 18 years old and unemployed, looking for my very first job. The fear of stepping out into an entirely new environment alone scared me, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready.

I didn’t want to jump into a random job just because of societal pressure or just because I felt accountable to others. Yet the pressure I was facing was intense. I eventually succumbed to it, and began sending in emails to various companies to enquire.

I prayed that if God had a path for me to take, He would open the doors of opportunities to me because I did not have a direction in mind. But Romans 8:5 tugged at my heart: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

Romans 8:8 further emphasises that “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” I knew that I was falling into the pit of fear-based, not faith-based decisions – but I was unsure of how to pull myself out of it.

By God’s grace, doors for employment opportunities remained close. I was so uncertain about so many things and I was extremely tired of trying to be in control; I wanted to learn to submit wholeheartedly to Him.

So I decided to take a break from job hunting and decided to focus on my walk with Him, allowing Him to guide my every step of the way. After a while, I no longer harboured thoughts of sourcing for a job on my own strength.

Four months later, I was having a conversation with a really treasured friend of mine, and she casually asked me if I was interested in helping out in an F&B chain. As I was always open to service line jobs and had a passion for food, I agreed.

When I began starting work, I enjoyed my job very much. I loved seeing food being cooked, and I took great interest in the small preparations that I was assigned. But not everything was smooth sailing, and problems began arising.

With no prior job experience, I often felt redundant and incompetent, lacking confidence to deal with on-job challenges, albeit how small they were. I really wanted to leave my job.

It was not until I chanced upon a video that changed my perspective on things.

I started to see that as an imperfect, fallen human being, was never going to achieve the desired perfection that I had idealised in my mind for so long. I was also reminded of the Parable of the Lost Sheep and how the shepherd left the 99 for the one lost sheep – a reflection of how much Jesus cares for us.

I also began to see myself not with the flaws I had, but as a child of God, one saved by His mercy and grace.

I knew that as a Christian, I wanted to model Christ even in my workplace. And leaving just because of small problems definitely wasn’t going to be the solution. Instead, it reflected irresponsibility. I felt that glorifying God in my work included being consistent, responsible and completing my job till the best of my ability.

Furthermore, this was my first job. I did not want to leave with the mentality that I could continue escaping from situations in the future. I didn’t want to give myself that chance to start this mistake, and go down the path of little perseverance.

I eventually made the decision to apologise for whatever problems arose, and continued my work with renewed strength and vigour.

Transitioning into work is often scary, especially when it is your first job. The environment is entirely raw, new and unfamiliar. But through this process, I thank God for constantly keeping me on track, for giving me the strength to work past each new day, and teaching me important lessons as I continue to be moulded in His image each day.

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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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Full-time under 30: From academia to the heart of Africa

by Jemima Ooi, Justice Rising | 4 June 2018, 2:14 PM

Before I was called into missions in my early twenties, I remember chatting with a close friend who was feeling the nudge towards full-time ministry. She asked me what I thought, and with gutsy conviction, I replied, “Being called out by God is the most humbling privilege anyone can ever receive.”

I still feel the same way now, after seven years in the field, and perhaps all the more convinced – although I have to admit my convictions waned a little when I was first called into the fray!

Truth is, I’ve caught whispers of my calling since I was a young girl. Since God lives outside of time, I believe He peppers glimpses of our callings throughout our lives. I recall having visions of working in refugee camps at the age of 14, and having recurring dreams about being amongst the poor as a child.

Sometimes the knowing was so deep, I would tell my mum as a little girl that I didn’t think my life would be very ordinary.

Life in the Congo

The faith journey that led me into full-time missions started while I was in university. At that time, I saw my contemporaries fizzle out in the faith, pursuing lifestyles that weren’t healthy for them.

I was deeply saddened in my spirit – some of my closest friends left God, and I couldn’t convince them to stay.

It occurred to me then that it wasn’t just about good deeds or character; it wasn’t about knowing right and wrong – these things alone didn’t go down deep enough into the heart of a person to establish them, anchor them in God.

Something was missing and I needed to find God for myself. I needed Him to be so real that nothing on earth could tear me away from our relationship. I needed to live in intimacy, in oneness with Him.

This was where my deep and personal relationship with God took off. I began to seek Him out. I would take walks alone with Him late at night for over two hours almost every day. I talked to Him about everything on my heart, and He listened.

He encouraged me, taught me how to study, how to write my essays. I felt deeply at peace and known by my Creator. Soon God began to speak to me about “going places with Him”. I heartily agreed but didn’t exactly know how it would unfold.

Being called out by God is the most humbling privilege anyone can ever receive.

As I walked and talked with Him, God helped me to excel in university. Some people described me as a “late bloomer”, but I know it was nothing apart from God.

My professors talked to me about scholarships and asked if I would consider a career in academia. Coming from my bumbling academic background growing up, this was by far the most prestigious offer I’d ever received in my life. I had also received several tempting job offers, but my heart was hesitant.

So I sat to pray in earnest; I remember telling God, “I can’t do any of this without You. If I stay in academia or take these other jobs, but You’re not with me, everyone will know I’m a hoax.”

“What do You desire for my life?”

He replied by telling me to serve my parents for a year, after which He would tell me then what He wanted me to do.

My parents run a restaurant called “Penang Place”, and I worked there for two years as a server, helping to manage the operations and communications of our little family business.

It was a humbling place where God was sifting my affections – whether it lay in the things of this world, the honour and prestige, or whether I was loyal to the things on His heart. At the end of one year, God spoke so clearly to me about becoming a missionary.

He spoke about giving off my first fruits to Him, not just my money, but my strength and youth –things that could not be bought or regained.

During this season when God was speaking, several visiting speakers actually approached me and told me that God had marked me “for the nations”. These people didn’t even know me! The confirmations just kept coming and I knew that it was time to leave.

From there, I signed up to train with an international missions organisation, Youth With A Mission (YWAM), gave up my right to material security as the world would understand it, said goodbye to my family … And followed the call of God on my life.

Of course, going full-time wasn’t without its intense challenges. The biggest was this: I had to give up all self-sufficiency and control.

I joke that my initial fail-safe plan was to work hard, put aside savings, find a husband with a similar call, and one day move our whole family to the mission field. It was an absurd plan, but it felt so logical in my mind.

Over the years I’ve learnt that I have to surrender full control to God, from trusting Him to provide for me and my heart, to protecting me in dangerous war zones. I also have to depend on God to send others to support God’s work through me. I am completely dependent.

Sometimes to live in His peace, one has to sacrifice understanding.

There were many sacrifices in the initial years, chief of all being “understanding”. I didn’t understand where provision would come from, what my three to five year plan was … When I first started out, I had many well-meaning people concerned that I was “throwing away my future”, others thought I was being too lofty and idealistic, impractical.

I had no answers for them; I really had nothing to show for myself – I didn’t even know where I was going for a while! All I had was the firm belief that God had placed a dream in my heart for the poor and broken, and I had to follow Him.

Washing the feet of villagers

In the Bible it talks about there being a “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7): Sometimes to live in His peace, one has to sacrifice understanding.

The peace I’ve found is that God is most acquainted with the future, that when He calls, He provides. He always has an employment plan for those who work for Him. My dad used to tell me, “God gives His best to those who leave the choice to Him.” I’ve found this to be true – my life is so fulfilling and genuinely happy.

It seems paradoxical for someone living in a war zone to feel this way, but there really is nothing else I want to do. Living by faith with no steady stream of income is baffling even to me, yet God has provided for my every need. What a wonderful thought, that God has made it His responsibility to watch over us!

Today, I work for a missionary organisation called Justice Rising. I work alongside a team of missionaries who are sold-out lovers of God. They leave everything behind to risk their lives in a war zone – and most don’t even get paid for it!

One of the key ways we help to benefit these poor and broken communities is through education. We build all kind of schools – preschools, primary and secondary schools, carpentry and sewing schools. We also run discipleship training schools where locals from 16 to 60 years of age and every livelihood – farmers, mamas, pastors – come to be trained up as missionaries for their country.

With one of the mamas at church

There are many benefits to having a school. As the community learns good hygiene practices, plagues decrease and sanitation improves. Children are able to get help for the trauma issues they face.

Most importantly, we are able to disciple future generations in the things of God. Our students leave school not just knowing about God, but with a deep and personal walk with Him. They are the Daniels-in-training that will bring the wisdom of God before kings and leaders to shape their nation in the years to come.


Besides her primary work in the Congo with Justice Rising, Jemima currently oversees two slum schools in India, is helping to develop a large refugee settlement in the central Kenyan desert while working with survivors from the genocide in Rwanda, and is supporting a Burundian refugee community. If you’d like to support the work, please visit Justice Rising’s donation page to make a contribution.

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The double life of a mission tripper

by | 23 May 2018, 8:05 PM

One thing about missions trips that I find beautiful is the simplicity of being.

What I mean is, life becomes simple in a holy way: All that matters each day is that we accomplish a work for God — something of eternal kingdom value. Working intentionally for God’s glory in any mission context is incredibly satisfying.

For example, on my mission trip to Thailand, even in the local culture of sabai-sabai (everything is “chill”), I still felt incredibly purposed driven. And with that God-given purpose came joy, not grumbling or questioning.

But life back home doesn’t always feel that way. I’m fortunate enough that I have a job I know I’m called to, so I don’t drag my feet to work. But there are still days where it’s a grind, and I’m tempted to lose sight of that original purpose and passion. I lose the joy and clarity that comes from a life of God-centred single-mindedness.

And in this stale context, the clock resets. You start counting down the days to the next mission trip, or the next holiday or whatever it is that will numb this second, “lesser” state of being.

Why is that?

Why the pendulum between the mission and the mundane? My conclusion is some of us might be leading two lives: The “mission” and the “grind”. Let me break it down further:

  • In my mission field, I live an intentional life centred on doing God’s “one thing”.
  • In Singapore I do a hundred things in one day, and only a few of those things are for God.

See, in the mission context, even the mundane things magically fall under the hierarchy of being done for God. For example, in the simple act of taking out the trash, it’s done intentionally so that God’s workers can keep going in a clean environment.

But in Singapore our eyes aren’t quite opened that way. If I have to take out the trash it’s a lot easier to ask, “Why do I have to do this? Why can’t someone else do it?”

And the reason for that spirit is because many of us work with a wrong hierarchy when it comes to God. We like to rank priorities. We say that God is number one, and then we rank other things below Him like family, work and relationships. It sounds good – but it falls short.

The correct mindset to have is God as number one in all things: God enthroned in my family, God enthroned in work, God enthroned over my relationships.

That’s what Jesus at the centre of it all means —”mission life” is that glimpse of a life ordered by a holy hierarchy.

What would Jesus find us doing in Singapore?

Would we still be standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side for the Gospel? What is the spirit of our life? And what are we truly striving for?

What would life look like if enjoying God, desiring God, furthering the kingdom or doing God’s work was also the overarching priority of our lives – just as it so tangibly is in the mission field?

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel.” (Philippians 1:27)

This is Paul is writing to the church in Philippi with much thanksgiving and joy. In the same chapter this portion comes a little after the famous part of Philippians where Paul says “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”.

I know a life with Jesus at the centre will be a glorious one – and it’s there for the taking. If you’re a regular mission tripper, let’s pray that the Lord will help us to take that intentionality from missions back into “normal” daily life.

God, help us discover what a life for Christ looks like.


With an expected one billion people in Asia moving from rural to urban areas by the year 2030, the number of world city dwellers is expected to rise to 70% by 2050. There is an urgent call to the Church, especially as the majority of new urban dwellers will be young (under 25 years old) and live below the poverty line ($2 a day).

The GoForth National Missions Conference, happening June 21-23, 2018, will look at an array of diverse strategies to empower individuals and churches to reach and transform cities with the love of Christ. Visit their website to find out out more.

/ 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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Are your holidays restful or restless?

by | 22 May 2018, 5:28 PM

The school holidays are back!

Nothing like a good, long break. Growing up, semester breaks were the one and only thing I looked forward to. And the best part? No need for alarms! I always looked forward to the grand plans of the holidays. But the excitement would never last beyond the first few weeks of holidays.

And now that I’m working, vacation days are even more valuable: Endless days spent lazing around, playing games and catching up on shows.

But … Is it just me, or does too much rest lead to restlessness?

I think we can agree that most people don’t actually like to study or work. Some would go as far as to term it as a necessary evil – something you have to do even when you don’t like it. Since labour feels like a curse, we see rest as the solution.

But did you know that work is actually a blessing?

Work was God’s idea right from the beginning, even before sin came into the picture. Work was part of the paradise that Adam and Eve lived in. But the Fall changed everything.

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17b-19)

Let’s be clear, what was cursed wasn’t work – but productivity. Work was meant for our fulfilment. Sin is what makes work awful to get through.

Passion without purpose is sprinting ahead without a destination in mind or worse – to the wrong destination.

Consider marriage: Adam and Eve’s relationship was also affected after the Fall, and we are still suffering the consequences even now – marriage is hard work. But does that mean marriage is no longer enjoyable and we should avoid it? By no means!

Marriage has its tough moments, but it is still a gift from God. When guided by His principles, it is fulfilling and fruitful.

The same goes for work and our studies. God loves to see diligence in his people (2 Timothy 2:6, Proverbs 12:24). So if work is a blessing, then perhaps an extended period of rest isn’t quite the answer to cure the drudgery we feel.

In fact, too much rest produces restlessness. Yes, rest is important. But we were never wired to do nothing (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).

So how do we enjoy work? I think it starts by knowing our purpose in life. People often say we should find our passion, and then let that passion guide what we do in life.

But I believe passion without purpose is sprinting ahead without a destination in mind or worse – to the wrong destination.

Before his conversion, Paul spent a life trying to be the perfect Pharisee. He was zealous about persecuting and imprisoning Christians.

So while Paul was a passionate man, he was passionate about the wrong things. After his conversion at Damascus, he finally found his purpose. And it produced profound change: From a man who only knew how to take lives, he became a man who gave his life to the Church and Christ.

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:7-9)

Being passionate is great, but it is your purpose that will determine your destination. So what is your purpose in life? You need to find it and pursue it passionately.

Don’t spend your holidays solely on a Netflix binge. The best thing you can do this June is to reflect on what your life counts for. What exactly are you living for? What do you hope to achieve at the end of your life?

If you seek God about it with all your heart, He will answer you.

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi loves to eat. Except for peas, egg yolk, cucumbers, livers, intestines. Among others. She also happens to be a writer.

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Article list

I just want to be a useful person

Finding my first job and learning when (not) to leave

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

Full-time under 30: From academia to the heart of Africa

The double life of a mission tripper

Are your holidays restful or restless?