To be loved but not feel loved. Is that still love? Most of us love only in our own definition of love, the way we personally receive and understand love to look like.
We speak different love languages and not always each others’, which is why the people whom we love may not truly feel loved. Because of our inflexibility towards expressions of love, we stubbornly choose to only do things that we think are right and loving to us.
So many people see love as a “miracle” that heal wounds completely. As a result, we have the tendency to think that others can “save” me with their love, and if they fail to, they should leave.
But to me, love isn’t the ability to “save”, but more like a “band-aid” – to just be there as healing takes its place.
We live in an age where “convenience” and the “easy way out” are paths most would choose. Sadly, this has what happened to love as well. When misunderstandings arise, when we come to a point of disagreements, we choose convenience over conversation, we’d rather move on than press on.
Love these days has been commercialised, its worth reduced to something that we use to profit ourselves, that we pick and choose like consumers.
Everyone wants to love and be loved, but not everyone is willing to go through the hassle of sticking it out through thick and thin, growing through trials, desiring to reach that elusive “forever”.
And very often I have to remind myself, “Your forever-kind-of-love isn’t for just anyone, but the right ones will stay“.
I believe that the word “love” was never so carelessly thrown about in the past. People didn’t say it unless they meant it. But not today, and so many of us hurt because of it.
Love these days has been commercialised, its worth reduced to something that we use to profit ourselves, that we pick and choose like consumers.
Honestly, there’s absolutely no way we can truly love without knowing God’s love for us.
God’s love doesn’t bind and blind you. It is freeing, and it gives you sight. Sight to see our flaws, but also to see beyond our ego and desire to change for the better. It is patient, it is kind …
And it never lets go.
This is a submission from a participant of our Christmas Gift Exchange. From now till the end of December 2017, we are giving away a limited edition Thir.st Tumbler in exchange for every story on the Christmas themes of love, joy, peace, hope and giving. Click here to find out more.
So when you find yourself in a bad situation, how do you respond? The writer said he took his mind off things by hitting social media, scanning Instagram feeds, to take his mind off things.
Again, I don’t get it. I mean, I guess I was also busy gaining followers, but really, if you’re somewhere for a reason, don’t run away from it! Just do the job you were sent to do!
And then he mentioned that at some point, he briefly fell asleep, which came to him as a blessed relief. Sleep? Bad move.
Finally, he can’t take it anymore. Before it’s time to check out, before he’s properly done his job so he can tell everyone that it is finished, he … cops out. Escapes. Quits.
Me? Never. If I left, what would have happened to this place, Earth, and all the people in it?
It’s really simple. My Father sent me to bring hope and offer eternal life. The suffering was part of the deal – the price had to be paid for the sin of all mankind. I knew that. I knew I’d have to live with the grime of life and the horrors of humanity.
You think a smelly toilet and a couple of cockroaches is bad? Remember, I come from a place where there are no tears – no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain. Relatively speaking, at least in terms of where I used to stay and where I had to spend a short period, I think I had it a bit worse than that writer.
But it had to be done.
Why? You, of course.
I did it for you.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil —and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.(Hebrews 2:14, 15, 17)
I first knew of Aarksara when she was a guest worship leader in my home church a few years back. Her energy was not only infectious, you could feel a deep sense of joy and triumph as she sang unto the Lord. There were no traces of pretension.
Raised and educated in Australia, God started to speak to Aarksara about her heritage — she’s half-Thai and half-Singaporean — and grew her heart for Asia when she was older, drawing her to a region that she had no intention to invest into.
Today, one of the fruits of her labour is the Vocal Summit, a platform that seeks to equip and empower musicians in Asia. She shares about the genesis of this project and how it weaves into the larger narrative of musicians in our part of the world.
How did you start singing and worship leading?
I grew up in church. When I was eight years old, an uncle had asked me to sing during communion because he wanted a break from having to sing during communion every week. I sang “Shepherd Of My Soul” by Marty Nystrom — it not only made me happy, something in my spirit lifted each time I sang! It also seemed like everyone around me felt the same.
After attaining my degree in Commerce, I fell really sick; I was practically stuck at home for nine months — I couldn’t even make it to a job interview. I wanted to find something that would take my mind off the recovery period and then I found out that I could do Berklee College’s program off-campus!
I eventually received a Specialist Certificate in General Music Studies from Berklee College of Music, Boston. I am also currently undertaking a certification in Professional Voice Development with the New York Singing Teachers Association.
Was there a time where you questioned your gift in singing or call to worship lead?
There have definitely been challenges along the way! People doubted my ability to sustain myself through music, especially when it came to paying the bills. But God has always provided for me every step of the way!
Another challenge would be memorising lyrics — I used to think that I wouldn’t be able to be a worship leader because everyone seemed to know their lyrics inside out and I did not. I’ve overcome that by just placing the lyrics sheet right in front of me, even on some of the biggest stages I’ve performed on.
Through this, I felt God lifted off that “performance” mentality and replaced it with a “worship Me” mentality.
Through all the challenges, I have decided that no matter what happens, I am going to follow Jesus. He is the one that encourages me every day. Trusting Jesus in every moment of my life is how I overcome doubt or anxiety. I choose Him, always. Sometimes I have to close my eyes and cling onto Him tightly!
Could you share with us what your ministry stands for today?
Today, I travel to train and equip singers and worship teams to use their skills and talents with excellence all for the glory of God!
The starting point was during the time when I fell ill after university. Doctors discovered a lump on my lower back and I had to go for an operation. Even though it was supposed to take six weeks to recover, it eventually took nine months.
I fell into severe depression as a result. I was not only in intense physical pain 24/7, I was also in emotional pain; I battled suicidal thoughts daily and wanted everything to end.
However, one day, one of the National Youth Worship Directors called me (I was a worship leader before my illness) and asked me if I could help train a few national youth worship leaders. I told him that I couldn’t leave my house (I couldn’t drive or walk much), so he started sending these young worship leaders to me for training.
The word got out and soon other worship teams found out and asked me to train them too. This was the start of my breakthrough: by taking my mind off my hopeless situation, pushing through the pain, and walking through the fire, even though my students had no idea about the battle that was going on in my mind. God freed me through worship and teaching.
Could you share with us how you founded Vocal Summit?
We had our first Vocal Summit last year in November. I felt there was a gap in Asia: workshops and summits weren’t available to singers and songwriters who live on this part of the globe. It’s common to have amazing summits overseas, such as in Australia and America, but not in Asia.
I felt that God’s direction was: “Do it. You have the resources and contacts, so do it.” Therefore, I started gathering my friends from Israel & New Breed, Planetshakers, and Crossover Music to fly over to Asia to share their knowledge and skills with singers and musicians in this region. I’m grateful for them!
What is the heart behind this event?
The name U Wonder actually stands for “Unlimited Wonder.” I really believe God wants us to be teachable always — for us to be in a place of unlimited wonder. Instances such as, “Oh, I wonder how I can do that vocal riff’ or “Oh, I wonder how I can make my choir sound fuller.” I believe these summits will help equip, inspire, and empower singers and musicians across Asia.
Why is it held in Singapore and Bangkok?
I guess it’s because of my roots: my dad is Singaporean and my mom is Thai! I’ve always had a strong connection with both cities. I was very close to my Singaporean grandma; when she passed away right before my eyes, it hit me hard. I didn’t want to return to Singapore ever again, as I associated it with my sadness and loss.
Yet, one day, I found myself back in Singapore as a guest worship leader at Cornerstone Community Church (it is now my home church when I’m back here). It also just so happens that my grandma’s home is down the road from church. God has healed my heart slowly but surely.
I had also never wanted to return to Bangkok, as I found the spiritual atmosphere so eerie and “dark.” However, I found myself being invited to conduct workshops and was commissioned for songwriting projects in Thailand. Today, I reside in Bangkok.
God called me back to Asia — a place where I didn’t want to return to — when I was so happy in my “perfect world” in Australia. But I’ve chosen to live this life with Him. Wherever He leads, I will go.
What do you hope to see in Singapore within the next 5 years?
I pray there will be an awakening among Singaporeans, especially musicians in Singapore. There are two prevailing attitudes that could be improved upon: “I’m good enough — there’s nothing new I need to learn” and “I’m too busy; I have this and that to do and have no time to enhance my skills by taking lessons or attending workshops/summits.”
May we not be in a place of laziness, and always be willing and eager to keep bettering themselves for the glory of God. There’s always more!
U Wonder’s Vocal Summit aims to inspire, equip and empower musicians and songwriters in Asia and beyond. It takes place on Jun 30, 2018, at SLV Hub. You can register here. Enter the code, THIRSTSINGS, to get $15 off your registration fee.
This article was first published on Selah.sg, and is republished with permission.
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 intofull-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. Italked 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 andknown 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 myfirst 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 mythree 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 calledJustice 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 rundiscipleship 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 theDaniels-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.
I was an early bloomer in terms of romantic relationships, and started having serious relationships since the age of 15.
My first relationship was with a Christian. Both of us believed in God, but that didn’t automatically mean that our relationship was a healthy one. We pushed the boundaries in intimacy, and did everything short of the technical definition of sex.
The whole time, I consoled myself that this was okay because “we were in love,” and “we’re both Christians”. After daily disagreements and fights for two years, our relationship ended.
Wanting to escape the problems of that relationship, I jumped into a new one right away, without much thought or repentance. This round, it was with a non-Christian.
Again, we pushed boundaries. But this time, we took things further than I had ever expected or planned to – in the heat of the moment, I lost my virginity to my second boyfriend. That night, I cried and cried, not being able to sleep a wink, as I learned the hard way that “lost innocence can never be retrieved”.
I felt obliged to hang on to this unhealthy and unequally yoked relationship, believing I couldn’t leave after I had given all of myself to him. For nearly three years, this relationship dragged on.
During those trying years, I faced an endless war within my soul. My ongoing secret sex life stood in stark contrast to my weekly church attendance. I felt disgusting, dirty, and guilty. I was full of self-hatred.
I knew that what I was doing was wrong, and yet I felt like I had neither capacity nor strength to escape it. It was like an addiction – just once more, and that’s it, I told myself. But “it” was never the last.
I grew distant from God. I would be physically present in church but spiritually absent. I would teach about putting God first, when in reality I made my own fleshly desire ruler of my heart. I would go to prayer meetings, but my mind would be wandering. I was living a double life, and this had become my deepest, darkest secret.
Most of all, I was convinced that I was beyond God’s saving grace. I was absolutely certain that God hated me.
And yet, God never gave up on me; He kept pursuing me. People around me would reach out to me, asking me if I was okay or if I needed to talk; Bible verses would jump out at me; sermons lovingly delivered would knock on the door of my heart. But just like Pharaoh, my heart was hardened.
I was convinced that I was beyond God’s saving grace; I was absolutely certain that God hated me.
Years later, through God’s amazing grace, my eyes were opened at last. I decided to put an end to this toxic relationship, and despite how much it scared me, something prompted me to talk to a trusted friend.
So I did; I reached out to my mentor, a lady from church who had led me through my youth days. I vividly remember her asking whether I wanted her to call me, or if I was more comfortable communicating through text. I chose the latter because of the awkwardness and the judgement I feared.
I finally gathered up the courage to share with her my darkest secret: I am not a virgin. My heart was pounding. I expected her to condemn me or say I should leave church.
Instead, she told me that she had been paying attention to me, and that she noticed how I was drifting away – not paying attention, always distracted. She even thanked me for sharing something so difficult with her, and also reassured me that my life was not over, and that God did not hate me because of sin.
She reminded me that sin is in fact, pervasive in everyone’s lives. All mankind has fallen short of the glory and holiness of God (Romans 3:23). It didn’t mean that I was worse than others because of what I did. It just meant that I was a fallen human being.
Romans 5:8 came to my mind: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
For the first time, I grasped the reality that God can forgive me for a sin I felt had separated me from Him forever. No matter how much I had spiralled downwards, I was never too far for Jesus to save. In fact, Jesus had already delivered me from the moment I accepted Him into my heart.
I was overwhelmed by His surpassing grace, full of gratitude that God had heard my cry to “hide [His] face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity” (Psalm 51:9).
I realised that God had allowed my iniquities to break me, to the point where there was really nothing else I could do but look up to Him for deliverance. And it was during the darkest night of my soul that God filled me.
There is indeed no other name like Jesus; I would never have experienced or known this without having been broken, and then put back together by His faithful hands.
For anyone else who may be suffering in a pit of shame, I would like to encourage you with these precious truths that spoke to me:
1. Do not underestimate the power of Jesus’ blood and redemption
God said to ancient Israel, who turned away from Him again and again, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). Surely, God will remember us too. Because of Him, our past does not dictate our future.
2. Remember that we as sinful human beings are all broken, and that God does not despise even the lowliest, should we choose to turn to Him
“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
People may look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the condition of our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). He looks at inward purity and glorification of Christ, rather than simply outward virtue.
3. While your virginity is a beautiful gift for your future spouse, the best thing you can possess is a steadfast love to God
A week into the relationship with my current partner, I was convicted to tell him about my past. I knew I was risking it all as I struggled to get the words out. When I finally finished, his reply encapsulated almost perfectly the love of God.
He said, “I’m not angry with you. We all have had our own past mistakes, but these past mistakes do not make you who you are. I mean, that’s why we need God, right? We make these mistakes, yes, but we ourselves are a separate entity from these sins because of God’s forgiveness. These sins are not a part of who we are. I still love you.”
With time, I’ve learned that the struggles I’ve had were never mine alone, and that God can use our vulnerability and brokenness for His glory. What was once a burden I could barely bear has now become a testimony I can use to reach out to and share with other struggling individuals, being a vessel of God’s love to them.
My prayer for anyone struggling is that God will transform your pain into your strength and testimony to minister to others, and to glorify Him. Commit yourself to continuous prayer for restoration and surrender your burdens to God each and every day.
Find a friend or a mentor you absolutely trust, and walk through the journey of healing together. God’s arms are always open to receive you, just like the father welcomed the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31).
This article was first published on YMI.today, and is republished with permission.