Top Stories

Sign Up for our newsletter now.

Faith

“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. 💯

Conversations

We Recommend

Culture

“Clean Hands, Pure Hearts and Beautiful Feet”: Bringing Good News to the next generation

by Emily Soh

Faith

Don’t forget to have gratitude

by Kenny Chee

Relationships

Love hurts … But not like that

by Roy Tay

Culture

Billy Graham dead at 99

by | 21 February 2018, 9:29 PM

Billy Graham – probably the most well-known and influential evangelist of the past century – has died at the age of 99, according to various news sources.

He died at his home in North Carolina, according to a family spokesman.

Estimates suggest he preached to hundreds of millions of people in his lifetime, including tens of thousands at Singapore’s old National Stadium in a multi-day rally in 1978.

Graham, known as “America’s Pastor”, was a familiar face on TV and a much-loved voice on radio broadcasts in America. He was also honoured for his part in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, alongside Rev Martin Luther King Jr.

/ edric@thir.st

Edric has spent a lifetime in mainstream and digital newsrooms, and has the waistline to prove it. He is a lapsed divemaster, a father to four and husband to one. Could use more sleep.

Conversations

We Recommend

Faith

So I just became a father

by Jonathan Cho

Faith

Walking on water

by Michele Lim

Relationships

Are you dreading Valentine’s Day?

by Darius Leow

Do Good

Are you a part-time Christian?

by | 21 February 2018, 4:17 PM

I’m in the middle of a life transition, and the one question I keep getting is, “Are you going into full-time mission work?”

Well yes, I’m committing a fairly big portion of my life to YWAM. And I know what people mean when they ask me that, but still … What is full-time mission work exactly?

When we talk about full-time mission work, are we just referring to giants of the faith like missionaries, pastors and church workers?

I wonder, if there’s such a thing called full-time mission work, does that mean that there is part-time mission work? Part-time mission work must be for part-time Christians who only serve in ministry once a week, like cell group leaders – or that sweet old lady who plays the piano for the benediction on Sundays!

Just to be clear, I was trying my hand at satire back there.

But this is serious: Many of us have restricted our relationship with God to a weekly affair on Sundays, when He wants the other days too. Indeed, He wants your entire life! God is far too large to be reduced to a time-slot in a schedule that revolves around you – He wants your whole life to revolve around Him.

So this is the truth about our walk with God and our service to Him: Whether you’re holding a microphone or a mop – God wants to make your work count for the Kingdom.

Lay aside all your titles: You are first and foremost a child of God. So it is not the duty of “giants of faith” to preach the gospel. Every Christian must carry the mandate of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15).

We are all charged with the responsibility of evangelism. Ours is the missional life wherever we are.

Does that mean that we have to be constantly talking about Jesus with our colleagues?

Well, the simple answer is no. We must, however, be constantly communicating who Jesus is. And to be clear: That’s something everyone can and should do.

How? One way is by having a spirit of excellence. Martin Luther once said, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

So one way to shine our light as Christians (Matthew 5:16) is to produce fantastic work – so that others will see and glorify God in heaven. But there mustn’t be a speck of self-glorification, it’s all about Him.

Good Christian work isn’t about slapping a “Jesus” sticker onto the product. Good Christian work is going the extra mile, not cutting corners, working excellently – excellence which reflects the God you serve.


Another way is to imitate Christ (Matthew 5:48) wherever we are. To that end, there are many questions we could ask ourselves.

  • How can I show compassion to my sister?
  • How can I show mercy to my brother?
  • How can I show grace to the new intern?
  • How can I show humility to my boss?

These are a just a few questions to get your ball rolling. But they must be asked every day in our constant walk with God.

If I am the best Christian in Church on Sunday, but a wife-beater on Monday night – I’m a part-time Christian. If I’m a penitent sinner in my men’s group on Wednesday night, but see no issue in ogling girls on the train home – I’m a part-time Christian.

The last thing I want for you, after reading this article, is to walk away feeling condemned. What I desire is for you to go full-time. Yes, be a full-time Christian!

From the big things like your career, to the smaller things like what you’ll eat for dinner – involve God! Do it all unto His glory. He cares. The question is if we really believe that.

In Abraham’s time, whenever the Israelites presented a sacrifice to God, the animals sacrificed had to be perfect – no blemishes whatsoever. So when we present ourselves as living sacrifices to God in worship (Romans 12:1), we must strive for godly perfection in every area of our lives as we align ourselves to Him.

You are a missionary wherever God puts you. If God means everything to you, He will be in everything you do. Go and be a full-time Christian.

/ roytay@thir.st

Roy has a peculiar appreciation for subtle wordplay, an inexplorable passion for competitive sports, and an insatiable hunger for delicious food.

Conversations

We Recommend

Culture

“Clean Hands, Pure Hearts and Beautiful Feet”: Bringing Good News to the next generation

by Emily Soh

Culture

The God of love

by Joanne Kwok

Do Good

I got stood up on Valentine’s Day

by Geraldine Koh

Faith

What I learnt from pottery making

by Darius Leow | 21 February 2018, 10:33 AM

On a backpacking trip to Vietnam recently, I had the opportunity to try pottery making.

I’ve sang “The Potter’s Hand” many times in church, and I’ve heard many sermons about the Potter in Jeremiah 18 – but actually trying to shape pottery myself gave me a deeper appreciation of both the song and chapter.

I’d like to share three things God taught me in my day at the pottery village.

1. Moulding often feels like it is about me – but it’s not

Moulding clay looked easy to me. It seemed like all that was involved was to moisten your fingers and spin the wheel. But it wasn’t nearly as simple.

As I had no experience making pottery, an in-house potter was assigned to assist me. Despite professional guidance, I still struggled to shape the clay into the design I had in mind.

Spinning the wheel while applying pressure onto the clay required a lot of concentration. One mistake would mar the work, in which case you’d have have to restart the entire moulding process.

“But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” (Jeremiah 18:4)

Imagine we are the clay: When we think of being moulded by God, what comes to mind is how painful and difficult the process might feel.

But I learnt in the workshop, that the process is not so much about me as it is the potter. God is the one in control. The process might feel painful, but it is necessary if we want to see God’s design and destiny come to pass in our lives.

2. The potter’s design guides the moulding process

No potter goes to the wheel not having a specific design in mind. It is the potter’s intended design that guides the entire moulding process.

““O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18:6)

In Jeremiah 18, God’s intended design for Israel was to hand them over to the Babylonians to be chastened – so they would turn away from their idolatrous ways and back to God (Jer 18:11).

I like how Warren Wiersbe puts it: “God uses many different hands to mould our lives.” Just as Israel is in God’s hand, so are we. It’s true, God uses many ways to carry out His moulding.

Perhaps like Israel, your season of moulding is God’s way of turning you away from the allures of this world and back to Him. Or it may be that He wants to equip you for His work.

Whatever it is may look like, God has a specific design for our lives. When we are malleable, He will see it done.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

3. Every piece is a unique reflection of the potter

Pottery making requires patience. I had to wait to see my finished work, because after the wheel stopped turning, I had to send my pottery into the fire to be baked. Then it had to be cooled, followed by a number of other steps.

But what a feeling it was to see and to hold my finished piece, knowing that just moments before it was just a formless lump of clay! As I looked at my work, it was as though I could see myself in it. Its edges and faces reflected my own personality, style and preferences.

The same goes for our Potter. We are all made in the image of God, yet each of us are unique and special in our own way. Some show the world a glimpse of Christ’s tenderheartedness through gentle and encouraging words, others His creativity through music, art and poetry. What do you show?

We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works and make Him known to all the earth (Ephesians 2:10). We are daily moulded through unique experiences and training grounds to make us more Christlike – more like our Potter.

If your season of moulding is proving extremely difficult, take heart. Shift your focus away from yourself to your Potter because He knows best. Know for sure that all of our days are held in His hands.

In faith, ask the Potter to help you say: “Take me, mould me, use me, fill me. I give my life to your hands.”

Conversations

We Recommend

Culture

Empowered for a purpose

by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong, Hope Church Singapore

Faith

Self-control isn’t easy

by Wong Siqi

video

Greater Love: Chicken soup for the Cineleisure Auntie

by Yeo Huang Hao

Culture

“Clean Hands, Pure Hearts and Beautiful Feet”: Bringing Good News to the next generation

by Emily Soh | 21 February 2018, 10:27 AM

When given the proposition to write short stories for a children’s book – based on true accounts of missionaries sent from Singapore as early as in the sixties – my first thought was: “But I don’t write stories.”

Sure, I considered myself a writer, but creative non-fiction for children was uncharted waters. Thankfully, the hesitation stemming from my feelings of inadequacy did not last for long. I became intrigued by the opportunity to write the stories of men and women who heeded God’s call to surrender their lives for His purposes – to do good in the world and demonstrate God’s love for all peoples.

God provided me with a two-month window to concentrate on this project. The entire process to produce the book took much longer, of course – but it was great timing.

The book is a work which resonates with Christ’s prayer for His followers “to be one” – unity – as it cuts across denominational lines. It shows us the broad scope of missionary work that has been afoot since the sixties, detailing the stories of missionaries sent from our tiny island to far-flung places and how they served.

Children’s stories have great mileage – they travel with them for the rest of their lives.

Then there was the flight of imagination required. One example was the mystical and treacherous landscapes in Papua New Guinea. When such a locale was first described to me, I found myself thinking, “How can I convey this sublime beauty that could capture the imagination of children?” And in another story, “How can I portray a wartime scene that could relate to children, yet at the same time retain its raw authenticity?”

The writing may fall short of doing justice to these people, places and experiences. But I’m praying it will allow the children to imagine the wondrous world of God, while not shying away from accurate depicting a world that is scarred by sin, injustice and cruelty.

Children’s stories have great mileage – they travel with them for the rest of their lives. That’s the power of stories which engage children intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Powerful storytelling inspires curiosity, provokes thinking and provides children with a counterpoint for the harsh realities of the world they will encounter.

We are praying that this book will inspire children to receive the fullness of what God has prepared for them as they grow up. With clean hands, pure hearts and beautiful feet – they can be a light to the world wherever their journeys take them.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)


Written by Flora Man and Emily Soh, and illustrated by Jearn Ko, “Clean Hands, Pure Hearts and Beautiful Feet” is a children’s book featuring 10 inspiring stories of Singaporean missionaries serving in different parts of the world. If you are interested, you can visit their page to purchase a copy, or send them an email for further enquiries.

Conversations

We Recommend

Faith

Celebrating Selah: 4 years of realigning a generation

by Joanne Kwok

Culture

Belinda Lee: My mother’s unwavering faith

by Fiona Teh

Faith

Don’t forget to have gratitude

by Kenny Chee

Culture

Empowered for a purpose

by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong, Hope Church Singapore | 20 February 2018, 11:08 AM


The illustration used in the video was adapted from a sermon by Pastor Michael Strickland from The Cove Church


TWO NATURES

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:16-17)

The Bible shows us that there are two natures: One of the Spirit and one of the flesh. But we can only have one.  If we really want to see life transformation, we need more of the Spirit because what the flesh desires is contrary to what the Spirit desires. They are in conflict with each other.

“Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)

As vessels of God, what we need to do is flee the evil desires of the flesh and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. When we have more of God – there is less of ourselves. Where there is more of the Spirit – there is less of the flesh.

It’s one or the other.

SEALED AND DELIVERED

If we’ve received Jesus into our lives as our Lord and Saviour, the Bible says that we’ve received a seal of the promise of God.

“And who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:22)

But there’s another experience that God wants us to have in our Christian walk – it’s the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that we will be filled – to the brim – with the Holy Spirit!

That’s not all there is to it. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, though we may have changed, we are not removed from our usual environments that test our responses or reactions.

So we will react either according to our “old self” or respond through our “new self” which is being renewed in the knowledge of God. If we are not in step with the Spirit, it’s easy for us to respond in the flesh.

1. Anger
Whether you’re driving on the road or responding to your children: Are you aware of the situations and things that tend to draw anger out of you? Are you an angry person? Even though we are filled with the Holy Spirit, anger can seep into our lives through cracks and open windows of impatience and intolerance.

2. Self-righteousness
When you place white vinegar in a glass jar, it looks just like water. But vinegar stinks. We may look like water on the outside but we’re not.  We can do many Christian things yet still have a spirit of self-righteousness – trust and reliance on ourselves instead of the grace of God.

3. Jealousy
Things get nastier when you throw jealousy into the mix. Some of us get jealous when others do better than us: We write off others’ successes and we point fingers at them. We cannot stand not being the best. Don’t let jealousy make you a miserable person.

4. Other sinful desires  
Lastly, there are the darker things that we may not talk about openly – or at all. Things like adultery, pornography, stealing and backstabbing. These desires belong to our fleshly nature.

In order to keep in step with the Spirit and defeat our fleshly nature, we can’t just be filled with the Spirit one time. We need to continually be filled and continually be empowered so that God’s light won’t dull in us.

Think about the first thing you do in the morning. Do you reach for your smartphone or for the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit? Each morning, tell the Holy Spirit, “Speak and I’ll listen. Lead and I’ll follow.”

Jesus said, “Let those who are thirsty come to me and drink, and out of your belly will come out an abundant flow of the Holy Spirit.” When we are continually filled with the Holy Spirit, not only are we filled – Jesus says we will be filled until we overflow!

By the continual empowerment of the Holy Spirit – through the overflow of our revived heart – we can bring revival everywhere we go: Our homes, schools, army camps, and workplaces.


This article was adapted from a sermon first preached on Jan 14, 2018, by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong of Hope Church Singapore.

Conversations

We Recommend

Culture

“Clean Hands, Pure Hearts and Beautiful Feet”: Bringing Good News to the next generation

by Emily Soh

Do Good

Why should I care about inequality?

by Jeremy Tan

Faith

I have such little faith

by Wong Siqi

Article list

“I felt like the dumbest student in school”

Billy Graham dead at 99

Are you a part-time Christian?

What I learnt from pottery making

“Clean Hands, Pure Hearts and Beautiful Feet”: Bringing Good News to the next generation

Empowered for a purpose