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Faith

Unemployed, in debt – and learning how to trust Him

by Melody Elizabeth Goh | 1 August 2017, 4:38 PM

I grew up in a loving and pampered environment. That’s great while you’re a kid – but bad when you’re an adult.

I had to grow up, become a more mature me. But to do that, I needed to experience hardship.

After I graduated, I felt the Lord calling me to step out of the boat and walk on the water. I didn’t know what that meant, but it didn’t take me long enough to realise what it truly meant: I was about to enter into a desert season. I was about to learn what it means to have full reliance and focus on the Father.

I officially started looking for a job, armed with my Advanced Diploma in Accounting and Finance. I applied for position after position, went for multiple interviews but to no avail.

I had to grow up, become a more mature me. But to do that, I needed to experience hardship.

A friend encouraged me to become an Uber driver. It was tedious and I could not cover the rental of the car – I couldn’t work the long hours required to do so. I then decided to get relief drivers to help cover my costs, including a couple who took the car on weekdays. But that only made things worse; the couple did not use the car to work, and were unable to cover the rental cost, so the amount they owed me kept piling up.

My reserves were depleting quickly. It was getting harder for me, financially, physically, emotionally and mentally. My dad agreed to help ease my burdens a little, but I was still deeply troubled and distressed. I found myself crying every day.

In my desperation, I made a decision I would truly regret, with a heavy price to pay. I fell victim to a scam that promised me a sum of money per telephone line that I signed up for. But I got played out, leaving me with to pay the monthly subscriptions and termination fees. It was a substantial cost, especially when I was still unemployed.

Soon enough, I caved in and fell into depression.

Throughout all this, I kept asking: Where was God?

Where was the God who called me out? Surely, He would not abandon me?

No, I learnt, He wouldn’t – and He didn’t. It was in this season that God was drawing me closer to Him.

God humbled my heart and gave me a revelation – that I really am nothing without Him. Everything I can boast of, I only have by the grace and empowerment of God, and therefore He alone deserves all the glory.

So rather than be crushed by the circumstances, my faith in Him was deeply strengthened. I learnt to trust and obey, for there is no other way – not if I wanted to get out of this desert season. It was hard for me but I had to. I had to crucify my flesh.

I learnt to praise God in all circumstances. It was more of Him and less of me.

This desert season was not what I wanted, but it was what I needed – to go through a process of refining through the fire of trial, and redefining my perspective of the Father. Where He used to be a God who seemed so distant, He became to me a Father who is so loving, and who desires to walk me through every storm. I learnt what it means when He said that He will never leave me nor forsake me.

I learnt to praise God in all circumstances. It was more of Him and less of me.

What I was going through – it wasn’t because God didn’t love me, but because God does love me – enough to work on me, to refine me, to purify my heart.

The process of being refined is painful, but it is needful. It draws us closer to God, and allows Him to show His everlasting love. Adversity pushes us to rely on God, rather than our own strength.

“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:7)

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Do worldly successes define you?

by Daniel Lee | 25 July 2017, 10:56 PM

How would you feel if you were one — or all — of the following: A medical student, Employee of the Year, and/or a millionaire? Would being any of these things change the way you feel about yourself?

Often we dream of having these successful titles to define us; successes give us something to feel good about. But if what we succeed in determines who we are, does it mean we are a failure when we fail to achieve something?

Think about it: If we base our lives on what can be changed, then the foundation of our lives is not stable. Once the foundation shifts, our lives would also be shaken.

If our identity is decided by our successes, then it is also determined by our failures.

If our identity is decided by our successes, then it is also determined by our failures. Hence, the solution is to not find our self-worth in either.

This isn’t about ignoring what we have or have not accomplished. Rather, it’s about placing our value as a person on what is eternal.

God is the one who created us, and the One in whom we find the deepest measure of fulfilment and pleasure. When we base our self-worth and self-esteem on the unchangeable Word of God — when we believe who God says we are — then the foundation of our lives would be securely grounded on the Rock that is higher (Psalm 61:2).

WHO WE ARE IN GOD

And what does God say about us? He says that as Christians, our truest identity is in His Son, Jesus. We are children of God (John 1:12Ephesians 1:5) who are complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10).

And because we are hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3), we are free forever from condemnation (Romans 8:1-2) and can never be separated from the love of God (Romans 8:35).

Not only that, we are now called to be Spirit-filled witnesses of Jesus because each of us is a temple in which the Holy Spirit lives (1 Corinthians 3:16).

God calls us His co-workers in His kingdom (Mark 16:202 Corinthians 6:1) and we are seated with Jesus in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6).

WE BECOME WHAT WE BEHOLD

In light of our new identity in Jesus, we can see our achievements in the proper perspective. Yes, achievements are part of us, but they are not us.

In God’s kingdom, success is being able to boast that we understand and know the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24) and becoming more and more conformed to the image of His Son. We do this by worshipping and beholding Him daily (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Yes, achievements are part of us, but they are not us.

However, if we choose to worship and behold something other than God, we will also be transformed in its image. The Bible tells us that those who worship idols will become like them (Psalm 115:4-8Psalm 135:15-18).

Therefore, what we worship decides our identity. Ask yourself what the most important thing in your life is, and you will know what you truly worship. If there is something that you cherish more than God, then that thing has become an idol to you.

FOCUS ON BEING, NOT DOING

Also, what we do will constantly change, but who we are never will. When we understand that it is who we are, and not what we do, that ultimately matters, we can learn how to rest in God’s presence.

We should lose ourselves not in doing, but in being in Him and becoming like Him.

GIVE YOURSELF UP

Ultimately, resting in Jesus means surrendering all we have to Him.

That can sound like a frightening thing because it means we have to release control over who we are. But Jesus is not really the Lord of our lives if He isn’t the Lord over every single part of our lives, including our identity.

And so we stand firm on our identity in Him, safely let go and let Him take over. Because He is a good and trustworthy God who will never fail us.


©2016 Whole Life. All rights reserved.
Did you find the read helpful? If you would like to receive regular news and encouragement for your faith + family, click here to subscribe. This article was first published on Wholelife.sg and republished with permission.

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I don’t have everything, but I have more than enough

by Sophia Ng | 21 July 2017, 1:44 PM

Years ago when starting out, I was a hungry, ambitious fresh graduate seeking to make a name for herself. I also had a scant portfolio and no experience. So it wasn’t at all surprising that while trying to fulfil my ambition, I came up against a stone wall.

Disheartened and after being rejected by my preferred employer, I was finally hired on a three-month contract at another publishing company. Then the 2008 financial crisis arrived and hiring was frozen. My contract was extended, but I was paid out of petty cash.

I know that makes it sound like they paid me out of a tin piggy bank of loose change, but that’s not far from how it made me feel. I didn’t expect that, as a graduate, I would have to be paid from loose change.

The aches from the struggle of my earlier years are still raw enough for me to remember. I worked past midnight daily as part of shift work, so that it took a toll on my health and in my mid-20s I had high cholesterol. I was highly stressed, I dreaded work and I wanted out.

A few years later, with more polished interview skills, I landed a job which hired me with a 30% pay rise. While I was thankful for the added money, the work was dry and weary, and within months that nagging feeling came back again.

That thirst for more, that I deserved something better. That I needed to be out there doing big stuff and chasing big dreams.

So I went job hunting again and landed myself an offer, which I turned down because it required an extreme 24-hour shift work and I was reluctant to put my body through that kind of stress again.

That nagging feeling came back. That thirst for more, that I deserved something better. That I needed to be out there doing big stuff and chasing big dreams.

Little did I know, God had a plan for me at my second job, the job I’m still at today. Within a year from that low point, I had been promoted.

But the story didn’t end there. I got pregnant. Suddenly, all those ambitions didn’t matter anymore. The thirst for success and recognition at work morphed into meeting the thirst of my young baby.

During maternity leave, in one of my quiet moments, I heard a still small voice whispering the words: Redeem the time. I searched for the full verse, and found it in Ephesians 5:15-16: “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil.”

It was a clear sign to me then that I had to cut back at work, so I put in a request. It is God’s grace and favour upon my life that my bosses gave me the green light and I still have a job today, working part-time from home after the birth of my second born.

Ask any Singaporean mother and you will know that such a work arrangement is a sheer impossibility.

God saved me from that endless thirst of work and seeking to make a name for myself. Instead, he gave me more than I could ever ask for. 

I recently crossed a birthday milestone, which made me start to ponder my life and what I have done. In the eyes of the world, what have I accomplished?

I don’t have a high paying job, but I have a job that gives me flexibility and a decent wage.

I am not famous, yet I am well known to close friends.

I live in a four-room HDB flat, but many have been fed and loved in this home.

We are not in want, but we live in abundance.

My husband and I don’t own a car, but we have use of a family car.

We are not in want, but we live in abundance.

Material things aside, I have the love of family and friends, a loving husband and two crazy kids.

He has humbled me to the point that I know, everything I have has been given by him, so I must freely give of my time, talents and money unto others too.

I am content. For how can I not be? He has done exceedingly, abundantly, more than I can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

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Looking for a job, learning how to trust

by Ynex Lee | 14 July 2017, 2:55 PM

In five months of job-hunting, I have gone for a grand total of three interviews.

I’m ashamed to admit it. I’ve spent hours polishing up my resume, scouring job portals, crafting personalised cover letters to each company. I prayed over each application, asking God to open the right door in His time. I’ve knocked on all sorts of doors, but walked through none of them.

Meanwhile, the people around me have been cramming multiple interviews into one day, some even having the luxury of multiple job offers to choose from.

What have I been doing wrong? Has God forgotten about me?

WHERE ARE YOU, GOD?

Growing up, the world taught me how my life would work: Study hard, get a good job, settle down. So I went into the job search confident that I’d “get a good job”. I’d done my part as a good student; the next step should be easy, right?

Nope. Five long months of waiting, complete with exactly three brief glimpses into windows of what could have been. The last rejection, for a job I really hoped to secure, left me utterly broken. I fell away from God, into a dark hole of doubt and self-pity.

I should mention here that during these five months, I wasn’t completely jobless. In between applying for full-time jobs, I received freelance opportunities from friends of friends. I hadn’t asked for any of these; they really just fell into my lap. Some were only for a day or two, but others stretched over weeks and months.

I realised how bitter and discontent I was with what I had. I’d been acting just like the grumbling Israelites, who asked for more and more, without seeing how God was already meeting their needs.

But I failed to see them as blessings – I mean, how long can a freelance job last? The pay is inconsistent, there’s no CPF, it’s not sustainable. When I told others that I was freelancing, the usual response was that it was okay as an interim measure, but I should find a full-time job instead.

So my usual line to others was, “I’m working, but it’s not a real job. I’m still looking.”

I’VE HAD MY EYES OPENED

I only became aware of how blinded I had been over a conversation with a good friend. He recounted Exodus 16, the story of God’s provision to the Israelites in the desert. Despite their ungratefulness, God still provided for the Israelites. However, He only gave them exactly what they needed. No more, no less.

God gave the Israelites manna and instructed them to gather just enough for themselves for each day. Yet the Israelites ignored His command and hoarded much more – only to have it rot the very next day. They didn’t even know what it was at first, just as I did not recognise blessings from God!

Reflecting on this story made me realise how bitter and discontent I was with what I had. I’d been acting just like the grumbling Israelites, who asked for more and more, without seeing how God was already meeting their needs. They did not trust that what He had given them was enough.

In focusing on my own insufficiency according to the expectations of the world, I failed to see that God and His provision were absolutely enough for me.

For a long time, I struggled with feeling inadequate about my lack of a full-time job. During this difficult period of uncertainty, God has well and truly challenged my faith and trust in Him. Till today, I live in limbo, not knowing when the next job (freelance or full-time) will come along.

But these past few months of freelancing have truly revealed God’s faithfulness in His provision. As a freelancer, my workdays and pay are not as consistent as what I would have had with a full-time job. Yet by His grace, I earn enough to get by.

I DO NOT GIVE TO YOU AS THE WORLD GIVES

I have learnt to be thankful and treasure what I have.

In the last few months, I have been able to celebrate my Dad’s birthday with my family, attend a four-day church retreat, and spend valuable time with friends – mostly on weekdays, without worrying about having to take leave.

And in terms of job experience, freelancing has taught me so much. Being exposed to different work environment and working styles teaches you how to adapt fast!

Freelancing is definitely not the conventional 9-to-6 life the world demands I live. But this doesn’t mean that it’s an experience that is inferior to any other.

I look back on my calendar and it’s crazy how each opportunity has fallen so perfectly into place. There is no way that I could have done this on my own. Day by day, I know that it is God who is taking care of me.

For a long time, I struggled with feeling inadequate about my lack of a full-time job. But these past few months of freelancing have truly revealed God’s faithfulness in His provision.

When we’re in the midst of the sandstorm, it’s near impossible to see how God is providing for us in that very moment. Our limited human vision restricts us from seeing what happens in the future. Living by faith can be scary.

And sometimes that fear can cause us to forget that He has already provided all of us with the greatest gift of all – Jesus Christ.

In His unfailing love and grace, God has redeemed us for eternity. Surely we can trust in Him who has given up His very own Son in order to save us sinners (Romans 8:32)! The world can only give us temporary material satisfaction. But the love of God through Jesus Christ is the same forever.

And not just forever – He loves me today.

I wish this was a success story, and that I could tell you I’ve finally made peace with God and found a full-time job. But it isn’t.

I still don’t know when the door to a full-time job will be opened. But till then, I know that I can cling onto His provision, for He knows exactly how much I need in each moment. He who promised is faithful indeed.

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My fool-time dilemma

by | 11 July 2017, 4:45 PM

I just graduated. My commencement ceremony was just this week. Mortar board, gown and everything. Life awaits!

I’ve been shortlisted for a job at a government ministry. This career path offers a good starting salary, with guaranteed progression. An iron rice bowl.

But, but, but …

Somehow I find myself considering the prospect of going into full-time ministry in Thir.st. In my heart of hearts, I feel a great peace when I show up for the day’s Kingdom work. I believe that this is a job I can do. I should do this work. I want to do this.

But, by the world’s standards, I’d be a fool to take this up: A salary that just can’t compare? How will I pay off my student loans? How will I provide for my wife in the future? How will I start a family? Buy a house?

These questions came up vehemently, building around me a furnace of fear, kindled by anxiety.

I had to examine my heart to see if money had become more important than God in my life. Searching for handles, I went to the Word:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:20-22)

This was Jesus’ response to the rich young man who believed he had it all together. I don’t believe that Jesus was saying that to truly follow God, you have to sell off all your possessions, and move to some backwater slum in some foreign land to begin your ministry.

But what if that’s exactly what God wants? Could you take the plunge?

This is the heart of the matter: Money had become the young man’s god. I’m no rich man – I don’t have “great possessions” – yet the issue of money still loomed over my desire to serve the Kingdom.

Jesus knew what needed to be done on the cross; He counted the cost. Then, knowing what it would cost Him, He gave everything.

In the young man’s hesitance, Jesus didn’t cave and give him room to compromise: “You know what, okay lah, just sell your house.” “Fine, fine, you can keep all your stuff, just give me one year.”

Jesus doesn’t compromise. He didn’t just suffer for a little while, then chicken out before his crucifixion. He didn’t just heal a bunch of people over a Sabbatical year, only to go back to do his own carpentry thing after that. He knew what needed to be done; He counted the cost. Then, knowing what it would cost Him, He gave everything.

God’s all in. The same has to go for us.

We grew up climbing this mountain. From when we were young, we’ve always been chasing the next peak: PSLE, O-levels, A-levels, honours degree, a good girlfriend – the list goes on. We’ve been climbing all our lives. But what’s really at our summit? A well-paying job? Recognition in the marketplace? Financial wealth? The glory of God?

For many of us, the hope of finally landing this reward – that’s why we’ve been climbing the whole time. Coming down the mountain feels like failure, the death of a dream. It feels like I’d be abandoning everything I’ve ever trained for.

Now I am at a fork in the road. And both paths look like the Promised Land. One is the path I’ve always been on, the path the world commends, the path to that summit. But after climbing this high, it almost feels like I’m being pointed down the other path – for a life of war.

I don’t know if I’m ready.

But I know I can’t stay here. Soon, I’ll have to make a choice: Push for the summit, or go down His way.

Have you ever climbed a mountain? On volcanic mountains, the gravel gets more loose the higher you climb. So if you stand still in one spot long enough, you begin to sink downwards. In my heart, I know that if my life is not completely aligned to God’s will, then I’m standing in sinking sand.

I wrestle. It’s all about me; in truth, it’s been this way for far too long.

I argue and I reason. It’s not all about me. What about my future wife? What about my mum? Someone’s got to take care of them.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27)

Even as Jesus hung on the cross, He thought of his earthly mother, and made sure her future was sorted out in a very practical way. But John? He never even questioned it. He didn’t offer any ifs, buts, hesitation, conditions:

But Lord, she’s not my real mother.
Lord, give me two more years to earn more money and then I will do this.
Lord this. Lord that.

John simply obeyed. And he obeyed immediately. I believe John could do so because he’d come to know in his heart that whatever command Jesus gave him was for his own good as well as Mary’s.

Our Father God desires good for us (Romans 8:28) when He tells us to do something. This is true even when the command given seems like it doesn’t make any sense.

If we truly believe that God knows best, then all that’s left to be done is to simply … obey.

/ 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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In a family feud, everyone loses

by | 16 June 2017, 5:49 PM

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. (Psalm 133:1, 3)

There is a blessing that is bestowed upon brotherly love. And, on the flip side, sobering consequences will follow a family feud.

Consider the events that followed Jacob’s sneaky stealing of the blessing of the firstborn from his brother, Esau, as their father Isaac lay on death’s bed. You know the story – first Jacob coerced Esau into giving up his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup (Genesis 25:31-34), then dressed up as Esau to deceive an old, blind Isaac into blessing him.

“Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing,” said Isaac (Genesis 27:35).

“He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing,” wailed Esau (Genesis 27:36).

The result: Enmity.

The brothers separated, Esau going to the land of Ishmael, swearing “I will kill my brother”, while Jacob scooted off to Paddan Aram, where he would meet his match in a man more scheming and deceitful than he was – Laban, the father of his future wife.

This is not a story about which brother between Lee Hsien Loong and Lee Hsien Yang is Jacob, and which brother is Esau. They weren’t triplets, so we don’t even have a Lee Wei Ling in the equation.

This isn’t about taking sides, or about reaching a conclusion on who is right or wrong (Proverbs 21:2). Who are we to judge? Who are we to guess what went on behind closed doors? Who are we to imagine we know what Lee Kuan Yew was thinking amid drafting his many wills?

“The first to plead his case seems just, until another comes and examines him,” it says in Proverbs 18:17. He said, but she said, then he said … Who knows the truth? Let the lawyers have their fun.

Nobody wins in a family feud. The churning of anger produces strife.

All we know is: Nobody wins in a family feud. “The churning of anger produces strife,” we are warned in Proverbs 30:33.

Consider the curse laid upon the brothers in Genesis 27:39-40 following their dispute. Esau will serve Jacob – but will eventually grow restless, and throw the yoke off his neck.

Jacob, cut adrift, wandered. To Beersheba, to Harran, to Bethel, to Paddan Aran, where he spent 14 years in the charge of cunning Laban. Finally he fled, across the Euphrates River, to Gilead, then to Mahanaim, and finally he approached Seir, the country of Edom – where Esau now stayed.

That night, at a fork in the river, Jacob wrestled with God.

“I will not let go unless you bless me,” said Jacob. Read this casually and you’ll think it’s a statement of faith – a lesson in how to approach God boldly. But read it in context and you’ll realise it was a confession of failure.

He thought he had all the blessing he needed from his father. He thought with the earthly birthright, he was set for life. But he was wrong. He’d failed. He had to live on the run. He couldn’t easily get the woman he loved. He fell out with his father-in-law.

He had failed, and now he was desperate for a blessing that truly mattered. And this was the blessing: That he saw God face to face, and yet his life was spared (Genesis 32:30). That was the day Jacob’s life finally turned itself around.

The next chapter, Genesis 33, was all about forgiveness and reconciliation. It started with Jacob coming forth to make amends with flocks and herds, only to have Esau try to refuse. “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.” (Genesis 33:9)

The brothers embraced, kissed, made amends. They walked and they talked. Jacob honoured his older brother, bowing before Esau and calling him “my lord”; Esau – who once swore he would spill Jacob’s blood – offered men to protect Jacob, “my brother”.

All this happened at a place called Sukkoth. Shelter.

The family home should be our place of shelter, refuge – our safe haven. Blood runs warm.

The lesson of Jacob is that no material blessing – no inheritance or legal battle bitterly won – could ever be better than the blessing that is promised when sibling honours sibling, brother loves brother.

After the reconciliation, Jacob went back to Bethel. His name was changed to Israel.

The lesson of Jacob is that no material blessing – no inheritance or legal battle bitterly won – could ever be better than the blessing that is promised when sibling honours sibling, brother loves brother.

And there he got the real blessing: “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” (Genesis 35:11)

The blessing ran not merely within the family, but to the nation. A community of nations, even. Which seems a lot preferable to a nation watching in horror as the First Family conflict is played out in public.

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

/ 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.

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I don’t have everything, but I have more than enough

Looking for a job, learning how to trust

My fool-time dilemma

In a family feud, everyone loses