I made my first half a million at 15, lost it all at 16 and found God
Nathanael Tan // March 2, 2020, 6:10 pm
Part of my quest as a teenager was to become free from the question of God. I had been brought up in a Christian home and learnt about God in Sunday school, studying the Word and memorising verses. But even after reading it from cover to cover, I never believed the Bible.
To me, it was a good book – an excellently written novel – but nothing more. So I spent a good amount of my younger days delving into Christian theology just so that I could refute it. I even went as far as reading through course materials from the religious modules in universities.
I challenged those who believed in God, curious if they could convince me that He wasn’t just a fairytale, a figment of someone’s imagination, or even a social construct. I believed that if I could conclusively prove to them that God didn’t exist and everything they thought was wrong, then I would be satisfied to go about my life, free from the burden of religion.
There was so much more to live for at that time: At just 15 years old, I had close to half a million dollars to my name, together with my then-girlfriend who was a “Crazy Rich Asian”. Through our businesses and stock investments, we were at the peak of our lives. I was physically in great shape too, running about 30km three times a week.
Success had found me at a very young age, and with everything going well for me, why did I need God? There was literally no room for Him in my life.
But little did I know, I would lose everything I had accumulated in just six months.
FROM RICHES TO RUIN
When the stock market crashed in 2008, my girlfriend and I lost a lot of our investments.
Then, while training for the Standard Chartered marathon, my knees gave way and I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as my joints had worn out from all the running. I had to be in a wheelchair for two weeks.
Even up till now, the effects of my condition can be felt – my joints hurt every time it starts to rain.
I was 16 when the good life suddenly fell apart.
And if that wasn’t enough, my girlfriend moved back to Canada, where her family was. Although we did not want to break up, we knew a long-distance relationship wasn’t going to work out between us and eventually things between us came to a stop.
I was 16 when the good life suddenly fell apart. For my O-Level prelims, I scored a grand total of 49 points. I couldn’t even get into a polytechnic.
That was a dark period of my life. I started cutting my wrists to distract myself from the pain and also contemplated suicide – going to several high-rise buildings and looking down.
But what if I didn’t die from the attempt? What if I was paralysed for the rest of my life instead?
That was when I started to pray – if you could consider that praying. I was rambling incoherently, asking God who He was, why He had done this to me, and of all people, why me?
“Show yourself,” I said. And He did.
For the next few consecutive nights, I would have the same dream. In my dream, I was wrestling a hooded figure. And for some reason, that figure was preventing me from going where I was intending to go. Try as I might, I just could not pass him to reach the other side.
Eventually, after a few nights, I gave up and asked the figure who he was and what he was doing to me. Then I heard a voice that said: “Why do you keep fighting me?”
“Who are you?” I asked. The voice replied, “You know who I am.” Then He showed me his nail-pierced hands.
In that moment, my eyes were opened to the depths of my sinful heart. I realised God had to break me and take everything that I thought “made me a man” – because a self-made man isn’t going to look for God. Jesus Himself said that it is hard for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom (Matthew 19:24).
That day, I chose to acknowledge God’s existence. I began praying: “Ok, You win. I’m sorry for all the things that I’ve done, all my iniquities.”
Then, “Lord, my answer is yes. Now what is your question?”
THE RUINS COME TO LIFE
Of course, the journey back to God was difficult. Part of me was battered and broken from what I had gone through in the past few months. Another part of me still struggled with my doubts about the faith. I still had those issues with the Bible.
So I read through Scripture and started again with Genesis. I prayed for wisdom to be able to understand His Word so that those issues would be resolved. I truly wanted to believe, and I didn’t want my mind to hold me back.
This time round, however, things just made sense. I somehow understood what God was trying to say. Most, if not all, of my questions were answered, and I saw the pattern and the beauty of Scripture. With my mind finally in agreement with my heart, everything fell into place.
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
I came to realise that God wants to be known. He created us with the intention that we would know Him. I believe that is why the topic of God weighed heavily on my mind even when I refused to acknowledge Him.
God has surrounded us with evidence of Himself and He keeps the question of his existence squarely before us. It was as though I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God.
Today, I’m working as a full-time support-raising ministry staff at Cru Singapore’s Media Ministry, which means I have to raise my own salary. It is still something that surprises me, as full-time ministry could not be further from where I once was.
Someone had asked me if I had ever considered full-time ministry, and I was reminded of my conversation with God on the very first day I acknowledged Him as Lord: “My answer is yes, now what is your question?”
Out of obedience, I agreed to join the ministry. The heart was not entirely willing, but I prayed that He would give me the desire – and He did.
I never fully got back what I lost – my relationship, my health and my wealth. Sometimes I ask myself if becoming a Christian was worth it, if choosing to serve God full-time is worth it.
Some days it’s really hard – when your bank balance is in the red, everyone you know is financially stable and getting married, and there you are, unable to even think of supporting your parents because you can barely support yourself.
But when I look at how far I’ve come, what I’ve chosen to invest my life in today is worth it because of the many lives I can touch. Because of what I went through, I am able to uniquely share my experience and hope – even joy.
If I had not gone through those times of difficulties, I would not be able to understand or even begin to comprehend what it means to say: “It is well with my soul.” That season has strengthened my faith, my resolve and my relationship with God.
No matter what happens, I can and will trust in God.
So even if it seems crazy – against my own logic, alarm bells ringing – if God calls, I will go and follow. That’s the kind of relationship I’ve gained with Him.
THINK + TALK
- Have you experienced great failure in life before, or know someone who has?
- What was faith like, before and after the moment of failure?
- How can we build spiritual resilience to weather the tough seasons in life?
- How can we handle questions about the faith well?