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Pray as you are

by Tris Xavier | 15 May 2018, 12:35 PM

I find that there’s a lot of confusion and unintentional obfuscation about how we should talk to God.

But what is the issue with how we talk to the Lord anyway? Why should this topic bother you, and why is it important? My personal experience is that many times, Christians don’t pray because they feel hamstrung about how they should pray.

Sometimes the concern is external. Christians worry about the form of the prayer: The words, the place, the physical posture – whether their prayer is tonally appropriate or reverential. And sometimes it’s internal: Whether they have their heart right, whether they have enough faith, whether they are still enough before the Lord.

Prayer becomes such a complicated affair that Christians end up not praying. Yet the way God operates in this world is through the prayer of His people. James 5:16 states clearly that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

And 1 Corinthians 2:15-16 (TLB) also tells us this:

But the spiritual man has insight into everything, and that bothers and baffles the man of the world, who can’t understand him at all. How could he? For certainly he has never been one to know the Lord’s thoughts, or to discuss them with him, or to move the hands of God by prayer. But, strange as it seems, we Christians actually do have within us a portion of the very thoughts and mind of Christ. 

Christians can move the hands of God by prayer! So when Christians stop praying – things stop happening. We need to lay down the wrong notions of how we should pray so we do pray.

Let’s take a step back and go to the story of Abraham. Abraham is the father of the Jewish nation, and he also represents the relationship we as believers have with God today (Romans 4). So this sharing isn’t just something applicable for a time long past, but represents how we should walk and commune with our Lord today.

Abraham is introduced to us in Genesis 12, but the first time we have a recorded dialogue between him and God is in Genesis 15. Up to this point, we only see the Lord speaking to Abraham. These are words of goodness and grace, as the Lord promises Abraham greatness, land, posterity and blessing (Genesis 12:1-3; 12:7, 13:14-17; 14:18-20).

For many of us, this is how we start our Christian walk. As we get familiar with the Lord, we are often the ones being spoken to. We are told of God’s promises, and God blesses us as we become familiar and intimate with him.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s like the beginning of a relationship where the couple begins to know each other better – what they stand for and what they see in their future. A Christian should not feel obliged to be the “mature partner” in the relationship, but instead be comfortable with being wooed over and over again by God.

So let’s see what Abraham told God, right after God promised to be a “shield” and “great reward” (Genesis 15:1) for him.

“Abram said, “God, Master, what use are your gifts as long as I’m childless and Eliezer of Damascus is going to inherit everything?” Abram continued, “See, you’ve given me no children, and now a mere house servant is going to get it all.”” (Genesis 15:2-3, MSG)

God doesn’t want us to come to Him with false reverence and complex prayers. He wants the honesty of our hearts and the candour of how we really feel – even about Him.

The first thing that comes out of Abraham’s mouth was abject disappointment. It’s not a response full of faith and thanksgiving – it didn’t sound like a “Christian” response at all.

It’s a man baring his brokenness – his heart’s desire. His brutal honesty might shock some religious types. On a human level, we might be offended by Abraham’s response. But look how God responded:

“Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”” (Genesis 15:4-5)

God didn’t chastise Abraham or call him ungrateful. Instead He reminded Abraham of His promise for him, and to take things one step further, He gave Abraham a visual reminder of the promise which was to come. Based on this, Abraham believed the Lord.

The Lord didn’t penalise Abraham for having a crisis of faith, but credited righteousness (Genesis 15:6) to him when Abraham believed again.

This wasn’t a one-off. Later on, Abraham wavered again in trusting God’s promises, and took things into his own hands by having a son Ishmael with Hagar – even though God made clear that Isaac would be born to him in a year.

Abraham even mocked God’s promises to him (Genesis 17:17-18). In spite of that, the Lord reminded Abraham of the promise and that He would bring it to pass (Genesis 17:19)

Now let’s take a look at Genesis 18 – one of the first times someone intercedes for another party in the Bible. 

“Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:23-25, NKJV)

See how bold Abraham is with the Lord? He doesn’t disguise his speech, he doesn’t restrain his passion. In essence, he’s simply telling God: “Hey, this can’t be right! That’s not fair! You’re not like that!”

And this is how God responds: The Lord lets Abraham entreat him – even though His holiness demands that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah must be dealt with. He lets Abraham negotiate, right down to finding 10 righteous people in the city, and promises that “for the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” (Genesis 18:32)

It’s important to understand that Abraham didn’t restrain himself before the Lord, but said what was in his heart. God doesn’t want us to come to Him with false reverence and complex prayers.

He wants the honesty of our hearts and the candour of how we really feel – even about Him.

To close, let’s look at two verses. The first comes from James (Jesus’ brother) in his letter to the Jews living outside of Israel. James’ letter is primarily concerned with what a Christian life looks like. And as he closes the letter, he writes this to the believers:

“Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months.” (James 5:17, King James 2000)

What I want to focus on is the fact that Elijah was a man “subject to like passions.” There was nothing unique or special about Elijah that made him super holy or special before God. He was a man like you and me. And when he spoke the Word, it was considered a prayer good enough for the Lord to act on his behalf.

If this was true for a man under the Old Covenant – how much more you and I? Having been cleansed by Jesus’ blood, we have direct access to Father God in the New Covenant!

We need to lay down the wrong notions of how we should pray so we do pray.

The second verse comes from the Old Testament, where the Lord is giving instructions on the priestly garments. I’ve heard a pastor speak before about how each element of the garments reflect an aspect of our High Priest Jesus today – visual representations of what Jesus is doing for us right now in heaven.

But I want to zoom in on one element in particular: The plate of gold on the front of the priest’s turban – on the forehead of the priest. Let’s see what the Bible tells us:

“You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.” (Exodus 28:36-38)

The engraved declaration of “Holy to the Lord” is on Aaron’s head as he faces God. So though our thoughts may not be pure and holy, they are “cleaned up” when represented through the High Priest.

Now because Jesus is our High Priest and we are in Him, despite the selfishness and inherent flaws of our prayers and thoughts, Jesus “cleans” our prayers up and they are submitted as holy unto the Lord.

So pray as you are. Jesus our High Priest has made our thoughts perfect and clean before the Father today. Pray as you feel: Pray when the words don’t flow and the tears won’t stop.

God wants you to talk to Him as a friend. He wants you to come to Him just as you are. He loves you perfectly and has provided the way through Christ for you to do just that.

Keep on praying on. Miracles are waiting to happen in your life.


This article was first published on Tris’ blog, and is republished with permission.

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What should you do when facing uncertainties in life?

by Darius Leow | 24 September 2018, 2:31 PM

God, why?

Have you ever asked that question before? I certainly have. I ask it all the time: when outcomes fail to match my expectations, or when something that I want eludes me.

Sometimes when our prayers appear to go unanswered, we get tempted to think God has forgotten about us. We are quick label the Israelites as a bunch of stiff-necked and faithless grumblers, but we actually have more in common with them than we realise.

Because whenever something unexpected happens, we are quick to grumble. “Bring us back to Egypt”, we grumble in frustration towards the God we cannot see. Our understanding of who God is and our past experiences with Him become like distant dusty memories.

In troubles, even the clearest sign and promise from God can be easily clouded by our fears, frustrations and forgetfulness.

Consider King Jehoshaphat: 2 Chronicles 20 details King Jehoshaphat’s journey through a period of national crisis and how he responded when hemmed in by uncertainties.

“After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi).” (2 Chronicles 20:1-2)

This chapter begins with the nation of Judah and King Jehoshaphat in a vulnerable position, outnumbered by surrounding enemies. Three-versus-one is a terrible situation to be in — even for the best military.

It’s not a stretch to say that we actually have so much in common with Israel. This life is a battle against sin and evil (Ephesians 6:12). We all have our own “great multitude” or “vast army” coming against us like having to grapple with the effects of sin, broken relationships or poor health.

But while we will face uncertainties and dangers like King Jehoshaphat, what is more important is knowing how to respond to life’s uncertainties.

In troubles, even the clearest sign and promise from God can be easily clouded by our fears, frustrations and forgetfulness.

Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord ... O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:3-4, 12)

Judah’s national security was at stake, yet the first thing King Jehoshaphat did was to set his face to seek the Lord. Instead of mobilising the army, he mobilised himself and his people to seek God for help.

God heard the cry of His people and granted Judah and King Jehoshaphat victory over their enemies as they obediently went in faith (2 Chronicles 20:20) and gave God worship and praise (2 Chronicles 20:18-19, 21-22).

Though things looked hopeless, they sought God, took up their positions, stood firm and fixed their eyes on Him. And they were victorious.

This passage offered me much comfort and encouragement during a difficult season in my life. For like King Jehoshaphat, I found myself in situations where I was forced to confront uncertainties.

Academically, I didn’t do too well for some of my papers and had to wrestle with the disappointment that my hard work wasn’t matched by good grades. Relationally, being someone who has not been in a relationship before, I struggled to navigate through uncharted waters with clarity. And physically, I’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition affecting my joints and spine that will likely stay with me for life.

Yet as I took stock of all that was happening around me and gave myself time and space to wrestle with God, He taught me to confront my inadequacies through my trials. I was humbled as I began to understand that even in the brevity and uncertainty of life — there was a solid rock I could depend on.

God’s thought and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Of course, given a choice, I would have wished for the disappointments and pain to go away. I would have hoped for different outcomes that matched my expectations and desires. But I saw how uncertainties are God’s ways to humble me and grow my dependence on Him.

I sensed God reminding me not to place my confidence and expectations in mere outcomes. Living life that way is unstable. Instead, I should hold on to God, my only anchor and certainty in life, surrendering the results to Him.

After all, in all things He works “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

We can be certain that there will be uncertainty, but we need to learn to be okay living with it.

For all our human wisdom, we will never have life all figured out. It is easy to blame God when uncertainty hits us because no one likes to be out of control. But God uses uncertainty to teach us precious lessons which reveal our fallenness and need for Him as saviour.

Here are some lessons I learnt from 2 Chronicles 20 and from my wrestle with uncertainty.

3 ANCHORS AGAINST UNCERTAINTY

1. In moments of uncertainty, look to Christ as our only certainty in life

Jehoshaphat looked to God during a crisis of uncertainty, and God did not disappoint him. We learn to hold on to Christ, and not outcomes, and trust in His promises and deliverance.

The one we learn to hold on to has graciously and lovingly given us all things through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:32). May this enduring truth help us find our security and anchor in Him and Him alone.

For all our human wisdom, we will never have life all figured out.

2. When uncertain, grow in faith and dependency on Christ 

We are made to confront our inadequacies in circumstances where control is pried out of our hands. But in such moments we can clearly see our deep need for God.

God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses, and this truth gives us the confidence to boast in them and declare, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

3. Uncertainties are opportunities for the unexpected (2 Chronicles 20:22-23)

Victory was secured with prayer and praise. Judah prepared for war but didn’t have to lift a finger — only to loot the spoils of victory (2 Chronicles 20:24-26).

God’s thought and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), and He can take and turn all our situations — even dangerous ones — “for good” (Genesis 50:20).

To close, I’m leaving you with one of my favourite poems — The Tapestry by Corrie Ten Boom.

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

Trust that God is weaving a beautiful story in and through your life. In times of uncertainty, may our eyes be fixed on the intended pattern and design God has for us. Even when life doesn’t make sense and we don’t have everything figured out, we can learn to trust His in character and promises.

The sovereign God is certain and eternal.

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How to really read your Bible

by Jonathan Pang, Tan Ai Luan and Goh Chong Tee | 21 September 2018, 2:03 PM

One of the challenges that new believers first encounter in reading the Bible is reading it in totality.

We tend to have the most trouble with the Old Testament (OT), where cultural and sociopolitical contexts differ greatly from the New Testament (NT) – let alone our postmodern society.

Nowadays, intellectual disparities form the primary barrier to spiritual insight. Yet as believers we are told to take God at His Word in Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away”. We are told the same in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as well: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

What then is the correct mindset and methodology for studying Scripture within BC times, in a way which is comprehensive yet authentic in relation to its historical and ecclesiastical roots? Here are 3 handles you may find beneficial to your reading.

3 WAYS TO READ THE WORD WELL 

1. Read between the lines

“Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.  Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:5-7)

Reading between the lines is especially essential for seemingly awkward or outdated customs among God’s chosen race. Some examples include piercing servants’ ears as a sign of lifelong dedication to their masters (Deuteronomy 15:17) and the forbidden practice of seething (boiling) a young goat in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19).

It’s about pressing in for the meaning behind the verse. And admittedly, since we may not be theologians, it’s also useful to lean on doctrinally sound sources of secondary literature which give insight and clarity into the practices of the early Jews.

Analysing things like genre and writing style helps us read through the OT with clarity.

There are also multiple references within other OT sections involving history and prophecies which may mystify readers unless they look for key phrases or words within the original Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic translations.

These translations themselves borrow metaphors from nature or mythology to explain or corroborate principles, often making for awkward translations today. After all, reading the Bible in English, we are distanced from the original writers and their target audiences by language, time and context.

It helps to look up the nature of a biblical book before reading it. Analysing things like genre and writing style helps us read through the OT with clarity. It’s our responsibility to truly understand what we read (Romans 10:2-4).

2. Connect the dots

“For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

God’s Word doesn’t contradict itself or His character manifested on Earth through the life of Jesus Christ. Similarly, the NT does not make the OT irrelevant to Christians today.

The moral and ethical codes first commanded by God through the Torah have been perfected through the death and resurrection of His Son. Such was the theological foundation of the early Church in the days of the apostles. In relating OT laws, prophecies and history to the observances and character of early Christians, their significance and applications to our own spiritual walk can be made clearer.

The Word is timeless and transcends even history.

Consider especially the Book of Revelation. It possesses close parallels to the books of Daniel and Ezekiel in the imagery of the visions they received about God’s judgment of the Earth, calamities befalling man owing to sin, the Resurrection and New Jerusalem.

The central themes and messages conveyed through similarities in both OT and NT texts are consistent with each other, and should therefore be identified and analysed to determine its purpose and message for Christians – dispelling misconceptions or preconceived ideas of irrelevance between the two.

The Word is timeless and transcends history.

3. Watch and pray

“Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18)

All Scripture, however translated across tribes and tongues, is God-breathed. Our human capacity is insufficient to access and live by it.

Intellectual humility – sadly lacking in a generation that has had greater access to education than previous ones – is something Christians must possess to internalise and act upon the Word of God. The Bible is more than a religious text that Christians blindly follow, it is the critical foundation for the heart and mind to be filled with the Spirit – producing love for the Lord with all we are.

We can and should ask for wisdom in the process of nourishing ourselves with the Word.

While any doubts that we have concerning our study of the Word should be brought to our clergy or peers within the Church community, they should first and foremost be addressed through prayer.

Sin has marred the vision of many and blinded them to the Truth. What better way then, than to request for wisdom from whom Scripture is breathed? For we have the Holy Spirit to guide and counsel us.

The tearing of the temple veil upon Christ’s crucifixion was a sign which indicated the beginning of this new and living way to God. Jesus’ sacrifice allowed for the remission of our sins, so we could renew our relationship and have communion with Him as children of God.

So our understanding of the Bible is highly intertwined with our spiritual walk with the Creator. We can and should ask for wisdom in the process of nourishing ourselves with the Word.

As you continue to study the Bible, you will undoubtedly face difficulties in both the intellectual and spiritual aspect of doing so. It is both a science (in terms of critical reading) and an art (putting it into practice).

But remember: your Christian walk should never be undertaken alone. You will undoubtedly need the support of your spiritual community in translating your faith into tangible action. Regardless of the obstacles encountered, always persevere in plunging deeper into the knowledge and love of God through understanding His Word.

Ask for wisdom, and it shall be given. Seek Him, and draw near to Him by faith, and let Him strengthen you and your walk with Him.

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Tongues-tied: The gift I never knew how to ask for

by | 19 September 2018, 3:50 PM

Have you ever heard someone speak in tongues? What are tongues anyway?

Before we get any further along in my story with tongues, I’m going to run through a quick crash course so we’re all on the same page as best as we can be.

It’s in the Bible. Acts 2 is the first time tongues were spoken, on the day of the Pentecost, when the apostles “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4).

Now most people, I feel, have the conception in mind that tongues are some entirely unintelligible thing — they might even think it’s a secret language. But the gift of tongues can also be the Spirit-given ability to speak a human language the speaker doesn’t know, to spread the gospel to someone else in his own language as in the example in Acts (Acts 2:11).

Finally, tongues should be translated for the edification of the whole church (1 Corinthians 14:27), must be orderly in worship (1 Corinthians 14:27-28), peace-bringing (1 Corinthians 14:33) and glorifying to God.

Full disclosure: I grew up in a Pentecostal church. But that meant I had weekly court-side seats to good examples of tongues being spoken and tongues being interpreted.

In weekly worship as a child, upon the end of the last song, a person with the gift would usually begin speaking in tongues to the congregation. He or she would be proclaiming unintelligible words for about thirty seconds. Then my Pastor would stand up to interpret whatever it was that person said — and I would be in awe because I didn’t understood a word until the translation.

How did she understand what the person was saying? How did she remember all that was said? I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

But I was deeply impacted by tongues — I wanted it. Most of my family could speak in tongues. But for some reason it just never came to me or one of my sisters. Frankly speaking, I wanted the gift solely for the childish reason that it would be cool to have.

By the time I was in my preteens, I had already been trying to “receive” it for a few years — almost as if it was a problem of not praying or trusting God enough. I had gone up for altar calls, I had been anointed multiple times, had hands laid on me by many a visiting preacher … But it just wasn’t happening.

Looking back, I realise I was stumbled as a child, while no one explained to me what was going on. Tongues just became, to me, a Christian thing that (for some inexplicable reason) wasn’t part of my experience of faith.

So as I wasn’t getting what I wanted and tried for, I settled for an uneasy acceptance of God’s sovereignty in this area.

Fast forward to my young adult years: I’m somewhere between earnest desire and wistful jesting on the whole “tongues thing”.

I admit that’s just my tendency – when something makes me feel bad, my personal coping mechanism is to find a way to laugh about it.

But the one thing that constantly bothered me were fellow believers who would start speaking in tongues disruptively, at times that would be distracting. I still struggle to find peace with this.

The truth is, I still believe that tongues are a beautiful gift. But as humans do with most things, some of us might be guilty of making it our own thing.

Far be it from me to overlook all the other gifts He’s given me just to covet one.

It broke my heart when I learnt that a friend left her church because she just couldn’t speak in tongues after years of trying. I’ve been there and it sucks. No believer should have to feel like a second-class Christian just for their inability to speak in tongues, or made to wonder if there’s something wrong with them.

What I am realising is that we cannot miss the point about tongues or any other spiritual gift for that matter. It’s not about you. It’s for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7) of believers and to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12). It must be orderly (1 Corinthians 14:40) and it must glorify God.

I still don’t speak in tongues. But now I’m neither proud nor ashamed of that. It’s just the way it is, and that’s okay.

I’ve repented of occasionally making fun of the gift of tongues. It’s just as uncool as making fun of prophecies or healing, and I don’t want to be that guy.

Ultimately, the sovereign God apportions spiritual gifts to each believer as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11). So no longer will I sit in the seat of mockers, and far be it from me to overlook all the other gifts He’s given me just to covet one.

Whatever our gifts may be, we must display unity in the Body of Christ. May our gifts build us up as a church, glorifying God to the utmost as we lift Him up to the nations.


Have an insight into the gift of tongues? We’d love to hear them – just drop us an email with your thoughts.

/ 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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Are you serving for affirmation?

by Nicholas Quek | 18 September 2018, 3:49 PM

I suspect that many of you reading this article are serving in churches, or are at least in some position of responsibility or authority.

You might be a ministry head, cell leader, mentor. Or you might be the guy who stacks chairs after service. Whatever role we play, most of us participate in this church structure not merely as members, but as people who lead, serve and hold positions – whose roles play an important part in the weekly running of a church service.

Thing is, I believe that across many churches, it has become ingrained into the culture that one should “step up” into service and leadership as quickly as possible.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with leading and serving in church. Indeed, my very act of writing at present is a conscious act of service unto the larger church body. Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians 14:12 to “strive to excel in building up the church”, so we must exercise our gifts and discharge our duties in service.

I suspect that for many of us, affirmation has become the main reason why we lead and serve in church.

But here’s the potential problem: the addiction to affirmation in the course of serving and ministry.

  • “Wow, thank you so much for serving.”
  • “That was a really great point you made.”
  • “Great job today, I really enjoyed worship.”

Ever heard these before? To be clear, there’s also nothing wrong with affirmation. It’s a good thing to honour and encourage one another. But I suspect that for many of us, affirmation has become the main reason why we lead and serve in church.

Isn’t it addictive? To hear how great your Bible study session was? How amazing your voice was in worship, or how much the church appreciates your sacrifice?

And how easy it is to play by the rules! Many of us who have grown up in church are so familiar with the structures and scaffoldings of church life, that we’ve crafted for ourselves ideal ways to receive affirmation.

There are many reasons why someone might attend a church.

Curiosity, anger, romance – the people that flow in and out of a church’s doors are diverse both in appearance and purpose.

Yet I venture that this variation in purpose might well exist within the church. I say this with confidence because this same devious purpose – to receive affirmation – was what kept me in church for 12 years.

And so when I failed in my ministry tasks, or messed up during a worship set – my joy was robbed from me. My very purpose in church was taken away, and I was left with nothing but emptiness where once was the affirmation of those around me.

What robs us of our joy? Are we filled with despair when we fail at a task in church? Or when we offend those we respect? When we are not commended for what we have done?

These are important questions to ask ourselves, not just because they pertain to church participation, but because they pertain to our very salvation.

The main reason for gathering together as a church isn’t to say nice things to each other or make each other feel good – it is to glorify Christ!

Ephesians 2 clearly spells out that we gather together with Christ Jesus as the Cornerstone, in whom we all grow together into a holy temple unto the Lord.

Any affirmation must come out from sincere faith in Christ Jesus, which leads us to love and care for one another. Indeed, sincere faith in Christ Jesus might also lead us to do things that seemingly run contrary to affirmation. In Galatians 2 Paul recounts how he called Peter out on his sin – how his conduct was not in step with the truth of the Gospel.

That is what sincere faith in Jesus Christ looks like: while we affirm, we also correct. We do this not to destroy, but to restore each other to walking in step with the Gospel.

Does that bring us joy? Do we see correction and discipline as a necessary and good part of church life? To come to church for affirmation is to completely miss the purpose of gathering together as a church.

Ask God to reveal the true foundation of your life: is it about yourself or the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:20)

It took me 12 years to fully realise that my participation in church life didn’t come out of a sincere faith in Jesus and commitment to His body – I was simply hungry for affirmation.

I didn’t have any real faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, I harboured the desire to see myself worshipped and adored.

It is my prayer and hope that we do not deceive ourselves into thinking we are worshipping Jesus when we are really just worshipping ourselves! Far better that we know now, and know rightly, than to discover too late the corrupted foundations we had built our whole lives upon.

So what gives us joy? Let the answer be Christ, and Christ alone!

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My love affair with pornography

by Mark Yeow | 18 September 2018, 2:39 PM

I am intimately familiar with sin.

I was around 12 when I had my first experience of pornography, one which started a love affair that lasted more than a decade. Porn seemed to satisfy this deep and dissolute hunger within me. I craved seeing women naked, doing things that aroused me.

Yet, each time after I was spent, I felt this cloak of shame fall around my head and heart. Heavy thoughts would weigh on me: You are worthless … You are pathetic.

Even after I gave over my life to Christ, I continued to watch porn.

I would try to resist the temptation, succeed for weeks or even months, then slip back into the embrace of my favourite performers – often just after a relationship breakdown, or an unexpected malady, or some other happening that laid me low.

And porn isn’t the only lust affair I’ve had – just the longest. I lost my virginity in the last years of high school and the sex that followed – however great it was – smashed my soul into little pieces which took years to put back together.

I went after women for how their physical beauty and sensuality made me feel, and when two of them broke my heart, I broke three more in return.

… only God’s redeeming touch was able to pull me out of this pit of lust some four months ago.

The toll of my lust has been enormous.

Constant fatigue, clinginess to female friends, shouting matches with my parents – not to mention the countless hours of masturbation both physical and emotional.

I think I might’ve written a novel, or even a trilogy, with that time alone. And “time alone” is apt, because the only word I can summarise all those years with is “lonely”.

Walking in the wilderness, only God’s redeeming touch was able to pull me out of this pit of lust some four months ago.

But the battle is by no means over.

Writing about this dark part of my past, I still feel a strange mix of shame and desire. On this side of eternity, there will always be a treacherous part of my heart that seeks earthly pleasure and rebels against the word of God.

But as a child of God, it’s my duty to whack that part as hard as I can until it runs squealing back to the cell it escaped from.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Don’t lose hope: the battle against pornography and for purity can be won. We overcome solely by the Spirit, in the community of the saints.

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My love affair with pornography