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Am I really honouring God in my studies?

by | 18 April 2018, 1:49 PM

You’re in the middle of a sermon but your mind is somewhere else.

You’re thinking about the truckload of assignments waiting for you, or that exam tomorrow you haven’t studied for. You stand for the closing worship song, but instead of meditating on the lyrics – you’re waiting to rush home to hit the books.


I’m sure we’ve all been there. In this grades-driven nation, we’re used to the pressure of living up to the expectations of both our parents and ourselves. In fact, Singaporean youths today are more motivated in their studies than the global average.

That’s a good thing, but there’s a danger to it: Our academic pursuits so easily overshadow eternal things without us even realising it.

As someone whose identity has been tied to her grades for the longest time, I relate well to this struggle. Back in secondary school, I used to dread going to church whenever my exams were coming up. I studied my revision notes right under the nose of the preacher and would rush home as soon as service ended each week.

There are so many more urgent and important things to do.

That was one of the recurring thoughts in my head whenever I headed to church, did my devotionals or read the Bible. Though I knew they were wrong, why did they ring so true in my head?

How could anything be as important as devoting time spent to God and learning more about Him and His Word? How could I let the chase for grades overtake God’s place? My thought-life betrayed the condition of my heart.

Ever heard the hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing?

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

I realise how easily our hearts wander from him, how easily the things of this world can overtake God’s place in our hearts.

Desiring to excel in our studies is certainly something to be commended. We are all called to be good stewards of the resources God gives us. But in the case of time, is it all going into our studies? Are we neglecting to spend real quality time in Church or at home with our family?

““Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)

Being a student doesn’t exempt you from being salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). When we study for God’s glory – working in a spirit of excellence and exemplifying Christlike character – it is a testimony to our schoolmates and friends.

We must know our priorities. While it’s important to be good students, our personal walk with Him is infinitely more important. We have little issue setting aside time for the things we enjoy doing, or the people we hold dear … But is it the same for God?

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Make time for what’s important.

I’ve made it a point to do my devotionals as soon as I’m up from bed. Whenever I feel lethargic, I do my devotion at another time in the day when I’m fresher to concentrate better.

I’ve also developed the habit of using my trusty planner to note down important deadlines. I plan my time properly to spare myself the temptation of skipping Church.

It’s never easy to put God above our worldly priorities. Sometimes, even if we truly desire to pursue Him, our fallen human nature causes us to stray from Him. How we need the Holy Spirit to help us desire Him.

/ helene@thir.st

After surviving the chaos of Poly life fighting the evils of sleep deprivation and academic stress, Helene now spends most of her free time repaying her three years accumulated debt of not doing household chores.

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I thought I was good for nothing

by Cindy Leow | 17 April 2018, 5:11 PM

As a child, I always wondered what I was good at. I wasn’t a good student and never knew the purpose of studying other than appeasing my parents – something I wasn’t good at doing either.

Over the years, this feeling of being “lost” and having nowhere to go got even more desperate. Soon, I turned to computer games and was quickly hooked. I invested all my time into these games, thinking that by doing so, I could be good at something for once.

However, the consequences of squandering hours on these games kicked in quickly. My grades suffered even more and at times, it started to seem like my parents clearly favoured my studious sister.

Due to the lack of attention, I turned to my school friends. But my friendships were stormy and filled with arguments when things didn’t go my way, and soon I turned away from them too.

Everything was a wreck. There was no one I could turn to and it seemed like I was in this world all alone. There was no purpose in living, not even living to see the next day.

Like any other Singaporean child, tuition was unavoidable with the grades I was attaining in school. Despite the many tuition classes I attended, the best grades I could muster were a mere pass. One day, my mother heard of a tutor who had helped to drastically improve my cousin’s school results and hired him in hopes that he would do the same with mine.

This tutor, G, taught me for a year, and my grades started to improve, though I wouldn’t say I excelled. Soon, G needed to drop some of his students as he needed to focus on his new-found job. So I ended up being passed to another tutor, S.

S was stricter with me and my work as compared to G. Sometimes I would even end up crying in class because of uncompleted homework. But despite her intense tutoring, my grades remained borderline.

One day, a week before Easter, S asked if I’d like to go to church. I declined her politely at first, but upon hearing there would be a drama production, I agreed to go.

On Resurrection Sunday itself, I remember stepping into the hall and being warmly greeted by many people. They spoke to me as though they’d known me for a long time, and I felt very welcomed.

Though I did not know the meaning of the songs we sang during worship, nor the “Jesus” everyone was worshipping, I was moved by a deep sense of peace within that I haven’t felt before. It was also strange, standing in this place I’d never been, to feel like I was home.

When the preacher asked if anyone would like to receive Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour,  I put up my hand. Though I don’t fully know why I did, I followed S as she brought me forward to receive salvation.

During the Sinner’s Prayer, I was overwhelmed with emotion. It felt like someone had unlocked the deepest places of my heart, and now all the bottled up feelings were tumbling out.

The loneliness, the failure, the condemnation, the feeling of unworthiness; they seemed to dissolve in an instant. And all that was left was this feeling of lightness … Of joy.

I went home that day with a changed heart.

When my parents heard that I had embraced Christianity, they objected slightly, but did not stop me from going to church. Soon enough, I had quickly integrated into my new cell group and continued to observe changes in my character and disposition. I knew that the Jesus who had met me on the first day was with me every step of the way.

However, my grades remained the same. I was still failing in most subjects and did not have any interest in anything else besides English lessons.

In the year I had to take my ‘N’ Levels, I was afraid, for I didn’t know what I wanted in life, nor was I good at anything. It was a constant thought and worry in my mind.

One day, the head of the radio ministry in church approached me. He told me I had a nice voice and asked me if I was interested in joining their ministry. Thinking that I had nothing to lose, I agreed. After learning that I was completing secondary school soon, he encouraged me to consider pursuing media studies in a polytechnic.

After our conversation that day, I looked up the course he’d mentioned online and discovered that it really was something I found exciting. This compelled me to study hard for my exams and by the grace of God, I was able to apply for media studies.

I finally found myself enjoying what I was studying, and even excelled in school. Things were finally taking a turn for the better.

Through the radio ministry in church, I was also trained in public speaking, and even took the stage for various church events. It was in this place I found God’s calling for me as His mouthpiece.

One day, my previous tutor S revealed to me that my first tutor, G, had transferred me to her with only one condition: To bring me to church. My life had always been part of a divine plan.

Looking back, I realised that through knowing Jesus, I’d found my calling, confidence and most importantly, my first love. My thoughts and worries about my life were never unheard. Jesus … the name I was once unfamiliar with, now a name I call upon every day.

Of course, my journey is far from over. There are still many areas that I struggle in. However, I now live victoriously knowing that He has died and overcome the world (Matthew 16:33).


This is a submission from a participant of our Greater Love Giveaway.

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I’m afraid of life after university

by Joseph Koh | 8 April 2018, 2:51 PM

Last month, I sat down with an ex-mentee of mine for the first time in years.

A few minutes into our conversation, I realised that the second year university student across the table from me was nursing an anxious heart. With furrowed brows, he was telling me about a coveted internship that had slipped through his fingers.

I was no different in university. It was a time when the expectations and pressures of adulthood loomed large — a monolithic mountain made of our fears. I remember making comparisons and beginning to desire wealth and success. There was that thought that without racking up accomplishments in life – our lives would amount to nothing.

I still think about my friends from business school – especially those from Singapore Management University. There are certain drills pummelled into every student’s head there: One internship is never enough, work tirelessly on networking, make full use of your summers, spruce up your resume with accomplishments … It never ends.

By the time I got to the second semester of year 3, I began fretting about my future.

  • What am I do?
  • Where am I headed?
  • When will I find something that I’m great at?
  • Am I looking for something that isn’t even available?

I was flummoxed by many questions I had very few answers to. I didn’t know what I was going to do in life. I tossed and turned whenever it came to ascertaining the field that I was to pursue. I had considered consulting, research, public relations, journalism – even full-time ministry!

I wrote this down in my journal during my final year in university: “In the morning, I felt like there was a constant, nagging fear that dwelled in my heart as I was chionging [rushing] my essay. I realised that the past couple of weeks have been like that and I didn’t really know how to manage it … Such a fear and sense of dread when I embark on anything.”

When we choose not to lean “on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) or fears — but on God — we give Him the space to unravel the answers to our heart’s deepest questions.

I’ve worked for almost three years now. Whenever I look back at the hectic times on campus, I realise that the questions most university students are asking could be distilled into two existential ones:

  1. What was I created to do?
  2. Am I significant?

It really boils down to identity, because in our early twenties we’re still figuring out and fumbling through a world we cannot fully grasp or control. There were many things that I was interested in — music, urbanisation, branding and writing are some — but I had no clue about what I was particularly good at. God was quietly at work in my life, but I did not have much clarity on where His hand was directing me.

I’ve realised that the biggest danger is not in being unable to answer these questions. It is thinking that these two questions of vocation and identity are intertwined with each other. In university, our competencies and skills are inextricably meshed with our value in society. For instance, we rush into applying for Management Associate positions at premier corporations because we believe that we will be more highly prized in the marketplace.

But the Bible tells us that what we do is distinct from our self-worth. The gifts and talents that God has generously bestowed us with have no bearing on our significance as a son or daughter at the King’s table. Henri Nouwen writes, “Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity, and power is a false identity — an illusion! Loudly and clearly he says: ‘You are not what the world makes you, but you are children of God.’”

So, how should we answer these two questions?

I could give you any amount of handles, but what I really believe is that we have to start from a place of surrender. We must believe that forfeiting our soul to gain the whole world will only prove futile (Matthew 16:26). The crowns we adorn have to first be crushed.

On 12 January 2015, I attended a church retreat in the last semester of university. I was about to graduate and this was the very period where the uncertainties of life got inside my head and under my skin. During an altar call session, God waded past the seaweed and moss in my heart and found me. I wrote this in my journal entry to Him thereafter: “You brought me to the end of myself. I offered you my whole heart for the very first time in my life … I don’t know what giving you EVERYTHING entails but I know that there is no other way. I cannot live without you, Lord.”

My heart ached from this prayer, bruised from the breaking of my self-will. I finally caught a glimpse of what it meant for all of me to be found in Him. When we choose not to lean “on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) or fears — but on God — we give Him the space to unravel the answers to our heart’s deepest questions.

Our Creator knows exactly what our hands were grafted to do. Our Father provides us with the love, acceptance and validation that our broken souls need. In Psalm 33:15, we are assured that God is “he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do”. There is nothing that escapes Him.

If you’re struggling in the throes of university today, I assure you that when you give your life over to Christ, you will never free-fall into an abyss of uncertainty. He is more committed to your destiny than any mentor, employer or friend ever will be.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” (Saint Augustine)


This article was first published on Selah.sg, and is republished with permission.

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Two steps to get over feeling inadequate

by | 2 April 2018, 10:56 AM

My academic life can be summed up in 2 words: “Over-expectation” and “underachievement.”

I always aimed high only to get a result that was average. This pattern created a lot of inadequacy in me. Why can’t I do as good as that person? Why can’t I be like him? Why can’t I produce work as good as her? These are questions I still struggle with today.

But I’m not alone. Dealing with inadequacy is a common struggle in our society. My personal breakthrough came when I realised this one simple truth: It’s alright to be inadequate.

Let me explain. When I was wallowing in self–pity, I read Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The first part of the verse made something inside me click – God understands!

He knows how we feel when we fall short of the expectations. He knows what goes on in our head when it seems we can’t do anything right. When the world doesn’t seem to understand, it’s comforting to know that one person does – And He walks with you still.

Nice to know … But the inadequacy remained. So how? I went to my best friends and had a long discussion with them about my struggle with feeling inadequate. They offered me a two-step solution to feeling inadequate. There are two parts to it: The first may be painful, but the other brings relief.

1. Be honest with yourself

Take a piece of paper and a pen. Draw a straight line down the middle of your paper. Now, read on.

Be honest. If you believe you can’t accomplish a task because you don’t have the skill required for it – acknowledge it and then go and develop your skillset. Humbly acknowledge your shortfalls and ask God to help you. If we aren’t honest, but keep telling ourselves “I can do it”, we are pressuring and setting ourselves up for a crushing failure.

“I felt like the dumbest student in school”

That was me in the lead up to my O Levels. I was insistent that I was going to meet the impossibly high standards I had set for myself at the preliminary examinations. I worked my hardest in the spirit of self–help and self–motivation. But most of my results went “underwater” – that is going below the “C” level.

The proud facade of self-help had shattered. I hadn’t merely failed to meet my expectations; I had proven to myself that every empty encouragement I held onto was a lie.

Back to the paper. On the left side of it, I want you to complete the sentence: “I am inadequate because … ”

2. Stop looking at yourself – Look to God!

It’s so easy to keep looking at ourselves and our abilities. But we often forget that our “secret weapon” when dealing with struggles like inadequacy lies infinitely beyond ourselves. We forget that we have a God who not only walks with us but also grants us heavenly resources to fulfill His purposes and destiny for us.

When we align our wills to His, there is strength, wisdom, courage and provision to overcome any obstacle. We will never be able to do it by ourselves, but we can when we let God carry us. It takes humility.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

If we stop looking at ourselves and start looking upwards to our Heavenly Father, we would be empowered to do the things we should!

Humbly acknowledge your shortfalls and ask God to help you. If we aren’t honest, but keep telling ourselves “I can do it”, we are pressuring and setting ourselves up for a crushing failure. 

Look at the paper again. On the other half, complete the sentence: “But He is able because … ” List out as many attributes of God’s character as you can. If He has done a powerful work in your life before, write it down, trusting that if He has done it before – He can do it again. Find verses which speak life into your inadequacies and write them down as well.

Once you have filled your paper, talk to God. Admit your inadequacy. Be honest about your inability to do anything apart from Him. But declare that God is able, and ask Jehovah Jireh to provide you with everything you need to overcome what you must.

Ask according to His will, and He will come through for you.

/ junheng@thir.st

JunHeng is a 100% extrovert who loves caffeine – lots of caffeine. He also likes HTHTs, jamming and eating good food. Did he mention he loves caffeine?

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by Ally B. | 27 March 2018, 10:54 AM

My journey with God started in 2007: A six-year-old child, eyes squeezed shut and chubby hands clasped together in prayer as I sat with my kindergarten friends around a table, reciting grace before lunch. I didn’t actually know what “saying grace” was at that time, just like how singing “Hosanna” during worship felt strangely special, and that God was a magical entity who loved me.

But my life as a child was nothing positive or sweet. At six years old, I was already learning to be independent – walking about a kilometre after alighting the school bus every afternoon to a home that was empty and silent.

My mother, though young at the time, was already a haggard woman, worn out from fetching my autistic younger brother to and fro from a school that was a far way away from home. She had no time for her firstborn – me.

Deep down, I was troubled. And despite knowing that I was blessed beyond imagination, I was needy. I wanted my mother’s company. I wanted her love.

My faith in God was something I did not quite understand, so when I graduated from my Christian kindergarten, the church experiences I had ceased, though the heartwarming memories of worship and Christmas celebrations stayed with me.

I was guided back onto my journey with Christ at Primary 4, when a friend from school invited me to church. We attended adult service and while sermons got a little complicated, I was glad to be in touch with religion again. I truly loved going to church and was overwhelmed by the love God had for me.

Yet at the same time, I was unable to come to terms that Jesus was my rock, my one truly good thing in this sinful world. I was still muddling through life – a childhood of solitude meant that I had to figure things out on my own, from social skills to prioritising my studies. As such, my faith, though present, was weakened by the many cares of life.

I ultimately stopped going to church two years later.

I continued professing to be a Christian in my secondary school days, but it was a superficial statement as I neither read the Bible nor went to church. I knew nothing about God’s word. Yet through the turbulence of my teenage years, I felt God’s love reach out to me and wash over my heart, calming it at times where life felt like tidal waves crashing over and over on me.

I wanted to be a “good”, churchgoing Christian along with my other Christian classmates, but I was afraid. The way they carried themselves seemed to be nothing short of godly and I too wanted to be kind, to love my neighbours as I loved myself (Mark 12:31) and to know what it meant to fear and obey God.

Though my church visits never failed to lift me spiritually, they were sporadic and inconsistent, not because my schedule prevented my commitment, but because my fears often stood in the way. 

So when I was diagnosed with major depression and post-traumatic stress in 2016, I wholly blamed myself. I blamed myself for not living a life of worship, for not choosing God when my Heavenly Father gave up His only son for my salvation. I blamed myself for not finding joy in every day when He has provided me with a life so abundant (John 10:10).

Things only got worse as I decided that perhaps God’s plan for me was suicide. And I saw no problem with the logic – if I died, the community I was in could wake up to the severity of mental health, considering that the elite school I was in put immense pressure on students.

My death could be a lesson for others, which I thought was beneficial in essence. Maybe this really is what God has planned for me.

As I turn 17 this year, I’ve attempted suicide four times. But I believe the worst has passed.

During my season of struggle, one verse from the Bible got me thinking – Jeremiah 29:11.

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

I spent time reflecting on the word “prosper” – did prospering really mean ending my life? Ending my life seemed to mean that there would be no future opportunities to serve God or thrive in His grace, while prospering involves good things.

I still looked forward to a day when I’d be doing what God has planned for me; yes, there’s been several dips in my journey – but what does my future look like?

So every time I found myself thinking that perhaps God wants me dead, I focussed on the truth that He is somehow working in my life and I have to work with Him instead of dwelling on my suicidal thoughts and entertaining the devil’s lies.

I truly believe that doing my best to walk away from my suicidal self with the power of God in me will help me go far in life. Praying regularly has helped tremendously: I profess my gratitude for life and ask the Holy Spirit to guard my heart and mind.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

The season I’m walking out of may have been marked by weeks and weeks of suicidal thoughts and severe, persistent heartache, but I am learning to actively cast my anxieties upon my God, because I know He cares (1 Peter 5:7). I want to walk with Him and towards His likeness, and away from the sin that entangles me (Hebrews 12:1).

I go to church every weekend now; it leaves my mind fresh and my heart alive in the Spirit. I’ve joined a cell group with members who love God, and we are led by a cell leader who desires to open our eyes to God and His word.

I feel the presence of God so much more frequently than when my faith was still shallow. And I’m still meditating on the truth that I have been saved by grace, through faith, and that I’ve been blessed with so much good, not because I deserve any of it – but because I have a good Father.

My story, which I thought would have ended much earlier, is still running. And I’ll continue journeying with God, no matter what my broken self desires. Pray with me that I will fix my eyes on Him always, especially in the darkest days.


This is a submission from a participant of our Greater Love Giveaway. From now till the end of March 2018, we are giving away a pack of limited edition Thir.st “Greater Love” Stickers in exchange for every story. Stories must have a personal/local angle and be of 800-1000 words. Send us yours here.

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I too walked the path of broken dreams

by Amanda Chong | 5 March 2018, 2:32 PM

This was a response written to Charmaine Ang’s story, “When the dreams in your heart are torn apart“.


Dear Charmaine,

Thank you for stepping out to share your testimony about God’s love and how He impacted your life. Truly, our God is magnificent and only wants the best for us. Your article very much relates to how much I experience God working in my life too.

Like you, my ambition was to be a doctor since I was four. My father is a doctor and my mum is a nurse, so for my whole life, I had the desire to be a doctor and wanted to be just like them.

I studied really hard, got into the top class in Secondary school, and later on, the courses I needed to take in Junior College. I thought I was all set to be a doctor in the future. Back then I even made prayers to God such as, “God, if you let me be a doctor, I promise I’ll never bother you again.”

I was young, immature and didn’t read the Word much. I didn’t grow up in a Christian family and had misconstrued views about God even though I went to church. In fact, I used to think that He was just a divine being who had to send Jesus Christ to die for our sins because we were flawed, and we were a trouble to Him. It was a wrong perception. 

Subsequently, when my “A” level results came out, I was devastated. I didn’t do well enough to get into medical school. Like you, my dreams were crushed. I remember telling myself, what’s the point of going to church, praying daily and the likes – if God did not even care about me?

He said He promised a hope and a future for me, why did He not give me the best? I blamed God, and then backslided.

I know I must have hurt God a lot. Through the years, God drew me back to Him through various means. In His mercy, He showed that He indeed cared about me. I’ve now come to see Him as the Father who cares too much to give us lesser things.

It has been a decade, and I’m not a doctor. I’m an accountant. I’m not good at math, yet God showed me that I am an accountant only because of His strength and not mine. Giving me this occupation is a gift from Him, it is His calling for me.

When I first graduated, I couldn’t understand His plans as to why I was taking this degree. But it has been more than six years since I’ve become an accountant and I cherish the lessons He has taught me through the years.

I would never trade the dreams I thought I lost for the journey He took me through with Him.

I went for a mission trip last year in the Philippines. At the youth service, there was an altar call for those with broken dreams. Many stepped forward, and as I prayed at the altar for each of them, I felt their heart. I understood how these broken dreams had really made them upset.

I knew how it felt because I too journeyed through it.

But this I also knew: That God would eventually strengthen them and they will overcome, because He did the same for me.

Sometimes, God lets us go through certain journeys so that we may take away precious lessons. He wants us to have a glimpse and a piece of His heart, to eventually be a testimony of His goodness to others – to bring glory to His name, just like you have. 😊

May God continue to shower you with His grace and that you’ll continue to abide in Him. God bless you my sister in Christ!


This is a submission from a participant of our Greater Love Giveaway. From now till the end of March 2018, we are giving away a pack of limited edition Thir.st “Greater Love” Stickers in exchange for every story. Stories must have a personal/local angle and be of 800-1000 words. Send us yours here.

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Article list

Am I really honouring God in my studies?

I thought I was good for nothing

I’m afraid of life after university

Two steps to get over feeling inadequate

I believed that God’s plan for me was to die

I too walked the path of broken dreams