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Faith

Maybe the green pastures aren’t all that green

by | 3 August 2017, 7:04 PM

The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:1-2)

All my life I had envisioned the “green pastures” in Psalm 23 to look something like the classic Windows wallpaper, “Bliss”. You’re definitely acquainted with it: rolling hills against a pastoral landscape.

Picture-perfect peace.

In this world, however, most of us know by now that life isn’t all that simple. Perhaps instead of peace, some of us feel preyed upon in this world. For some of us, the peaceful images of the Psalms have no resonance — our “quiet waters” might look more like a raging river (Psalm 23:2).

Or the “right paths” might be roads we once knew a long time ago, but can no longer find (Psalm 23:3). Certainly, our present struggles and anxieties may feel more real to us than God. And yet in spite of them, He – our great Shepherd – is still greater.

I’m not saying this to trivialise your pain. By greater, I mean that God meets us where we are — but won’t leave us there. Greater means he leads us for His name’s sake — for His glory (Psalms 23:3). He’s got His eye on greater, higher things whether we’re in good times — or in our darkest valley (Psalms 23:4).

We must believe that God desires to guide us to life — and all we need to do is follow Him.

THE END IN MIND

I do get it. The narrow path is so difficult to find because we live in a culture that has conditioned us to put our heads down in the grind (Matthew 7:14). The Singaporean hustle really looks like a logical way to life. But do you want to finally look up when you are 50 only to realise you’ve missed God’s best for you?

The problem is that the process becomes life itself, and we forget all about the destination. We punched in “paradise” into the GPS early on — but stopped for something cheaper and easier.

In light of worldly wisdom and logic, it’s worth considering what David’s starting point was: I lack nothing.

The problem is that the process becomes life itself, and we forget all about the destination.

He wasn’t kiasu. He didn’t fear lack, like we are so prone to. He didn’t strive. Don’t forget that this was a man who had lived both as king and cave-dwelling fugitive. David understood both gain and pain.

And yet he had peace — true peace — which came only from God.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2)

What does God do for His sheep when they allow Him to lead them? I believe that in His mercy, He first makes His sheep lie down. He makes us stop in our tracks — when all we want to do is run around and do our own thing.

Then He gently whispers: Stop striving. Here is everything you will ever need. Trust me. Lie here for a bit, be still, and I will refresh you. Trust me.

WITH EYES WIDE OPEN

In David’s time, green pastures certainly weren’t like the pastoral ones on our wallpapers. They probably were more like life-sustaining, little patches of life through a desert.

In such a harsh environment, the sheep would require their Shepherd to guide them, often to places that might not look promising, like a rocky outcrop. But often, after a long climb up steep rocks, there would be life-sustaining nourishment.

For us, being good sheep doesn’t mean having blind faith. It means having faith and being obedient — counting the cost and following the Shepherd. It takes trust — trust in the Shepherd and His character — but we gain peace from doing so (Isaiah 26:3).

Instead of simply counting the cost of following the straight and narrow path — count the cost of not doing so.

We desperately need to know what it really means to follow Christ. We must never confuse the peace of following God with coasting in life. True Christianity isn’t about frolicking in worldly abundance and chilling out on nice green pastoral hills.

It’s war.

It’s a lifetime of fighting where souls are at stake. Indeed, the race and “the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12) rage on each and every single hour of our lives on earth. With such a difficult road to travel on, it’s little wonder that many of us take detours or shortcuts through the woods.

But instead of simply counting the cost of following the straight and narrow path — count the cost of not doing so.

TRUST — CAST — REJOICE

When we consider how much is at stake and how fiercely we must fight, we may become anxious. In keeping our peace and eyes on the heavenward prize — here are some handles:

  • Trust the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • Cast your anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7)
  • Rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 4:4-7)

When we align our lives to His will, we’re placing our whole lives in His hand, and now the LORD Himself is going to act (Psalm 37:3-5) on our behalves.

What an assurance it is that peace doesn’t lie in our abundant surroundings — in mere things so prone to flux and change. Instead, true peace comes from trusting and walking with an unchanging and sovereign God. Think of Jesus who rested peacefully in the boat’s stern (Mark 4:35-41) as the storm raged — Peace lies in the boat with us.

So what to the raging river. So what to the storms of this life. And so what to the sting of death.

The Lord our God is with us and for us: there’s no more need to be afraid.

/ 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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The day I lost my dad

by Jolynn Chia | 18 October 2017, 1:06 AM

I have been a control freak most of my life.

My core belief was in the importance of control. If I lost control, I’d lose everything I’d ever worked for and wanted. I believed I deserved everything I had because I’d earned them with my very own hands. I didn’t have a personal relationship with God then, and it was a false sense of security.

That life fell apart the day my Dad had a heart attack and passed on.

Even during the funeral, I was still trying to control every aspect of it. I had to. Who could blame me? My Mum was so depressed she couldn’t do anything, my two younger siblings barely knew what was going on and my relatives were either overseas or busy with work.

In reality, I was reluctant to do anything because all I really wanted to do was to sit at home and cry.

I especially hated having to arrange the funeral because I found Dad’s sudden death unbelievably ridiculous. He was just cycling two days ago, and he had never complained of any heart issues. I was so angry at God. How could He punish me like that? Why?

I tried my best. I wrote the eulogy while settling endless administrative matters. I hosted guests whom I appreciated but could not welcome heartily because I had just lost my parent and felt utterly deprived of space to weep. I was exhausted sharing anecdotes of my Dad to people who might not have met him in person. I even tried to ensure that the eulogy was delivered calmly, yet mildly humorous so as not to bore my audience.

Control, control, control. I didn’t sleep a wink.

But even in that dreadful week, God showed His faithfulness to me. Every day, I received encouraging and comforting text messages. Friends and church mates whom I thought I never had a connection with came regardless and grieved with my family and me.

The second night, I dreamt of my Dad queuing at Heaven’s gates. And when choosing the Bible verse for my Dad’s plaque in the niche, my sister and I searched randomly on the Internet until we chose Daniel 12:3 for its beauty. A week later, I found out that chapter features the archangel Michael, which is my Dad’s name.

“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)

If you’ve ever had to purchase a niche position, you’d know that the eye level ones are the hardest to get. All the eye level niches were crossed out from the availability chart by the time we received it.

Nevertheless, the day we went down to the columbarium we learnt that the number “0414” was the only eye level niche not taken up. April 14 was Good Friday, the same week my Dad passed away in. I think he would have liked it. It was a divine gift.

I knew all these things happened because God wanted to reassure us that even the suffering of life is part of His divine plan, and He is with us every step of the way. He would never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).

But this truth felt far away on the darker days.

I came to harbour a quiet bitterness towards people who did not understand my pain. I mean, how many people in their mid-twenties have had experienced their parent dying overnight of a heart attack with no warning signs at all?

How many people could truly comprehend, empathise with and relate to the deep regrets and self-hatred I had in my heart? How many friends could I cry with? How many people saw how it fractured my life?

Even my Mum and siblings had different ways of dealing with grief, oscillating between denial and distraction.

My grief was uncontrollable. It would come like a thief in the middle of the night, in the day, during bus rides.

I did not trust that anyone would understand my experience, and most people understandably did not have the courage to probe. My grief was uncontrollable. It would come like a thief in the middle of the night, in the day, during bus rides.

But just when I thought the darkness would never end, God mercifully brought two sisters-in-Christ who had similar experiences to journey with me. They graciously saved me from falling into the Devil’s crafty lie that no one cared – not even God himself.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Over the months that have passed, God has met me personally in my grief and hopelessness. He’s been there in my loneliness, purposelessness and anger. I can say this with all my conviction: It has been an arduous process, but He has not let me go. Though my whole world might fall apart – I know I will never fall out of His love.

As a former control freak, I’ve now accepted that I cannot control everything that happens to me. But I do know that all that has happened is of His divine will, and I’m letting that be enough.

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Take me, take this life

by Esther Lo | 17 October 2017, 4:41 PM

When the Holy Spirit came mightily on the day of Pentecost, it was in a room where the people of God were assembled together.

“…they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:23-31)

Powerful things happen when the people of God assemble together in unity.

It has always been on my heart to write something with the songwriters in our youth ministry for God’s glory. I believe that my church is called by God to write and produce songs that glorify Him and equip the local church to worship together.

Some of us from the youth worship ministry in my church had gathered to write a fast-tempo song for our upcoming album. Having never worked together before, this was the first time we wrote a song together. As we were brainstorming, we thought of what Jesus did at the cross: He surrendered His life for us.

And just as He sacrificed His life for us, we want to give our lives back to Him as our response in joyful surrender.

We ended up writing this song more quickly than anticipated. We were pleasantly surprised at the result and fascinated by how organic the process was. It started off with just a few chords. Then as we sang melodies over it, along with a few placeholder phrases, the lyrics somehow developed and we had a full, fast tempo song which all of us fell in love with.

It eventually became one of the key songs for our church album. Today as we pray over it, we believe God can use it to bless many other young Singaporeans.


Generations Worship is the youth worship ministry of Cornerstone Community Church. Their album “Lean On” will be released on November 17. Pre-order starts October 21. A night of worship will also be open to all on Nov 17 at Cornerstone Community Church to celebrate the album launch. Follow their Facebook page for more updates. 

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Am I still a female if I’m unfeminine?

by | 16 October 2017, 12:37 PM

I was never a feminine girl.

Just ask my grandma. She’ll confirm that I used to be punished with the boys for being a nuisance during kindergarten. We’d face the wall as our punishment – and I would invariably be the only girl standing among a row of boys.

At home, my mom would often berate me for being chor lor (uncouth) as I liked to sit with one foot propped up on my chair. She wasn’t a fan of the habit I picked up from my Dad; it made me look like a Chinese coolie, she said.

More recently, in my university days, my female friends would laugh at my lack of empathy. Memorably, I once dozed off in front of a friend who was droning on and on about her problems.

Aiyah, Siqi thinks and acts like a guy lah,” my friends joked. I laughed along. I really didn’t mind the label they slapped on me. I thought it was accurate.

Until I became the leader of an all-female cell group.

IDENTITY CRISIS

I became painfully aware of how different I was after I was thrown into this group of girls. Having to intentionally reach out to them on a regular basis, my stunted emotional intelligence in the realm of feminine conversation proved to be a barrier in relating to my cell girls.

I just wasn’t girly enough.

Soon, I began to question something I had never thought about, something I had never cared before: My identity as a female.

That night, I cried myself to sleep. I was afraid there was something wrong with me. I felt like a disappointment and a failure. I was even afraid of what God would think of me.

Comparing yourself to others is poisonous for the soul.

In an attempt to become more feminine, I began to imitate my other female friends. But I could never measure up; I wasn’t as gentle as this girl, as relational, as patient. I found myself constantly miserable and tired from chasing other people’s shadows.

Comparing yourself to others in this way is poisonous for the soul. I ended up feeling even more confused about my identity. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

That was when it hit me: I was worried about going against God’s design, but I was now doing it all the more.

God didn’t create me to impersonate others. I’m unique (Psalms 147:4) and crafted with a specific purpose (Ephesians 2:10). I was dead wrong thinking I could “create” my identity by trying to be like someone else.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t model ourselves after our Biblical heroes. There’s a difference between imitating people and imitating Christlike values. While I can’t express compassion the same way my friend does, I can learn from her to be more empathetic in my own way.

I’m called to imitate Christ, not to be a poor copy of somebody else. When I try to imitate others, I’m only losing out on how I was uniquely created by God and what I was designed to offer (1 Corinthians 12:18-20, 1 Peter 4:10).

CHRIST IS IDENTITY

It took me a long time to understand that my identity is only determined by my Maker.

People may say that I act like a tomboy, and some days I feel like the most unfeminine person on earth – but ultimately it’s what my Creator says that truly matters.

It took me a long time to understand that my identity is only determined by my Maker.

I’m a female because that’s what God made me (Psalm 100:3).

All I need to do is to simply abide in God, obey His Word, and I know He will lead me to become the person He created me to be (John 15:5, Romans 12:2, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Sure, I may not be feminine – I still sit like a coolie when I eat my meals at home – but I’m me. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Me.

/ 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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How often do you talk to someone you love?

by | 16 October 2017, 12:07 PM

My cell leader recently asked us this question: How do we build and maintain a relationship with God?

His answer: The same way we would with a romantic partner.

When you’re in a relationship, you talk with your partner throughout the day. You send them little snippets of what you’re up to, update them on your plans, get their opinions on which dress to buy.

When you love someone, they maintain a strong presence in our mind. You want to know what they’re up to, and you want them to be involved in your life. You talk about anything and everything. Even if they’re not there physically, you stay connected by phone, Facetime, WhatsApp.

I’ve had seasons of my life where I knew what it meant to be in love with God. Hope – confidence in the things to come – is a byproduct of this intimacy.

Shouldn’t this be the same way we look at our relationship with God? Since a relationship is built on intimacy, how can we say we love someone when we don’t even talk to Him much — or at all?

How many of us pray as a last-ditch attempt to get help? When we’re desperate and have already exhausted all other options? How often do we reduce God to a mere emergency hotline?

My relationship with God has seen me through some of the darkest and toughest times in my life. I can’t deny the love that He has for me; I’ve seen His promises come to pass.

I’ve had seasons of my life where I knew what it meant to be in love with God, not from afar. This kind of love is invigorating. It gives everything clarity, and it helps me to make sense of things even when things aren’t going well. Hope – confidence in the things to come – is a byproduct of this intimacy.

But if I have to be honest, I can’t say that it’s like that now. But in such seasons I bring to mind the joy and peace that were my constant companion during those seasons of intimacy. I want to make it a point to intentionally pursue Him, hopefully with the same passion that He pursues me with.

So I pray.

I take these prayers as mini-conversations with God. Rather than fixate on fixed slots and the ritual of prayer, I’ve come to learn it can happen anywhere and everywhere. It can happen on the way to work, when I’m in the middle of a meeting, when I’m on the bus home.

Wherever, whenever. The point is to stay plugged in.

WHY SHOULD WE PRAY?
It’s our gratitude to God for all that He has done and will do (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
It’s the walking out of our faith (1 John 5:14).
It gives us His peace (Philippians 4:6-7).
It gives us His wisdom (Jeremiah 33:3).
It’s how we acknowledge HIs sovereignty, and surrendering our lives to Him (Proverbs 3:6).

God wants to know everything about you, so feel free to tell him about anything that’s on your heart. Prayer doesn’t have to be long or repetitive (Matthew 6:7), it can be without any agenda apart from just being with God.

Praying calms the raging seas that are our hearts. The stillness that Psalm 46:10 talks about is not just about some physical silence. Instead, it’s found in the silence of our hearts’ whims. This comes with the assurance that He’s got everything under control.

Make prayer your lifestyle, not a checklist.

If you haven’t been making time to talk to God, try doing it today. Talk to Him about whatever you’re doing, and share with Him whatever is weighing on your heart — the same way you would with someone who’s close to you.

And if you’re praying for a breakthrough, take heart. Keep pressing in, trusting that God won’t let you down (Luke 18:1-8). Constant prayer is our best shot against doubt, discouragement and fear.

Make prayer your lifestyle, not a checklist.

/ sarakohxx@gmail.com

Sara is inquisitive and a self-professed conversationalist. She hopes to learn something new with every interaction and also happens to enjoy writing about them.

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Article list

Maybe the green pastures aren’t all that green

The day I lost my dad

#THIRSTACOUSTIC: Take Me

Take me, take this life

Am I still a female if I’m unfeminine?

How often do you talk to someone you love?