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“I felt like the dumbest student in school”

by Denise Soon | 17 August 2017, 2:34 PM

I grew up in a family where I was always taught that “character is more important than how well you do in school”. My parents never pressured me to get straight As. They were okay with failure as long as I’d tried my best.

But I began to heap the expectations on myself when I was in Primary 6. I didn’t do very well for my PSLE and was placed in the Normal Academic stream.

I remember crying when I received my results. My parents couldn’t understand why I was so upset with myself when they were not.

I harboured high hopes for my future, but wouldn’t do anything to achieve any of it.

When I was 13, I realised that I wanted to pursue Psychology. I had it all planned out in my head – I’d go to Ngee Ann Polytechnic, then NUS. But despite these goals, I allowed myself to be distracted from my studies in secondary school.

I harboured high hopes for my future, but wouldn’t do anything to achieve any of it.

I was busy chasing relationships, and often got into disciplinary cases for bullying, truancy and disrespecting my teachers. I became this vulgar, hot-tempered, rebellious kid. I struggled academically.

There were times when I really wanted to change and get serious about my studies, but some of my teachers, peers and even my own family would say things like “You’re from Normal Academic, you’ll never get that far,” or “You’re not the studious type, don’t expect too much.”

I remember the worst insult I received from a teacher: “You’re Denise Soon, how can someone like you ever do well in school?”

Was being Denise Soon a bad thing? Was I hopeless?

I came to know God when I was 16 and I became determined to become a better student. But it was hard: I’d never learnt how to study. Only how to play.

So I didn’t do too well for my N-levels and O-levels, and I didn’t manage to get accepted to study Psychology at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. But I was thankful that my O-level results enabled me pursue Psychology at the University at Buffalo under SIM Global.

That meant I would start university at 17. I felt inferior: Most of the students there either had an A-level certificate or a poly diploma, whereas the different path I’d taken meant I was in university straight after my O’s.

I didn’t know anyone else who was under probation. I felt like the dumbest student in school. Part of me blamed God.

Someone told me, “Even if the rest don’t do well, they have something to fall back on, but you only have your O-level cert. If you fail, what can you do? Who would want to hire you? Which other school will accept you?”

I was scared.

According to the requirements of my major, if I were to get anything below a GPA of 2.5 for my first year, I could very possibly be expelled.

I also started to get heavily involved in church at that time. I started to serve as a life group leader, an actor and creative scriptwriter in the kids’ ministry, and as a musician. I was busy juggling church commitments and school for the next 2 years. But my grades were getting worse with each passing semester.

Before my 3rd year of university, I received an email from the school telling me that I was being placed on Academic Probation.

I was scared because I was left with just one more year. I didn’t want to get expelled. I was averaging a D-grade, and my average GPA every semester had been dropping – my GPA at the end of Year 2 was 2.4.

I didn’t know anyone else who was under probation. I felt like the dumbest student in school. A part of me felt disappointed with myself for not managing my time better. Another part of me blamed God.

Where was Your grace when I needed it the most? I served You so hard – sometimes to a point where I didn’t have enough time for my studies – so how could You let this happen?

 

I had to take a long, hard look at the student that I had become. 

I realised that I put in less effort in modules I wasn’t interested in. In some semesters, it was easier to count the number of times I was present in class, instead of the number of times I was absent. I chose to scroll through Facebook, rather than my lecture slides. I’d fall asleep in class even if I wasn’t tired.

All this meant I wasn’t very good salt and light in school. How could I claim to live for Jesus if I couldn’t even show basic respect to my lecturer? How could I say that I’ve been transformed by Jesus, if the way I behave shows otherwise?

I struggled to serve in the kids ministry – I felt like a hypocrite teaching the children about Godly values if I wasn’t living them out at home or in school. I thought about stepping down.

Denise also serves as a cell group leader in the kids ministry.

I had to take a summer semester, but it came between my annual church conference and church camp. 

I had a to-do list that seemed endless. Mid-terms, final exams, term papers, a million readings – while preparing to serve on the worship team for church service and camp, and write sermons for the kids ministry.

There was one week when I had to practice 11 songs; some days I had church-related activities the day before an exam. Every week I’d question whether it was worth committing myself so much to church, at the cost of my grades.

I was afraid of prioritising God because I found it hard to trust that He would provide. I looked at my friends who weren’t in church, with more time to study, getting better grades.

I was angry and bitter. I was desperate. But I also knew that I could let the situation come between me and God – or I could let it draw me closer to Him.

So I bargained with God: If I give up my time to serve you, I expect you to help me with my grades.

I recently got back my results for my first summer semester and to my surprise, not only did I manage to pull up my GPA but I also aced my term paper and my exams with a score of 99.9%.

Looking at the results, I can confidently say that #onlyJesus could help me pull through my academic struggle. I was never one who did extremely well in my subjects; to even ace a higher level module, I knew it had to be God.

Even when I failed to trust him, He never failed me.

At this year’s church camp, what my pastor said hit me hard.

“Have we become such busy people, with so much to accomplish every day, that we’ve forgotten about the brokenness in our lives and our desperate need for a Saviour?” he challenged us.

“When something you desire directly competes against God’s desires, you deny yourself of your desire to pursue God’s desire.”

Denise at church camp this year with her SIM campus group (top) and her cell group (bottom).

I’ve learnt to trust that God will provide everything I need – so that I’m not distracted to do the real work.

I’ve learnt that I should never feel guilty for serving too hard, while worrying that God will shortchange me.

I’ve learnt that God wants to see how I make my choices. Will I choose to pursue Him or pursue my grades?

There’s a cost to going all-out for Him, but there’s also a cost to not going all-out. When I stopped to count the cost, I realised that if my studies don’t revolve around God, then what’s the point?

Jesus went all out for me. Now I must learn to do the same – not just in church, but at home and at school as well. He deserves my all. 💯

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I looked down on women

by Eunice Sng | 22 September 2017, 4:10 PM

As the younger sister, I compared myself to my brother all my life. Perhaps I had some sort of inferiority complex. Or maybe I was just a kiasu individual. Either way, it just didn’t help that I felt my parents played favourites – they were always partial to my brother.

I grew up being told:

  • You’re a girl, you should learn how to cook.
  • You’re a girl, you need to know how to sew.
  • You’re a girl, go help your mother out with the laundry.
  • You’re a girl, if you don’t keep a clean room, how on earth are you going to run your future household?

So over the years, my frustration turned into bitterness and resentment. For one reason or another, I started to believe that a powerful and independent woman must look perfect all the time and be able to run a business. And any successful woman must surely not have the time for children.

As a result, for a time, I felt that housewives and mothers were roles that are looked down on in society. Ask any girl in her early 20s what she wants to be when she grows up – you’ll find that very few would reply, “I want to be a mother.”

Besides, most of my female friends aren’t thinking of marriage. You’re young. Why get tied down?

I spent a long time confused and angry, because of my wrong belief that God made us inferior to men. That clashed with the reality of my household, where it was the women who held many responsibilities and did many jobs. In comparison, I thought that the men were just slacking around.

My bitter view of things led to many debates in my home. Eventually my Mother told me to read Proverbs 31 and examine “the wife of noble character”. In this chapter, I read all the scriptural attributes of the ideal woman – and I was completely surprised.

I realised, “Hey, this chick has it all under control at home, and she does not sound like a frail human being!”

So, if I must make a comparison with anyone, it’s to the wife in Proverbs 31.

Some time after this revelation, one of my girlfriends spoke to me about gender roles. She spoke clarity into my life.

“We are so busy comparing ourselves to men, that we fail to see God created us differently for different things. Think about it: God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus are One – but each play different roles. They don’t compare themselves to each other, or wish they could do what the other does. They are the perfect Trinity,” she told me.

“Of course we’re not God. But in a similar way, men and women are different and have different roles. Only we can do what we were created to do. Sure, a man could do what a mother does – but there’s nothing like a mother’s touch.”

Now, whenever I’m asked to do chores, there are days when I’m still that frustrated little girl. But I find strength when I do all these things for God, who gives me joy and love for others.

So, if I must make a comparison, it’s to the wife in Proverbs 31.

What a high standard to live up to! But with God, there is grace – and there’s nothing impossible for Him.

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Looking beyond appearances

by Tay Yong Thai | 22 September 2017, 2:10 PM

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)

I recently watched a movie, The Dropbox. It’s a documentary about a pastor in South Korea, Lee Jong-rak, who built a “Dropbox” at his front door, through which nearly 600 babies have been saved. He built the Dropbox in one of the poorest districts of Seoul, after finding a little girl with Down Syndrome on his front steps in winter.

He wanted to find a way for mothers to surrender these abandoned babies without the babies dying.

As I watched the movie, tears kept flowing out of my eyes as I witnessed Pastor Lee’s single-mindedness and dedication to protect and love the abandoned babies, most of whom were born with disabilities. It really moved me to see his love and persistence in caring for the many children under his charge.

Some of these children are so severely disabled that they will have to rely on the help of others to survive their entire life.

“Many people think it is better for them to go to heaven as quickly as possible, because life on earth would be too difficult for them. But God sent them to the earth with disabilities,” Pastor Lee said.

“They’re not the unnecessary ones in the world. God sent them to earth with a purpose. Disabled children teach many people, change many people and help people reflect upon themselves, which is why they are the educators of society.”

One of those who was changed by the children was Brian Ivie, the director of the movie who was not a Christian at the point of making the movie. But he saw Pastor Lee going all-out to protect the children. He heard the Pastor saying: “No one dies here – I’m going to take care of you. I’m going to go after you, even though you may never know that I’ve done this for you, even though you may never know that you needed to be rescued.”

Pastor Lee’s love for the orphans mirrored the love of the Father. And everything changed for Brian when he saw himself as one of those children.

Indeed, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

In a world that idolises beauty, success and perfection, outward disability goes against the grain of perfection which many strive for.

Yet God does not look at man’s outward appearance – He looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). To God, sin is a much more obvious disability then physical disabilities. The sins we harbour in our lives and in our hearts make us the ones with true disabilities and in need of love and help from God.

Which is why we need to put even more effort into getting our inner, spiritual life right than in our physical pursuits.

In our interactions with people who cross our path daily, are we able to look beyond someone’s physical appearance and look with compassion at the spiritual needs that are waiting to be met (Matthew 9:36-38)?

Do we diligently and intentionally seek out the lost, just like the women in the parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:8)?

It is my prayer that God will grant us the discernment to look beyond the outward appearance and look with compassion on the heart that yearns for the love of God.


This article was first published on YCKC website and was republished with permission.

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‘We want to be their family while they’re in Singapore’: Migrant Worker Ministry

by Tan Wei En | 22 September 2017, 11:24 AM

The Migrant Worker Ministry in Hope Church Singapore was started in 2014, by a few church members who felt the need to advance the Gospel to migrant workers from China who are based in Singapore.

I was one of those we started the cell group for those involved in the ministry, and later on took over the co-leadership of the ministry. Since then, we’ve witnessed how the lives of these migrant workers were changed when they came to know God.

Initially, I thought it would be very difficult for them to understand what we were sharing with them. Apart from the language barrier, I thought that their cultural background might hinder them.

But God is amazing. While not all migrant workers have many years of education, it has never been a barrier – God’s love can be experienced by anyone who sincerely seeks Him. Proverbs 8:17 tells us: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”

At the beginning, it was quite encouraging to see many migrant workers joining us. They all came with eager hearts to receive and find out more about Christ.

But soon, it became challenging when many of them stopped coming due to their work schedules. We also found it quite difficult to find time and disciple them individually as well.

So each time we plan for our services or cell groups, we never really know how many people will turn up. Our services’ attendance can vary quite drastically – we can never predict the attendance of our events. We only know when the event starts!

During these times of uncertainty, there were many moments when I was losing hope that people would come.

But we do it all by faith. We continue to persevere in meeting them, and encouraging them to come for cell group. We really want them to experience the grace and love from God.

Our vision is to see these new believers start their own cell groups in China. We hope that when they return home, they’ll bring the Gospel with them and start their own cell groups and churches there.

I’ve come to see that God is always faithful. We are merely His vessels, and He will see His work come to completion in His own timing.

And God has been faithful in leading His people to Him in every service we have conducted so far. Sure, we don’t have hundreds of people in each service. But there still really is no greater joy than witnessing the transformation of lives in Him.

Our vision is to see these new believers start their own cell groups in China. The idea is to be their family, and disciple them well when they are in Singapore. We hope that when they return home, they’ll bring the Gospel with them and start their own cell groups and churches there.

We’ve learnt a lot from our mistakes along the way. We’ve gone through many changes, like how our programmes are run, and where they’re located. 

We started at a place in Chinatown, then shifted to Lavender. Now, we are based in Geylang. The previous locations were comfortable places, with good facilities. However, because they weren’t near supermarkets, or the migrant workers’ living quarters, many would hesitate to come.

We really saw how we needed to meet their felt needs before sharing the gospel effectively. We’ve evolved to better cater to their needs and find more ways to engage them.

It’s difficult to have faith in the midst of messiness. The team experienced an especially tough time when we became really busy with our own work and personal life. The number of volunteers were dwindling, and the ministry seemed to be dying out. We were exhausted.

So we decided to start this ministry-specific cell group. The leadership team bonded when we witnessed how God was with us through the ups and downs. We held on to our Maker and continuously reminded each other that God must always remain at the centre of what we do, no matter what happens.

Thankfully, God kept us together.

If anyone out there is thinking of starting a similar ministry, my advice for you would be: Don’t do it for anyone, or even for yourself. Do it for God. He is the only constant in life, one that will never fade away.

Because of this perspective, I now have a better understanding of what it means to serve from a position of “rest”. It sounds like a contradiction, but the amazing thing about God is that our service to Him will never be more important than our relationship with Him. We want to be Mary – not Martha.

So, when we serve from a position of rest and as a recipient of His Grace, we are able to witness the power of God working through and in us. And all glory belongs to Him.

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Influencer or influenza: What are we spreading online?

by Charmaine Ang | 21 September 2017, 6:12 PM

Along with the rise of social media platforms – with Facebook hitting almost 2 billion global monthly active users, more than a quarter of the world’s population – many have risen to popularity and become what we know as “influencers”.

Apart from singers, actors and other celebrities, social media has allowed influencers to come from almost anywhere and any background; as long as you have a following, you have influence. It’s easy: The larger the following, the larger the influence.

Suddenly, just about anybody can be an influencer.

There is nothing wrong with being influencers on such platforms. I think it is great when we are put into positions of being that town built on a hill, the light that cannot be hidden under a bowl (Matthew 5:14-16).

With great power comes great potential for irresponsibility.

However, many times things can go wrong. With great power comes great potential for irresponsibility. And instead of being positive influencers who push the human race forward, we’ve become a network of negativity, spreaders of social influenza that stumbles, cripples and sickens.

As Christians, all the more we want our online influence to mirror the God in whom we profess to have faith in. All the more we are exposed to a watching world who has access to dimensions of our life previously not available to most.

Here are a few reflections I have made on how then we must live in this digital space:

1. REMEMBER WE ARE DUST

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:22-25)

My friends and I often joke with each other and use this line: You Christian or not. Jokes aside, I think one thing that struck me was that Christian or not, I am not righteous on my own. I am not as great as I think I am.

And truth of the matter is that change in action and freedom from my own wretchedness is a journey – one where I sometimes fail and have to go back to God, my moral compass and Saviour and try again.

Social media might want me to think that way, but I am not God. You are not God. We all have sinned and fallen short of His glory.

2. SEARCH MY ONLINE HEART, O GOD

In one of my classes, we learnt about the concept of social desirability bias. It is but human to want to present the best of ourselves to others. I question myself from time to time as I type a social media post or even as I read something on social media: Am I being real? Or am I posting this with the intention of showing off?

Consider the hashtag #blessed. While it is often used as a synonym for “lucky”, especially when portraying a good – even extravagant – lifestyle, its dictionary meaning is to be “endowed with divine favour and protection”.

What is real blessing? Jesus used the word repeatedly in his famous Sermon on the Mount when he talked about the Beatitudes. It is in situations where the odds might be stacked against us and we see the hand of God that we know that we have that “divine favour and protection”.

A friend once shared with me that she is uncomfortable saying too much on social media because it reveals too much of our lives. At the same time, I’ve also found myself very encouraged when I read about the reality of God through people’s vulnerable and authentic sharing of their lives online.

It is my choice of what I want to share and how much I want to share, but one thing I try to actively do is to prayerfully allow God to search me as I write and prepare a social media post. What am I posting? Why am I posting this? These are the best filters, IMHO.

3. WHAT WOULD JESUS POST

As an online citizen with influence over those in my social media space, I take as much ownership and responsibility for what I post, share and comment on. During my short internship in a cyber wellness department, I learnt that being a keyboard warrior and online vigilante can often be similar, if not scarier than an outright bully.

Of course, it is important to be able to distinguish right from wrong and stand up for the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-26). But while we are called correct wrongs, it is also important to adopt the correct attitudes – to be kind to everyone and respond in gentleness, with the intention of restoring the person.

Kindness leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). Conviction and subsequent turning back to what’s right comes from an encounter with love, not condemnation.

You may not feel worthy to own the title, but you are an influencer in your own right.  We all have a voice to speak up and share the goodness of God to those who follow us – that they may one day follow Jesus.

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My ideal picture of life

by | 21 September 2017, 3:51 PM

I’m a dreamer.

I have an idealistic version of every possible situation in life. I take joy in imagining the best case scenarios and its fruition.

Some ideals are universal: We all want loving and conflict-free relationships, jobs we never dread going to, a happy family, a decent education. At the end of the day, we all want lives filled with joy and fulfilment.

The problem is: Whose joy? Whose fulfilment? Whose ideal life are we living: Ours or God’s?

For example, instead of finding joy in our work, what if this joy could be found in seeing God working through our work? Instead of seeking happiness in what a partner can offer us, how about finding it by looking at how God has been moulding us as a couple?

I’ve had to put some of my dreams to death. My human response was to be frustrated with God — I felt like I had to make a huge sacrifice in giving up the things that I thought would have brought me much joy.

In my finite mind, forsaking my dreams came at a huge cost. These were dreams I’d spent most of my life chasing and yearning after. My picture of an ideal husband. My idea of a dream job.

Without Him, we can never have true, pure and unbridled joy. Everything else is a discounted version of it.

But I’m reminded that the trade-up is infinitely, always in my favour when I choose His will over my own. God is the giver of my purpose and joy. He’s the one who crafts the things that I derive joy from and puts this same desire into my DNA. I believe that God knows me, and would never hold anything good from me if I walk with Him (Psalm 84:11).

I still struggle with feelings of regret whenever I think about the dreams that I’ve had to lay down. But I’ve learnt that instead of shaking my fists at God, I should go to Him with my requests and doubts, knowing that He will give me a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).

I’ve learnt that while I shouldn’t always pursue the things that I want, I can always pursue joy in Him. He honours those who honour him (1 Samuel 2:30). When I seek God in all I do, I will ultimately find the joy that I’ve been looking for.

Ultimately, He knows what lights me up and what gives me passion and satisfaction. If I follow him all the days of my life, goodness and love will follow me (Psalm 23:6).

So instead of striving to make it on my own, blindly pursuing the fleeting joys of life, I’ve learnt to find it all with Him. Even if I’ve had to let go of my dreams, I know that He won’t let go of me (Hebrews 13:5).

Without Him, we can never have true, pure and unbridled joy. Everything else is a discounted version of it. God alone is the fullness of our joy (Psalm 16:11).

/ 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

“I felt like the dumbest student in school”

I looked down on women

Looking beyond appearances

‘We want to be their family while they’re in Singapore’: Migrant Worker Ministry

Influencer or influenza: What are we spreading online?

My ideal picture of life