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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. 💯

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Faith

God is at work

by Abigail Dawes | 17 August 2017, 11:35 AM

Go to work. Get frustrated. Feel like quitting. Receive monthly salary. Don’t quit. Repeat.

As a young professional barely out of university, my existence seemed to be quickly confined to this endless loop.

What had happened to all the dreams I dreamt in university as I sat in lectures? Where was the impact I was supposed to make on the world through my job, the like-minded colleagues I was supposed to have, the patient boss who would mentor me?

The reality I was living out seemed to be the polar opposite of everything I had hoped for.

I had a dream job in mind – but I failed miserably at the interview, so I ended up instead at a firm that my idealistic college self would never have considered applying for. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?

I was relieved to be offered a permanent position, but the condition was that I’d have to accept work in an area of law that I truly despised. As the job market for lawyers was so bad, I stayed.

The reality I was living out seemed to be the polar opposite of everything I had hoped for.

It was not long before I turned these frustrations on God. Why had He placed desires for greater things in my heart? Why was the road to becoming a Joseph, Daniel or Esther – purposeful overcomers in their secular realms – smoother and faster for others?

Was I not as special to Him as His other children?

I concluded that God was not interested in my career. He cared about whether I turned up for prayer meetings, cell group and served in the worship team faithfully, but when it came to my workplace, I was on my own.

This conclusion on God’s intentions for my life meant that a line in the sand had been drawn between my spiritual life and work. God’s power was available for one but not the other.

One Sunday, I heard my pastor recount a season in his working life, before he became a full-time minister.

As a young employee, he did not have any influence over policies or directives, and was surrounded by senior officers who operated with a very different set of values from his.

They did things that were not ethical and also persecuted him for standing his ground. But as my pastor began to pray and intercede for his workplace, doing his best at his job as well as church ministry, he began to see changes.

He found favour with his bosses, saw “toxic” colleagues transferred to other departments and started to receive God’s direction for his day-to-day work, which gave him an edge over his peers.

It struck a chord in my heart. I wanted the same for my life – I needed God in my here and now. The God of the desert and the valley, the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.

The Heavenly Father who gets right in there with you, in the muck and dreariness of life, and in His still small voice whispers hope for each new day and faith for the final prize of life (1 Corinthians 9:24).

From that day, my perspective shifted and my heart opened again.

The Heavenly Father gets right in there with you, in the muck and dreariness of life, and in His still small voice whispers hope for each new day.

I started praying for my bosses and my colleagues. I would get to work early to pray over my office space – declaring that the whole place belonged to God. I would sing over myself the call of God and His desires for my life. I found strength to serve the boss that my colleagues despised.

Was it a struggle? Sure. But I found myself able to do something that I could not even have imagined doing before.

Every piece of work that came my way, whether or not it was my cup of tea, I would undertake with the revelation that I was serving the unseen God behind my boss.

I accepted each piece of work, every interaction with a difficult colleague or superior, as a stepping stone to my destiny.

In the struggle to find meaning in my workplace, I learnt that we don’t always have to be Prime Minister Joseph to have influence (Genesis 41:37-41) – we can be Prisoner Joseph too (Genesis 39:20-23).

The Lord needs change agents in every echelon of the corporate ladder.

You don’t have to do anything super Christian to shift the atmosphere of your workplace. It’s as simple as living out our faith as Jesus taught us to, such as loving those who are difficult and unloveable (Matthew 5:43-48) or lending a hand for a project that will never be credited to you (Matthew 6:1-4).

We can be change agents of the spiritual and physical climate of our workplace. Our colleagues may never expressly say it but they most surely will feel it.

We should also be prepared for opposition wherever we’re placed – but we should only move when the Lord tells us to. Every job change should be a Spirit-led decision, not a frustration-led one.

We can’t delude ourselves into thinking that God only leads us to beds of roses. Remember Joseph’s prison cell, or Daniel’s den of lions.

Why? It’s not about the circumstances we find ourselves in. God is more interested in shaping our character. We can be used only to the extent that we have been moulded – and the marketplace is one of the best places for this to happen.

When David was anointed as the next king of Israel at the age of 16, what ensued was not a straight and easy path up the “corporate ladder”.

David had to work under and submit to an insecure King Saul, have his kindness repaid with ungratefulness, deal with “office politics”, and prove his worth in leading military missions – for us, it could be unwanted assignments our boss sends our way.

It was only 14 years later that David became King. Before he set foot in the palace of the kings, he had to be moulded in the valley of death.

The path to greatness requires endurance, perseverence, knowing the ways God can work at every step of the process.

Eventually, the work that I had once thought would get me nowhere led me to taking up a position I never dreamed would open up for me – in a government Ministry, practising the type of law that I had dreamt about in those lectures.

Am I the boss now? No. Have I been tapped as the next big thing in law? No. Am I drawing a six-figure salary? No.

But I feel and believe that I have unlocked so much more than just that. More than mere title, prestige or money.

What is the more that you’re searching for?

I am part of the committee of The Vanguard Movement Conference, a half-day conference for young adults who want to know the plan God has for them in their career.

We are just like you. We don’t profess to have it all together, but we are on the same journey, the same struggles, the same crises of identity – but most importantly, we are all sons and daughters of God.

We desire to see God move in even mightier ways in the workplace than what we have already seen.

The Vanguard Movement aims to equip every believer – to bring God into their place of assignment and sphere of influence.

To help you know God’s heart for your future, career and ministry, and shift your perspective on how to be a follower of Christ in the marketplace.

To help you move from survival mode to becoming a movement leader.

From surviving to thriving.


To sign up for The Vanguard Movement or to find out more, please visit their event details page.

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Do you face each new season in life with anticipation or anxiety?

by Hannah Lois Ng | 14 August 2017, 12:27 PM

What would it be like if our world was always day, with no night?

I asked myself this question while on a plane from San Francisco to Singapore – a 16-hour flight, with nearly all of it in daylight because of the time zone differences.

Because I love sunlight so much, I figured I wouldn’t mind having it 24/7. It would filter cheerfully into my office through the glass windows, even at 7pm; and if Singapore’s weather were cooler, after work I could lie on the grass, under a tree, and read a book in the sun.

Without darkness, I might just feel more alive, more cheerful, more hopeful.

But in such a world, I know I would miss having sunrises and sunsets – those precious hours where clouds turn impossibly pink and everything becomes gold. For such glory to exist, day needs to graciously make way to night, and night to day. If either “season” remained forever, we would be robbed of the beautiful transitions between them.

Transitions is a word which brings up mixed feelings. As a youth, each future transition always seemed exciting. In junior college, I looked forward to entering university to pursue a course I liked (where I finally did not have to study Math!). In university, I spent hours and hours dreaming of what I would do once I graduated. Too often, I simply could not wait for the next change to come.

What’s tough in transitions is that we bid farewell to a previous season which can never come back, while ushering in a new season of life.

Ironically, now that I’ve actually started working, I find myself yearning to be back in student life again.

This new season of work has, at times, felt like overwhelming darkness. There are days I wish the “sunlight” of studenthood didn’t have to end, so I wouldn’t need to move out of that carefree season into this period of heavier responsibility.

Then there’s the transition into married life, which I will be making in a year’s time. I’m looking forward to it, yet am sometimes gripped by bouts of anxiety that can completely overtake the anticipation. I know I will miss living with my siblings and parents – what if we drift apart? What if I’m too incapable or too emotional to support my husband well? Too irresponsible to manage my own home?

The looming transition brings spurts of excitement met by other moments of despair, where I’m sometimes tempted to maintain status quo and not get married!

What’s tough in transitions is that we bid farewell to a previous season which can never come back, while ushering in a new season of life. This quote from Elisabeth Elliot aptly captures the mixed feelings of letting go and moving on:

“The growth of all living green things wonderfully represents the process of receiving and relinquishing, gaining and losing, living and dying.

“The seed falls into the ground, dies as the new shoot springs up. There must be a splitting and a breaking in order for a bud to form.  The bud ‘lets go’ when the flower forms. The calyx lets go of the flower. The petals must curl up and die in order for the fruit to form. The fruit falls, splits, relinquishes the seed.  The seed falls into the ground …

“There is no ongoing spiritual life without this process of letting go. At the precise point where we refuse, growth stops.” (Passion and Purity: Learning to bring your love life under Christ’s control, 2002)

One heavenly day, we might experience a place where there is no more letting go and moving on; a period of unending daylight.

But on this side of eternity, we are blessed with more sunrises and sunsets – transitions big and small – to walk through. May our eyes be opened to the glory and beauty in each one.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11)


This article was first published on the Church of our Saviour website and republished with permission. 

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The real reason you’re in school

by | 8 August 2017, 5:35 PM

What’s the big deal about entering university? I mean, most of us been through 12 or more years in the Singapore education system – isn’t college just an extension of the journey as a student?

So when I finally enrolled two years ago, to take my mind on the fact I was facing yet more mugging, I decided to throw myself into all the fun stuff. I took part in 3 camps before school started and tried things like kayaking and diving. I took it as my chance to try anything and everything I wanted to.

It should have been the best time of my life, but it … wasn’t.

First, I was starting a course that was my third choice. It wasn’t that I hated social science – it just wasn’t what I wanted to do, and didn’t sound very exciting to me. Second, I wanted to get out of school as quickly as I could – to go out and experience the world.

I didn’t know why God put me in SMU, much less the School of Social Science. I didn’t bother asking Him. I didn’t consider how He may have placed me here for something beyond just getting a degree.

But as the school days went by, God began to move, unexpectedly.

So now I’ve come to realise: I’m not just a student. I’m an ambassador for Christ, purposefully placed in my school.

I vividly remember one sociology lesson in which we discussed religions, and how cults are formed. As we argued about whether religion is real and how much of it is a social construct, my friend turned to me: “You’re a Christian right? What’s that like?”

My classmates were asking me to share Christ with them. In class! Some listened out of curiosity. Some later told me that they’ve been exploring various religions, and were especially interested in exploring Christianity.

I was stunned at how God could move. I wasn’t intentionally looking for a chance to proclaim the Good News, or actively looking for opportunities to bring my friends closer to Christ. But He made it happen.

You know how it says in Matthew 9:37-38 that “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”? I’d always doubted it. What harvest? Where? But when classmates and school friends came forward and initiated these divine conversations, I began to believe.

So now I’ve come to realise: I’m not just a student. I’m an ambassador for Christ, purposefully placed in my school. My job is to be faithful in loving people and bringing them closer to Him.

I was so focused on what school could do for me that I forgot to consider how God is working there. Missing out on what God is doing, and simply getting through by university as quickly as possible, would be my loss.

If I could turn back time to when I first started university, I’d take more time to seek God’s purpose for me in the school. I’d change my mindset – not viewing university as just another four years of school, but learning to see the campus as my mission field.

 

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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Senang diri: How I learnt to march to a better beat

by Shermaine Aik | 10 July 2017, 5:27 PM

Senang diri. Two words that most Singaporean men are familiar with from their time in National Service. And words I’ve come to realise I need to take to heart. Stand at ease.

I’ve been getting excited about what’s happening all around Singapore. We were dubbed the “Antioch of Asia” by Billy Graham in 1978, and it feels like that vision is becoming more real each day – with movements like Permission to Dream at various university campuses in January, the Elijah 7000 prayer movement in May, and Campus Combined in June.

But in all these excitement, I come to realise the need to be God-centric and not good-centric – to serve from a place of rest. Stand at ease.

When we stand at ease, we take a little pause to listen to what Christ has to say, and not run ahead of ourselves. To make sure we’re not downgrading God-things into merely good things.

I learnt this because a couple of months back, I did just that – I ran way ahead of myself. I was doing so many different things – for God, or so I thought. I was leading a small group, “mentoring” several individuals, serving in church ministry and in school committees, all at the same time.

People constantly asked me if I had any prayer requests. But the prideful side of me refused their kind gestures. I kept telling them – convincing myself – that I was in a good place, there was no need to pray for me.

But the moment I paused amid my flurry of activities, I found that I was weary. Drained. I was tired, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. More worryingly, I found I had stopped loving people. I found them annoying and I just wanted to hide in my shell, away from people.

God was beginning to break down the pride in me, gently letting me know that I am not indispensable, and that it was not sustainable to run this race on my own strength.

I realised I needed to take a step back.

Around November last year, I was offered the role of being Prayer I/C for Permission to Dream, the cross-campus, pan-denominational prayer movement. Permission to Dream was something close to my heart as I have always wanted to see schools and students united in pursuit of Christ.

I knew that the event would be an exciting one – but I also knew the Holy Spirit was gently nudging me away from it. The nudge was to tell me to turn back to God once again, to refill myself before serving. To go back to the Word and seek restoration. To refresh my soul.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;
They will run and not grow weary,
They will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)

So in December, when I had to make a decision, I was torn. I remembered telling God: “I look to you, guide me please.”

It may seem a simple phrase, but it was so difficult to say – because it meant that I was acknowledging that I could no longer rely on myself.

I said “no” to planning Permission to Dream. It meant I had the time to recline at Jesus’ feet, a feeling I had missed for a long time. It reminded me once again that God does not need us to run things.

He gives different people different gifts at different times for different things. He has the power to raise even dead people to life – all we have got to do is to stand at ease and be obedient to His calling.

Standing at ease helps us to rest in His presence each day. Though there are times when I just want to sleep after ending a long day of work or school, I realise that if I put it off – telling God I will pray and read His Word tomorrow – tomorrow never comes. Instead, what comes is burnout.

So now I treat the end of each day as a pit-stop. At that pit-stop, I rest. This is not an optional extra – God rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done (Genesis 2:3).

Take time to check the state of your heart. Pause to be refreshed. Stop to hear from God again. Make sure He’s the reason why we’re doing anything. Our calling is not to save the world, but always to love the Lord our God. This love should drive the commitment, and our action.

We move out of a place of rest. Stand at ease, and you won’t grow weary.

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Stepping out of my sibling’s shadow

by Joan Yeo | 10 July 2017, 3:29 PM

There’s the middle child syndrome, the only child stereotype and now, the younger sibling struggle.

Siblings are expected to be similar. People expect you to behave the same, maybe even look the same.

Growing up, I went to all the same schools as my older sister. Even though we are half a decade apart, I was always known as her sister. She was extremely popular among her peers and teachers; teachers’ eyes would light up immediately whenever I drew the link between us.

It doesn’t just happen in school. My sister and I serve in the dance ministry in church. She entered the ministry about 4 years before I did. When I joined her there, everyone asked me “so, you do ballet too?”

I have to admit that my sister and I are quite similar in many ways. We look alike, we’re interested in dance.

Even my parents perpetuated the feeling. I’ve always followed my sister in terms of what I do, which school I go to, and even where I take my enrichment lessons. My parents seemed to make her the test subject, the prototype, for me to follow.

Frankly, it was blissful. She took all the risks and first times, so I could have a safer journey.

But instead of following God’s plan for my life, I was following God’s plan for my sister’s life.

My sister went on to become a lawyer. My parents also came to expect me to pursue an occupation that was as prestigious as hers – meaning either law or medicine. So it was almost instinctive for me to apply for those.

But I stopped short. I realised that at this age – on the cusp of adulthood – I had a big question to ask: Whose life is this anyway?

Just like how even identical twins have different thumbprints, God made us unique individuals. Has has a special plan for every single one of us.

But instead of following God’s plan for my life, I was following God’s plan for my sister’s life.

Would I follow God’s plan for my sister or His plan for me?

Forget medicine. Forget law. When I told my parents I wanted to study business, they pushed back immediately. Where will a business degree get you in in life? It’s just a general degree – what a waste of money! You want the stability that a degree in law or medicine offers.

But in the end, I wanted to study business.

The journey of stepping out of my sister’s shadow was one filled with trepidation. I’d be lying if I were to say I wasn’t fearful.

I’d grown so comfortable with taking the safe route that I forgot to seek God about the things I was doing. My sister had gone before me and been through everything that I am facing now. I just did what she did.

I thought I had peace in my heart – but it wasn’t peace, just passivity.

In the safety of my sister’s shadow, my trust wasn’t in God, but in my sister. My assurance was in seeing my sister succeed, and thinking I could do the same. I’d always put my hope in what I could see – which was my sister, blazing a trail before me. But …

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

So now I’ve started out on my own path. In my choice of school, then my career, and who knows where that will lead me.

Coming out of my sibling’s shadow is scary. But all is well. It felt safe there – but I know who’s leading me to a better place.

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Article list

“I felt like the dumbest student in school”

God is at work

Do you face each new season in life with anticipation or anxiety?

The real reason you’re in school

Senang diri: How I learnt to march to a better beat

Stepping out of my sibling’s shadow