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Work

I just want to be a useful person

by | 12 April 2018, 11:23 AM

I had about 15 seconds to spare as I stood by my kitchen sink, waiting for my water bottle to fill up. It doesn’t take long for my mind to switch to its usual preoccupations. I was thinking of work.

Not the work I immediately had to do – 15 seconds wouldn’t be enough to sort that out! – but work in general. My job. My career.

In my wandering mind, I likened my life to a garden. There I saw an area overgrown with weeds – the corner of the garden marked out as “work”. The more I compared my career with others, the more the weeds of worry seemed to grow.

Their gardens seemed to be flourishing with fulsome, blooming varieties of financial security and career progression, while mine felt sad in comparison. I don’t even know how long my current job arrangement will last, and if I am cut out for the job.

When I looked at other gardens, I only saw how bad mine looked in comparison.

I came to realise that should I spend time comparing myself to others, I would neglect tending to what I had in my garden. Instead of thinking of ways to grow my skill sets, I would cease to take pride in my work. I lamented yet remained passive, and that nurtured a worrisome heart.

I thought that I might appear more successful if I had a full-time job instead of holding on to contract jobs. I thought that if I would be more fulfilled if I could have something more substantial on my resume – a “conventional” job arrangement so I don’t seem like a failure.

A worried heart is fertile soil for half-truths and flat-out lies. Whether waiting for my water bottle to fill up (or for the green man to appear on the traffic light), I found myself entertaining such thoughts over and over again.

“I don’t think God cares about what’s going on in my life. He’s too big for that.”

Even a quick examination of that accusation against God would have deflated the argument; but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to do that. Somehow I found myself special enough that God would overlook me – just me.

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

Am I not of value to my heavenly Father? In response to such a magnificent truth, my grumbling and self-doubt had to give way to a careful evaluation of the way I was living. And then I realised that my main gripe wasn’t really about my job or what I was doing – but whether it all mattered to God.

What I realised, then, was that I had a responsibility to my job, whatever the title was and however long it was I was doing it for. I have a purpose, and it is to honour God with the work of my hands. This matters to Him.

The more I sought clarity on my goal – that He be glorified through me – and remembered His love for me, the less I doubted His heart towards me.

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)

It may have been more practical to pray for a different job when I was feeling anxious about my future or career prospects. But I didn’t. Instead, I held on to a little prayer I had whispered under my breath more than one year ago.

Back then, I prayed that He would help me become a useful person – it was my moment with God most High and I knew that He heard me. I prayed that I’d be useful wherever I work. That prayer remains.

When I forget my value, He calls me to look at creation and rest in the knowledge that He is my Father and provider. And in that rest I find strength again to ask that He uses me – everything I offer – and makes me fit for every work that is set before me.

I just have to be faithful to tend to what is in my garden.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and one of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Why am I always tired in ministry?

by | 10 April 2018, 3:21 PM

I’ve been thinking about this question for quite some time now.

There are the occasional gaps of time that allow for some breathing room, but I inevitably feel spent. A couple of days ago, I was sitting in the office with a fellow burnt-out colleague in the ministry, and I asked her: “Is this how it’s supposed to feel like?”

“Nope, definitely not.” And after I mulled on her answer, I was inclined to agree — purpose can only carry you so far without joy.

So what was my problem?

Because I often feel like I’m doing all the right things.

I attend church and cell group, lead cell and serve in other ministries. I have mentors and pastors I can pour my heart out to, I’m spiritually fed through BSF, I’m well-adjusted and have good support systems …

By right, I should be able to function. Yet after a long day of writing or editing articles, when I have to sit down and write something for one of my other ministries — it’s like the well has run completely dry.

Honestly, a lot of the time, I’m tempted to feel guilty.

I want my life to be poured out for God and for others, but I feel like a dry towel being squeezed for water. So, like a good Christian, I pray to God to fill me up — fill me till I’m overflowing!

Sounds good, right? But after a long time, there’s still no change.

Then how?

“Don’t forget to top-up your tank,” is a common mantra dished out to the depleted.

And sure, without being sarcastic, it’s true. I do believe we must abide in the vine.

But when I look at my colleague, who is also a good Christian doing good Christian things, and see just how burnt out she is — I wonder where we’ve gone wrong.

God, help me to see if this is an issue of workload or something more.

Because there’s that tension in ministry between dreaming big for God — dreaming something so “kingdom-sized” it’s doomed to fail without His help — and simply biting off more than you can chew.

Lord, let me do just what You want — not what I think would be good to do. And serving where God does want me to serve, I need to pray for God to increase my capacity — for my hands to keep up with my heart.

I need God to keep me honest: Simply doing all the right stuff doesn’t equate to a life of right living.

I have to be really careful as I write this next part — I’m not trying to give you a free pass to quit your ministry.

Serving isn’t supposed to be “easy.” There are somewhat less demanding ministries, as there are very demanding ones — but all require constant fuelling from God and a measure of sacrifice.

To be very clear, the heart behind my words is simply to have you consider the nature and spirit of your service.

Where I worship, my church has a policy where every leader “steps down” at the end of the year. They then reconsider their ministry commitments for the coming year, and if they are convicted to serve again, they rededicate themselves at a special service in January.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think I did that last year …

It didn’t help that my leaders didn’t actually ask me to. To be fair, in ministries where labourers are in short supply, I can see why that question might seem unproductive — even self-destructive —to ask.

Continuing to serve just seemed like a matter-of-fact to me. These ministries I was involved in were good things! So, must be good, right?

If I could turn back time, I would have properly asked God what He thought of my involvements. I’ll serve as best as I can, to the ministries I’ve already committed myself to — but there’s definitely a lesson here for me.

A final aside: Have you ever wondered why you keep seeing the same faces in ministry? 

There might be a lack of volunteers, or perhaps so-and-so is called to the position for a long season. But I wonder if more people in our church don’t rise up because we’ve overstayed in our ministries.

Are they too comfortable? Or are we too comfortable? As the next generation steps up to take the reins, we must check if we are too proud to let go of the things we’ve had the privilege of being stewards for.

No one is indispensable, and it takes humility to walk away.

God, only let me serve where You have called me to!

/ 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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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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Are you content to be nameless?

by | 2 April 2018, 2:17 PM

Do you do thankless or nameless work?

That’s work that’s behind the scenes — like in the back-end of the office or the engine-room. It’s tedious work, and there’s a fair chance no one will ever credit you for it.

That’s my sort of work for this season, and it’s challenging at times. But God is teaching me to be content to be nameless.

I make efforts to be teachable and humble, but the honest truth is that I can still be very proud. I take a Kingdom mindset on the work that I do, but there’s still always a small part of me that’s striving for self-glory.

God, help me stop caring about the credit!

The nice thing about doing anything “front-end” is that you have your name plastered over it.

It’s something like being a car salesman, your pitch is good enough to make a sale — you get the plaudits. In a sense.

But the editing work I do is different. Simply put, there are times when I’m tempted to feel as if I’m the grimy mechanic in the back of the dealership. Every day, all sorts of cars roll into the garage, and it’s my job is to take a closer look at it to see what I can do.

Usually in a few hours’ time, the car is fixed — it runs! But everyone sees the salesman as the person who got the car out there, not the mechanic. That tends to be the point where my carnal nature rears its head. But it was me — I got that beauty you now see up and running!

It’s never easy for the workers doing thankless tasks.

There’s a far greater reward when we serve God in secret than when we strive for worldly credit.

But a man with a Kingdom mind doesn’t strive and crave for the plaudits of man, saying, “Look at me, look at me!” A heart truly set on serving the Kingdom is one that is desperate for people to see God in the work!

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-7)

There’s a far greater reward when we serve God in secret than when we strive for worldly credit. How much more effective would I be in ministry if I stopped drawing attention to myself, and started drawing attention to God in every single thing?

God sees. He sees all the work that you do. And He also sees the heart behind the work, which is a very sobering thought. When God’s eyes fall upon you, will He see sacrifice or selfish ambition?

My portion is what God has assigned to me, and my job is to do it well. It’s as simple as that. What value is there from constantly comparing the work that you do, to the work someone else does?

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

Again, how much more effective would our Kingdom work be, if we competed or compared less — and collaborated more? Don’t compare!

The only time we should be scrutinising someone’s else’s work is to see if he or she needs our help. After all, we are serving the same King.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23)

Acclaim and accolades this side of eternity count for very little. That’s a lesson that’s slowly sinking into me, and I can’t wait for God to fuse it to my identity as His child.

If even the highest crowns are cast before the Throne in Heaven (Revelations 4:10), what credit on earth is even worth hoarding? I want to chase what is eternal — what will not fade away (Matthew 6:20).

My God, would you make my heart right before you. Establish the work of my hands (Psalm 90:17) for Your glory. Make me an obedient vessel, let Your will be done.

/ 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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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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My struggle with becoming a full-time missionary

by Jiamin Choo-Fong | 19 March 2018, 4:43 PM

“Lord, please don’t ever call me to be a missionary!”

This was my plea after my first mission trip as an 18-year-old onboard Operation Mobilisation’s (OM) ship Doulos. It had been an amazing two months serving alongside 350 Christian volunteer crew members. We sailed on a ship that was only two years younger than the Titanic – the Doulos was a floating book fair bringing literature to people around the world.

We had sailed to the Philippines, where God opened my eyes to see a world beyond my safe harbour in Singapore. I was put in new situations where I learned to befriend children on the streets, offer a listening ear to ladies of the night, and pray for those behind bars. God broke my heart to care for those who were different, forgotten and marginalised. People just like me.

For the first time, I realised my faith in Christ isn’t just about my personal salvation, but a message to be rung out far and wide.

So impactful was this experience, that I’d already promised God to sign up for more mission trips. But there was a lurking fear that God would one day call me to full-time missions, and I resisted that thought. Being a missionary meant no financial security and separation from home. Not for weeks but years. Who would take care of my family if I were gone?

Papa passed away when I was 13. As the eldest child, I felt responsible to protect and provide for Mummy and my siblings. I often wished to grow up quickly and land a well-paying job in order to give them a better life. So I pushed myself to study hard and got into top schools. I wanted to make Mummy proud and prove that our single-parent family wasn’t to be looked down upon.

Over the course of my Psychology studies at National University of Singapore, I kept my promise to God, going on a mission trip every year with Cru – sharing Christ with university students in Japan during my school holidays. What I didn’t expect was that with every trip, God was actually revealing His plan for me to serve Him in full-time missions.

A visit to Niigata, Japan via Doulos

I realised there was nothing I desired more than to share God’s love with those who did not know Him. So, instead of fearing God’s call to be a missionary, I decided to offer my first-fruits to Him by rejoining Doulos after graduation – to bring His message of hope wherever the ship would sail to.

In my final semester, while my peers were sending in their CVs to prospective employers, I was sending in my missions application form to the OM office in Singapore. When people asked, “What will you do after graduation?” I shared about my decision to join Doulos. One exclaimed, “Are you mad? You’re throwing your degree down the drain. Let others do the job!” Some thought I was brave to go alone. Others were worried I wouldn’t be receiving a salary, and advised me to get a regular job first, to save some money before joining the ship. A few were genuinely happy for me.

But an auntie commented one day, “You’re the eldest child. If you go on Doulos, what’ll happen to your ageing mother? You’re supposed to take care of the family!” Her words left a deep cut. The accusation of being an unfilial daughter kept playing in my mind as I studied for my final exams. Haunted by guilt, the tears didn’t stop coming.

What proof did I have that it was God’s will for me to become a missionary? I saw neither visions nor burning bushes. I didn’t possess theological degrees or have seminary training. But what I did have was the best time of my youth, which I offered to God for His purpose.

I remember how Mummy responded to me, after I shared about my desire to serve as a full-time missionary. That evening, she was preparing dinner, frying noodles in the big black wok. I asked, “Mummy, if God is calling me to serve Him on Doulos, what do you think?” In a carefree tone, she said, “If God tells you to go, just go lor.”

Why wasn’t she stopping me from leaving? Didn’t she want me by her side? I thought she loved me! I got upset, “But Mummy, I’m not going for a short-term trip this time. It’s not two months – but two years! You won’t get to see me for two whole years!”

Mummy stopped cooking and looked into my eyes. She said, “Jiamin, since your father died, all I wanted was to bring up the three of you to walk in God’s way. Now that you’ve grown up and have come to know God personally, if He’s calling you to leave home and serve in a foreign land, I will not stop you. God has put you in this family for me to take care of you. You do not belong to me, but to Him. The important thing is for you to do what God is calling you to do.”

When I saw the tears trickling down her face, I could no longer put on a brave front. I cried along with her.

Jiamin’s reunion with her mum in Malaysia, after more than 1.5 years serving aboard Doulos.

Some time later, my church pastor – Pastor Paul – met up with me to discuss my preparation for missions, he said, “The best gift you can ever give to others is the Gospel.”

He reminded me to love God first, and not be distracted by the needs of the ministry. When I shared my concern about not being around to look after my family, Pastor Paul said, “Let the church fulfil its role to take care of the missionaries and their families. When you’re sent out as a missionary, others, including the family and the church, will be blessed because God will channel His favour to those who have let you go to serve Him.”

His words brought so much comfort. He added, “You have my full support! And you’ve got a wonderful mother.”

As the day of departure for Doulos drew near, the process of uprooting hurt more and more.

But as I turned my eyes upon Jesus – His greatness, His perfect goodness, His loving-kindness – my worries and even the pain started to fade away.

Off I went with my packed bags, following my Heavenly Captain out of the harbour and onboard His ship Doulos, where I sailed for 4 years to 31 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Pacific – witnessing His glory and learning to love His world, one port at a time.


Jiamin is currently based in Singapore, serving with OM as a Missions Coordinator. Excited about raising up a new generation of missionaries, she’s part of the “Passion 4 Mission” (P4M) team that gathers young people to build community and share lives as they prepare for missions.

The next two P4M gatherings are:

  • 28 March (Wed) 7-9pm: Suffering; letting go of personal desires (sign up here)
  • 30 May (Wed) 7-9pm: Visibility of church leadership and which agency? (sign up here)

Jiamin has also written a book about her faith journey based on her journal entries after four years of sailing onboard OM’s mission ship Doulos. Check out her book Out of the Harbour, available at SKS, localbooks.sg and at Singapore’s libraries.

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Article list

I just want to be a useful person

Why am I always tired in ministry?

I’m afraid of life after university

Are you content to be nameless?

Two steps to get over feeling inadequate

My struggle with becoming a full-time missionary